Identity

100 Ways to Better Support Muslim Women

Don’t ask us why we wear the hijab; don’t ask us why we don’t wear the hijab.

by Farha Chowdhury
Mar 27 2019, 1:44pm

Clique Images via Stocksy

From the way we see ourselves to the way we are seen, being Muslim means so many different things to individual women across the world. In honor of Muslim Women’s Day this year, we’re focusing on the way Muslim identity presents itself differently—in our personal relationships, our professional endeavors, and more—and how no one experience can speak for us all.

Looking at the past month alone, it doesn’t take much to realize that the public does not know how to treat, respect, or listen to Muslim women. One example is the way that Rep. Ilhan Omar has been vilified for questioning the US’s blind allegiance to AIPAC, an extremely influential pro-Israel lobby with, until now, nearly unanimous bipartisan support. We find another in the treatment of student Leen Dweik who confronted Chelsea Clinton for her history of Islamophobia after Clinton showed up to a vigil for the 50 Muslims who were killed in the white supremacist terror attack in New Zealand. Dweik received backlash from prominent figures like Kathy Griffin and NYC mayor Bill de Blasio as well as death threats while she was grieving with her community. And we find yet another when, in the direct aftermath of a terrorist attack targeting our community, public figures continued to perpetuate Islamophobic tropes and refused to acknowledge white supremacy as a serious threat.

The disgraceful treatment of Muslim women is not a new phenomenon by any means. Any Muslim woman in America can tell you that. But these specific incidents have made something very clear: it’s not just Fox News pundits who need a lesson on how to treat Muslim women; it’s prominent liberal voices, the media outlets that are more covert about their Islamophobia, and the every day people we encounter at the grocery store or on the subway. So, how to be better? Here’s 100 ways.

1. Remember that there are nearly 1 billion Muslim women in the world. The way we practice our religion and live our lives is extremely diverse.

2. Being Muslim is not a race. Do not treat it as one.

3. Understand that for many of us—Black Muslim women, brown Muslim women, immigrant Muslim women, queer Muslim women, and more—Islamophobia is only one of the biases we face.

4. Read news by Muslim women, especially when that news is about us.

5. Read books by Muslim women.

6. Deliberately consume art by Muslim women.

7. Watch TV shows, movies, and plays by Muslim women.

8. As you consume art and news made by us, understand that no one person speaks for us all.

9. Consume media by multiple Muslim women of different races, backgrounds, and from different locations.

10. Take notice of the language used when discussing an issue that centers Muslims in the news outlets you watch and read.

11. Don’t ask us why we wear the hijab; don’t ask us why we don’t wear the hijab.

12. In fact, don’t ask us why we are or aren’t wearing anything.

13. Don’t tell us to cover up; don’t tell us to show more skin.

14. Understand that freedom includes the right to wear or not wear what we want.

15. If we do wear hijab, don’t assume it’s not our choice to put it on every day.

16. You can absolutely compliment our hijabs. It’s not offensive as long as it’s not creepy.

17. Don’t ask us what our hair looks like under our scarves.

18. Don’t ask to see us without our hijab.

19. Don’t ask us if we shower or sleep with it on. If you have to ask these questions, you have bigger problems to worry about.

20. If a Muslim woman doesn’t wear hijab or is against arranged marriage, that doesn’t give you the okay to hate on them. Respect what she has to say, but stay in your lane.

21. Recognize that not wearing hijab doesn’t make any of us any less Muslim.

22. Don’t assume we’re not Muslim because we don’t wear it.

23. Remember, none of us care if you don’t find hijabs attractive. They’re not for you.

24. Don’t make assumptions about our sexual history.

25. Don’t slut shame those of us who are sexually experienced; don’t shame those of us who aren’t.

26. Respect the way we do or don’t date, especially if it’s very different from your own.

27. Don’t assume that we’re straight.

28. Don’t assume we’re getting arranged marriages.

29. If someone is getting an arranged marriage, don’t assume they’re unhappy.

30. Know that arranged marriages are not necessarily forced marriages. In fact, forced marriages are forbidden in Islam and definitely not the norm.

31. Don’t ask us basic questions that you can Google.

32. If you want to ask us a question about our religion, really think about the best way to ask it.

33. Don’t be afraid to ask us questions about our faith in a respectful manner. We can usually tell what your intentions are.

Recognize that not wearing hijab doesn’t make any of us any less Muslim.

34. Know that just because you know a Muslim person, have a Muslim friend, or are in a relationship with a Muslim person does not mean that you’re not Islamophobic.

35. Examine the way you use language. Using the phrase “peaceful mosque” instead of just “mosque,” for example, suggests that most mosques are not peaceful.

36. Use your privilege to call out Islamophobia when you see it, even when it’s coming from people you know.

37. Acts of terrorism are not an invitation for you to talk to us about current events—especially not when our community has been targeted.

38. Raise awareness of Islamophobia on social media.

39. The internet is one of the largest vehicles for Islamophobia. Speak up for Muslims, especially Muslim women, who are being targeted online.

