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June 9th, 2010
04:32 PM ET

Bikini or headscarf - which offers more freedom?

Krista Bremer writes for Oprah.com:

Nine years ago, I danced my newborn daughter around my North Carolina living room to the music of "Free to Be...You and Me", the '70s children's classic whose every lyric about tolerance and gender equality I had memorized as a girl growing up in California.

My Libyan-born husband, Ismail, sat with her for hours on our screened porch, swaying back and forth on a creaky metal rocker and singing old Arabic folk songs, and took her to a Muslim sheikh who chanted a prayer for long life into her tiny, velvety ear.

I imagined Aliya embracing shopping trips to Whole Foods and the stack of presents under the Christmas tree, while still fully appreciating the melodic sound of Arabic, the honey-soaked baklava Ismail makes from scratch, the intricate henna tattoos her aunt drew on her feet when we visited Libya. Not once did I imagine her falling for the head covering worn by Muslim girls as an expression of modesty.

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- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Culture & Science • Interfaith issues • Islam

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Allison Bear Stevens

    Dear Hibijibi..There are a few incorrect statements in your well written reply. Actually a lot of what muslims do is based on tradtion and culture and cannot be found in the Qu'ran. It is very simple..when you ask a Muslim where in the Qu'ran does it say...they ususally cannot show you because it is simply not there. Some translations are also just awful and have no academic backing or publication is paid for by a dubious authority. Actually one of the best translations was done by Princeton University Ahmed Ali.
    In fact I found the Qu'ran very empowering as a woman. There is whole chapter dedicated to women and their legal rights because they are viewed as vunerable to the crulety of men. The Queen of Sheba is venerated, and of course there is a whole chapter deicated to Mary. It is sad as to be honest there is in fact a hairs breath difference between the three middle east religions.PLEASE REMEMBER the Qu'ran was given to all human kind over 1,600 years ago.You don't have to be Muslim to read it. I don't recall anywhere in the Qu'ran condonning child marriage. The I divorce you is in fact incorrectly misunderstood (MOSTLY BY MUSLIMS!) and in fact can be used by women as well. The Qu'ran realises the reality of difficulties in marriage but asks that couples seek help and try for at least six months to try and resolve issues..it even advises that couples get some space and time apart. The I divorce you is issued as declaration to three relaible witnessess as an indication for the desire to divorce..they must then wait three months and if still determined again declare this three times,,then wait another three months and then declare it a final three times. As for Muslims not being able to change religion is also not correct. If a muslim belives in the will of God EnShahAllah..then they cannot stop people diverting their faith as this could be viewed as EnShahAllah..especially if they convert to a cousin relgion (i.e Christianity.)I wonder what would a fundamentalisit Christain family would do if, for example, their son wanted to become Mulsim..would they not do everything to stop this.
    Meanwhile peace to you..AND by the way you are very correct about Muslims googling porn..I have absolutely no illusions about the Islamic world but the same as they misunderstand us..we misunderstand them. I can tell you I feel safer traveling alone in islamic countries than I do in European ones . I have been treated with much more respect by Muslim men than some so called modern secular men. I have had tea with fishermen, truck drivers and camel hearders (I am worth 10 camels you know..this is a joke issued by a Libyan by the way). Most of the men and women I have met really admire my stance in not trying to mimic a paticular Islamic culture..but have stayed very true to my Brittish identity whilst being very happy that i am Muslim. AND guess what..I don't cover my head..except when its rainning!

    August 20, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  2. Allison Bear Stevens

    I hope that on behalf of the women THAT I KNOW but do not have access to the internet that Krista Bremner at least informs her daughter of the reality of the headscarf and what it can symbolise.To summerise, she is BETRAYING all the women in Islam that are FORCED to cover their heads despite the fact that it is NOT in the Qu'ran.For the women in Iran that are pulled off the street and are physically beaten before having their hair cut or shaved off as punishment for even showing a small lock of hair (up until recently the younger generation had become almost non headscarf wearing..but the old and bitter are forcing a new dress code on them..it also includes young men wearing western jeans!). For the brutilised women of Chechnya (if Ms Bremner can access the BBC show This World.for the episode entitled Stolen Brides she will see the symbolism and reality of certain Islamic dress codes)now wishing that the Russians would stay as they now face the brutaility of men forcing them to cover up. How do I know so much...Because I am a convert to Islam. Because I have met such women. because I was blessed by being born a free European. First of all her daughter is actually wearing a form of head covering that is a version of a Persian "FASHION" and is not in any way a Libyan headscarf. In fact certain tribes in Libya (but especially the Toureg in the south) consists of a small coil of cloth just covering the crown of the head, or a bandanna, or in the case of the Toureg it is the MEN that cover their heads NOT the women. I actually visit Libya at least once a year (yes I sought therapy..but I love the country even though I know much better places) I wonder if this young gal actually asked her young female relatives about headscarfing..I have no doubt they would tell her to enjoy the freedom feeling the wind blow through her hair. For setting an example by NOT complying, by researching this issue.
    I have met women that wear the headscarf as it covers up "..a BAD hair day" I know of one fiesty Syrian gal that uses her headscarf to attract men as her hair is very thin and weak. I also know a Syrian teacher that when asking the girls in her school why they were suddenly covering their hair they replied becaus of fashion..she replied that wearing such a thing close to the brain would interfear with their brains ability to THINK intelligently! The answer Islamicly full of barbed wit by the way.

