What is there to Muslim women besides a hijab (or najib), an often disputed and judged religion, and controversial traditions? These are the aspects that frequently draw pity and attention, but it is, thankfully, not where their identity ends. And although the clothing choices, free or otherwise, of Muslim women has been a source of contention, there are brave Islamic women who have stepped beyond the boundaries, stereotypes and classic roles of their culture.
To be up front, there are issues in the way of seeing these women without an inflated bias, and many concerns are not unmerited, as threats from Islamic extremists have covered a large portion of the globe the last several years. It is now clear to many, though, that grouping people in a particular religion with troublemakers of their faith is creating silence, not clearing up knowledge . Muslims are impacted by the modern terror dynamics probably more so than other people groups, and that factor doubtlessly feeds into coverage by typical news sources.
A number of Muslim women are and have been standing up and making extreme moves away from tradition, while staying true to their faith. What part of that story is conveyed through the media, and what might be missing? Do tales of heartbreak and challenge receive too much coverage, or is that the truest condition of Islamic women? What are the rewards and consequences of challenging the status quo? And what progress has been made in creating a greater variety of opportunities for Muslim women?
I had more questions than answers as I began this project, (although I had strong suspicions, and followed my instinct during research.) I found compelling reasons for more people to see and value Islamic women, appreciate aspects of their faith, and applaud as an entire mass-culture of women claim their place among the global society. I wanted to see their lives, because Muslim women have intrigued me, with beauty, pain, bravery, and a rich culture. Reading stories about such women as I have described here briefly is much of what has inspired me to pursue journalism, research, and education. But I wanted to know the facts behind that inspiration. Whether or not the truth meant disillusionment, I waned to understand these women and their stories. Because, regardless of the results, they were taking risks and changing their culture, just like they do today.