frenchI awoke to the hashtag  #JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux because a 15-year old French Muslim student was sent home for her long black skirt. Apparently her skirt proclaimed her religious affiliation too “loudly.”

The Twittersphere wants to know if Elsa is Muslim and why do Cinderella and Ariel get away with their long skirts, when a Muslim girl infects a long skirt with Muslimness? Since when does feminist empowerment demand controlling female bodies and their clothes?

At the end of the day, France – as in the Charlie Hebdo affair – falls prey to racism. They think we can’t see the silhouette of Islamophobia through their sheer laicite, but everyone else knows the emperor is naked.

Oh, France! we all cry out.

But Americans need not jump to judgement too fast. In Muslim American Women on Campus, I discuss how even non-hijab-wearing U.S. Muslim college women were othered for such attempts at modest clothing as long sleeves and long skirts. See below: 


An excerpt from Chapter 4: “You Can’t Really Look Normal and Dress Modestly: Muslim Women and Their Clothes on Campus” follows:  

Religiously observant non-hijabis typically seek a midpoint between normal American and Muslim dress: this usually involves wearing no hijab; modest necklines, long sleeves, and long pants to cover skin; and clothes of a loose fit to cover one’s bodily contours. Stylish layers such as jackets were in common usage to cover the chest and buttocks, but also to counteract the single baggy layer appearance. Hijab certainly is not the measure of modesty or dowdiness. As the trends of “hijab chic” and “sexy hijab” have grown in popularity, I have observed, on the one hand, hijabis wearing daringly skin-tight jeans and shirts, even low-cut necklines, coupled with minimalist headscarves, and non-hijabis, on the other hand, wearing loose clothes and bulky hoodies.

But even non-hijabis who wore modest “American” dress could not escape othering. It was no surprise that for Heather, a recent convert, “the biggest thing”—the greatest challenge—was her Muslim wardrobe.

Heather: Because you can’t really look normal and dress modestly. . . . You can pull it off to some degree. But you’ll never—[trails off]. . . . There are definite barriers between being religious and being normal in society. And you can make up to a certain degree with personality or knowledge of popular culture—or being interested in having a fun time that’s not necessarily haraam or something, but—[trails off].


On a summer day, Heather stood among her peers in their short skirts and lacy tank tops. In a woven long-sleeved shirt and an ankle-length Gap denim skirt, Heather’s skin was conspicuous by its absence.


Heather tried to prevent such encounters by strategically planning outfits, though she remained dissatisfied with the partial conformity that resulted.

peasantHeather: And so, definitely this summer I’m a lot more inclined to wear, like, light-looking things or things that might fit in a little more—like, skirts that don’t look like they’re hot, or pants that just look like khakis. Because you can sort of get away with wearing khakis in the summer and nobody’s going to ask you “Are you hot?” for the most part. Because at least you’re like–you know, it’s a legitimate thing to wear. The problem is when people wear long skirts or long pants they normally wear, like, a tank top on top.

Heather could “get away with” khakis and long skirts but when not paired with tank tops, this alternative to skin-baring summer fashion marked her as hot, weird, and oppressed. With her modest attire, Heather would never be perfectly normal or free from the pressure to defend her clothing choices.

Home movies that destroy lives

While interviewing Pakistani women academics in 2012, I learned how technological advances offer freedoms as well as snares for women. My research participant “Tahira” told me how some Pakistani young women are lured by secret lovers into making  amateur “sex films,” but these men then proceed to share these films publicly on the internet. Reputations, lives, and families are ruined in the process.

There are, however, relatively innocent films that are posted publicly and cause similar devastation in conservative families.

I know that for many, the solution is for young women to do absolutely nothing that might bring shame upon their families. Perhaps, indeed, young women must wear chadors at all times and never get caught in a private moment where they appear erotic or attractive. I am, of course, being sarcastic.

In the unregulated jungles of the internet, there does not appear to be any available strategy that might protect people from the damage of being caught by strangers engaged in fun that does no one (else) any harm.

