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The Feminist Mosaic: The Naked Blogger, the Burka, and the Boys in Hijab

Aliaa al-Mahdy sparked a firestorm of controversy last month when she posted a sensationalist nude photo of herself on her blog, ‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary.’ Praised almost universally in the West for her “courage,” the 20-year-old art student sent “shock waves” through Egypt’s conservative society. (It is interesting to note that when women attempt to attain their rights to wear the hijab or the niqab in lets say France it is not met with the same enthusiastic praise but rather derision.)

After decades of resurgent Islam, public nudity is frowned upon in Egypt, even in art. Mahdy defended her act, writing in her blog:

Put on trial the artists’ models who posed nude for art schools until the early 70s, hide the art books and destroy the nude statues of antiquity, then undress and stand before a mirror and burn your bodies that you despise to forever rid yourselves of your sexual hangups before you direct your humiliation and chauvinism and dare to try to deny me my freedom of expression.

Mahdy also launched a Facebook campaign, “Wearing Hijab in Solidarity with Women,” which called on men to support women’s rights by uploading photos of themselves wearing headscarves. The idea of men wearing hijab to make a political statement is not new.

In 2009, Iranian authorities tried to humiliate jailed activist Majid Tavakoli by publishing photos of him wearing hijab as punishment for his role in protests following a disputed election. Iranian men responded by launching the online “Be a Man” campaign, and hundreds of men expressed their solidarity with Travakoli by uploading photos of themselves wearing hijab.

Be a Man Campaign

Be a Man Campaign

The “Be a Man” campaign also advocates women’s rights. Mahdy featured many participants’ photos on her Facebook page before it was shut down in response to thousands of complaints. She has vowed to relaunch it within days.

Egypt’s Attorney General has received a legal complaint accusing Mahdi and her boyfriend, Kareem Amer, of “inciting immorality, debauchery, and defamation of religion.”

This legal complaint is bound not to help the situation and will likely have the opposite effect. We know whenever the state interferes to repress freedom of conscious it only brings more attention to the issue and entices copycats.

Secular liberals and religious conservatives are vying for support in Egypt’s increasingly polarized society. Mahdy’s liberal critics fear her radical tactics could prompt a conservative backlash and strengthen ultra-Conservatives in upcoming elections.

Egyptian journalist Mohammad Abdelfattah, whose role in exposing the deadly beating of Khaled Said helped spark the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, expressed his support for women’s rights, but advocated a different approach, saying:

I don’t think that’s how I would like to show my support for women. Both of us respect our differences, but that’s not something I would do … I think that it’s a funny tactic, it’s not serious stuff…

You know, we can mobilize for women’s rights in a more serious manner that can achieve real things on the ground, not just some superficial type of tactics that would make the already conservative population [of Egypt more] alienated … to the idea of women’s rights.

Mona Eltahawy, a freelance Egyptian-American journalist based in New York, who ironically supports bans on the burqa dismissed liberal critics who accused Mahdy of hurting their cause. Eltahawy, who describes herself as a liberal, secular Muslim, said conservative opponents should not be allowed to set the agenda. In an article expressing lavish praise for Mahdy’s campaign, she wrote:

When a woman is the sum total of her headscarf and hymen – that is, what’s on her head and what is between her legs – then nakedness and sex become weapons of political resistance…

[Mahdy] is the Molotov cocktail thrown at the Mubaraks in our heads – the dictators of our mind – which insists that revolutions cannot succeed without a tidal wave of cultural changes that upend misogyny and sexual hypocrisy.

Eltahawy’s views are prevalent among feminists who interpret public nudity as the ultimate rebellion against the burqa, considered a notorious symbol of oppression in the West. Many who subscribe to this view believe Islam and feminism are mutually exclusive, and that religion should be tossed in the trash bin, along with the hijab.

