Keziah Ridgeway responds to Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa’s piece: As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the ‘hijab’ in the name of interfaith solidarity
Dear Asra and Hala,
I need to share some things with you about my experience as a Modern Muslim woman, but before I do let me state this: America is as Muslim as apple pie. That’s right I said it.
So let me school you and our fellow Americans on why I’ve stated the above. Bear with me.
As long as there have been Europeans in the Americas, there have been Muslims. There [are] even theories that Abu Bakari a Malian King came ashore on a coastal city in Brazil in the early 1400’s. This would be well before Columbus…Columbused the Americas.
In addition, a large majority of African slaves who were brought to these shores were also Muslim. Unfortunately, like their non-Muslim counterparts, they were forced to adopt a new religion, replace their culture, customs, and language in order to be the ideal slave.
Remarkably, despite the brutal white washing of Africans bought to America, the culture and religious practices endured. While more research is being conducted to unearth these historical connections, the famous case of Yarrow Mamout can be held as an example.
So to[o] is the case of Phoebe, wife of Bilal Mohamed. Bilal, an African who was enslaved on the island of Sopelo could read Arabic and maintained his Islamic faith. His wife Phoebe, who wore a head veil, gave her children Arabic names. Their beliefs would go on to play a pivotal role in the development of Geechee culture on this same island. In fact, descendants from Sopelo with the surname Baily trace the derivative of the name to Bilal.
All of the above was written to say, Islam has always been present within the Americas due to the enslavement and forced migration of African Slaves. As such, it does not come as a surprise that one of the largest racial groups of Muslims in America are African Americans.
What is disheartening but not surprising is the lack of attention and platform given to African American Muslims and in particular Black Muslim Women. In mainstream media both in written and visual mediums, we are bombarded insatiably with images of Muslim Americans who do not present an accurate depiction of Muslim demographics in this country.
And this matters. Even more so than ever before because Muslims are under attack and if it’s one thing that Black Americans are familiar with, it’s the terrorizing and traumatizing of Black Bodies. So we do have a unique perspective to share. We can’t be easily othered because our roots have been planted here and we aren’t going anywhere.
So when I read an article written by two women disparaging hijab, who claim to speak on behalf of all modern Mainstream Muslim Women I get angry. I get it though. You come from immigrant backgrounds where maybe many you know were forced, shamed, or pressured into wearing the Khimar. That sort of trauma can leave a lasting impression. It has certainly led you to make misguided judgements and declarations about covering in Islam that are simply not true. At the very least you should be an ally for women who choose to cover.
Asra and Hala, I stand with you and support your decision to not wear Khimar, but I must vehemently deny your willingness to speak on my behalf. We do not share the same experiences as Muslim women, therefore you do not represent me.
I am an African American Muslim Woman convert. My lineage is firmly planted in the soil that was tilled by my ancestors, this soil that soaked up their blood and their tears, this soil that held their scraps of Quranic verses that they wrote down in secret.
I chose Khimar. It was a welcomed change from my previous years of short shorts, miniskirts, and tank tops. I believe in modesty, I believe in Khimar. As a modern Muslim woman (Educated, Mother of Four, Teacher, and Former Fashion Blogger) I find comfort and value in covering my hair and my form. I’m not oppressed, and I don’t need to be saved.
But, more importantly, I stand in solidarity with women like Dr. Larycia Hawkins who stood in solidarity with Muslim women like me. What they are doing takes courage and really does highlight their strong faith and belief in sisterhood. It is the stuff that real womanism/feminism is made of and you two could learn a thing or two from them.