The Muslim religion is characterized by several features which dictate the expectations from different members of the religion. Women in Islam in particular, have several requirements regarding their social behaviors, dressing as well as associations they can keep. The creation of identity is thus an essential part of the Islamic religion like in other religions. However, the cry for identity development is even more pronounced among Islamic women. In the Arab and other Islamic countries, women have restrictions which prevent them from dressing in certain ways. Behaviors contrary to religious expectations can be the rational for religious punishment for any actions. The growth of the Islamic religion and globalization notwithstanding, the key principles of Islamic religious practice have remained the same over the years, with focus being on upholding the values recommended by the Quran and the Hadith.
This comes with challenges both to those who practice religion as well as to others who may be non- Islamic or non- practicing Muslims. According to a study conducted by Karasu (par. 1), one of the many challenges faced in the world today is the push for identity. The construction of identity in this regard is defined as the development of characteristics that associate either an individual or a group of people with certain values. The prominence of distinctive features help in recognition of someone as being a member of a certain social construction. The subject of identity in the contemporary times goes beyond political and social affiliation as it encompasses even aspects of religion. In the religious realm, each of the religions in the world today has a set of beliefs and practices that are recognized as distinctively belonging to it.
In the Islamic religion, the distinctive values not only belong to the religion as a whole but there are also sections that direct the conduct of different members of the religion especially women and youths. For instance, Ravve (par. 2) asserts that Muslim women have been described as oppressed by their religion in some instances. The implication of this is that while the women in Islam may love and be willing to practice their religion, some of them, especially those who reside in non- Muslim countries and who have observed certain level of freedom in these countries may actually feel constrained by their Islamic laws. In the United States for example, statistics show that the population of Muslim women living in non- Muslim countries is sufficiently high at approximately 22% of them (Karasu par. 1). It can thus be deduced that this number of women have been exposed to diverging religious beliefs and values to differing extents. Their reactions to such religious differences are also potentially different depending on their upbringing and their perception of the new values to which they have been exposed.
Various studies have been conducted on the impacts that environmental and political factors have on the conduct and dressing of Muslim women as well as in their associations. The United States has received great attention in this regard as most liberal in religious beliefs and potentially influential on the religious beliefs of others. However, most of the studies that have been conducted in the U.S regarding Muslim Women in the country were conducted by non- Muslims and can be described as out- group studies which may not be effectively subjective. In this regard, the ensuing sections of study aim at conducting an exploration of the features associated with Muslim women in the United States. Through this study, it is believed that the impacts of religious differences in the U.S on the conduct and dressing of Muslim women in the country will be identified. To effectively conduct the study, the following research questions acted as the guide to the type of information needed to be included:
- What are the key expectations associated with Muslim women in the conventional Islam religion?
- How do the behaviors and dressing of Muslim women in the United States compare to those of their religious teachings?
- Can it thus be argued that Muslim women in the United States have been influenced by the cultural diversity in the country?
It is believed that by answering these questions, it will be possible to fully understand and explore the objective of this study and subsequently to find out whether previous studies have been limited based on the fact that they were conducted by out-groups.
Islamic religion, like the Hindu religion has its own social constructs as described in the Quran and in the Hadith of the Prophet Mohamed. The two texts highlight key principles of conduct among religious faithful and provide clear cut ramifications for the violation of any of the principles of Islamic religion. Women are clearly directed to be submissive to their husbands, a law that has seen many women in Islam undergo domestic violence. From most of the out-group studies conducted on Islamic women conditions, the objective has always been to confirm whether these women actually undergo domestic violence and how their religion affects their conduct. This has come with many misconceptions regarding the religious practices of Islamic women. The literature review section henceforth describes the specific expectations from Islamic women and thereafter the conducts of Islamic women in the U.S.
Muslim Teachings for Women
According to a study conducted by Karasu (par. 6) Islamic women are directed by the Quran on the expected conducts on the basis of their dressing, their behaviors in public and their social affiliations. Such teachings, as explained by Katsiaficas and other (1540), are aimed at ensuring that the images portrayed by the Muslim women indicate modesty and integrity in comparison to other women. In dressing, Badawi (5) quotes the Quran which gives different specifications for female clothing. For instance, the clothing of all females should be sufficiently long to cover all the parts of the body that display feminine beauty. The work of Badawi mention the Prophet as explaining this to include avoidance of all clothing that are sufficiently tight in order to prevent exposure of the body forms. In addition to this, the extent of the clothes should be such that only areas of the body that cannot be covered such as the arms and the face are left out. This gives the justification for the Hijab which covers the face and the gowns which cover the entire body to avoid exposing the forms of the body to the public. From the work of Badawi, it is explicitly indicated that female clothing should also be thick enough to cover any potential show of the skin color in women. These reports are also described by various other authors such as Cooke (66) who asserts that Muslim dressing prevents females from enjoying the comfort of their surroundings.
