Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Messengers

Have you heard of Baba Ali and Hijabman? They’re not a Muslim comic book duo.

If you’re an active Muslim youth, it wouldn’t surprise me if you had heard of them. For my non-Muslim readers, Baba Ali has become a YouTube phenomenon with his series The Reminder, a series of webcasts that deal with topics relevant to young Muslims. It has been translated into several languages, has spawned merchandise, and become a huge YouTube hit. Hijabman has a website “to entertain and educate the Believing and curious community” and a line of humorous t-shirts and other merchandise that speak to the Muslim experience in the west.

These men are interesting. They galvanize Muslim youth, both men and women, both those born into the faith and those who have converted. I’m not going to deconstruct their entire messages here, because they are productive and create new media messages regularly. Besides, this blog is about Muslim women.

And so that’s what I’m going to talk about. How these men talk about or to Muslim women. Looking through the archives from both parties, I see only one subject that deals specifically with Muslim women: hejab.

Here we go, the collective eye-rolling, the “Hey, there’s a dead horse! Let’s go beat it!” jokes. But Muslim women are half of the Muslim world, and so we need to take notice of what’s being said about (or to) us. Even if we’re all sick of the subject.

Baba Ali’s wildly popular webcast about hejab is interesting. He brings up excellent points about how the west equates nuns and the Virgin Mary with piety, but hejabis with oppression. And he’s saying that a bihejabi is no better or worse than a hejabi, since Allah (swt) is the only one who knows why a woman wears it, and Allah is the only one to judge? Hey, sign me up! I like this guy’s message.

But, oh, hey, what? After he implies that only Allah’s judgment counts, he proceeds to put on his judgment gloves by saying that some “attempts at hijab are not hijab” and then goes through a list of “types” of “hejab” that “aren’t” hejab.

Uh…..excuse me? I know his intentions are good, but why is a man telling a woman how to wear hejab properly? Or telling her how to wear it at all? He says in his final post from season 1 that “There is no compulsion in Islam,” and this is stated in the Holy Qur’an. He also states in his webcast entitled “The Haram Police” that people who have no qualifications often give judgments on what is “haram” shouldn’t be doing so. But what are his qualifications? Why does he feel the need to tell women what to do with their clothes?

He states in an interview with that he is not a scholar and echoes this in the “The Haram Police.” So why is he preaching to (or “reminding”) others about what is right or wrong? Especially about a subject he cannot know about personally (i.e., hejab).

Now we turn to Hijabman. Full disclosure: I am a fan. But I’ll tell you why: because he doesn’t preach, or remind, or anything. He just writes about his experiences, his views on Islam, and does not make judgments about others or the way they practice (or don’t practice) Islam.

And the only mention of hejab on his website? It’s by a woman. That’s right: Hijabman lets his co-blogger, KufiGirl, do the talking when it comes to an issue that only a woman can really know about.

Final thought: why aren’t there any women doing this great and inspiring work? Baba Ali just got himself a webcam and hit “Record.” Hijabman just started himself up a blog. It’s easy to start a ‘zine, or a blog, or your own series of webcasts. Sisters, all you need is your faith, intent to do good for your community, and a medium; that’s all I have, and that’s why I’m here.