Are Muslim Women Oppressed? Ask One

Aman Ali, a BoingBoing guest blogger, is the co-author of 30 Mosques, a Ramadan adventure taking him to a different mosque in New York City every day for a month. My last post generated an interesting discussion (268 comments and counting) on Muslim women covering their hair. But it seemed kind of silly to talk about the subject, without hearing viewpoints from Muslim women. My friend Mariam Sobh has graciously agreed to chime in. She is editor in chief of Hijabtrendz, the original fashion beauty and entertainment blog for Muslim women. Here’s what she had to say:

It’s the age old debate that quite frankly I’m sick and tired of. Muslim women and their “oppression”. Oppression is such a loaded word and it conjures up all sorts of negative images, but what people don’t seem to want to understand is that Muslim women are just like any other woman. We come in all shapes and sizes, and all sorts of beliefs. You can’t paint us all with the same brush. I’m as American as anyone else, I watch movies, I read celebrity gossip, I shop at Victoria’s Secret, I work outside the home, I’m pursuing my dreams, the only difference is that little piece of fabric I wrap around my head. Big whoop. I’m not harming anyone by wearing a piece of material on my head so what’s the big deal? I myself wear the headscarf and I do so because it’s something I believe is mandated in my religion. No one is forcing me and it has no political significance (I have no idea why people keep thinking it does). Believe me if I didn’t think it was required I WOULD NOT be wearing it. I hate being bullied all the time by the press or some ignoramus about my scarf. It takes a toll on you emotionally and eventually you have to develop a thick skin. But words will always hurt no matter what.

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The American Burqini, and modesty throughout the ages.

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BB guestblogger Aman Ali‘s post about a modest bathing suit designed by Muslim women for Muslim women has sparked debate. At the time of this post, I’m also seeing that an anonymous Muslim woman has voiced her thoughts in the thread, and I encourage you to go read. She ends: “I own a burqini and LOVE IT.”

Still, some non-Muslim commenters in the related thread take the position that “modest swimsuits” such as the burqini are a form of Muslim oppression against women. I think that’s a silly, narrow, and factually inaccurate position.

I thought it might be helpful to point out a few related Western apparel websites:

* Stitchin’ Times Women’s Swimsuits
* Lilies of the Field: Modest Women’s Apparel
* Simply Modest Swimwear Solutions

…and, I want to point out this series of posts about Victorian Bathing Machines, contraptions that allowed 18th century folks in England to bathe in the sea while adhering to the cultural norms of the era. Above, one proponent of modest sea-bathing in that era.

My point, such as it is: why must our first reaction to stuff like a Boing Boing post about burqinis be to judge or condemn? You may or may not choose to wear one, but the world doesn’t revolve around you. I believe it is more fruitful to try and learn about and appreciate cultural differences than to get all flustered about whether or not you approve.

The commenter who loves her burqini (or any one of the smiling American customers on this “modesty swimsuit” website) does not care what you think about her garments or her beliefs. Nor should she.

Let all forms of happy mutancy prevail. (Thanks, Clayton Cubitt)

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Burqini

Aman Ali, a BoingBoing guest blogger, is the co-author of 30 Mosques, a Ramadan adventure taking him to a different mosque in New York City every day for a month.

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When I first heard of this product a few years ago, I’ll admit it made me laugh, even with me being a Muslim. It’s a swimsuit called the Burqini that’s designed for Muslim women. Men and women in Islam are both asked to dress modestly but many of the swimsuits designed for women today are too revealing to allow them to do that. As you can see, the Burqini doesn’t show any skin but it’s not too loose to the point where it’s difficult to swim. No woman should be denied the freedom to have a fun filled day at the pool or beach, which is why this company designed the Burqini. The more I thought about the product, the more I began to realize how awesome it is. It’s another way Muslims have been able to adapt to local cultures and customs without compromising their beliefs, an issue many religions face today. The Burqini has gotten a lot of backlash from governments in Europe. But I don’t think any government has a right to tell people how to dress. How come a woman is not allowed to wear a burqini to a pool, but there’s no law saying she can’t wear a giant panda suit? If she wants to wear either of those outfits, hey go right ahead. Burqini’s official site

Eid Mubarak!

Bassam Tariq resides in New York City. He is the co-author of the blog 30 Mosques which celebrated the NYC mosques during the blessed Islamic month of Ramadan. He is also an ad writer at Saatchi. Don’t worry, if he were you, he’d also change the channel when his ads come on.

