Miss USA, Muslim role models and the state of our blogging community

The last week or so has seen yet another falling-out in the Muslim blogging community after Muslim Matters carried a guest column by a sister who said she couldn’t cheer for Rima Fakih, the recent winner of the Miss USA beauty contest, who is of Lebanese origin. Exception was taken by some women I know on Twitter who took it personally that the author attacked one of their fellow contributors to Muslimah Media Watch, who had written this on the subject. Two other responses worth reading are this one at MMW and this one by Digital Nomad (one of two sisters who blog at Digital Niqabi).

As Yusra (the author of the second MMW piece I linked) points out, there are those in the American establishment who simply hate to see a Muslim, or anyone who even looks like one or has a name that sounds like a Muslim name, advance in any way in American society, and the objections came from the usual suspects such as Daniel Pipes and the Jewish Internet Defence Force. (This has been the case and it’s not just Muslims who are affected; rather anyone from a mainly Muslim, particularly Arab, country other than a handful of loud-mouthed native informers.) However, the fact that these elements exist and will object when it appears that a Muslim has been successful doesn’t mean we ought to celebrate when the field is one a Muslim shouldn’t be in. Take this passage from Fatemeh Fakhraie’s article:

But I am incredibly excited that there is another female face of Islam in the mainstream media. Rima Fakih is another representation: she doesn’t look like the headscarf-wearing Muslim women usually profiled in human interest stories (the ones who open their own businesses or are fired from Abercrombie & Fitch stores). She doesn’t look like the war-torn women of Iraq of Afghanistan–representations in the media that Americans are used to seeing.

I can’t see why a Muslim would be more inspired by the story of a Muslim woman winning a beauty contest than one running her own business, to be honest. Only a certain type of woman can win a beauty pageant; one who isn’t a certain idea of “perfect” in their body shape and size with a stereotypically “pretty” face, one who isn’t in apparently perfect health, one who doesn’t have an outgoing personality and one who isn’t willing to wear skimpy clothes won’t get close. Running a business, even if in a classically “female” occupation, is a good life skill to have and surely such people make better role models than someone who is judged more beautiful than another woman.

It’s not the first time that Muslims have cheered on Muslims for “excelling” in things Muslims shouldn’t be doing. I have often said that we shouldn’t be watching, let alone participating in, league football as the men who play it wear less than what a man should wear in Islam — and these same brothers cheering on Chelsea or Liverpool or whoever, shouting at the screen as they watch the overpaid players run around with their thighs bared, would not dream of letting their wives out with a hair on their head showing. Worst of all are the Muslim boxers whose knock-outs are celebrated even though they involve punching the opponent in the face, which is forbidden in Islam. The whole culture of boxing is something I have despised since I was a teenager and saw both the Benn-Maclellan and Eubank-Watson fights, in which both of the second fighters mentioned suffered severe brain damage. I have heard the term “knock-out” used to mean a decisive win and a “win on points” to mean a win on technicalities, when in fact a “win on points” in boxing means a round has been won without anyone ending up unconscious.

Rima Fakih’s “success” may be a cut above boxing as she hasn’t damaged anyone’s brain as far as is known, and I found it interested that someone suggested, in a comment on the Muslim Matters article, that her suggestion that she was an Arab-American rather than a Muslim was to disassociate her immoral activity from Islam out of respect for Islam. Why do we consider modelling such an immoral activity that we consider it incompatible with being Muslim when a guy who smashes people’s brains out for a living is celebrated, and even those who criticise them wouldn’t dream of suggesting that they weren’t really Muslims, or wish they weren’t?

Still, we shouldn’t be afraid of saying that this activity is against our religion and that it doesn’t matter if a Muslim wins. Given that they are an outmoded fringe activity even here nowadays and that hardly anyone will be watching, it makes it even less significant. I also find somewhat depressing the recent trend of Muslims attacking other Muslims simply because they find the words on their blogs bitter, even though (or perhaps because) they know them to be true, and long-standing friendships being torn up and blogs going “friends only” with the person who annoyed the author excluded. This is what happened when I posted my defence of Muslim polygamy last month, leading someone to say that I clearly wasn’t as woman-friendly as she thought despite having known me for years and surely having read other things I’d written about the issue in the past, which were generally critical of men who abuse their rights.

This isn’t the only example, and it seems that we are getting much less tolerant of people who annoy us. I’ve noticed two incidents recently (one of them just a few hours ago) where people unfollowed others on Twitter because of really quite petty arguments. Admittedly, these people weren’t exactly the closest of friends; while I’m the first to admit that an online friendship can be deep and meaningful, particularly if it’s the only type of friendship you can have, many are simply casual and peripheral acquaintances and their loss is sad but no big deal. Still, if many more of our friendships and acquaintances break down, there won’t be much left of the Muslim blogging community and certainly not much of an independent Muslim blogging community (outside the Muslimah Media Watch and Muslim Matters groupings). Given that we are not meant to shun people for more than three days and not hold grudges, it is depressing that ties are being cut so easily and for such trivial reasons.

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