By Alshima Helmy, April 2013
Published here with kind permission of the author
In early April the controversial group FEMEN declared an international day of action and chose an absurd and contradicting name: "Topless Jihad against Islamism". Besides being totally offensive to Islam and Muslims, the name they choose implies a serious case of ignorance about Islam and the proper usage of Islamic terminologies. I neither expected all the press coverage nor the outrageous, Islamophobic, and derogatory moves they made towards Muslim women and Islamic symbols in the name of defending freedom.
Surprisingly, the day turned out to be a blessing in disguise when veiled Muslim women with the Hijab and Niqab, unveiled Muslim women, and non-Muslim supporters participated in "Muslimah Pride Day". The campaign which was launched as a Facebook event by Muslim women. to counter FEMEN's, is now turning into an international movement for Muslim women to reclaim their identity and mostly overlooked voices.
It was amazing to see Muslim women all over the world coming together, sending strong statements, and making well-stated arguments against the continuous attempts by western media, the colonial/western feminists groups, and their counterparts in the Middle East to silence them.
Intellectual poverty: FEMEN as a case study:
Going back to FEMEN, all I see in their attempt to claim they speak for Muslim women is nothing but a total lack of intellectual ability to make a point, being compensated by making cheap scenes and getting media attention for it.
FEMEN members have continuously proven their intellectual poverty to the world with their inability to make a sound argument. They had to put aside all the reasonable methods to make their point (if existed) heard and resorted to doing such absurd actions.
From all their obviously arrogant statements about Muslim women and their actions, it appears that FEMEN members and spokespersons are terribly ignorant about Islam, Muslims, Muslim countries, Muslim women, and anything about the culture and the people they're claiming to be speaking for and defending.
Comparing the images of women with bare breasts running in the streets of Europe with strange facial expressions, burning down sacred symbols in front of Islamic houses of worship, and writing hateful statements on their naked bodies to the images of the Muslimah Pride Day campaign makes a strong argument for any fair observer.
However, it seems like many progressives in the west would most likely relate to a woman promoting nudity and talking about "Freedom from patriarchal religions" and "Ownership over my body". On the other hand, an educated religious woman making an argument about liberating herself from man made values or international beauty standards would be a hard formula to grasp. It is too complicated to suit the boxes that were created in their brains for what a progressive woman should be like and what Muslim woman specifically are like.
Why do Muslim women really cover up?
One of the main reasons why the Islamic veil is considered to be an act of worship for Muslim women is affirming that as Muslim women choosing to wear modestly we are not appealing to the world with our bodies or physical appearance. Rather, through restricting strangers' access to our physical beauty or bodies shape, we give a chance for the world, men and women alike, to perceive our intellectual abilities and learn about how we think, reason and feel.
It was narrated that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: "You have a duty over your body", meaning that you've got to take care of it. It was also narrated that the Prophet said: "Indeed, God is beautiful and He loves beauty". So unlike what's always claimed to be the case, it's not about shame or hiding women bodies, it is more about regulating who has access to see our bodies/beauty/physical appearance and who has the right to judge it?
Being a veiled practicing Muslim woman, like many others I choose to follow this model in order to be perceived by my intellect. If I choose modesty that naturally means I oppose using nudity and any act that involves the exploitation and objectification of a woman's body in the name of freedom.
From now and on you'll see more Muslim women speaking their mind from all over the world in all languages. Instead of patronizing them or trying to force a lifestyle on a different context than where you're coming from, you've got an opportunity to learn. Think about listening to these voices with an intention to learn and give yourself a chance to reconsider all the stereotypes and misconceptions made by the western media and orientalist historical narratives.
Alshimaa Helmy is a human rights advocate and a freelancer writer and media producer from Cairo, Egypt.
She writes on a variety of topics related to Egypt and Middle East international politics, Islam, and women.
Alshima on Facebook: Shimaa From Tahrir Square
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Disclaimer: Views here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Safe World for Women or staff