But perhaps, in our families, schools, colleges, and madrassahs, young men can be educated to think and speak of women with respect, as agents and not as objects, as persons who can speak and act, and not as things that can only be seen and spoken of. Muslim religiosity and conservative cultural norms certainly contain the seeds of compassion, humility, and understanding of human sexuality, complexity, and diversity. It’s time those seeds bear fruit. 

The book is here!

Photo on 11-16-13 at 5.36 PM Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity – my first full-length book – is here from the University of North Carolina Press.

This is a big day. I was struck by the fact that my editor, Elaine, reminded me in her letter to celebrate properly. I suspect Elaine knows academic authors too well. We see every accomplishment, every book, every journal article, and every award in the context of academic productivity.

So in this photograph, I am taking the time to celebrate “properly” with my esteemed co-author, my seven-year old daughter. It is Raihana’s sacrifice of a good deal of quality time as well as her raising of questions about being Muslim, American, Pakistani, and White all at the same time that have resulted in this book. I owe her big time.

The book is available at the University of North Carolina Press.


Lecture at Loyola University (Chicago)

Islamic World Studies Lecture Series Spring 2013

“Muslim Students on American College Campuses”

Shabana Mir

Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Global Issues and Anthropology, Millikin University

Shabana Mir received her Ph.D. in Education Policy Studies, with a minor in Anthropology and a concentration in Comparative and International Education from Indiana University. Her research was awarded the 2006 “Outstanding Dissertation Award” by the American Anthropological Association’s Council on Anthropology and Education. Her book “Constructing Third Spaces: American Muslim Undergraduate Women’s Hybrid Identity Construction” is forthcoming (2013) from the University of North Carolina Press.

Monday April 8, 2013
4 PM | Life Sciences Building 142 FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Sponsors include Theology, Political Science, Asian Studies, Women’s Studies and Gender Studies, the School of Education, Sociology, and Anthropology | With funding from the CAS Dean’s Special Events Fund

Interfaith marriages are here, but.

As I pointed out some time ago, interfaith marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men are definitely here to stay in the Muslim diaspora. While Muslim religious leaders have not generally come out endorsing interfaith marriages, a small trickle of leaders have begun supporting and counseling interfaith couples (and no, supporting and counseling doesn’t always mean converting the non-Muslim spouses). The fact is, it’s time to accept interfaith marriages, both for Muslim men and women. Sociologically, there is no alternative.

This is not to say that interfaith marriages are a simple matter, both theologically and socially, as Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl points out, or that general rules may be applied to all. Each individual must consider her individual circumstances in such decisions. For example, she must consider the question: how important is my faith to me? How ecumenical is my disposition? How much do I care about transmitting my faith to my offspring? How likely is a prospective spouse to be generous in the socialization of offspring? A few years into interfaith marriages, when children start elementary school, a spouse/s often experiences religious change, so that all bets are off. This, of course, can easily happen to a couple that professes the same faith, but I would bet that the chances of conflict on matters of raising children religiously are statistically higher for interfaith couples. In other words, individuals entering upon such a marriage ought to consider every possibility, including the possibility that the beloved will, a few years hence, become an intransigent opponent of his spouse’s faith. What then? Is the resulting compromise acceptable to her?

Consider this: according to Dr. Abou El Fadl, the rationale for the juristic consensus against Muslim women is based on potential religious coercion by the husband and on fact that traditionally, offspring inherit the father’s religion and last name. Today, while Western nations are patriarchal without a doubt, as are Muslim societies, what if such patriarchal lineage were to be disrupted? What if father and mother had equal power to socialize their offspring and pass on their respective faiths? Within such contexts, would the juristic consensus be different? For such individuals, even those within patriarchal societies, could a juristic alternative be imagined?

By and large Muslims do not seem overly concerned about Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women. In Western societies, where legal frameworks favor women in some cases, ought this juristic consensus (in favor of Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women) to be revoked?

For those who approach the debate in a de-contextualized fashion, a rule is a rule is a rule, no matter where it is being applied, and social realities are irrelevant. Islamic law does not function in this way. Still, scholarly consensus can be a useful tool for gendered fears and identity insecurities in non-Muslim majority societies.