15 Ways Islamophobia Can Target Muslim Women Specifically

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As March 27 gains momentum as annual Muslim Women's Day, people are discussing the forms of Islamophobia that target Muslim women in particular. Gendered Islamophobia normally pertains to incidents of bigotry specifically against Muslim women who are perceived to be of the Islamic faith due to the presence of headscarves or other religious apparel. But it is not limited to those wearing the hijab or other religious headscarves; gendered Islamophobia can also happen to women without such clothing who are still perceived to be Muslim or "Middle Eastern."

There are many ways such a misogynistic notion of ignorance can take place against Muslim women. It's important to note that the forms of such bigotry and ignorance are not limited to the category of physical violence but also include bias present in language as well as ignorance perpetuating itself in daily interactions. Gendered Islamophobia can also be found in pop culture, literature, and films where Muslim women are depicted as repressed women in dire need of a savior. While Islamophobia can be blatant like the January 2017 shooting at a Quebec mosque, it can also be implicit and indirect. It's important to understand the more subtle ways Islamophobia affects Muslim women in order to build a framework against it.

1. Assuming All Muslim Women Wear The Hijab

While many Muslim women wear the hijab (an Islamic headscarf meant to practice modesty), many Muslim women don't. The assumption that all Muslim women wear the hijab is not only patently false, but also is counterintuitive to initiatives meant to show the diverse face of Islam.

After all, Islam boasts 1.7 billion adherents over the world. It is statistically impossible to have one singular view on the hijab among its believers. As a result, our understanding of Islam and Muslims should reflect that diversity.

2. Assuming Only Hijab-Wearing Muslims Face Islamophobia

While it is true that Muslim women who wear the hijab tend to face much more pronounced forms of Islamophobia, it is also true that Islamophobia does not limit itself to hijab-wearing Muslim women only.

In fact, Muslim women who do not wear the hijab still often get mistaken for looking "Middle Eastern" and face anti-Muslim animus in public and online in the form of racial slurs and other invectives.

3. Reporting On Muslim Women Without Speaking To Them

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Without speaking to Muslim women about relevant issues like the particular struggles they face as a Muslim-American, let's say, there is always a chance of speaking over them and blocking their opinions from appearing in media. As a result, Muslim women are denied the chance to be heard by broad audiences. This perpetuates the dangerous and baseless stereotype that Muslim women can't speak for themselves.

4. Speaking Of Islam As A Monolith In Media

Islam is practiced by 23.4 percent of the world's population. It has high populations in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia among other places. Naturally, it has its many forms, religious interpretations, various schools of thoughts, and expressions. When political analysts and media fail to factor this rudimentary fact into their sound bites about Islam, they add to the damaging trope that Islam is a monolith and Muslim women are all the same.  

5. Speaking Of Muslim Women Only To Serve Your Political Goals

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Conservatives love to talk about Islam, specifically when it comes to criticizing it. Rush Limbaugh attempted to criticize Ibtihaj Muhammad's headscarf when she became the first American Olympian to compete while wearing the hijab. He said, "Why celebrate a woman wearing something that’s been forced on her by a religion?"

Instead of reaching out to Muhammad who is quite capable of articulating her own thoughts, Limbaugh did the exact opposite and spoke over her. This kind of pontification only demonstrates clear bias and the failure to conduct basic reportage by simply asking for a comment.

6. Refusing Muslim Women The Right To Political Spaces

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Women are entitled to political organizing and mobilizing. When people view Muslim women's political organizing as suspicious and threatening, they simply reveal their biased understanding about Islam. As March 27 gains popularity as the annual Muslim Women's Day, the need for political organizing among Muslim women should be welcomed as a gesture of commitment to the advancement of women's rights.

7. Posting Racialized Invectives Against Muslim Women Online

If public areas are potential sites for Islamophobia, the internet is also covered with trolls who seek to harass Muslim women. Muslim women consistently face racial slurs and threats from bigots online and from people who have skewed ideas about Islam. One can simply search the "Muslim Women's Day" hashtag to see some vitriolic reaction to the day.

8. Not Speaking Up When Muslim Women Are Attacked

Solidarity is the most potent force against gendered Islamophobia. The failure to counter such venomous views simply emboldens Islamophobia to newer and more vicious heights. One of the best methods of countering gendered Islamophobia was laid out by Maeril, a French blogger, in this illustrated guide which went viral. Instead of embroiling yourself with the harasser, Maeril illustrates how you can fight against Islamophobia by simply interacting with the person receiving the abuse. Talk to them like you would talk to a friend. Not only does it make the person feel welcomed but it also shows the bully that their target is not vulnerable and alone.

9. Demanding Muslim Women Apologize For Their Faith

People with anti-Islam views often demand that Muslims apologize for attacks carried out in the name of Islam. Such an order is rooted in hatred and a failure to see that the same demand is never made of Christians for the KKK or any other religion.

10. Demanding Muslim Women Change Their Appearance

Muslim women are more conveniently spotted due to religious signifiers like scarves and abaya (a long overcoat worn for modesty). Bigots often demand that they change their appearance in public so others can feel comfortable. Such a demand turns public space — an arena everyone is entitled to make use of — into a hostile place for Muslim women. In addition to that, such a position implies that if you want to be protected from Islamophobia, you shouldn't dress like a Muslim. It simply fails to hold anti-Muslim animus accountable.

11. Viewing Muslim Women As Constant Victims

Islamophobes view Muslim women as voiceless and powerless human beings in spite of constant reminders that Muslim women enrich society by working in the fields of medicine, science, media, education, fashion, and much more. It's an old and rather tiresome trope that has been countered by Muslim feminists across the board. The best way to combat this is by learning more about Muslim women and their direct contributions to society.

12. Conversely, Viewing Muslim Women As Constant Rebels

Muslim women come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and experiences. Some are traditional, while others like to push against convention. Instead of depicting them as either oppressed girls or constant rebels in a limited binary, people need to view them as complex and constantly changing human beings — just like anyone else.

13. Using "Women's Rights" To Push Gendered Islamophobia

When conservatives use the title of women's rights to talk about Islam, they propagate the stereotype that Muslim women are the only women in need of empowerment. Using such a category of rights is opportunistic and only reveals their Islamophobia.

Donald Trump's fixation with "honor killings" (consistently associated with Islam) exemplifies the opportunistic nature of such highlighting. The irony is that Trump vowed to highlight "honor killings" while his budget proposals would demand cuts to the Department of Justice's Violence Against Women grants, according to ThinkProgress.

14. Assuming Islam Has A Monopoly On Patriarchy

Time and again, many people assume Islam is the only organized religion to have a monopoly over patriarchy. This is false. Whether it's Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other religion, organized religion is fraught with problems when it comes to women's autonomy. A specific focus on Islam does nobody any favors. In fact, it only shows that the focus is guided by anti-Muslim animus and not loyalty to feminist goals.

15. Hypervisibilizing Muslim Women

While people zero in on Muslim women, they forget that visibility might not always mean empowerment. If Muslim women are shown in media without being spoken to, the images do not matter. In fact, Muslim women end up being portrayed as voiceless beings. Hypervisibility should be replaced with nuanced reportage that contains healthy contribution from Muslim women themselves.

The list is nowhere near a conclusive guide on gendered Islamophobia; Islamophobia against women comes in a dizzying array of forms. But it can help you with understanding some of them and, as a result of knowing why it's wrong, nip it right in the bud.