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Eid Mubarak everyone! (Happy Eid) The Islamic month of Ramadan ended on Saturday evening. The new month in the Islamic calendar starts with the sighting of the new moon. I remember being a kid in Pakistan and climbing our rooftop to see if the new moon was out. If we didn’t see it on the 29th day of Ramadan, we’d fast for another day and declare the first of Shawwal (the name of the next month) the day after. Kind of confusing at first, but its more so based on a communal decision than an 8 year old Bassam’s sighting. The sighting of the new moon marks the beginning of the next Islamic month, Shawwal, and the Eid-ul Fitr celebration.

Eid means festivity in Arabic and Fitr means breaking of the fast and so the holiday symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. In fact, the first day of Eid is the only day it is forbidden to fast. As the myth I heard growing up went, “the devil fasts on Eid! Do you want to fast with the devil?”

Most of my family is in Houston and I wanted to spend the last days of Ramadan, as well as Eid ul Fitr with them. So I packed my bags and left New York on Thursday night.

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Struts & Frets: an indie-rock YA novel with heart and authenticity

Jon Skovron’s debut novel, the YA book Struts & Frets, is a dynamite, nuanced story about fannish love, musical obsession, first romance and true friendship. It follows the adventures of Sammy Bojar, a small-town, midwestern high-school senior who’s life revolves around his band, a trainwreck of ego and conflict called “Tragedy of Wisdom.” The band means everything to Sammy because music means everything to him. He frames his whole world with indie pop, seeking out authenticity with a driven, blinding passion.

Sammy’s at the turning point in his life. His best male friend is coming out, his best female friend is in love with him (and it turns out it’s mutual, though he didn’t know it). The frontman for his band is a roiling, angry bully who is ever on the verge of physical violence. His beloved grandfather, a minor jazz legend, is sliding into incapacity as age and a hard life catch up with him.

The plot-points are all pretty standard YA set-pieces, but there’s never a stale (or dull) moment in Struts & Frets. That’s thanks to the incredible nuance and heart that Skovron brings to the interpersonal relationships, using these familiar emotional scenes as pivots for a deft emotional acrobatic act that is as moving as it is engrossing.

I was never a (good) musician, but I’ve always been passionate about music. I remember what it was like to be in the band, to be wrapped up in all the issues around creativity, friendship and identity; to seek out answers to life’s big questions in music, to worry at the unanswerable questions of commercialism, success and popularity. Struts & Frets will feel instantly authentic to anyone who’s ever felt the pride and shame of being an outsider.

Struts & Frets

Scenting the Dark: outstanding debut short story collection from Mary Robinette Kowal, exploring our relationship to technology and each other

“Scenting the Dark,” Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut short story collection is slim and spare and eminently satisfying. Kowal writes science fiction that uses our relationship to technology to expose our relationships to one another. Kowal is one of science fiction’s most celebrated new writers, a winner of the Campbell Award for best new writer and a current Hugo nominee, all on the strength of her short fiction (she has two novels forthcoming from Tor), and it’s easy to see why.

For me, the standout story here was Jaiden’s Weaver, a tale that combines the astronomical reality of life on a ringed planet with a subtle and moving coming-of-age story. Like the other stories in this volume, it epitomizes Kowal’s gift for using rigorous science fiction as a lever for prying open the subjective reality of the people who inhabit the futuristic world of now.

“Scenting the Dark” is a slim, handsomely made hardcover volume from the specialist house Subterranean Press, a great gift and a great treasure for yourself.

Be sure to check out Kowal’s website for readings of her work (she’s a talented and accomplished voice actor and puppeteer — she read my story After the Siege for Subterranean’s podcast), free downloads (she’s a copyfighter, too!), and other supplementary material.

Scenting the Dark and Other Stories

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan: kick-ass young adult steampunk series starts with a bang, a hiss and a clank

Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is the first volume in one of the most exciting new young adult series to come along since Uglies (or, for that matter, The Borribles). Leviathan is set in an alternate steampunk past, in which the powers of the world are divided into “Clankers” who favour huge, steam-powered walking war-machines; and “Darwinists,” whose hybrid “beasties” can stand in for airships, steam-trains, war-ships, and subs (they even have a giant squid/octopus hybrid called the kraken that can seize whole warships and drag them to their watery graves).

