Muslim women

All-girl hijab band gets uncritical reception from media that don't get theology

All-girl hijab band gets uncritical reception from media that don't get theology

It’s hard not to do a double take when a photo in the New York Times shows a girl wearing a hijab and wailing away on an electric guitar.

Performing as a rock musician isn’t something most Muslim girls do, even in Indonesia, where the story is set and Islam is less strict than in certain Middle Eastern countries.

But there is one religious factor that all the reporters, from various publications who’ve covered the story, have missed. See if you can find it in this article.

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The three teenage girls — shy and even seeming slightly embarrassed as they peer out from their Islamic head scarves — do not look much like a heavy metal band.
But a dramatic change occurs when they take the stage. All pretense of shyness or awkwardness evaporates as the group — two 17-year-olds and one 15-year-old — begin hammering away at bass, guitar and drums to create a joyous, youthful racket.
They are Voice of Baceprot, a rising band in Indonesia, a country where heavy metal is popular enough that the president is an avowed fan of bands like Metallica and Megadeth.
But beyond blowing away local audiences with their banging music, the three girls are also challenging entrenched stereotypes about gender and religious norms in the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority nation.

The girls, we learn, wish to prove they can be observant Muslims while playing loud music and wearing hijabs while doing so. In response, they’ve received plenty of death threats for not acting submissive. Also,

Beyond the death threats, they also dealt with a more prosaic form of disapproval: “Our school principal is a conservative Muslim, and he says music is ‘haram,’” or forbidden under Islam.

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Muslim women: Do their good stories get less news coverage than the bad ones?

Muslim women: Do their good stories get less news coverage than the bad ones?

If you're a sentient being, you're undoubtedly aware of the situation facing women living in patriarchal Muslim-majority nations. Likewise, you've also surely read your fair share of yarns such as this New York Times piece from 2015, headlined, “Women in Tunisia Tell of Decades of Police Cruelty, Violence and Rape.”

Or this 2016 survey story, from U.S. News & WorldReport, that placed eight Muslim nations among the 10 worst when measuring gender equality. Or this one from 2015, produced by Al-Jazeera English, on the situation facing women in Afghanistan.

Such stories of women's status and treatment in Muslim nations are a staple of Western journalistic coverage of the Islamic world. When done fairly and placed in their appropriate cultural context  -- without allowing that context to serve as an excuse — these stories are important and should be told.

But I'm wondering why stories detailing legal advances for women in Muslim nations seem not to receive equally strong play in mainstream Western news media?

Sure, such changes tend to strike Westerners as merely incremental and long overdue, which tends to dull their news value in the minds of some reporters and editors. Nor are such steps as life-altering as more difficult to achieve grass-root cultural changes, meaning how ordinary people actually live and treat each other no matter what the law says.

Still, legal changes, as aspirational as they may be, set precedents that can promote real change down the road. As such, they deserve wide media attention.

Two stories on this sort caught my eye last week -- though apparently not the eyes of many others in the world of elite Western media.

The first, reported here by Al Jazeera-English, told of how the Jordanian parliament has moved toward ending the ability of rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victims, a time-honored loophole that persists in parts of the Muslim world.

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Religious 'ghosts' haunt coverage of hijab controversy at Georgia State

Religious 'ghosts' haunt coverage of hijab controversy at Georgia State

Muslim college student fights for her right to wear a hijab: good, controversial piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

At least until you see that much of the article was drawn from the campus newspaper, the Georgia State Signal. And both stories are haunted by religious "ghosts" -- the omission of the faith-based objections underlying the student's protest.

You’ve no doubt read about hijab cases before, often about students or office workers. Nabila Khan's story is a more extreme case, an acid test for individual freedom: the niqab, which not only covers a woman's hair and neck, but envelops her face except for her eyes. 

So her story carries a greater punch, which the Constitution adroitly summarizes:

During her first week of school, a Muslim student was asked to remove her veil by a Georgia State University teacher. She refused.
Nabila Khan, a first-year student, is now at the center of a controversy about religious freedom.
She told The Signal, the school’s newspaper, that the teacher held her back after class and asked her not to conceal her face while in class, as was written in the syllabus. Khan refused, and said she believed being required to remove her niqab violated her rights to freedom of speech and religion.
Khan said in the article that she chooses to wear the niqab, which is a veil that covers all but the eyes, to work and school.
“Many people have this misconception that, as Muslim women, we’re oppressed or forced to wear it. For me, it’s a choice. My parents never forced me to wear it,” she said.

It's a compelling, counterintuitive treatment of a news story: the head covering not as a symbol of an oppressed gender, but as an individual religious choice. But how original? Have a look at the Signal's version:

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France's high court clears up burkini's legality; mainstream media still muddy the waters

France's high court clears up burkini's legality; mainstream media still muddy the waters

In France's so-called burkini wars, hypocrisy seems to be one of the few things that mainstream media have teased out well. The latest salvo came from the nation's high court today, striking down a town's law against the modest swimwear for Muslims.

Coverage has been fuzzier or silent on other things, though -- like what the laws say, what the underlying concepts mean, religious views on the matter, even the definition of a burkini.

The Washington Post aptly compares the burkini flap with that against the burqa, banned in France since 2010:

The argument behind both was—and remains—that Muslim modesty somehow impedes the rights of women in the historic French Republic of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
This is why, for instance, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed his opposition to the bathing suit in nothing less than the language of human rights: the burkini, he said, was a means of “enslavement.” By the logic of Valls and others, it is the duty of the French state to emancipate Muslim women from the clutches of their religion but also from themselves.

Last week, the New York Times quoted Marwan Muhammad, executive director of France's Center Against Islamophobia, that there is no legal definition of a burkini. But then the newspaper skirted the obvious follow-up question: "Well, is there a religious definition of a burkini? Have any Islamic scholars ruled on this?"  

Tmatt last week quoted former human rights lawyer Amanda Taub for noting the "obviousness of the contradiction – imposing rules on what women can wear on the grounds that it’s wrong for women to have to obey rules about what women can wear." But she then inches out too far on a limb:

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

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.

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