Friday, May 21, 2010

Debate on Rima Fakih

Rima Fakih, and American citizen from Michigan, recently won the Miss USA pageant. This wouldn't be a big deal, except she is Lebanese and from a Muslim family. Some Americans are protesting a Muslim winning a beauty pageant, alleging that her victory was politically-motivated. There has also been backlash from Muslims. I don't understand any of it. A beautiful woman won a beauty pageant. Who cares? Well, these people do, and there was a debate about whether Islam allows Muslims to enter beauty pageants. Technically, the Koran specifically requires women only to cover their bosoms and private parts in public, which all the beauty pageant contestants did. Unfortunately, many Muslims are confused about the minimum requirements of their own religion, which has created many problems worldwide. More below:

Z: these contests don't have anything to do with our faith. There's nothing Islamic about what she's representing. I'm just saying, why don't we provide Muslim women professors with an opportunity to be crowned so we avoid the same misrepresentation of Muslim women in the media? Why do men applaud women who reveal their bodies and then pray 5x a day?

M: I don't view Islam as an "either/or" religion when it comes to beauty and educational pedigrees. Also, there is nothing in Islam that forbids the showing of physical beauty. To exhibit physical beauty, one must demonstrate one's physical form. Therefore, demonstrating one's form cannot be unIslamic b/c Islam is not against physical beauty.

You are questioning the degree of the demonstration, which is fine, but you've automatically lost credibility once you make a statement like, "There's nothing Islamic about what she's representing." Is she immodest? Perhaps. But since modesty is an ambiguous term and in the eye of the beholder, we must be more careful before we issue broad statements about what is Islamic or unIslamic. After all, Islam is not like the Catholic Church, where all Muslims must heed a particular interpretation coming from one source (i.e., the Vatican). As such, Muslims ought to recognize that no individual Muslim has authority over what is Islamic or unIslamic, and such debates must be settled by quoting the Koran, which is oftentimes ambiguous and open to interpretation.

Z: if the lines of modesty are ambiguous to you, it speaks volumes about your confusion of Islamic principles. I'm not comparing Islam to other faiths. I'm merely stating that its followers of the faith who are misrepresenting the religion and the media picks up on that. No one said physical beauty is a sin.

M: the Koran asks women to guard their "private parts" and their bosoms and then immediately references husbands and fathers. A hijab covers a woman's private parts and bosom--but so does a one-piece bikini.

The Koran also asks women to act modestly when outside the presence of their husbands or fathers; however, one husband or father may view a bikini as immodest, while another may have no issue with it. Therefore, the Koran seems to be asking women to take actions to minimize jealousy in their husbands and maximize harmony in their families, which requires a case-by-case analysis of the "lines of modesty." I hope this makes sense. Also, note that Muslim-majority countries like Dubai, Iran, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia have vastly different rules on modesty, which should tell you right away that there isn't any singular interpretation of the Koran's definition of modesty.

Z: as you know Muslims were known for their good character, honesty, and intellect which magnified the beauty of their physical state. This is not an issue of interpretations, the reason I brought this is up is because we need to be thoughtful in our approach about what we're supporting. I'm sure that there are many women who don't practice their faith but wear the hijab because of the rules of their government/families. In a country such as ours where there are no rules about what's immodest, shouldn't we harness the best of our faith and freedom and question the values set forth?

Ask how many of these pageant winners have stalkers and live in fear of their lives. Ask how many of these pageant participants have eating disorders. Ask how many of these pageant winners spend their wealth and time in combating the problems of the world long before they entered a pageant. I see this as further ridicule...it's definitely not praise. It's saying, "look how we can brainwash your women into thinking we accept them for their religion and beauty" or "this should make up for all the bombs we're dropping on the innocent people (in all the Muslim countries you didn't mention)."

M:
Connecting categories like beauty and modesty to stalkers and bombs in one leap indicates a fantastic imagination. I don't know anyone who looks at Ms. Fakih and thinks that her award makes up for the death of innocent civilians, so to suggest such a connection is troubling. It's like referencing 9/11 every time a Muslim is stopped at the airport in 2010--it's a tenuous connection at best and ultimately fails to support a conclusion or argument.

F: your statement "there is nothing in Islam that forbids the physical showing of beauty" is true. A woman may ONLY expose herself to other women or to another maharam. This is in the Qu'ran, and not up for debate. Modesty may be an "ambiguous" term, but strutting around in a two piece in front of eight million people is not ambiguous at all. There really is no gray area here.

