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In this photo, veiled Muslim women take part in protest in London, against France banning the wearing of Islamic veils in public, Monday, April 11, 2011. (Matt Dunham/AP)

“You’re scaring me, hovering over me like that,” said the stranger sitting at one end of the bench. I had a foot propped on the other end to stretch my hamstring. He and I had just finished a local fundraising 5K with a “Heroes and Villains” theme.

I had chosen to run as Dust, a face-veil-and-abaya-wearing X-Men character who happens to be Muslim. I told him this and pointed out, “I’m a hero, not a villain.”

“I feel a little better,” he said, acknowledging his familiarity with the reference. Then, a minute later, apparently after replaying Dust’s story line back in his head, he added, “But you’re conflicted?”

My reply: “What mutant isn’t?”

Dust (real name Sooraya Qadir) is a fictional X-Men character. (Marvel Comics)

Dust (real name Sooraya Qadir) is a fictional X-Men character. (Marvel Comics)

On the surface, my fellow runner and I were dissecting the psychology of a fictional character dreamed up by Marvel Comics. But in reality, like Dust, I was conflicted. As a Muslim woman who doesn’t ordinarily cover my hair, let alone my face, I’ve had members of my religion tell me I’m misguided, or sinning, or heading straight to hell for the way I dress or, alternatively, for believing it’s OK to dress the way I do. It would be better to believe I was obligated to wear a head-covering but not wear it, some say, than to wear it but believe it was not obligatory.

I try not to dwell on veiling in my thinking, writing or teaching about Islam. Dust, of course, brings the veil front and center. She may be a rare positive representation of a Muslim woman in comic books, but her character is affected by Orientalism and sexism. Does she break down stereotypes, or does she reinforce them?

It’s a legitimate question, and had the race been held two weeks earlier, I might have worn a different costume. But in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, conflicting Muslim identities have been much in the news — and much on my mind as well. The fact that the bombing suspects were long-time Massachusetts residents, locally educated and English-speaking, has raised questions about conflicting loyalties.

The notion that veiling and Islam somehow connote evil bothered me, and I wanted to do my small part to disrupt it, even if it meant running 3 miles clad head-to-toe in black.

Those who are visibly Muslim bear the brunt of misdirected anger and unacceptable violence. A woman wearing a head-scarf in the next town over from me was attacked even before it was known that the bombing suspects were Muslim. The notion that veiling and Islam somehow connote evil bothered me, and I wanted to do my small part to disrupt it, even if it meant running 3 miles clad head-to-toe in black.

Though the American justice system operates on the principle of innocent until proven guilty, it seems increasingly irrefutable that the attack was motivated by a hateful interpretation of Islam. And Muslim communities here, which have wholeheartedly condemned the bombing, will undertake heightened self-scrutiny, asking the sorts of questions Americans always ask when someone in our midst commits a seemingly uncharacteristic act of violence: What could we have done differently? How could we have known? How can we prevent something like this from happening again? It doesn’t mean we are at fault, but that shouldn’t stop us from doing everything we can to prevent future violence.

The author pictured at a 5k run in Arlington, Mass., Sunday, April 28. (Courtesy)

The author pictured at a 5k run in Arlington, Mass., Sunday, April 28. (Courtesy)

The same applies to the country as a whole. I think there is a useful analogy between the iatrogenic practices of the fictional American government that stigmatizes and persecutes mutants in the X-Men universe and the real American government whose policies and practices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere have led to many thousands of civilian casualties and contributed to building anti-American sentiment in the region. Furthermore, time and again terrorist attacks undertaken in both the U.S. and abroad point to the Muslim loss of life in those countries as a pretext for violence.

The more stigma and suspicion attaches to Muslims just because they are Muslim, the more the benevolent Professor X’s dreams of co-existence look naïve, and the more Magneto, leader of a rival group of vengeful mutants, seems to be getting it right.

And as for the woman who huffed “Really?!” as I passed her on the sidewalk on my way to the starting line? She can eat my dust.

Related

On Point: Inside American Islam

Lifting The Veil: Muslim Women Explain Their Choice

Tags: Boston, Boston Marathon Bombings, Religion

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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  • J__o__h__n

    Humanity should shun the veil not embrace it. Women are the equal of men and anything short of that needs to end. An educated middle class American woman can chose to wear something for the day and that trivializes the fact that most women who wear it have no choice. How about being honor killed for a day. Marrying your rapist for a day. Having your genitals mutilated for a day. Not being able to drive for a day. Not being able to go to school for a day. Being Salman Rushdie for a day. Being killed for being gay for a day.

