Sunday, April 3, 2011

Our Muslim Sisters

Name this quote:

“In the world today, there is a competition for people’s minds, and what we think, what we wear, what we look like; it’s an ideological battle as much as anything else.”

Did you think it came from our most recent General Conference? If it feels familiar, it’s because it’s close to home, but not in a geographical way. This particular story is unfolding halfway around the world. The above quote came from Muslim feminist and journalist Asra Nomani, with her interview with BBC on March 28th. She was being asked to reflect on Cosmo’s new launch of the Arab version of its magazine next month. It was so interesting to her that Cosmo was so blatantly launching its magazine around the same time Al-Queida—yes, you read that right, the terrorist organization—published its own magazine, called Al-Shamika, or Majestic Woman in English.

The contents of each magazine are the complete antithesis of each other. While Cosmo hasn’t been released yet, we know what the Western versions of the magazine contain. Will it receive a warm welcome in the Arab world? Perhaps. There is some concern about the content of the magazine: the sex, most particularly. But a few women in the streets of Arab cities reported they might read it. Unreported in the BBC interview is the reaction of Muslim women to Al-Quieda’s publication, which is actually available online!!!! Anyone can browse it here!!!

Since I don’t read or even speak Arabic, I can only tell you what I heard about the different topics. There are articles on skin care, marrying Mr. Right, raising sons to become good jihadists, choosing lipsticks you can wear in the privacy of your home and for the pleasure of your husband. Are you looking? Head scarves are also mentioned, reportedly. Don’t forget my personal favorite, page 9, where a machine gun is set on a pretty pink background, next to an image of pen and paper. Maybe the message is telling women to write their jihadists while they’re away at training camps?

Asra Nomani said something else in her BBC interview that blew me away: “There really is a battle for not just the hearts and minds of women in the Arab and Muslim world, but also their bodies.” She reflected how these two magazines, polar opposites of each other, really represented the various ideologies women are pulled into. A woman who chooses to cover her face as a personal choice is an extension of her religion. But, she is as much an extension of an ideology as is a woman who meticulously follows designer brands. In the midst of all this, what can Islamic women do for themselves? So many other issues are tied up in it: love, sex, and even personal safety.

This interview gave me chills. I thought, replace “Muslim” with “Mormon” in this context, and you get a picture of the struggle of Mormon women. We are trying to figure out how to live in the world, but not be of the world. Since childhood, Mormon women are taught the virtues of modesty, chastity and marriage. Mormon women struggle with finding clothing that matches the expression of their individual personality, as well as their religious beliefs. In Young Women’s and Relief Society, we are taught to not get ideas on sexuality from mainstream media. Many faithful women in the Church struggle with ways to find their own personal identity and sense of pride in families and Church callings that demand all of their time.

I was greatly moved by Asra Nomani’s interview and very interested in her work as a Muslim feminist. She has published several interesting documents including “Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque” and “Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Bedroom.” You can read what these Bill of Rights say on Wikipedia. I found it interesting that another religious group of women are experiencing the same struggles Mormon women are, just in a different spiritual language and cultural context. What do you think about all this? How do should Mormon women help out in the fight to have women’s rights be dignified, at home and around the globe?

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