40. Report Islamophobic social media accounts, messages, and forums. The people behind them are a threat to our survival.

41. Don’t trivialize our fears of being targeted because Islamophobia doesn’t seem like a big threat to you. We know that it is.

42. Learn about the history of Palestine and how anti-Palestinian hate has contributed to Islamophobia and racism.

43. Support Black Muslim women.

44. Support Muslim women in office with words and money.

45. Support women imams.

46. Support Muslim women-owned businesses, like Zuhoor Desings and Ugaasadda.

47. Challenge your own sexism. Assuming we’re oppressed based on how we dress, date, or otherwise practice our religion is sexist.

48. Remember, we don’t care if you wouldn’t date us.

49. Acknowledge that you are in the wrong when a Muslim says you have been offensive, don’t get defensive. Instead, do better going forward.

50. Do not fetishize us. Don’t fetishize our hijabs.

51. Remember that your objectification of us is not a compliment.

52. Remember that “It’s hot that you’re religious” is not a compliment.

53. Avoid backhanded compliments like “you’re pretty even with hijab!”

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Javier Pardina via Stocksy

54. Stop staring at visibly Muslim women in public. It’s a scarf, surely you’ve seen one before, no?

55. Your conversations with Muslims don’t have to involve Islam. You can ask us about our lives, too.

56. Don’t debate us on our own religion.

57. Don’t expect or ask us to be spokespeople for a religion of 1.8 billion.

58. Respect it if a Muslim woman doesn’t want to shake your hand or give you a hug.

59. Give us the time and space to pray if we want to. If you’re hanging out with a Muslim woman, offer a bedroom or private space where we can pray if we need to.

60. Ask your employer if they can accommodate a prayer space for your Muslim co-workers.

61. If you see us praying in public, don’t walk in front of us, but do keep it moving.

62. If you see us with our foot in the sink in a public bathroom, don’t make it weird. This is part of the cleansing process for prayer called wudu.

63. Don’t ask why we’re not fasting during Ramadan. Whether we’re on our period or not, it’s personal.

64. If you’re with someone who is fasting, don’t make a big deal out of eating and drinking in front of them.

65. Don’t flaunt your delicious lunch either.

66. Never utter the words, “Not even water!?” to a Muslim person. Period.

67. If you’re with someone who is fasting, avoid explicit language and swearing.

68. Offer to do creative, low-energy activities with us during Ramadan.

69. Offer to help pick-up groceries or help with other physically taxing chores during Ramadan.

70. Avoid scheduling things with us during sunset in Ramadan. (Unless you’re making food.)

71. If you employ Muslim people or teach Muslim kids, offer to adjust their schedules during Ramadan. In general, be mindful of which times of year are sacred for us.

72. If you invite us over for dinner, cooking with halal meat, avoiding pork, and remembering that we may not drink will mean a lot to us.

73. Remember, we are just as American/Canadian/whatever as you are.

74. Tell Muslim women you’re proud of us.

75. Ask us if we need help getting home safe.

76. Respect when we don’t want to drink or be around alcohol.

77. Don’t bombard us with questions about being sober if we tell you that we don’t drink.

78. Don’t judge us for drinking; don’t judge us for not drinking.

79. Give us time to speak about our experiences, and never cut us off.

80. Invite us to gatherings; we don’t bite.

81. If you don’t know how to pronounce our names, ask.

82. If you see us fixing our hijabs in the bathroom, don’t stare.

83. Speak up for Muslims being “randomly selected” at airports.

84. Be nice to us always, but at airports especially. Traveling while Muslim can be hard.

85. Call out filmmakers when you notice Muslim stereotypes in the movies and shows that you watch.

86. Boycott anyone and anything that perpetuates fear of Muslims in the name of “freedom” or “free speech.”

87. Don’t put down people of other religions in order to praise us.

88. Remember being atheist or agnostic does not make you smarter or better than us in any way. Same goes for any other religion.

89. If you want to compliment our practice, don’t compare us to other Muslim women or put them down.

90. If you’re Muslim, encourage your local mosque to give women’s areas equal space and resources.

91. Don’t comment on, let alone try to “compliment” how ‘Western’ or ‘modern’ we are.

92. If you see a stranger approach a Muslim woman, watch her body language to make sure she isn’t uncomfortable. Intervene if you have to.

93. Acknowledge colourism, sexism, racism both within and outside the Muslim community. Hold others accountable for each of these.

94. Don’t hire us just to meet a diversity quota. Our work and presence is more valuable than any diversity statistic and you should recognize that.

95. If you’re going to hire Muslims, you have to respect the way we practice. That means accommodating our daily prayers, fasting, and not tolerating Islamophobia in the workplace.

96. If you hear the Islamic call to prayer go off from our phones, be silent out of respect until it’s finished.

97. Don’t direct the conversation to other issues when we’re talking about our experiences

98. Hear our stories, pay attention to our voices, listen to the talks we give.

99. Read our books, our poetry, our writing about our experiences.

100. Listen to this one very well: Muslim women do not need saving. (And we especially don’t need it from non-Muslim people.)