    • Qym

      None of this has to do with Islam. There is nothing in the Qur’an that tells a Muslim to do any of these acts. You have to know the difference between what is a religious action and what is a cultural one. Female circumcision is a cultural action that African tribes perform on young girls. If there are Muslim who engage in this then they are misguided and they’re not following their faith correctly. Now from someone like you who’s on the outside looking in, it’s up to you to educate yourself and not form and opinion about something because you heard it on the media. The Klan were hanging people in the name of Christianity. I know that had nothing to do with Christians because of my knowledge and understanding of God. God doesn’t promote hate, violence, or torturous acts. People in India still bury their daughters alive at birth. This is an act that ancient civilizations did centuries ago. But I don’t fault Hinduism for this because I know it’s a cultural issue. We must learn to form informed opinions in order to stop the stereotypes and the hatred

      • J__o__h__n

        You are quibbling with one example of many I listed. Culture and religion are intertwined and both are usually at fault for reprehensible behaviour. I’ve read a lot and am not repeating things I heard in the media. God doesn’t exist.

        • Qym

          The fact that you said God doesn’t exist explains a lot. I’ll pray for you brother

          • J__o__h__n

            That is condescending and doesn’t address the other practices I questioned.

          • Goddessofmusic

            It’s so condescending, and she will never own up to it, I fear.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            i thought her first answer was pretty good. what you are doing would be like saying the westboro baptist church’s actions or those of Anders Breviek are typical of Christians. maybe as a devout athiest you do think that makes sense. There are many sects of islam and some are pretty extreme but thats no reason to condem women for choosing to wear religious headwear.

          • J__o__h__n

            The Rev. Fred Phelps is not a mainstream Christian and most Christians have rejected him. However, there is a large part of the followers of that religion that agree with him in his anti gay bigotry. He is just more honest about it than many of them. There is no such thing as a devout atheist. I don’t worship some atheist god replacement. I just have not seen satisfactory evidence that god exists.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            the taliban and jihadists are not mainstream muslims and they are roundly rejected by muslims in general.
            well then you are an agnostic. have you studied string theory?

          • J__o__h__n

            None of the things I listed are limited to the taliban and jihadists. I didn’t mention anything relating to terrorism. Some of the things listed are more extreme than others but not without a sizeable number of people who follow them. One example, the fatwah on Salman Rushdie was supported by mainstream Muslims. I think atheist is the most accurate description as I do not believe there is a god or gods. I’m not undecided about it but like on any issues, if any new evidence appears, it would be foolish not to be open to it.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            i did not mention terrorism either. it sounds a lot like you are painting all muslims with the same brush, to what end? what would you like to see done about the problems you associate with islam?
            so did you look into string theory?

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            poor fella. i will pray for him too

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      would you say the same thing about a yarmulke?

      • J__o__h__n

        I don’t think it is the same thing as clothing that covers one’s entire face. Men aren’t being oppressed by having to wear one.

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          so its face coverings that offend you not head coverings, got it.

          i feel opressed by having to wear pants will you fight to end my opression?

          • J__o__h__n

            I think the head coverings also connote inequality but are less dehumanizing. As long as you sit on a towel, I don’t care.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            lol so i can sit on a towel but am dehumanised if i wrap it around my head?
            if a woman or man wants to wear something then i support their right to do so and i dont judge them because of it. you should ask the next muslim woman you see with a head covering or other religious garb what she thinks about it. i think you could learn a lot that way

    • Kahula

      Really? Covering the head is a CULTURAL thing. Christian women in India, esp. in the South COVER their heads when they go to church. So the logic you’re putting out is pretty biased as you have only half the picture. BTW, virginity was never an issue with the South Indian tribes until the advent of Western morals & culture.

  • Generalizations are Ridiculous

    Beacause John, you are mentioning very negative things while the writer is mentioning something to awaken and stretch your mind. We can easily point out very negative things that Christians and Americans do, but this is not the point.

    And who are you to dictate who should or should not wear a veil. Are you a dictator? This is American where Freedom reigns.

    • J__o__h__n

      I didn’t say she didn’t have the right to wear it. The veil is part of the negative aspects of that particular religion. The history of Christianity would contain similar horrors although the worst of it is mostly held in check by a secular culture at this moment of time as witch burnings and heretic executions are rare.

      Wearing something for a day to be provacative isn’t the same as being forced to wear it. Would she wear it for a year? A decade? A lifetime? Would she make her daughter wear it?

