Hijabs and harassment: Media cover a post-San Bernardino debate by Muslim women

Bob Smietana, a board member and immediate past president of the Religion Newswriters Association, pointed out this story by Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll.

Smietana, the former Godbeat pro for Nashville's Tennessean newspaper who now serves as senior editor for Christianity Today magazine, commented:

I really like the Rachel Zoll piece today. Great look at the nitty gritty details of lived faith. With a good news hook.

The story concerns Muslim women in the U.S. debating the safety of wearing hijabs amid fears of a backlash after attacks carried out by Islamic extremists in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.:

The lede:

NEW YORK (AP) — On the night of the California shootings, Asifa Quraishi-Landes sat on her couch, her face in her hands, and thought about what was ahead for her and other Muslim women who wear a scarf or veil in public.
The covering, or hijab, often draws unwanted attention even in the best of times. But after the one-two punch of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks by Islamic militants, and amid an anti-Muslim furor stoked by comments of Donald Trump, Quraishi-Landes, an Islamic law specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wanted to send a message.
"To all my Muslim sisters who wear hijab," she wrote on her Facebook page. "If you feel your life or safety is threatened in any way because of your dress, you have an Islamic allowance (darura/necessity) to adjust your clothing accordingly. Your life is more important than your dress."
Amid a reported spike in harassment, threats and vandalism directed at American Muslims and at mosques, Muslim women are intensely debating the duty and risks related to wearing their head-coverings as usual.

It's certainly a timely angle, and Zoll — as she typically does — quotes a variety of well-informed sources.

Moreover, she provides relevant background and context, such as this:

The question of whether to wear the hijab is already deeply sensitive for Muslim women. Scholars have debated for years whether women have a religious obligation to dress a particular way. And Muslims disagree over whether the hijab is a symbol of piety or oppression.
Women who wear a scarf or veil say they have many motivations for doing so, including demonstrating devotion to their faith and showing pride in their religious heritage. Their decision makes them among the most visible representatives of Islam, in a way that men with beards aren't. Well before the latest uproar, it was common for American Muslim women wearing the hijab to be stared or cursed at, or have strangers tug at their scarves.

I wouldn't mind some attribution on that last sentence (who says it's "common?"), but I already voiced my concern related to squishy data on the reported spike in anti-Muslim incidents. 

Overall, I liked this story — and I join Smietana in recommending it.

The Los Angeles Times has a similar report that focuses on an incident that the Austin American-Statesman also covered:

The Times story isn't as impressive as the AP piece.

It's less fleshed out and more sensationalistic (with a dose of editorialization), referring to "dozens of Islamophobic incidents nationwide since last month, including many against women wearing headscarves." 

Note to the Times: The Associated Press Stylebook — "the journalist's bible" — would urge you to avoid terms such as "Islamophobic" in your reporting:

phobia An irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness. Examples: acrophobia, a fear of heights, and claustrophobia, a fear of being in small, enclosed spaces. Do not use in political or social contexts: homophobia, Islamophobia.

Your turn, GetReligion readers: What stories have you seen on this topic? Were you impressed or not? What questions do you have? 

Please respect our Commenting Policy