Also, for anyone to equate wearing a hijab to wearing a two-piece is absolutely illogical. Are you saying that God is ok with either apparel? Clearly the two are not similar. It is either this or that, but not both, because both are contradictions to one another, and we all know contradictions are illogical. Wearing a bikini and wearing a hijab are not the same, so they will not be looked upon the same in God's eyes.

In the Qu'ran, 24:31 says, "And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty..." Come on now, we are being asked to lower our gaze!! This is such a modest and subtle gesture. From this you are concluding that it is ok to wear a two piece bikini? You are unsure whether wearing a bikini contradicts this aforementioned verse? what possible argument can someone have? Surely this is illogical right? Why would God put that in the finite book, and then be ok, with naked women on a stage. I-l-l-o-g-i-c-a-l.

33:59 goes on to say, “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters AND the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them." Yes, draw cloaks around the body, to prevent from giving the woman a discernible shape. You know how girls like to wear things real tight these days?

Whatever Miss Fakih does is between her and her God. It doesn't bother me one bit she calls herself Muslim. It's all good, because the rules, and regulations are all there. We have Taliban and extremist blowing people to bits. A girl strutting her goods on stage is the least of our concerns.

But rules, will be rules. And right will always be different from wrong.

M:
First, did you really just admit that "modesty" may be an ambiguous term and then in the next breath allege no "gray area"? (I hope you see the problem there.)

Second, there is no "contradiction" between a bikini and a hijab. Both are articles of clothing, and articles of clothing can't contradict anything. It's like saying that a t-shirt and a sweater contradict each other, which makes no sense.

Also, you use the word, "naked." Ms. Fakih was never naked. She covered her "bosom" and her private parts--the only two areas of the body specifically cited in the verses at issue--so she complies with the Koranic sections that are most specific on modesty.

Since there is no singular authority on Koranic interpretation, all you can say is that your own interpretation of Islam forbids wearing a bikini in public--that's it. You cannot demand only one interpretation for an ambiguous term--this isn't like eating pork or drinking alcohol, which are clearly prohibited in the Koran.

Y
our other Koranic quotations are also open to interpretation. As I am sure you agree, almost every single Koranic section that discusses modesty and dress does so within the context of family members and husbands, so a reasonable interpretation cannot ignore the variable opinions of a woman's family. Why specifically include husbands and family members in the modesty verses if their opinions--which may vary greatly--are insignificant?

You also take the "cloak" verse out of context. First, a cloak refers to an outer garment that was popular in that time--it doesn't necessarily mean an actual cloak, just an outer garment. Second, take a closer look at the verses. It is discussing a time when women travel abroad or into lands where they will not be recognized as Muslims and may encounter problems with disrespectful men. Within context, the "cloak" verses appear to suggest simple, inexpensive ways for women to feel respected when they travel, i.e., to "be recognized and not harassed" and "not given trouble." There is nothing in the verses that requires women to wear particular outer garments when they travel. The verses merely encourage a woman to identify herself as a Muslim when she travels to foreign lands so she can avoid being bothered by disrespectful men. Such identification may be done in several ways, such as wearing a symbol of Islam (similar to wearing a cross if one is Christian). Of course I do not claim my interpretation is the only interpretation, but I do try to read verses in context.

F:
So since there is no singular authority on the interpretation of the Qu'ran, you in your heart believe that it is acceptable from women in Islam to wear bikini's in public? You, with all your given faculty believe, that this is the message that God was striving to send to us? Just because the concept of female clothing is vague and open to a variety of interpretations, does not include the possibility that wearing such a thing in public is correct.

I was not sure what you were trying to say regarding the husband and father. All I was trying to say that a woman's clothing maybe more lax in front of maharam.

As for the cloak/garment verse 33:59, it says that women should cover them selves with this cloak (or garment) to avoid being harassed by men. All other things equal, who do you think has a higher probability of being harassed, a covered woman or one in a bikini? I think the latter. Basically this verse is trying to avoid having the woman attract unnecessary attention. Correct? Women should be clothed in ways that do not attract men's attention. Regardless if they are traveling, not traveling, are in the market, or anywhere in the public.

I'm going to revert back to 24:31. You say that a woman who covers her vitals, as a two piece does, is meeting the minimum requirements. Correct? Then how come this verse talks about a very subtle gesture, that is the lowering of the gaze. Can you compare the lowering of the gaze to wearing a bikini? Are these not on the opposite sides of the spectrum? Are these not contradictory. The Qu'ran advocates the woman should humbly lower her gaze, while you are saying that a woman in a bikini is not trespassing any rule. Can you please reconcile this blatant disparity?

