In story about Muslim women art exhibit, follow-up questions are not on the menu

Ever taste only part of a good meal? An article on an art exhibit on Muslim women in the Tampa Bay Times feels like that.

The article raises several tantalizing questions about Muslim women -- their garb, their self-image, their public image -- but doesn't follow up most of them. The result reads less like dinner and more like a canape. 

It's a timely and urgent topic because traditional Muslim women  face more profiling than so Muslim men. With headdresses covering their hair, sometimes wrapping around their heads and necks as well, the women are instantly identifiable as non-Jews or non-Christians -- and non-secular people, for that matter. So "Loud Print," the show at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, has the potential to open some eyes.

The artist, Ameena Khan, seems acutely aware of the issues herself:

Khan uses her artwork to initiate conversations about Muslim women. Her paintings portray a diverse group of women wearing hijabs, a cloth wrapped around their heads. One of the most striking paintings shows a woman struggling to keep her head up because her yellow hijab is so big. It's meant to represent the struggles Muslim women face wearing a hijab in public.
Meant to keep Muslim women hidden, the hijab seems instead to draw unwanted attention and sometimes hateful comments, Khan said. 
"You have this burden that you're carrying around," she said. "That's all people see."

Sounds pretty evocative, but it stops short. If a woman's most prominent garb is a symbol of her religion, and if a hijab is meant to keep women hidden, how are people to see the individual underneath? How is she to express herself otherwise? If the Times asked, it doesn't give us the answer.

It does explain the idea of starting a conversation about Muslim women -- partly. Interestingly, the artist did it via social media:

Khan said she solicited her subjects via Facebook and was surprised by the outpouring of interest.
"It was kind of overwhelming. Some of the statements were sad."
Some women expressed fear about wearing their hijabs. One read, "Lately I've been feeling like my hijab is attracting attention rather than deterring it."
But most women view their hijabs as crowns. Another painting read, "As a Muslim woman I feel liberated. My hijab exudes honor and integrity, but most of all it is a symbol of my independence."

Also innovative is "Just a Peek, Please?", where a viewer lifts veils to read women's statements. One would surprise those who see the cloth as a symbol of oppression: "As a Muslim woman I feel liberated. My hijab exudes honor and integrity, but most of all it is a symbol of my independence."

Thought-provoking indeed, but does the conversation go beyond that? What about views of non-Muslim women? Or those of Muslim men?

I also wonder about a statement by one of the subjects. First, she says her hijab "has become so much a part of my identity." Then she says Muslim women "should be seen as more than their religion." If the Times asked "Like what?", it doesn't give the answer. 

GetReligion regulars can likely sense the undropped shoe hovering over this post: Where is the religious viewpoint on all of this? What does Islam say about head coverings? What are the relevant doctrines?

Muslim scholars usually point to surah 24:30-31 in the Quran, which orders modesty for both genders. In conduct, men and women are to "lower their gaze and guard their private parts." Women are also told to "draw their head covers over their bosoms and not to display their adornment" to male non-relatives. That, I think, would have been important for an article on an exhibit about the veil.

Now, maybe the newspaper doesn't have a resident expert -- not since Tampa Bay's veteran religion writer, Michelle Bearden, was laid off a couple of years ago. But still, the paper could have called a local Muslim leader, no?

I count 31 mosques in west-central Florida, 14 in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area alone. The American Islamic Center in Pinellas Park looks especially interesting. Its website says it allows women to serve and doesn't have the traditional barrier between the genders. Do you think they might have had something interesting to say about Ameena Khan's art show?

Because, after all, the issue of Muslim women -- how they see themselves and how others see them -- is about religion. Without adding that angle, the Tampa Bay Times leaves a classic religious ghost lurking between the lines. And an unsatisfied appetite among readers.

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