Muslim feminists have challenged this orthodoxy, forwarding the argument that Islam and feminism are compatible, and that modest dress actually liberates women from the confines of superficial beauty. Many Muslim feminists have introduced a competing contemporary narrative that challenges the notion that women’s liberation is a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

Maybe Mahdy’s campaign will contribute to a new feminist mosaic that is inclusive and focused on choices, not mandates. Rather than becoming a lightning rod issue, pitting one side against another, why can’t we make room for naked bloggers, and burqas, and boys in hijab?

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  • Anticipated Serendipity

    So Michael was wrong about alcohol, it is not prohibited; it is only the consumption of the stuff which is prohibited. I was assuming that was obvious and we were all adults here and that didn’t need clarifying.

    You are a very curious character. Muslim being “muslim”, Islamic law being “muslim law” are a few oddities, not to mention your ostensibly articulate rants – yes, articulate yet rants nonetheless. How can one compare an employee to a slave? How can one argue that a slave can always “quit” and “choose” a new master?

    Now you have claimed that a woman can “sell” herself to a master, therefore an Emirati man “buying” a Ukrainian woman who offers herself up for concubinage is a-okay in Islam. I thought prostitution was forbidden in Islam? Or is this some form of mutah (Shi’a religious prostitution)?

    You mentioned the United Arab Republic somewhere in these rants. The UAR was a short-lived union between Egypt and Syria that began and ended over 50 years ago, what does that have to do with anything?

    I read an answer to a question about sex slaves on an Islamic forum, in which a man replied that sex slavery is okay if the women involved are kuffar who were captured waging war against Muslims (he stated that while Shi’a and Muslims who fight Muslims are heretics, they should not be enslaved) and even went on to state that if insurgents in Iraq capture an American female soldier they can make her their concubine. Considering the insurgency in Iraq has chopped heads off and made videos out of it in the past, and at their peak they proved themselves to be quiet vicious and prone to sectarian violence, all the while labelling themselves mujahideen, and yet one thing they’ve never done is taken a woman as a sex slave. Most Muslims in this era (even the wacky ones) are appalled by sex slavery – remember the derision Salwa al-Mutairi (Kuwaiti politician who called for reinstating sex slavery) received for her views – hence discussing it is a bit like barking at the moon. As per my understanding, the only way Muslims could acquire slaves was during a holy war, and those don’t happen anymore hence slavery shouldn’t happen anymore. No “Shaykh”, a woman may not sell herself in that sense, it is haram, and it is also haram for the man “buying” her if he is Muslim. In English, we refer to that as prostitution and it is not considered very respectable or even safe for that matter.

    The “servitude” Shaykh describes is not servitude at all; an employer cannot turn his employee into a concubine. To even try to make a comparison b/w the two is silly.

    I know it’s not my fight, but DrM is a pathological liar, in almost all of his posts addressed to “Believing Athiest” he claims that he/she said “Muslims held Yahya Khan to high-esteem” when in fact all that was said was that Muslim countries supported him and they did. All the Gulf states supported him against the Bengalis, that is fact, regardless of how Muslim he was and how lay Muslims saw him. As for apostasy, while I personally don’t believe in any worldly punishment for apostasy, the fact remains that most Muslims and scholars do. It’s not just the Salafi extremists that support killing apostates, all four of the major fiqh schools in Sunni Islam support this view, with the exception of the Hanafis, who believe female apostates should be imprisoned until they accept Islam and not killed.

  • Believing Atheist

    @ Dr M who in reality is an accountant,

    Your Lie: Geert Wilders is an atheist. Wrong! He is an agnostic. Use google translate if necessary. Your claim that he is a Zionist is true. In fact I defended you on this point when How Islam Created the Modern World attacked you on this point.

    Is the pot calling the kettle black?

  • [Adding a last line to the above comment:]

    And for us, it’s another world.

  • AJ joins the fun: Girls, beware of going to the Muslim America Camp in WA. The Shaykh might be looking to expand his harem.

    We could use some more space in the hareem ~ two of our grown children just moved back in, and with the snow, we can’t set up any more tents in the back. It’s amazing how fast a house can fill up.

