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Don’t Assume Muslim Women Aren’t Feminists, & 18 Other Damaging Assumptions To Avoid

There are many misconceptions surrounding women in Islam fostered by traditional media and manufactured stereotypes. Seldom do real Muslim women get the opportunity to speak up about these fallacies. In reality, it’s nearly unfathomable to generalize the women of a religion of 1.7 billion — consequently, these generalizations lead to statements and questions that many non-Muslims are begging to vocalize — such as these 19 statements and questions that are explained, so you won’t ever have to say them to a Muslim girl.

1. You’re not *that kind* of Muslim, right?

If by that kind, you mean the kind that doesn’t need to justify or validate her faith based on the actions of an extremist minority is a completely inaccurate representation of my entire religion, then yes — I am that kind.

2. Islam oppresses women

There is literally a Muslim saying that says “paradise lies at her feet,” elevating the importance of women. People misconstrue cultural norms and blend it with religion, when in reality they are two separate entities, do I look oppressed to you?

3. You’re so exotic

While this may come across as a compliment it is actually diminutive to fetishize a certain aspect of someone you find to be different or foreign. Muslim women are more than just their race or religion, and to marginalize us into nothing more than traits such as olive skin or curly hair is demeaning.

4. You can’t be a feminist and a Muslim

The two are not mutually exclusive. While many feel as though Muslim women need saving from the prison bars society believes we live behind, the truth is many Muslim women can be and are feminists who just like normal feminists advocate for the advancement of women. We can be both.

5. You probably have really strict parents

And you’re probably making that assumption after meeting one Muslim girl’s parents. Mine let me come home at 3 a.m, travel around the world by myself and get piercings — everyone’s different. 

6. You’re lucky you’re in this country because…

Stop. Right. There. Please do not use the struggles of the people of my nationality in an attempt to make me feel better about myself. By saying things like “in your country a lot of girls don’t get to go to school,” or “in your country there are people dying from…” It’s point-blank offensive.

7. I bet you can belly dance

I bet you watched “Arabian Nights” and assumed every Muslim girl can belly dance.

8. You’re not like most Muslim girls

Why? Because I don’t wear a hijab, have an accent and freely speak my mind? These kind of assumptions are so detrimental to perception of Muslim women and Islam. Please don’t generalize the women of a religion of 1.7 billion.

9. Why don’t you wear a hijab (headscarf)?

The hijab is undoubtedly a symbol of Islamic identity for women, but it doesn’t have to be the only one. I represent my faith in many other ways, including my writing — and that’s sufficient enough for me. People practice their religion in different ways, and that’s okay — a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf is not more Muslim than one who doesn’t. That’s not how religion works.

10. So are you more Muslim or American?

Again, the two are not mutually exclusive. I can still hold an American passport, be born and raised in this country and still call myself Muslim. I don’t have to “choose” between one or the other. This is a misconception that derives from the inability to see culture and religion as two separate entities. I follow American culture, but Muslim faith, so I am both Muslim and American.

11. “What do you think of ISIS?”

What everyone thinks of ISIS: they’re an evil terrorist organization. If anything Muslims detest ISIS more than any other group in the world. We’re constantly being compared to ISIS when in reality ISIS and Islam have nothing to do with each other. 

12. Are you going to get an arranged marriage?

The idea that Muslim women have to get an arranged marriage is not only out-dated but inaccurate. This practice is still common in many Muslim countries, but again, it lies behind the whole idea of separating culture and religion. Many countries that have similar cultures to Muslim countries but are not Muslim practice arranged marriage too — it’s not linked to religion so much as culture.

13. You don’t have an accent at all

Please refer to #10 on the list and then understand that I have been speaking English for almost all of my life, just like many other Muslim girls born in the United States, it would be surprising if I had an accent.

14. You speak English really well

See #13.

15. You’re really *insert adjective here* for a Muslim girl

You’re really *outspoken* for a Muslim girl, you’re really *smart* for a Muslim girl, you’re really *fun* for a Muslim girl — I’ve gotten all of these and every single time it never fails to catch me off-guard. Please don’t ever tell someone they are really something for someone of their race or religion. It marginalizes the entire religion and while it may be intended as a compliment, these kinds of microaggressions are offensive and should be avoided at all times.

16. My other Muslim friend doesn’t do that — why do you?

Because we’re different people and we are free to practice our faith in whatever way we choose to?

17. Does it suck not being able to eat bacon?

Wouldn’t know, don’t care to.

18. Would you ever date a *insert race here*?

Some Muslim girls date people outside of their race and religion, some don’t. It’s not your business who does and who doesn’t.

19. Do you just pretend to be Muslim?

Many are under the impression that Muslim girls who don’t wear headscarves or have assimilated into American culture only “pretend” to be Muslim for the sake of their parents or for appearances. My faith is a relationship between myself and God. I have no interest in faking appearances or showcasing my piety like a trophy. I’m an American-Muslim and proud of it, I don’t need to pretend to be anything I’m not.

Hannah is a Public Relations graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University with an affinity for blogging, food, culture and learning about the world. She has a serious case of wanderlust and hopes to one day work for a lifestyle and PR firm, as well as publish books and documentaries focusing on leisure and travel. To read more of her work, check out her own personal blog at www.thinkingbrave.com or her personal portfolio at clippings.me/hannahkhan
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