Set on the eve of WWI, the story’s two main characters are Aleks, the incognito orphan of the freshly assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (fleeing his murderous uncle Emperor Franz Josef from Austria to the safe haven of Switzerland in a liberated battle-walker); and Deryn, a Scots girl who has dressed in boys’ clothes to muster into Britain’s Darwinist air-corps and finds herself a midshipsman on the Leviathan, a floating ecosystem a quarter-mile long, made up of whales, bats, bees, six-legged hydrogen-sniffing dogs, and all manner of beasties that make her the meanest thing in the sky.

Filled with gripping air and land-battles, political intrigue and danger, science and madness, Leviathan is part Island of Dr Moreau, part Patrick O’Brien. And to top it all off, the volume is lavishly illustrated with fabulous ink-drawings of the best scenes from the book, executed in high Victorian style by Keith Thompson. Thompson also produced contrafactual propaganda maps of alternate Europe for end-papers.

Westerfeld writes gripping, relentless coming-of-age novels that are equally enjoyable by boys and girls, adults and kids, and Leviathan is no exception. I’m looking forward to volume two — and many more to come.

Leviathan is also available as an unabridged 8-hour audiobook on DRM-free CDs for a very reasonable $20. The reading is by Alan Cummings, who absolutely nails it, and the production — bed music, editing — is just superb, bringing the whole swashbuckling tale to life.

Leviathan

Elegy Beach: sequel to Ariel, a sword-and-sorcery post-apocalyptic adventure story about the reinvention of software in the age of magic

Back in August, I gushed about the long-overdue reissue of Ariel, Steven R Boyett’s classic post-apocalyptic sword-and-sorcery adventure novel about a world where technology stops working and magic returns. I mentioned then that there was a sequel coming in November, and today Elegy Beach, the sequel I’ve been waiting for for 26 years, hit the stands.

Elegy Beach is an odd kind of sequel. In Ariel, the world Changed sometime in the early 1980s, meaning that the post-apocalyptic adventurers in the tale were wandering through a society littered with the nonfunctional remnants of 1980s society. For Elegy Beach, Boyett has moved the Change forward, so that technology dies and magic takes over somewhere in the early 2010s. As Boyett notes, “to not update the pre-Change world would be even weirder. Do the characters just never talk about cell phones and the internet and relay towers and all of the pervasive evidence of such progress? To avoid the issue would be to risk losing the reader’s identification with the world that has been lost, because that world would no longer be the one in which the reader lives.”

More to the point, the premise of Elegy Beach requires that the Change take place after the rise of the Internet and widespread, civilian use of software. In Elegy Beach, we meet Fred, the adolescent son of Pete Garey (himself the adolescent hero of Ariel). It’s been decades since Pete went adventuring and now he is a single parent settled in a coastal California town, a close-mouthed loner who is lethal with a sword and passionate about books. Fred and Pete don’t get on very well. Fred is apprenticed to the local sorcerer, and he does scutwork for the old man, grinding herbs for potions, doing routine castings, though he yearns to do more.

What Fred wants to do — along with Yan, his best friend — is codify the rules of magic. As members of the first post-Change generation to come of age, Fred and Yan understand the non-technological, magic society as normal and approach magic without the reverence and mysticism of their generation-gapped elders. More specifically, Yan and Fred yearn to create “macros” for magic, software-like constructs that allow non-casters to make use of spells that have been bottled by a new kind of spell. These bottled enchantments could become a kind of renewable resource, a kind of technology — a system that would give the remnant of humanity that remains a hope for out-competing the centaurs who hunt them for sport and the marauders who destroy their fragile settlements.

That’s the plan, anyway. But Yan and Fred’s partnership dissolves when it becomes apparent that Yan craves power for its own sake, and betrays Fred’s trust. Enter Ariel, Pete’s unicorn familiar who has not seen Pete in 25 years, and once again Pete is on the road, this time with Fred and Yan’s father, the four of them set on stopping Yan before he unmakes the world.

It’s as good a setup as Ariel, and the story is every bit the cracking yarn that Ariel was, but I admit that I was distracted by the discontinuities between the two books — Elegy Beach amounts to a kind of contra-factual future-history of a world I’ve been in love with since I was just a boy, and it was hard to keep the two straight.

Considered as a variation on the themes in Ariel, Elegy Beach is fantastic, a nonstop adventure that you can easily swallow in a couple of intense, white-knuckle readings. As a sequel, though, it’s a little odd and distracting. Kudos to Boyett for trying something different, and what a wonderful thing that he’s turned his hand back to novel-writing again after a long hiatus.

Elegy Beach