I wrote this extremely personal Ramadan reflection. I shared it on facebook and many of my friends asked me to post it publicly. Scurred.
Lastly, Boko Haram claims to be reviving the legacy of Uthman Dan Fodio. This is outrageous, in actuality Boko Haram like British imperialists of the past are actively working to destroy his legacy. The dogmatic belief that all western education is forbidden halts one’s ability to spread knowledge which is obligatory in Islam. It should be noted that the son of Uthman Dan Fodio, Sultan Mohammed was an avid reader of Euclid’s text on mathematics and other Greek classics despite them coming from outside the Muslim World. Uthman Dan Fodio’s daughter, Nana Asmau encouraged the women of her society to actively seek knowledge writing, “In Islam, it is a religious duty to seek knowledge. Women may leave their homes freely for this.” Yet in Nigeria today, women leaving their homes to pursue their studies can result in brutal kidnapping by a senseless group ironically claiming that they want to revive her father’s legacy!
Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love
I read this book when it first came out and it was the kind of book that made you feel at peace with the world for at least a week. Coming across this passage again makes me feel that same feeling.
"I have cerebral palsy. I shake all the time," Maysoon Zayid announces at the beginning of this exhilarating, hilarious talk. (Really, it’s hilarious.) "I’m like Shakira meets Muhammad Ali." With grace and wit, the Arab-American comedian takes us on a whistle-stop tour of her adventures as an actress, stand-up comic, philanthropist and advocate for the disabled.
Writer, actor, comedian, Maysoon Zayid is the co-founder of the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival. Full bio »
Incredibly interesting paper.
What, then, does the term ‘privacy’ mean when used in reference to Islamic law? In modern American legal and philosophical writings privacy has emerged as a sweeping and multifaceted concept encompassing (among other things) the right to be left alone, limited access to oneself, freedom of thought, solitude in one’s home, control over information about oneself, freedom from surveillance, protection of one’s reputation, and protection from unwarranted searches. In contrast, the dominant classical Islamic notion of privacy, as reflected in legal and exegetical writings, is modest in its scope. In the early classical period (about the first two centuries of Islam) scholars viewed the private sphere as a realm within which a a person, and more importantly his family, should be protected from public humiliation. Within this sphere, scholars enabled people to conceal information about themselves that society considered degrading, such as information about immoral behavior, illegal acts, intimate body parts, etc. The early Islamic conception of privacy thus encompassed a limited set of freedoms and protections, and the sphere of privacy was relatively narrow in scope.
Between the third/ninth and ninth/fifteenth centuries, however, the notion of privacy underwent a significant transformation. It was extended beyond the limited realm of protecting one’s reputation to encompass more general control of personal information and limited access to all personal matters. In this period the private sphere was defined by the desires of individuals, so that jurists put forward laws to safeguard those matters that a person would want to conceal from others.
Despite the expansion of the private sphere between the early and late classical periods, however, the understanding of Muslim scholars of the purpose of privacy did not change. With the very few exceptions, most Muslim scholars throughout the classical period viewed privacy as a means of protecting and preserving other values they considered important,such as a person’s reputation, healthy social relations, and household stability, and not as an individual’s intrinsic right. Accordingly, the jurists’ privacy-related promulgations were aimed at protecting those values.
In this article I argue that, just like other privacy-creating and privacy-enforcing laws, modesty regulations delineate a private sphere whose purpose is to safeguard other values that Muslim jurists considered important. Specifically, I maintain that, by regulating physical and visual access to women’s bodies and by restricting the flow of sensitive information about them, Islamic law allowed people (primarily the male members of a woman’s family) to protect and control their social image and public reputation.
Most Muslims are blissfully unaware of the fact that in early Islam, the hijab was a status symbol that slave women were not allowed to wear. ‘Umar, one of the Prophet’s most important companions and a caliph himself, forbade slaves from wearing hijab and is said to have actually hit a slave woman for daring to cover herself. Slave women walked around topless in public, and it was not considered ‘immodest’ for Muslim men to look at their breasts. As Laury Silverswrites,
“Modesty” was reserved as a social marker for free women; the “private parts” of enslaved women were only from navel to knee. The second Caliph Umar reportedly became enraged with enslaved women, to the point of beating one of them, who tried to wear the outer wrap (jilbab), perhaps to cover their breasts and heads, because it would make them indistinguishable from free women.
Hamza Yusuf himself even mentions this awkward bit of history during an attempt to get Muslims to stop obsessing over the hijab and ‘Islamic modesty’. I’m guessing that Sana Saeed, along with everyone else who suggested the video was immodest, is referring to the ‘Islamic modesty’ that Muslims have fabricated for themselves in the latter portion of Islamic history, and not the ‘Islamic modesty’ that reinforced the dehumanizing division between free women and slave women back when some of Islam’s most important personalities walked the earth. (See this article for a detailed analysis.) One writer asks,
I wonder what all the Muslim feminists who defend hijab in the name of modesty would think, if given a full accounting of this history, where Muslim women were in fact punished if they tried to be modest?
Personally, I wonder whether such an accounting might motivate Saeed and others to be ‘modest’ enough to stop wielding ‘Islamic modesty’ as a weapon against women whose ”tude’ and fashion choices they dislike. ‘Islamic modesty’ and morality have transformed beyond recognition since the days when slaves walked around topless and it wasn’t considered ‘cheating’ for a married man to have sex with concubines. Surely ‘Islamic modesty’ can accommodate a few sharply-dressed hijabis goofing around on video. I don’t mean to ‘go all Kecia Ali‘ on everyone, but people in glass headscarves shouldn’t throw stones.
Also, as a correction made by Laury Silvery,
…we do not know at all what was meant by enslaved women not being allowed to cover as free women did. Their hair may have been wrapped but their breasts exposed. They may have been wearing shifts that opened deeply exposing their breasts easily, or they may have been wearing a waist wrap. The outer wrap most likely would have covered their who body. But really we don’t know exactly, we just know that our present articulation of “modesty” is our own. Forms and conceptions of modesty have always been particular to and contested for various reasons in distinct places and times. But that is not a critique, just a clarification. In many ways, your piece sets the right tone on this issue for me.