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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

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Muslim Women’s Day sends a missing message about feminism in Islam


March 27 is National Muslim Women’s Day. If you were to google “Muslim woman,” your search results would most likely include pictures of women hidden behind black, religious cloaks called abayas. While this accurately depicts some Muslim women, it is definitely not an accurate representation of all females members of fastest growing religion in the world.

In the West, the most common assumption of Muslim women is that they are oppressed. Through a combination of distorted media exposure and narratives from women who faced abuse and inequality that originates from culture that calls itself faith, misconceptions have risen in society that reinforce the negative connotations of Islam.

Muslim Women’s Day is an infant in terms of holidays; it is only a year old. It was developed  by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, owner of the popular site MuslimGirl.com, to carve out an avenue for Muslim women to have their narratives heard, as the voices that perpetuate misinformation about the plight of Muslim women tend to scream the loudest and, ironically, are often men.

This campaign provides an opportunity to reinvent the hijab (head covering), or abaya, as a tool of empowerment rather than a symbol of oppression. MuslimGirl.com and Getty Images partnered to provide a solution by pushing for a more inclusive definition of a Muslim woman, which starts by expanding limited stock photos with a more diverse array.

Getty Images keyword searches for Muslim have gone up by 107 percent, and it is crucial that we utilize this positive imagery to counteract negative stereotypes, especially in a society as visually literate as America.

The plight of Muslim women is undeniable but not for the reasons America assumes. The image of an oppressed woman shrouded in black clothing is accompanied by ideas that she is restricted to a domestic livelihood and every aspect of her life is controlled by a man.

This damaging allusion fosters a hostile environment in which bigotry and ignorance can flourish.

The real plight of Muslim women is a result of toxic cultures that misconstrue faith for their own means. Power hungry individuals employ religion as a vessel for gaining more influence. This has a common historical precedent, as seen with the Catholic Church in Europe and Theravada Buddhism perpetuating the  Rohingya genocide.

The Taliban and ISIS, both developed to satisfy power vacuums in the Middle East created by U.S. intervention, employ this historical strategy to dominate their respective regions, and the rights of women are only causalities in the process.

Muslim women need recognition in mainstream media that does not feature only these damaging stereotypes. Muslim Women’s Day is crucial because it provides the space for us to redefine what it means to be a Muslim woman, voice our testimonials and empower one another to speak up.

People often point to the silence of ‘normal Muslim women’ as evidence that there is an absence of them. This logic might stand up on paper, but in reality, it is absurd. There is silence on the part of these women because they should not be expected to make a proclamation that is representative of all women.

Muslim women in America have access to privileges and resources that are not the case internationally. This day provides an outlet for us to empower the voices of those who have been systemically silenced. Women’s empowerment has become a trend, and capitalizing on this is key for the success of campaigns like this.

Women in forums started by the site and across social media are fighting back against violence, sexual abuse and misinformation, redefining the narrative around being a Muslim woman now that we finally have the mic.

I am so relieved that a day to celebrate empowerment for Muslim women finally exists, because I will lose my mind if one more ignorant person congratulates me for escaping oppression simply because I do not look like the typical stock photo of a Muslim woman.

Opinion Editor Anusheh Siddique is a finance freshman and can be reached at [email protected] 

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