Muslims Wearing Things, and also taking stands

Earlier this month, Juan Williams, a high-ranking News Analyst, made some off-the-cuff comments on “The O’Reilly Factor” that cost him his job at NPR. He explained to Bill O’Reilly that he was no bigot, adding the qualification: “But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” Perhaps it is Williams’ track record as a renowned historian of the Civil Rights movement that made his unsavory comments all the more unpalatable.
As might be expected, the words hit a nerve with Muslims in America who already feel they are unduly targeted for supposedly “random searches” in airport security, sometimes held for hours so as to miss connecting flights. Following these controversial events, one young woman decided to offer her own creative contribution to the debate. Razia, who chose not to provide her last name, took the initiative to create Muslims Wearing Things: Muslims Dressed in their Garb. Humbly professing that she had no idea her “wee blog” would garner such interest, the site has now become an overnight internet sensation since its creation last Thursday. The site boasts ever-increasing pages of photographs depicting Muslims the world over with their choice of “Muslim garb” described through witty one-liners. This concept is simple enough, but the content gets at something a bit deeper.

Indeed, the blog singularly reveals what so many civil rights activists and interfaith advocates have only ever rambled on about by effectively highlighting the diversity of Muslims the world over, not only through the variety of ways in which they dress, but also through their myriad occupations and accomplishments.

Working against notions that Muslims can be characterized by their clothing, and that a choice of attire bears weight upon their character, Razia says she “wanted to showcase an honest spectrum of what Muslims look like, and perhaps crack a smile or two along the way.” How the blog has garnered such a following is a mystery to its 30-year-old creator who has always aimed to stand true to her beliefs and concerns, voicing them, as she says, “in my own quirky way.”

The Islamic faith of hip-hop moguls such as Akon, T-Pain, Lupe Fiasco and Busta Rhymes might contrast with images of these individuals among their fans, as will those of numerous sports stars—male and female. Featured in their element, Iranian racecar driver Laleh Seddigh and Bahraini Olympic sprinter Roqaya Al-Gassara easily undermine stereotypes about women in the Muslim world. From Congressman Keith Ellison to recently crowned Miss USA Rima Fakih, the site shows that Muslims are not the invariably radical or fully covered figures depicted in mainstream news media.

Some less famous figures prove no less deserving of the notoriety offered them through a spot on the site. Take for example the following strikingly poignant caption: “US Army Specialist and Muslim Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan wore camouflage, up until the day he was killed in combat in Iraq, fighting for his country. Not pictured: the bronze star and purple heart he earned posthumously.”

While Muslims Wearing Things squarely refutes the belief that there exists any sort of Islamic uniform, it is unable to fully confront all the negative feelings provoked by those those guilty of “flying while Muslim,” especially since outward assimilation apparently offers a sense of safety to Williams, and likely many others as well. Accepting Muslims as dynamic individuals no matter what they wear and where they wear it—whether 30,000 feet above ground or in French government offices remains the real issue.

While Razia believes that people have a right to the sorts of fears articulated by Williams, she says “The problem comes when you rationalize those fears, and give them serious credence. You can’t collectively blame, punish, hate, discriminate, or judge all Muslims based on the actions of a few who just so happen to share that very broad label.”

Still, amid the rising tide of Islamophobia, Muslims Wearing Things reveals that contrary to what they think, most Americans probably do know a good few Muslims—and they probably won’t be able to pick them out by their clothing. Hopefully through seeing members of the Islamic community as servicemen and policewomen, authors and astronauts, Nobel Laureates and NBA all-stars, the stereotype of Muslims as terrorists can be at least slightly dispelled.
Beenish Ahmed recently completed an MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge through a Fulbright Scholarship to the United Kingdom. She is an award-winning writer, freelance journalist, and social justice activist.

5 Comments

  • Sister Jannah says:

    As far as it concerns me, Muslim garb is whatever this Muslimah happens to be wearing at any given moment. Which is trivial.

    Right now it happens to be a long-sleeved knit top and a long skirt???pretty much what I threw on randomly. My Muslimah garb often happens to coincide with regulation Muslimah garb, minus the hijab. Or it doesn’t. It isn’t a matter of religious obligation, it’s nothing but whatever I feel like wearing at any time. To regulate women’s garb so minutely and coercively is to objectify our bodies, which is so gross.

    I do dress in hijab & everything to go to the mosque. Because people there would probably give me major attitude if I didn’t. Outside of the mosque, I never bother any more. No disrespect intended toward hijabi sisters, you look awesome, more power to you. If you like it for whatever reason, I support you. I just honestly cannot see how it would inherently make any difference one way or another in a sister’s character or spiritual life. That has to come from within. I see hijab semiotically reflecting or broadcasting a sister’s inner spiritual state. I don’t see hijab as causing spiritual states, though. A woman does that for herself from within her heart.

  • Saadia says:

    Working against notions that Muslims can be characterized by their clothing, and that a choice of attire bears weight upon their character, Razia says she ???wanted to showcase an honest spectrum of what Muslims look like, and perhaps crack a smile or two along the way.???

    This is interesting because I also think that choice of dress shouldn’t limit how a person is viewed. Its an aspect of civil rights but its not the most pronounced one for me – access to opportunity, the freedom to live and move around safely, privacy, etc. are important.

    But ultimately we act on our own convictions and consciences – not only how we are told we have to look and be. To be identified as a real Muslim simply by your clothing or any external factors may take away from the subjective experience of who a person is inside and what moves them.

  • Saadia says:

    The problem might also be that Muslims are part of a framework, like the energy trade, so that when you see someone like Khalid Latif in the video, who is wearing white turban, you may think about certain things, like Saudi Arabian oil.

    Global trade is not the problem. But because of these frameworks, it may take some time to understand who people really are and what they are saying – allowing them to define themselves and communicate their own beliefs.

  • Saadia says:

    Also, its interesting that Beenish Ahmed was a Fulbright scholar. The topic of being ‘full of knowledge’ has been raised before, as if there aren’t people with many degrees, and the problem is that it reflects a misunderstanding of Surat al-Baqarah (The Cow).

    I was already wary of distributing Muhammad Asad’s Quranic translation to policymakers; He in no way makes everything clear or suggests that his is the definitive work. Even though he was a Jewish convert to Islam, and his translation tries to achieve a better rendering of interfaith relations to a Western audience, he doesn’t suggest that he has the last word.

    Its not at all the case that Muslims have been overly recycled – not as much as my own work has. So I want to elaborate on just one verse. Seemingly it critiques some people among the children of Israel, after recognizing their place in History, for boasting that they already had enough knowledge. Let me be frank here about an issue no one wants to discuss openly, because it could help.

    Reading the commentary, you see that Asad’s translation is trying to make a reconciliation with Muslims who may also carry that same sentiment – meaning he is not exactly translating the Arabic, and it seems to be on purpose.

    Its important to get this across. The translation praises the “People of the Book” in some parts and then seems to criticize in a way that could be really disturbing. The truth is that the Arabic isn’t identifying the “above mentioned” people based on their religious identification. The Arabic is mentioning the “kufr” from within those religious communities, meaning those who denied the truth, claiming arrogance, and then persecuted or killed Prophets and Apostles – in other words, committing horrible acts that went against the teachings of their communities.

    Also, this verse isn’t specifically talking about Jesus; The Muslim story is slightly different – believing that God saved him at the end.

  • Saadia says:

    And I realize I let the cat out of the bag, but since so many people, young ones included, can be confused by what they read, I think its worth it.

    Hopefully a reward is impending for my work to create peace (salam).

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