Apart from the clothing style, the Islamic religion also requires women to be submissive at all times. The submission requirement is best presented through the quotation of the Quran as done by Badawi, that they should always have a lower gaze. This not only limits women from raising their heads in social forums but also from interacting fruitfully with others. In the traditional Islamic setting which is only partially being eliminated in the Islamic countries, the women, in their submission were not allowed to conduct any business transactions or even to own their own businesses. In most cases, they were not allowed to work or even to own cars. While most of these expectations have been slowly dying, submission still remains an imperative part of religious practice among Islamic women. In the Islamic nations for instance, women still have their marriages arranged by families and they are expected to adhere to the family recommendations of the ideal marriage partners (Moore 11). Cooke reports that such expectations have seen many Muslim women undergo marital violence while their families remain silent about it due to the mandatory submission law.
Moore (14) claims that gender constructions in the Islamic religion have continued to depict religious oppression of females. For instance, females still have no voice in the religious circles as they are not even allowed to visit places of worship. Because of this, it can be argued that their opinions are not valued in the religious circles neither are they valued in the family circles since Abu-lughod (785) reports that Muslim women are not allowed to make any decisions on their own but have to consult their husbands in all issues. Based on this argument, Moore supports the proposal that Muslim women are religiously oppressed through identification of other behavioral expectations from the women. According to Moore, the oppression experienced by Muslim women in their religious circles interferes with their capacity for fighting discrimination in religious practice or through gender bias. While many feminists push for identity changes, Muslim women in the Islamic countries have been rendered incapable of voicing their own concerns regarding gender discrimination in their religion due to the inevitable consequences. Furthermore, the women are also segregated within their own communities hence they cannot fight discrimination even among their communities (Moore 13).
Muslim Women in the United States
From the perception developed by Karasu (par. 10), the identity of Muslim women in the United States has continued to face challenges due to various reasons. As such, women who practice Islam in the U.S have always pushed for a social construction of the Islamic female that separates them from the traditional oppressive stereotypes that had been developed previously in the country (Cooke 73). From the arguments developed by various authors, understanding the female Muslim in the United States requires an in depth understanding of the intersection between their religion, race and gender among other constructs. Previously, the Muslim women were recognized and identified as oppressed under the stringent Islamic rules and regulations despite the argument of many of the practicing female Muslims that they did not feel any oppression (Ravve par. 5). From past years, Muslim women had made efforts to identify subjectively with their religion through practices that depicted them as true Muslims. The other citizens took them as such until after 9/11 when the social constructions and the Islamic stereotypes changes significantly in the U.S (Abu-Lughod 787).
From the report presented by Abu- Lughod, the perception of the Muslim women as oppressed by religious ties changed significantly, and they have been faced with certain challenges in the U.S since then. Abu-Lughod being a Muslim, potentially draws from the experiences of other Muslims as herself and reports that some of the challenges that Muslim women have faced since 9/11 include harassment, being fired from their jobs and denied access into public places (785). In addition to this, the Muslims are also frequently faced with feminist fears which prevent them from chasing their demands and needs. While it may seem unfair for Muslim women to be regarded with suspicion following 9/11, it is clear that consideration of them as a minority should not warrant their automatic exemption from being identified as Muslims. In line with this, Jeldtoft (1137) reports that while many people are against Islamic Jihads, female Muslim leaders support such wars as quests for fighting for what they believe in.
Their support for Jihad notwithstanding, female Muslims in America have continued to face even more difficulties in affirming their cultures and identities especially since they are a minority in the U.S (Jeldtoft 1138). This is even more difficult considering that with cultural interactions, there are divisions on the perceptions that people hold regarding organized religion. Ravve (par. 6) opines that female Muslims in the U.S in the contemporary times are often faced with the challenge of confirming that they are actually practicing Muslims. While others continue to stick to the conventional Muslim female dressing, others have changed and are more likely to fight against Islamic stereotypes (Katsiaficas and others 1539). According to Ravve, changes in perceptions have been driven by the need to balance between the freedom provided by the western laws and the restrictions in the Islamic traditions. Because of this, some of the modern female Muslims combine western and Islamic dressing codes to come up with modern yet religiously adherent dressing modes. While they maintain modesty as required by their religion, individuals who dress in this manner are also at a dilemma as they constantly need to prove to their fellow Muslims that they actually practice their religion (Karasu par. 10).