24:31 also has an interesting thing that it mentions. It says for the woman to " not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment." Looks like to me that holy God is talking about another sense in addition to sight.....hearing. This is the extent to which women in Islam are instructed to behave. That they shouldn't even walk with a heavy foot. So again, when the bikini wearing in public is factored, how do you reconcile this disparity?

You know what the sweet thing about Islam is? It cuts the problem off at the root. Drinking causes problems, so guess what, no drinking AT ALL. Drugs causes problems, guess what, no smoking weed AT ALL. Stealing causes problems, guess what, no stealing AT ALL. Even a dollar. If everyone was allowed to drink "a little bit", or smoke weed "once in a while" then the entire system would crumble. There would always be one guy who drank too much and plowed his car into a group of kids, or a guy who fried his brain over drugs.

Islam, quite candidly is a religion of limits.

M:
this will be my last response to you, b/c I've already studied this issue in detail and have explained most of my position. As I said before, in my heart, I believe Islam is not rigid--the different Islamic cultures across the world prove it--and we cannot ignore the varied opinions of family members when interpreting the modesty verses. Such verses almost always refer to women's "husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons." These references are consistent and numerous, indicating that the intent of the modesty rules is to promote marital and familial harmony. Each father and husband has different preferences, so a bikini may make one husband jealous while another man may not mind. The only rule we know for sure is that women ought to cover their "bosoms" and "private parts"--anything beyond that is subject to interpretation.

You don't really offer anything new in your latest response. "Lowering the gaze" means women shouldn't look at forbidden things, just like men shouldn't be looking at forbidden things. The "gaze" verse talks about self-restraint, but each individual has unique boundaries. One woman may not be able to handle looking at a man's ankles, while another may be able to look at Fabio and maintain self-restraint. Again, we are back to a case-by-case analysis.

The "stamping feet" verse warns against showing off "ornaments," i.e., expensive jewelry, not body parts. Indeed, near the same place that "ornaments" is used, the Koran specifically cites "bosom" and "private parts," so it appears we are referring to something other than physical areas. In conclusion, if you think Islam has limits, wonderful--you can set up a mosque and preach however you like, but the minute you argue that Islam has only one way or one interpretation, you have crossed into Catholicism or some other religion.

Z:
In reference to verse 24:31 about a woman to " not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment." It is not only referring to jewelry worn around ankles that make sounds to attract a man's attention, but as a woman, it's also referring to the movement of the chest as one walks. God created us all in the best of forms and provided us beauty as well as intellect. Our ancestors were known for their character because of how they used their intellect and that in itself magnified their physical attributes.

Clearly Ms. Fakih possess physical beauty, and no one is arguing that...but I just wish to learn more about her intellect. She has great potential to be a positive role model and I pray she gains the strength to overcome the whirlwind of the life she's chosen.

Would you congratulate your sister, mother, aunt, cousin, wife or daughter if any of them were following Ms. Fakih's lead?

M:
if a woman in my family decided to participate in a beauty contest, the appropriate discussion would take place privately. I don't see anything in the Koran that requires a non-family member to judge another Muslim's modesty.

Generally speaking, in Islam, both the wife and the husband are tied together--or yoked together--and both must avoid harmful and immodest behavior. The definition of immodest behavior is based on input from both the husband and the wife. The wife can ask her husband to dress conservatively if such dress conforms to her definition of modesty, and vice-versa. This is why it is important to know the expectations of the person you are marrying. The intent of the modesty rules is to avoid jealousy on both sides, which helps promote a peaceful marriage.

So if you really look at the Koran in context, the intent of the modesty rules is, "Don't tick off your spouse." Thus, outside the house, the wife gets to ask the husband to dress in ways that make her feel comfortable, and the husband gets to ask his wife to dress in ways that make him comfortable. Such preferences are expressed in most marriages anyway, e.g., the wife buys the husband new clothes, throws away old shirts, lays out what she wants him to wear, etc. I've heard Christian husbands refuse to go out if the wife is wearing something too risque, and Christian dads complain about their daughters' clothing, so this issue isn't an "Islamic thing."

The Koran anticipates these marital and familial problems and tries to fix them ahead of time. In real life, women tend to become the focus of clothing/modesty discussions b/c most women are attracted to men who dress up, not down, but the opposite is true for women. At the end of the day, if you marry someone reasonable, modesty and clothing preferences won't be an issue.

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