As you might know, I study Political Science, Middle East Studies, and Theology, so I have some experience studying Islam, as well as its doctrines and practices. Now, I’m no expert, but I support Michelle Obama’s decision, as did Refinery29. As the article pointed out, Mrs. Obama wore loose-fitting clothing that covered her legs and arms (as fabulous as her arms are…#amiright?), which I see as a sign of respect for a highly conservative society, like that of Saudi Arabia. Her decision not to cover her head was not her taking a stand against Islam or its cultural practices. Rather, it was her way of bridging the gap between American and Saudi culture, because it is possible to do both.
I have no problem with Muslim women covering their heads or wearing conservative clothing. From my experience, they believe that dressing in this way is respectful to God. It is also a personal choice. One of my best friends is Muslim and lives in the US, and while she and her mother dress conservatively, they do not wear a hijab or any sort of head covering. She and her mother are no less Muslim than women who do decide to cover, just as Michelle Obama is not disrespecting the religion of Islam by choosing not to cover her head.
I also do not believe that Islam itself is anti-feminist. You could say the same thing about Christianity and Judaism, yet they do not receive nearly as much flack as Islam does for its doctrines regarding women. Religion is what we make it to be, and it all depends on how we interpret it or choose to incorporate it into our daily lives. In my Islam in America class that I took this summer, we analysed passages from the Qur’an that are frequently used by more oppressive and patriarchal practitioners of Islam to subjugate women and, using the works of a renowned Islamic scholar, we looked at them in a different way and came up with an entirely new meaning. The same can be done for the Bible or the Torah.
This is not to say, however, that there are not problems with how Islam or the Qur’an, the Hadith, or the Sunna are interpreted and put into practices. Women are still being stoned to death for adultery or “immodest” dress, or forbidden to drive (like in Saudi Arabia) and this is a problem and a violation of human rights. We live in the twenty-first century, and our religious practices should reflect this, as well. What I’m saying is merely that religion is what we interpret it to be, and there is a way to be modern and religious.
Michelle Obama, in my opinion, fully respected the House of Saud as well as Islam on her recent trip to Saudi Arabia and should be held in high esteem for her maintenance of her public image and the example she sets for women everywhere.
Inspired to be,
PS: If you're interested in learning about women's rights in Islamic cultures, check out this fantastic TED Talk about a woman in Saudi Arabia who dared to drive.