  • road.rep

    I am nervous when in the company of a fully veiled muslim woman. I am concerned for my safety. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am. Period. I have not seen the muslim communities who “wholeheartedly condemned the bombing”. I have heard nothing but silence from the muslim community. If there really are muslim leaders who condemn terror and the killing of non-muslims, they need to speak out. LOUDLY! Where are they? I have read that some muslim leaders are working with the FBI and other law enforcement. Great. Confirm that for me. Convince me that my nervousness is unfounded. Unfortunately, I think my position is reasonable and prudent.

    • Amr

      ” I have heard nothing but silence from the muslim community.” Then you must be wearing earplugs. Two seconds of Google searching would turn up all the communities that have condemned the bombing. Stop being lazy and do your homework (lazyness that you are probably doing because you don’t want to find anything that contradicts your worldview). If you are a white man, could you and all white males please denounce the bombings as well, as the bombers were white males, and I am now concerned for my safety whenever I am near a white male.

      • road.rep

        Quietly renouncing bombings on some obscure blog site is NOT what we need. The media will gladly make time and space available in highly visible mainstream publications or broadcasts for any muslim leader who wants to renounce terror. So far, that has not happened.

        If you are truly in fear of white males, I’m sorry. But the solution is simple. Stay away from them the same way I stay away from veiled women. That seems like a no-brainer to me.

        • Qym

          I’m not sure what you’ve been reading or hearing because the Muslim community hasn’t been quiet about this in the least. You can google the reactions to the Muslim leaders in Boston and you will find articles in the Globe, huffington post, etc. Clearly states where the community I stands on the bombings. The Imam from the ISBC in Roxbury was suppose to address this issue a few days after it happened with the Mayor and the Governor. But the Governor’s office called him and cancelled, told him not to show up, with no explanation, and that he was being replaced.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            i have even heard a few on NPR denounce it and i dont listen that often

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          yeah the media is not pushing all this islamophobia at every chance it gets even NPR is in on the Two Minute Hate

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        yup he should really start being nervious anytime he sees someone who looks caucasian.

    • BostonDad

      Even the Chechen Al Quaeda affiliate condemned the Boston attacks. The separate security issue of the burka does have to be addressed, as it is in countries where this is common, but from a police officer’s point of view maybe the same as approaching a smoked glass-windowed car.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        thats pretty funny about the chechens. how is a burka a security issue? i used to joke that they would make us fly naked one day. then one day they did and it was not funny. not really any more dangerous than a hoodie and i think we already had a national discussion about those

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      so you are afraid of women? have a lot of burka clad women attacked america? every muslim i have heard on the radio or tv has condemmed this whenever they have been given the opportuinty. how bout you worry about getting hit by lightning on a sunny day instead?

    • sadafjaffer

      When I read this type of comment I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I’m not blaming you but I find it shocking that there is a persistent narrative that Muslims don’t condemn terrorism. Every single Muslim organization I know of and countless individuals have condemned and continue to condemn terrorism. Please visit this website for some examples: http://kurzman.unc.edu/islamic-statements-against-terrorism/ In the case of the Boston bombing, there was a Muslim representative at the interfaith vigil who clearly condemned terrorism as well all other Muslim organizations I know of http://www.wral.com/local-national-muslim-groups-condemn-bombings/12359865/

  • Amy

    “This is American where Freedom reigns”.

    Exactly. That’s why so many Americans do not understand continuing to wear the veil or burqa once they are free of persecution under Sharia law. Muslim women are free to pick and choose which of their Islamic female oppression they wish to maintain once they are here (driving a car yes, veil yes… whatever they want), and I support their American freedom to make that choice. But as a woman, I won’t agree with the choice. That’s my freedom too. People need to stop conflating LIBERTY with LAWS and understand that it’s a matter of choice, just like anything else. I may not agree with her decision, but I support her freedom to choose.

    True story- I saw a Muslim woman at the grocery store the other day who truly looked like a street-walking prostitute. Anyone with functioning eyeballs would agree: Thigh-high black stiletto boots with 6″ spike heels and studs, sprayed-on black pants, designer handbag, a white tank top & black bra and an open studded jacket. Topped of with a black head scarf, black translucent veil and what was clearly a tremendous amount of make-up visible behind the veil. All while wrangling an adorable toddler. Talk about CONFLICTED. But, this is America and that’s what works for her.

    • Amr

      Actually what both Americans and Muslims alike need to understand is that veiling and burkahs are actually not advocated for AT ALL in the Quran, the holy book of Islam. What has happened is the infiltration of pre-Islamic tribal customs and attitudes into the extraneous edifice that has been built around the religion (facilitated by the ‘scholars’).

