I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim – ed. Maria Ebrahmiji and Zahra Suratwala (2011)

This was an interesting read as it was a collection of essays written by young well educated American women who are Muslim. With so many people post-9-11 claiming ridiculous things about Muslims, I thought this was a good way to set things straight in my head about this religion. As it so happened, I learned a great deal about how life can be for these young women (all under 40).

The selection included women who were first-generation immigrants to the US (i.e. their parents were the ones who had recently immigrated and left their home land) and the families had left different countries at different times. (Being an immigrant myself, it’s always interesting to read about other immigrants.) So, this set up the stage for plenty of comparisons between the Old Country and its ways, and America and its particular ways. Most of the essayists were devout Muslims, but the degree of involvement varied. There did seem to be a disproportionate representation of lawyers, but perhaps this was just who the editors knew.

 I found it very interesting to see how common it was to resist the religious doctrine and its decrees when the women were in their teens, and how, for a lot of them, it wasn’t until their college years when they were independent from their parents and could develop their own support system of like-minded friends that some of the women featured could reclaim their religion on their own terms. This included wearing the hajib (the headwrap). The book argued that for many (non-Muslim) people, Muslim women were commonly perceived as “oppressed women in need of liberation” when, according to some of these writers, the hajib was seen as liberating and allowed them to be truer to themselves without the emphasis on external looks.

However, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this sample was somewhat skewed in that all of the women were very educated (at least college degree and most with advanced degrees) and were very certain of their faith and belief system. Perhaps another anthology could be compiled with a sample of people who have a wider range of degrees of belief. Perhaps even include their mothers as representatives of immigrants coping with trying to balance Old World beliefs with New World realities. (But, to be fair to the editors, I suppose the point of this particular book was to bring attention to independent young American Muslin women, so naturally, the editors would focus on happy and positive examples of that.)

Reading this edition did encourage me to learn more about Islam as I had always thought that that the belief system supported the subjugation of women. However, perhaps like many other world religions, one can interpret spiritual writing to support one’s own view point and men have been most vocal historically?

This also opened my mind to view the hajib in ways other than suffocating and that it could be seen as even liberating in some cases. I had not really considered that option before, probably because to me, it would be terribly difficult to wear it without getting claustrophobic. (I can’t even wear a turtle neck without feeling as though I am being strangled.)

Very provocative book and one that I enjoyed.

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