The American law provides for personal choice in dressing as well as in affiliation and even though most of the female Muslims still do not attend their prayer sessions with men, their level of integration has continued to change greatly. For instance, Cooke (68) posits that most female Muslims in the U.S in the contemporary times hold a preference for integration rather than the separatism required of the Muslim religion. Women are increasingly becoming averse to segregation as they find this as a basis for gender discrimination. The U.S laws give the Islamic females a sense of freedom and security, as the punishments outlined by the Islamic laws upon the violation of the religious expectations previously outlined are not meted by the U.S laws. As such, the Muslim women, although associated with submission, have continued to portray political intersectionality as the times go by (Katsiaficas and others 1542).
The fate of Muslim women in the U.S is still hazy based on the consideration of the different features that are continuously being explored differently. From the findings of this study, conclusions can be drawn to help satisfactorily answer the questions previously outlined from the study. The first question to guide this study pertained to the traditional Islamic teachings in relation to the conduct of female Muslims. In this question, the conduct of female Muslims is described in three distinct principles which include dressing, social behaviors and associations. In terms of dressing, the Quran requires female Muslims to put on clothes that cover their bodies to avoid exposure of their natural beauty; the clothes should be long enough and thick enough. They should also cover their heads and only expose their beauty to their husbands. Socially, Muslim women are expected to be modest and to avoid all immoral behaviors. They are also expected to be segregated from men in places of worship as well as in other social settings. These are the key teachings that guide the conduct of female Muslims in the conventional Islamic countries and violation of these regulations place Muslim women at risk of severe punishment.
The second question for the study related to the conduct of Muslim women in the U.S. In this regard, it has been established that Muslim women in the U.S are slowly shifting their view points on religious beliefs. While most of them still strive to prove their religious allegiance through recommended modesty in dressing, most are also indicating the desire to balance between the modern beliefs and the traditional religious expectations of Islam. In addition to this, the social affiliations are also changing with political affiliations being at the forefront of changes. While the beliefs of Islamic women in the U.S shift slightly, the perceptions held by others concerning Islamic women also change. This is especially so post 9/11 where the Muslim women are recognized not only as religiously oppressed but also as potential participants in the Jihad. The perceptions held by others have however not influenced the conduct of the Islamic females while the freedom, security and personal choice respect within the U.S law affects their desire to belong. As a minority in the U.S, female Muslims have continued to exert their impacts, with the major objective of developing their identity through culture.
The Islamic religion has particular requirements just like other religions across the world. In Islamic countries, the laws are more stringent on women in terms of expectations on dressing mode, social behaviors and affiliations. Islamic women, according to the Quran teachings are to dress in long clothing items that cover most parts of their bodies and are also thick enough to avoid displaying the skin tone. The conducts of the Muslim women in the U.S differ slightly in these aspects. Most of the Muslim women still adhere to the dressing code provided for by their religious beliefs. However, the traditional garb is slowly giving way to more modern attire that satisfies the desire for modesty yet aligns with fashion changes. The modernized Islamic attire acts as a symbol of modernization as well as effective representation of the Islamic women. These women are also increasingly associating with security and freedom presented in the U.S law and seeking to balance between religious restrictions and legal freedom in the country. As such, it is justifiable to conclude that the western culture has influenced the conduct of the Islamic women in the country, albeit to a certain extent.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others. American Anthropologist 104, 3(2002): 783- 790.
Badawi, Jamal. The Muslim Woman’s Dress According to the Quran and Sunnah. Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Kuwait. undated.
Cooke, Miriam. Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism through Literature. New York, Routledge.
Jeldtoft, Nadia. Lived Islam: Religious Identity with ‘non-organized’ Muslim Minorities. Ethnic and Racial Studies 34, 7(2011), 1134-1151.
Katsiaficas, Dalal, Valarie Futch, Michelle Fine, and Selcuk Sirin. (2011). Everyday hyphens: Exploring youth identities with methodological and analytic pluralism. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 8(2), 120-139. doi:10.1080/14780887.2011.572743
Karasu, Seren. Muslim American Women in the United States: What is Considered Muslim Enough? Applied Psychology Opus, 2013. Retrieved from https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2013/spring/karasu
Moore, Kathleen. Muslim Women in the United States. In Jane, S.I and Yvonne, Y. The Oxford Handbook of American Islam. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Ravve, Ruth. Muslim Women in the U.S Struggle to Balance Western Freedom and Islamic Culture. Fox News, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/story/2009/03/28/muslim-women-in-us-struggle-to-balance-western-freedoms-and-islamic-culture.html