I’m happy to announce that I have a guest post over at Avicenna’s blog A Million Gods at FreethoughtBlogs. The essay is about religious dress codes in Islam, specifically my experiences in Islamic Sunday School, being judged based on appearance, and the role of choice in the decision to wear articles of clothing such as the hijab, niqab, and burqa. Here’s an excerpt.
Even though I was also a bit of a loner in my secular public school, the Sunday School was much worse. At school, the people who made fun of me were other kids, and I was encouraged to ignore them; I knew that my parents and most other adults around me were on my side if someone made fun of me. At Sunday School, the people who made me miserable were mostly adults, and they were in a position of authority over me. Whereas I received sympathy from adults if I was made fun of by other children, I had to listen to the adults who were commenting on my clothes. At school, I at least felt that some people (e.g. teachers, some friends) liked me and cared about my thoughts and ideas, and I learned about subjects I found interesting and important. At Sunday School, I felt alone and felt that I wasn’t learning much. I’ve learned more about Islam since becoming an atheist than I did while attending religious classes, because much of the religious classes emphasized obedience and created rules based on gender.
Despite claims that the religious clothing makes people more likely to judge women based on their character, ideas, and actions, this is not the case. As Avicenna pointed out in the blog post cited above, women’s beliefs mostly gain attention if they disagree with Islam. Women are judged to be less moral, and sometimes even deserving of violence, if they wear revealing clothing (with the definition of revealing being dependent on the society). Even if they follow the dress codes, however, they do not get respect (outside of being praised for following the dress code). If it were true that wearing certain clothing lead to women being more respected, why is it that many women are not permitted to be in positions of power over men, get an equal education, lead prayers, and sit in the front row? Ultimately, the very idea that women should only be listened to if they dress a certain way is, in and of itself, an example of judging people primarily based on their gender, appearance, and clothing.