Disclaimer: I cannot understand what the cartoon above is saying
I have noticed a trend on Facebook of pages created and maintained by male religious teachers in the Malay-speaking communities of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. CahayaIslam (“Light of Islam”) and Lukisan Dakwah Islam (“Islamic Drawings for Da’wah”) are two pages most intriguing to me for two reasons: because they create and share cartoons that are drawn in the style of manga, which is popularly associated with comic books cheaply available to children and youth; and because they circumvent the rule in many forms of orthodox Islam against representations of the human form in art….
Even though these cartoons are a new way of reaching out to Muslim youth, the messages they send are definitely not revolutionary, but instead, conventional and highly gendered. As Malay society evolves and absorbs norms and customs from other cultures (especially from the Middle East, as these are deemed superior), the common denominator seems to be conservatism and a rigid differentiation between women and men.
I find this worrying because of how easily these messages could be absorbed by today’s young Muslim women and men. They are living in secular, developing countries where women study, work, and appear in public alongside men and will probably to continue to do so for economic reasons. But in the name of religion, young women are receiving messages that limit their potentials, while young men are receiving messages that reinforce their privileges.
“Assalamualaikum, sister. Could we ask why you are wearing the hijab? Is it to look pretty or to follow the trends?”
“Waalaikumussalam… I wear the hijab not to look pretty, stylish, elegant, because I was forced, or to follow any trends, but to COVER MY AURAT BECAUSE IT IS ALLAH’S COMMAND. When we cover our aurat because of Allah, indirectly it makes us look beautiful, stylish, elegant, gorgeous, cute, dignified, modest and most importantly our aurat is protected so that it may deflect the eyes of illicit men out there…”
I agree completely with the article above. I’m a researcher at a political think tank within the ASEAN region and I had to read up a lot of fieldwork and statistics on Islam and gender equality, and there’s been a rise in attitudes that disparage social, political and economic (i.e. salary) equality for women, that men SHOULD assert their authority over women, and that women should stay at home after marriage. A person in my field commented that he opposed feminism because it upset the social order (and could not actually tell me WHAT about feminism he opposed), although he completely agreed with my saying that women and men are politically equal in every respect.
Another problem with these sorts of illustrations does reflect my above example: The problem with Malay Muslims is that they have COMPLETELY blurred the line between religion and culture, and have assimilated it as one and the same. In conjunction with the general unhealthy state of Malaysian education and history, many Malay Muslims practice and parrot Islam on a very superficial level. They go into a right state over such trivial things as “Nike is the name of the Greek goddess of victory, we should not use Nike products anymore because it’s shirik” and yet do not seek to rectify BIG, IMPORTANT problems, like say, being good to your fellow man, regardless of race, gender or religion. Many Malay men I’ve met in the US as students studying abroad have adopted a harmful brand of Islam that they have used to constantly attempt to control the behaviour of the women in their vicinity, banning them from things that the women had in the past spearheaded, using logic that they do not then apply to themselves. Many Malay women, in turn, do not seek to deepen their understanding of Islam and how to apply it to their lives, and are quite happy to try to please others - because submission is a feminine and desirable trait that emphasises a woman’s “womanliness”.
The problem with Malays (and really, HUMAN BEINGS IN GENERAL) is that many of them are incapable of critical thinking. When everything is done superficially, without deep understanding and appreciation, things traditionally borne of good intentions become twisted and dangerous.
ETA: BIG THING I WANT TO PICK OUT FROM THE ARTICLE!!!
The main differences I noticed were in the implicit messages for the young Muslim woman and the young Muslim man. Looking over the various CahayaIslam cartoons depicting a young man, I could conclude that a young Muslim man should love God and love the Prophet Muhammad, pray, repent, seek spiritual success, and help those around him. In other words, he should embody the main tenets of Islam and many of the virtues that the Quran teaches us to strive towards. Lukisan Dakwah Islam also focuses on prayer (even linking it to being a macho man!), brotherly love and knowledge of Allah as our Creator. Noble da’wah work, right?
However, young women get a different message. As a little girl, being good means to pray-fast-and-obey-God-and-her-parents-and-later-her-husband. When she is older, she is shy and modest, because it is part of a woman’s attractiveness. She never forgets to follow the four rules of covering her aurat: don’t show your skin colour, don’t show the shape of your body, don’t attract attention, don’t use perfume (I guess there wasn’t enough space to include intellect and personality).
A good Muslim woman should love God and do good deeds! But piety is only to be a source of happiness to someone else (insert any male authority figure here), and her status is at par with other pleasant things such as a large house, good neighbours, and a comfortable vehicle (which of these material possessions do not belong?). Being a pious wife should be her lifelong ambition. Clearly, the scope of a woman’s ambition is woeful compared to what men can be. Likewise, cartoons from Lukisan Dakwah Islam focus on her dress code (here, here, here, the list goes on!) and acts of worship as a wife (horrifyingly also reminding women that they’ll easily end up in Hell.)
WELCOME TO BEING A MUSLIM WOMAN 101, REGARDLESS OF WHERE IN THE WORLD YOU ARE
I don’t normally reblog, but THIS just calls out to me. My exact notion, picked out of my cowardice (or lack of time to write) to express my frustrations out loud.
The saddest thing is that these women refused to look beyond the picture: do these men respect their wives, or are they parading her ‘goodness’ like a trophy on the mantelpiece? Most (not all) men who abide to these cartoons have the recklessness to call a woman a prostitute just because she doesn’t don the hijab, feel belittled if she advances more than them in academics or career, and would feel ashamed if she breaks out from the qualities wagered by these cartoons. The women begin to hold themselves back, and dare not to raise their hand in contributing to the world. Every woman becomes quiet, and servitude has shifted to another mortal figure, not to Allah SWT.
Girls and women alike should wake up and stop receiving the blows of insults from the male gaze. An honest submission does not come by force, but by their own disposition. We are able to make our own steps, and we are not born into this world just to be tethered to another’s conditions. We are here just like what the male Muslims are sent here for, to show gratitude to Allah SWT by endorsing all our will and strength in making this life worthwhile. For a life is lived only by your own will.