    Shaykh, you weren’t around near Superbowl this year, right? I heard lot of trafficked girls were selling there.

    Good, hardworking Christian American Superbowl fans buy slave girls? Tell me it ain’t so …

    BTW you are not that far from where that Guru lived in Oregon, right??

    They were two hundred miles south of here. America’s wild wild west attracts wild wild sects the way the world wide web attracts world wide cults.

    Fortunately, two mountain ranges merge in southern Oregon and northern California, making a natural geographic barrier keeping most of the Californication away from the Pacific Northwest. I hear there’s a market for certified heterosexual male slaves in California … we’re waiting for California to fall off into the Pacific Ocean.

    Actually, as I recall, the sex trade in America pretty much collapsed in the Sixties ~ it couldn’t compete with the “Free Love” movement. Except in high-level corporate and government office buildings, of course ~ the catering industry there is still thriving, from what we’ve seen in the media news.

    Just having a laugh too, hehe.

    The trick with pretenders who don’t know Islam is to give them plenty of room to climb out on a limb. It’s easy ~ people with a little bit of newly-gained half-knowledge are always eager to show it off. Go back through the conversations and you’ll see that after a certain point, people who actually have some knowledge ~ Sir David, for example ~ just sat back and watched.

    May Allah forgive my sins for having talked in vain, Amin.


    I’m death on abuse of “ma malakat ‘aimanukum.” After World War II, I and my brother were raised by our mother, who hadn’t completed high school when she married Dad. There’s no way I could describe for you the effect on a family of being abandoned in a modern industrial mercantile society.

    More importantly, there’s no way I could describe for anyone the effect of discovering that the society not only should have known better, but did know better ~ and decided, “scientifically” and politically, that people who didn’t go to church and struggle through college, or accept slave wages insufficient to support a family, just didn’t count.

    I hitch-hiked across America more than once when I was young, at least once in uniform (US Army). The American people are good-hearted folks, generally. We moved up here, unknowingly into “Right-Wing Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian country” nearly twenty years ago, “blatantly” muslim and complete strangers, and in those twenty years have seen one ~ count’em, one ~ instance where a drunk ne’er-do-well shouted some unintelligible epithet at one of us from two hundred yards away because of our distinctive clothing. Almost without exception, we have been welcomed and made to feel “at home,” and today are honored and respected as if we had been here for generations ~ despite political disputes and legal skirmishes that would normally disqualify the average “Johnny-come-lately” from being thought of as “local folks.”

    But the poor, the widows and the orphans, the weak and powerless and defenseless, suffer here like our mother did. “Join or perish” is the demand of American society ~ and the price of “joining” gets higher all the time.

    No one ~ and I say this without qualification ~ is more dedicated to absolute liberty for all of humanity than the muslims that God describes in the Qur’an. And today among the muslims, we have seen no one more actively militant about that than we are. Vocal, yes ~ there is no end of muslim preachers today. But on-the-ground active and spending “in the way”? We fly the banner of praise that is beyond the reach of the parties of contention ~ we’re living it. The True King, Adonai, God, Jah, ALLAH, The Merciful, has written “Liberty” on mankind, and He will have His way.

    But seriously Shaykh, you irritate many.

    No, Habeebi. Go back and read. Exposure of pretense and ignorance irritates many. It’s a breath of fresh air for the faithful.

    Go back and read how people reacted to just this “Magister Scientiae Juridicae Docendi” ~ about which they knew absolutely nothing whatever and still don’t ~ and see how “the strange” brought out the demons in the hearts ~ Haste, Anger, Doubt, Envy, and Suspicion ~ that the afflicted didn’t even know were there.

    That’s who’s “irritated” ~ those who’ve been made to discover that they are not so “pure” as they had imagined. It irritates me, too, to discover my own human failures ~ but who could be better at deceiving me than me? Anyone who can show me to myself is a Mercy from Him. But who wants to look in the mirror and actually see what’s reflected there? It’s frustrating for anyone who wants to be the best he can be.

