A Feminist Visits the Islamic Center of Detroit
By: Kelly Lett
Maha Mustafa smiles at me, waiting to hear my omelet order. I really don’t want an omelet, but fear I have no choice as the social pressure of three grinning Muslims bears down upon me. I get mushroom and spinach with cheese. Now I am allowed access to my true desire, the banquet table lined with traditional foods from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and other predominately Muslim countries.
I am being treated to the heaven that is Islamic hospitality.
Maha is the Outreach Director at ICD. She makes it a point to try and cross the invisible lines dividing her community from that of white, christian America. We met at a protest against the muslim ban where she did the bravest thing i have ever seen, she crossed a busy street carrying a box of pastries over to a group of Trumpers who protest her right to live and worship in peace.
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In an effort to combat the fear and misunderstandings circulating about their religion and lifestyle the Islamic Center of Detroit (ICD) held an open house and brunch this past weekend. As soon as the invite landed in my inbox, I cleared the day.
I live next to Hamtramck. Center of the largest Muslim immigrant population in all America. Sometimes I ride my bike there. I see “them” walking around. Ladies covered from head to toe, moving like shadow ghosts through American towns. Not looking anything like The Girl Next Door, their boldness in existing this way has third wave feminists and frightened conservatives demanding the release of their hair.
As a feminist and a liberal they perplex me, upset me and vex me.
I had to get to know some.
Though the open house was intended more as a way to diffuse the fear of MAGA hat wearers, the people of the mosque were eager and excited to talk to someone from outside their community. Someone who used her ignorance as an excuse to attend, not a reason to avoid the open house.
They were bored with the questions about their clothing before I even asked. I suspect it is the first and maybe only thing that people are willing to ask about. After all these women have become the visual symbol of terror and oppression to many people around the world. France and Germany continue to debate allowing Muslim women the right to wear hijabs and burqas out in public. And yet out in public is the only place that they are expected to wear them. I am assured over and over that wearing hijab is a personal choice. Though I find that hard to believe they tell me that only around men they would be able to marry are they supposed to cover up. Around fathers, brothers, sons and uncles they can let those locks flow freely.
This makes them feel special. Empowered even. Knowing their full physical freedom is reserved for one man.
And that is the heart of what truly bothers Western feminists.
Contrary to what your 4Chan loving, MRA dabbling buddy might say, Western feminism is focused on equality, not female superiority. I cannot understand keeping the wind out of my hair for the affection of one special someone.
Still, I don’t feel the need to force my brand of female empowerment upon them. Not only do they already feel empowered by the modesty of their dressing, but they are acting upon that personal strength in a religion that allows them to hold leadership roles.
That entire event with free food, free henna tattoo’s, free balloon hats from a funny, sad clown, free Arabic name writing calligraphy, mosque tours, question and answer sessions; all of that was organized by societies peacemakers, the women.
Beyond the talk of clothing we dug deeper into the origins of feminism. An excited young woman told me that Islam started feminism. The discussion that followed was spirited, but not heated, and long. Too long to recount here.
And still not settled.
But that’s okay, because in keeping with cultural reputation Maha has already extended an offer for dinner at her home. I’m hoping she’ll skip the omelet bar and double up on the homemade kousa, cause that’s like my new favorite thing.
I wish they had another event planned right now, but until then they just want everyone to know that their doors and hearts are open. Turn off the TV, come inside and ask a Muslim.