Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim
I remember having a conversation with a friend at work while I was employed as a manager at a New York City hospital. This friend happened to be a nurse from the Southern Philippines, Muslim and very much involved in the cultural arts of her country. We didn’t see each other much because of varying schedules and we worked in different departments, but every now and then we would run into each other in the hallways and we managed to make time to catch up. She was married and had two little girls that she would bring in for eye exams and these exams would be administered by the ophthalmology residents from my department.
As a blackamerican convert, I’m always interested in the cultural experiences of Muslims from different countries and on this particular day we happened to be talking about the dress of women from the Muslim parts of the Southern Philippines. Something she said, as simply as she said it has stayed with me all these years later. She said, "The women from my part of the world are an Island people, a happy people, therefore the dresses of our women are colorful with striking reds, deep blues, ocean greens and bright yellows. We are not desert women who wear dark-drab blacks or greys and covered from head to toe. We are a happy people and our dress reflects our bright outlook on life.”
I remember thinking that Islam was really cool. It was able to reside in different parts of the world and be reflective of cultures of that part of the world in all of its diversity. The people of China manifested their Islamic culture differently than the people of Morocco. The culture of the Arabs manifested itself differently than that of the Muslims of Nigeria. I was hopeful that the way Islam would settle itself in America would bring another imaginative and interesting perspective to the spectrum of diversity that I believe Islam encourages. I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. Instead there is a push for a Muslim uniform for women.
There has been a ‘cookie-cut’ template* for the dress of Muslim women that seems to come from an array of on-line fatwa organizations related to ultra-orthodox (extreme) views of Islam that have no regard for the diversity of cultures and peoples whose hearts are touched by Allah’s Grace.
I remain optimistic, however, that the Blackamerican Muslim woman will determine for herself a dress that compliments her courage, faith, strength, uniqueness and her resolve to defeat racism and sexism. Imagine all of that in a dress !
*The women of Niger complained bitterly to me that the fundamentalists were trying to replace the wonderfully colorful local dress--the boubou—with the dour veils worn by some in the Arabian Pennisula, to de-Africanize their lived Islams. (karima bennoune: your fatwa does not apply here)