    But you are the best ~ the brightest ~ the powerful. Were you not, it would not have been said. And it is said ~ in the Qur’an, to those who read it. What we have to do is live as if we believe it. And He will manifest the truth of it. We don’t need a Hero or a Savior or an “Imam Mahdi” ~ we need ourselves, and Him.

    Islam is not a philosophy. It is not a law. It is not an academic subject or “a way of life” or a set of ritual practices or theological doctrine or “submission” or a culture or a state or a nation or an empire. It is not a Book or a Prophet or a band of angels or a “mystical system” or a magical mystery tour. It is not a mosque or a Ka’aba or a collection of “vessels of the divine spirit.” It is not a library or a history or ten thousand saints or “holy men.”

    It is a way of restoring and preserving our human nature in which He created us. It is something we do ~ and something He does with us ~ we do it together. All together, and each with Him.

    Islam is an applied science ~ and unless it is being done, it’s just a playground for pretenders and charlatans, a way for priests and politicians to put themselves in power over peaceful populations, and a folly for fools.

  • DrM

    @lying atheist,

    So much horse manure, so little time. You’ve got it the other way round, I caught you lying(no point in resisting it all again) and like a sore loser you’ve been huffing and puffing ever since. Second hand brown sahibs are too easy to deflate.
    Maybe it hasn’t dawned on your clouded mind yet but Wilders is a liar. He’s a Zionist atheist charlatan, he lied about his background, while wearing a kippa and visiting the Temple Mount, while saying that Jordan is Palestine. a non-religious politician behaving like messianic Jewish settler thug. Doesn’t make sense to me. Yet so many atheists support him. And yes, I remember you bringing up your Bengali background, and to this day you’ve not explained its relevance to that thread whatsoever. Of course like Wilders you have your Zionist moments, thinking I’m an Arab which I’m not. I don’t believe Israel has a right to exist because it is terrorist state, and your malarkey about the 1967 borders(which I used to endorse at one time) and the Mufti of Jerusalem was already refuted in that same post you linked to. Wonder why you left that bit out. You have a hard enough time your South Asian inferiority complex, you do not want to add the weight Zionism lies to your collapsing shoulders.
    Of course I don’t believe your “secular” credentials or your “Muslim” background. Too bad for you some of us actually are familiar with South Asian history and politics, and laugh at your stupidity when you claimed that Yahya Khan was held in high esteem by Muslims, amongst other pathetic gibberish. To say that you’re disingenuous is an understatement. You can be a Hindu fanatic without believing in the religion as many Hindu atheists see it as a cultural identity. So I find no contradiction in you adopting Hindutva rhetoric and lies about Islam. Only a Hindutva twit would argue that Islam is “alien” after more then 1000 years of its presence in the subcontinent, and while claiming to be a fan oh Rabindranath Tagore(who was influenced by Islam), no less. What a buffoon.
    I didn’t lie about apostasy in Islam, you simply didn’t accept what I posted, instead taking the words Salafi extremists and Robert Spencer on this issue. Funny how extremists need each other.
    WikiIslam isn’t owned by mysterious “Ali Sina”? Says Wikiislam, despite the fact its a mirror of the “FaithFreedom” hate site.

    As ever you can’t back up your desperate balderdash and make it up as you go along. Like I said earlier, if you had your head up your ass any higher you’d be wearing your colon as a bonnet. You might fare against me better if you had non-tangential arguments which couldn’t be sourced back to your rectum.

  • AJ

    Girls, beware of going to the Muslim America Camp in WA. The Shaykh might be looking to expand his harem. Shaykh, you weren’t around near Superbowl this year, right? I heard lot of trafficked girls were selling there. BTW you are not that far from where that Guru lived in Oregon, right??

    Just having a laugh too, hehe.

    May Allah forgive my sins for having talked in vain, Amin. But seriously Shaykh, you irritate many.

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