Quoting the Quran -- modestly

While this may sound rather strange, a recent Religion News Service piece on the debates surrounding Rima Fakih -- "Muslim Miss USA: Progress, or immodesty?" -- sort of ticked me off, but for the same reason that I also wanted to praise it. Let me explain.

The crucial passage in Omar Sacirbey's story that caught my eye was this one:

Kiran Ansari, communications director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said beauty pageants degrade women, are un-Islamic and that Fakih does not represent Muslims well.

''The route she took to get this fame is not in line with Islam. A Muslim woman can be beautiful, but walking around in front of millions of viewers in a swimsuit, is not in sync with Islamic values," said Ansari.

The Quran speaks of beauty and demureness, saying that Muslim women should "lower their gaze and guard their modesty," and should not "display their beauty and ornaments." It also cautions women to "draw their veils over their bosoms."

Now, this is certainly not the only Muslim stance on this issue, at least in America and in a few other parts of the Western world. As the story makes clear, there are plenty of Arab and Muslim voices who are quick to defend the Lebanese beauty queen's participation in Donald Trump's television spectacular.

However, you know there are many who disagree and not all of them are, to use that much abused word, so-called Muslim "fundamentalists." Modesty is a rather significant component of how the Quran and Islamic tradition view women, no matter how the the national or local imams choose to rule on issues of veils, headscarves, hijabs, burquas and other forms of coverings.

Yet if one goes to Google News and enters the words "Quran, Rima Fakih," this RNS report is the only mainline news report that will show up. This is rather strange, don't you think?

So three cheers for the decision to quote the Quran. However, this passage in the story also made me flinch, because it is located 15 paragraphs or so into the story and this is the only section of the text that considers the religion angle of the Fakih debates worthy of discussion. The rest of the story simply states that Arabs tend to think that parading in a bikini is sort of unusual for a Muslim woman, but, hey, this is America. Thus, we read:

Fakih, who donned a gold bikini and a strapless white dress for the pageant, will return to Las Vegas in August when she represents America in the Miss Universe contest.

"There's recognition among Muslims that this is not a traditionally Islamic way for a woman to dress," said Shahed Amanullah, editor at AltMuslim.com, a news and commentary website. "But in its own weird way, its progress."

Many Muslims are critical of beauty pageants as lewd and degrading to women. At the same time, Fakih, 24, is being hailed as a symbol of Muslim-American integration who shatters the stereotype of the cloaked and dour Muslim woman.

Now, that passage leads straight into a reference that mainstream journalists seem to have memorized so that it can be mechanically typed into all reports about Fakih and her family.

Fakih's family, which she said celebrates Muslim and Christian holidays, is from Lebanon. After living in Queens, N.Y., where Fakih attended a Catholic high school, the family settled in Dearborn, Mich., home to one of the largest Arab-American communities in America. Now, Fakih is developing a fan base that includes not only Muslims who are less strict about religious dress-codes, but also those who don headscarves and watch what they wear.

Now, anyone who has traveled to the Middle East or other regions with large Muslim populations knows that there are many secular Muslims who do not practice their faith, just as there are cultural Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, etc. The tensions in Turkey over headscarves in schools and the public square are rooted in disagreements between traditional Muslims, the so-called modern Muslims and completely secular Muslims. I know all of that.

However, when Fakih returns to the spotlight, it would be interesting for reporters to ask a very simple question: To what degree does she, and her family, practice the traditions of Islam? Is there a religion component to this story or not?

It wouldn't hurt to ask, just as it doesn't hurt to quote the Quran when writing about a topic that is this central to the modern debates about Islam and within Islam.

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