Girls Just Want to Have Fun
This American Muslim won't wear a head cover but will wear tight jeans. Modesty, she says, comes from within.
BY: Interview by Deborah Caldwell
For women to wear the hijab and then say, "OK, we're covered, we're fine" is a bit disingenuous. Women aren't that dumb. If we want to be stylish and want to wear tight clothing, then we'll just cover our hair and still wear whatever we want to wear. But I think if you're going to do it, you should be doing it to show devotion to God, not to just satisfy the local imam or the elders at the ISNA convention because of peer pressure. You could have your hair covered and still be flirting with somebody. A lot of flirtation is talking, eyes, hand motions, and the way you walk. All those things are more important than whether your hair is covered or not.
Do you flirt?
Actually, I do. But I think my way of flirting is how I relate to people, and of course I stay within reasonable boundaries. In the end, the Qur'an says Allah is the final judge and I'm responsible for everything I do. And I feel that the choices I've made are good ones.
What do Muslim women care about?
I was at an event at the Islamic Center of Southern California and there were two high school-age girls buying my book. I remember them because one of them was listening to an iPod, but she'd taken the headphones out. The music coming out of the headphones was "Milkshake," which is a hip-hop song. I thought it was so funny that here's this young Muslim girl and she's got "Milkshake" coming out of her iPod, and she said to me, "It's so great to see a Muslim woman. Every time we come to the mosque, it's always a lecture and it's always some old guy."
Other Muslim women were saying they have nothing to give their daughters that's positive about Islam to read. Or nothing to take to school to show their teachers. When I was writing this book and listening to my own iPod, I heard "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper, which was a big hit when I was young. And I thought, you know, as Muslims we never get to have fun anymore. It's all serious. It's all business.
Since 9/11 it's always talking about what the Administration is doing to us, what this law is doing to us, what this Islamic country is doing to us, what we're not doing for ourselves. We never get a chance to talk about what is really cool about being Muslim. I was lucky enough to grow up before 9/11. There were still misunderstandings and stereotypes about Islam, but there wasn't this seminal event in American life. I grew up at a time when people just said, "I don't know anything about your religion." They didn't say, "All I know about your religion is 9/11." And I was simply the kid who didn't have to go to Mass on Sundays and who got to sit out religion class.
I think the number one issue for Muslim women, for my generation, in their 20s and even 30s, is how do we find a suitable Muslim mate. Some Muslim women have chaperones and they meet over the phone and email. They don't do American-style dating where there's premarital sex. But that's limited to conservative, traditional Muslims.
The majority of Muslim women who don't wear the head cover are perplexed because while they're not free to date because they grew up in a culture and a religion that didn't encourage or allow dating, they don't really feel obligated to have their parents arrange their marriage. And in some cases, like my parents, they don't necessarily feel comfortable arranging my marriage. They don't want to tell me what to do.
Even where my parents are from, even in Pakistan, it's changed. There are fewer arranged marriages. There's lot of dating, especially among the elite and educated classes. And so I guess you can't ever go home again.
If I were to go out on a date with a Muslim man, and we would date for a couple months, that would almost give me a bad reputation in the South Asian community and the larger Muslim community. There's only a certain amount of finding a spouse that you could do that's within the parameters. It's very difficult for us to figure out how we go about this.
Younger Muslim women who are in high school and the tweens and the teens are having a difficult time also, but it's more related to how they dress. Their style icons are Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. If you're a 12-year-old girl and you want to wear a shirt that shows your midriff, whether you're Muslim or not, your parents are going to have an issue with that. But if you're Muslim, they're not only going to have an issue with your dressing like that, but they'll also have an issue as Muslims. Because as we talked about, Muslims need to dress modestly--and it's such a change from the culture the Muslim parents grew up in.
Did you face those fashion issues at that age?
No, because we didn't have Hilary Duff wearing a tank top that stops above her belly button. You could easily as a young Muslim girl be wearing jeans and a T-shirt and fit right in with the crowd. But now there's a certain amount of skin you have to show. You have to wear high heels. You have to wear satiny pants with drawstring lace up the side.
I'm interested in your thoughts on Sufism, because that aspect of Islam is often the gateway for so many converts to Islam. In the book, you tell the story of encountering a Sufi sheikh.
I had studied Sufism in college and I also had some family members who were Sufi, in particular an uncle of my mom's was a very well-known Sufi in Pakistan. He would lock himself in a room and stay in there meditating all day, and people would come from all over Pakistan and India to see him because they thought if he blessed him, maybe something they wanted would happen for them. So I had been familiar with Sufism.