    August 20, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  3. Hibijibi

    One more thing. A few years ago I was lucky enough to travel to the Red Sea and went snorkeling to see some of the most amazing coral reefs in the world, just off the beach. The Westerners, men, women, and children, plunged joyfully in to the clear water to swim out to the reefs a few dozen feet off shore. The Muslim men went in. The Muslim children went in. Everyone was enjoying the spectacular fish, everyone– except ALL the Muslim women, who sat waiting for their husbands and children in the hot sun in their headscarves, unable to swim out and see the fish because OMG, someone else might see their bodies. Freedom? I think not.

    August 5, 2010 at 4:22 am |
  4. Hibijibi

    I found this article sweet and touching for the most part, and I agree wholeheartedly that it's not "free" for girls to feel they have to be sexy at all times. But I also found the mother's attitude sadly misguided on the value of her own culture. Believe it or not, the current emphasis on sexiness, which I think is unhealthy for all of us, is not synonymous with American culture, any more than wearing a veil and long dress while living in the West is synonymous with Muslim culture. Both of these are new phenomena.

    Before "sluts" and "hos" and "bitches," American women spent two centuries behaving with considerably more freedom than other women worldwide AND with modesty. You don't have to turn to the least progressive major culture in the world, one in which women are still seen today mainly as babymakers, to raise a healthy child.

    When I was nine, I asked my mother to let me wear a long dress and a veil to school. I loved princesses and fairy tales and wanted to wear the clothes because I thought they looked cool. How can you be sure that this little girl's interest in her long dress and pretty veil is not just the same thing, combined with every little girl's wish to please her father? Once you allow her to start dressing like that because she is "Muslim" when her mother is not, you and he and his community put pressure on her to stay "Muslim", thus being consigned to a markedly incurious culture at least as it is today, which, to put it mildly, does not tolerate questioning of the faith nor treat women as equals– in THIS world, anyway, and judging by real-world results, such as the fact that the countries with the lowest level of education for women and the highest rates of death in childbirth are Muslim, or the fact that a majority of the top ten countries where "sex" is googled the most are "Muslim," or the fact that in the Koran itself women whose husbands say "I divorce you" three times are to lose their children, and girls are legally allowed to be married at nine.( Of course modern Muslims say these unfortunate facts are not because of Islam; this is the same argument as when Communists used to say that pure Communism didn't exist anywhere and so it wasn't fair to judge Communist countries on the facts.) I don't blame Muslims for defending their religion, because they are stuck with it– the Koran itself says that Muslims who stop believing in Islam are to be killed. But you, this child's mother, are not a Muslim and it seems wrong of you to decide for her at such an early age that she should belong to a religion that she would not be allowed (in Islamic countries) to leave or even question.

    The modesty argument is the second problem (and by the way, since Muslims believe that women have more sexual desire than men, why is it that men don't have to cover their heads and faces to avoid arousing women?). In the U.S.A., dressing as your little girl does is anything but modest. How is making everyone stare at you modest? If modesty were the point, a simple modesty in dress would suffice. The fact that the little girl wants to dress up should be the giveaway. What little girl doesn't?

    August 5, 2010 at 4:03 am |
  5. Sue85

    God bless your beautiful girl. I really enjoyed this article. What's very captivating is that your child found wisdom at a very early age.. She will be shielded by god from heat, cold, unwanted looks and anything that could make her uncomfortable. And that's for the many who disagree with the headscarf because of hot weather. Her will is stronger than what surrounds her & That's the beauty of her choice. Covering the body and being conservative is not only in islam religion. The nuns cover the same way.
    Being covered is not only for you, It's for others too so they don't commit a sin and discourage impure thoughts. Good for you two! Live. Love & careless of what people think no matter where you are in the world..

    July 29, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  6. lara

    one does not have to choose from one extreme to the other. Moderation is the key.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.