Controlling Muslim Women’s Bodies

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First – a disclaimer. I am not Muslim. I am a born and bred Christian, and was ordained a minister over 25 years ago. Yet, my work as a college minister during most of that time has given me the wonderful opportunity to work with people from a wide variety of faith traditions, including Islam. One of my greatest joys in recent years has been the connection with the growing number of young Muslim women on my campus. Obviously, when things that impact my young students are in the news, I pay attention.

During the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was front and center as the United States processed. I have since learned much more about Ibtihaj Muhammad, a New Jersey native who won the bronze in her sport.

On the Copacabana Beach, headlines were made when one member of the Egyptian beach volleyball team chose to wear a hijab. Her teammate, while also choosing the full body suit, did not cover her head. (Rules were changed 4 years ago to allow players to wear more than the tiny bikini normally seen.)

Muslim women’s bodies were once again in the news, when the mayor of Cannes banned the wearing of the so-called “burkini,” a full body swimsuit with a head covering, citing it as a symbol of religious extremism.

It seems that Muslim’s women’s bodies are not their own, but instead the battlefield for issues concerning religious diversity, extremism, terrorism, and even feminism. Is it sexist to cover one’s hair and body? When  Kim Kardasian claims that nude selfies are empowering for women, how does a Muslim woman live in the same society? (And I’ll leave it to you to decide if Kardasian tweets these pics due to body confidence or exhibitionism – or a mixture of both motivations.)

I know Muslim women who wear a hijab, and others who only wear one when they go to the mosque. I know Muslim women who wear sleeveless shirts and short dresses, and others who always have arms and legs covered. Not one of them has been forced by a male relative to do any of these things. (And yes, I am well aware that there are women who are forced to adhere to extreme dress codes – I protested the US Government backing the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1991 because of how the Taliban treated women.) My point is that there are Muslim women who choose to dress with certain standards, and people need to get over it. One of my dear Muslim students explained to me why she chose to start wearing a hijab when she was 12. “It’s a symbol that I am what’s important – not my hair or my body. People see my face, the essence of who I am.”

I was envious when I heard her explain her decision. As a child of the 80s, I have spent far too much time and money on my hair over the years. As a professional woman, I have again spent far too much time and money trying to choose appropriate, but attractive (and yes, sometimes sexy), clothing that makes the statement I want to make. And what is that statement? I’m a professional – I look younger than I am – I’m sporty – I’m fashionable – I’m desirable?

I believe it’s rare for any woman in our society – Muslim or not – to be able to separate what she truly wants in her own choice of dress or what is culturally expected. I know I can’t completely do that. I do know this – we need to find something else to worry about in this world other than Muslim women choosing certain clothing to express their faith. Let’s take on hunger, kidnapped girls in Africa, gun violence, racism, homophobia. Leave Muslim women and their bodies alone.

 

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Adoption and Being Real

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Gold Medal Winning Gymnast, Simone Biles

I’m an Olympics junkie. The tv or computer (or both) run constantly during those two weeks, anxiously awaiting the next exciting event. I’ve uncovered a love for women’s rugby during the summer, and can’t wait to catch up on curling when the winter games roll around. I’m fortunate that my daughter enjoys watching much of the games with me, although gymnastics is her favorite for the summer games. Ava was a gifted gymnast in elementary and middle school, and maintained the skills throughout years of cheerleading. We turned up the tv for the qualifying round Sunday night, ready to see Simone Biles’ domination. We cheered with her teammates and parents. Except not all the commentators saw the event the same way we did.

“Simone Biles’ grandparents…” was the usual talking point. Al Trautwig even tweeted that they were not her real parents, even though they legally adopted Biles as a very young child. They are the only parents she has ever known, legally, spiritually, and emotionally. Biles speaks about how her family came to be, and has said “It’s so normal.”

As my daughter and I sat on the couch, watching tv and the twitter feed, I told her how irritated the dismissal of adopted families made me. “I’m your real mom, and you are my real daughter.”

“I know. Some people are just stupid.” Ava shrugged it off, but I’m still irritated. Just like Biles, a family being formed by adoption is normal for my daughter. Yet, I’ve spent 18 years explaining that I love my child who was adopted just like I love my child to whom I gave birth. I’ve spent 18 years explaining that I am Ava’s “real” mom, just not her birth mom. I’ve spent 18 years explaining that we are like any other mother and daughter, even though we are of different races and came together in a less than common manner.

As a person of faith, I believe adoption is the highest form of parenting. The New Testament (Romans 8) proclaims that we are all adopted by God – loved and cared for as God’s own child. And even when we have birth children, we have to “adopt” that baby – promising to love and care for that child. We know of too many parents who don’t “adopt” their birth children, instead offering neglect or intentional abuse.

My daughter summed it up nicely, “Some people are just stupid.” And some people are just mean. Al Trautwig doubled-down before he finally apologized. I don’t know if he has learned anything from this. I don’t know if non-adoptive adults will stop making insulting statements to adoptive families. (“Do you love her like you do your own child?” “How much did you pay for her?” “I guess kids who are adopted have all sorts of problems.”)

It is more challenging being part of an adoptive family – the challenge comes from others who don’t understand what it is truly to love someone for her own sake, regardless of how she came into your life. The challenge comes from a lack of Christian charity and compassion, and the desire to make everyone over in their own likeness.

As God has adopted us, so adoption is the highest form of parenting. I’ve adopted both my kids – birth and adopted, alike. I hope Al Trautwig and others like him will realize families formed by are adoption are real and normal. Otherwise, it’s just plain stupid.