[NOTE: Edgar Hopida, quoted below, is public relations director for the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-San Diego)].
But one thing has changed for American Muslims: From being self-contained communities, “kind of like with the early Jewish communities [in the U.S.], keeping to themselves, very isolated,” post-9/11 Muslim America has started reaching out to the majority. “We realized that we have to show people who we are. If not, others will define us,” says Hopida.
Fast-forward seven years, and Hopida’s startling statistics show a now-vibrant, socially involved Muslim community. “We actually exceed the national average as far as people obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher,” he says. “Sixty-two percent have [done so]. That’s double the overall population’s figure. About 50 percent of our community is professional, 43 percent have a household income of $50,000 or higher, 89 percent vote regularly, 86 percent said they celebrate July 4, 64 percent say they fly the U.S. flag, and 42 percent say they volunteer for institutions serving the public (versus 29 percent of the population at large). These are 2005 national figures. So we’re very much integrated into the society.”
Yet, Hopida believes, integration doesn’t mean American Muslims should water down their Muslimness, such as women not wearing the headscarf.
“Men also have a dress code. We can’t wear very short shorts that expose our thighs. Our area of nakedness is between the navel and the knees. I can’t wear shorts like Bill Clinton used to wear. So we have a dress code as well.”
But come on. Women only allowed to show faces and hands? Sometimes not even the face? What ancient tyranny dictates such mind-sets?
Au contraire, says Hopida. He believes it’s women of Western culture who are being tyrannized by societal norms. “In a society where women are objectified as sex objects — the less clothing the better — and the pressure on teens to look like these very chiseled, manufactured women [celebrated in] popular culture, we have all the eating disorders and obsession of looking beautiful, according to the Hollywood standard. Whereas in Islam, the reason women cover is not so much oppression. This is basically a sign saying, ‘Keep out. This is my personal property. My body. I want you to appreciate me for my mind and what I can give to society, rather than my physical attributes.’ The beauty of a woman should be reserved for [those] whom she considers should look at her for her beauty, like her husband, or immediate family. Not strange men who could gawk at her and look at her and do the whistling and all that stuff. Her body’s her private property.”