      • Amy

        I know this and understand it. Thus my reluctance to agree with the choice of hiding oneself under a veil/shroud/wig/prairie dress. But, it’s the choice of a woman to decide what she does and does not do with her body. Period.
        All holy books can be supplemented with “religious texts” that say do this/don’t do that and people always find a way to support their new theory of oppression. Thankfully, I live in a country where I can say it’s all baloney to me. Just don’t tell me what to do with my body. It’s 2013, not 1013.

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          try going out naked and let me know how that works out. we’ll see if someone tells you what to do with your body and locks you up

      • Qym

        Amr…..I’m not sure where you’re getting your info from because the Qur’an clearly says that a woman should cover herself. Quran (24:31) – “And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known.”

        • Amr

          Yes, a woman should cover her bosom, which outside of a nudist colony, most wouldn’t quibble with. It is again, a matter of understanding the context. It was traditional to wear a head covering in pre-Islamic Arabia, and so they were being told to use them to cover their bosoms, not that they had to keep their hair covered. As for interpretation, I think we can agree–leave it to the women to decide what they do with their bodies.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            yes we need to get rid of our oppressive public nudity laws

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        tell it to the easter bunny

    • Qym

      Let me ask you a question. If you see a nun walking down the street, wearing a head covering, wearing a long sleeved shirt, and a skirt, would you consider her oppressed? Muslim women aren’t the only ones who cover themselves, Jewish women and Buddhist women cover themselves as well. The whole point of a woman in covering herself, is a protection from the sexual appetites of men. I’m sure as a woman, you had guys look at you, whistle at you, cat call, etc. If you like this type of attention, then your dress doesn’t matter. But there are women out there who don’t want that type of attention. So I ask you to think about what you say before you judge or make opinions.

      • J__o__h__n

        “If you like this type of attention, then your dress doesn’t matter.”
        So any woman who doesn’t want to receive sexual attention from men needs to wear clothing you consider appropriate?

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          thats not what her point was at all.

        • Kahula

          *facepalm* please step OUTSIDE the USA… oh wait the infidels are waiting…

      • Goddessofmusic

        A nun is a mature woman who chooses this lifestyle. I think it’s silly, personally, and in fact, modern nuns are increasingly dressing in a more modern way. The culture that enforces burkha on women is an entirely different story. That is slavery and brainwashing, imo. Pretending to dress that way is fine, to prove a point, but what point, I’m not sure. Surely this writer would not choose to hide herself on a permanent basis.

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          maybe the nuns think whatever you are wearing is silly

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        good point

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      i dont understand were you conflicted or was she?

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      i dont understand were you conflicted or was she?

  • Guest

    No One covered up like this will enter any of my businesses. We have the same rules around the Halloween holiday and do not allow costumed people within our businesses.

    Look at burgas as if a COSTUME, a dangerous costume with weapons hidden beneath, which I think it is; therefore, not allowed within spaces owned or operated by us. PROBLEM SOLVED !!

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      you should put up a sign on your all your businesses to that effect. like those poor women dont have to put up with enough bigoted crap

      • BevyCY

        Futo: There! You said it: POOR WOMEN! They are subjugated.

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          yes they are subjugated by bigots and prejudice

  • http://www.facebook.com/abigail.baker.96 Abigail Baker

    This piece is nonsense – beginning to end the theme is look at me, the larger point is missing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    The more stigma and suspicion attaches to Muslims just because they are Muslim, the more the benevolent Professor X’s dreams of co-existence look naïve, and the more Magneto, leader of a rival group of vengeful mutants, seems to be getting it right.
    so is she thinking of joining the brotherhood of evil mutants?

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    i guess what all the bigoted people who are condemming the practice of wearing a burka fail to take into account is that here in america women are forced to wear clothes as well. when a woman in america can freely walk down the street with her shirt off then maybe then they can judge others untill then we are no different or better

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1693283473 Kevin Watson

      Maybe you should read a little more news, ig the article about women walking around topless in New York. Look it up.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        well thats the sort of article you should link to, with pictures or video. i do know there has been a lot of protests in san fransisco because they want to impose a clothes rule there. when i no longer have to be confined by pants we will truely be free

  • NJJ

    Interesting essay; thanks for writing it. Good job on placing first! (However, whoever drafted the roster of the finishing times might want to learn how to spell “villain.”)

  • BevyCY

    Go ahead, subjugate yourself. If you believe in God (Allah) and you believe you were made in God’s image why would you hide behind a veil. Allah did not command a veil, men did.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      in that case why wear clothes at all?

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