Of Modesty , Melting Pots and Multiculturalism

I came across this article this morning, and it was enough to get me thinking. It has to do with Muslim standards of modesty for women and how those standards fit into American society. As an example, the article states that:

• In Lincoln Park, Mich., Fitness USA relented when Muslim women demanded that the gym wall off a co-ed aerobic center from their women-only section because men could see them working out.

• In Bridgeview, Ill., a Muslim school says it wants its girls' basketball team to play road games against non-Muslim schools provided the public schools ban men and teenage boys from the game.

• In North Seattle, Wash., a public pool set up a swim time for Muslim women in which men, even male lifeguards, are banned.

I respect the fact that Muslims in America are trying to uphold their standards, but I wonder why they chose to come to America and are trying to change the standards here. For instance, did the Muslim women have to choose a co-ed aerobic center? I know there are exercise centers just for women out there.

In my mind, though, the question about the girls playing basketball and going swimming in places where man are banned specifically so they may do so gets a little thornier. Our country spent a long time trying to overcome the doctrine of separate but equal. Although some people would say we have not established equality in every respect, we are certainly doing better. So…why in the world would we move backward?

The Muslims quoted in the news article have different opinions on this topic as well. Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which advocates separation of religion and government, says that:

In the long term it [asking the government to accommodate an interpretation of Islamic law] does not serve to build friends and bridges with the Western community….[leading to a] dislike for Muslims that is unnatural.

Other Muslims actually see asking for these accommodations as a matter of civil rights:

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of Muslim Public Affairs Council, says the right to petition for special accommodation based on religious beliefs is protected by the First Amendment.

"Whether a woman wants to cover her hair or not is her personal choice," he says. "As long as it's not imposed on the rest of society then I don't see any problem."

I guess I am sort of confused. According to this article (and yes, I know it is four years old), the Saudis became angry when American servicewomen were no longer required to wear flowing black robes when they went off a military base. According to a Saudi cleric:

"The covering of women to hide their bodies is an Islamic sharia demand, which should not be subject to criticism or (evoke) surprise,'' Sheikh Saad al-Saleh, an official at the Saudi Islamic Affairs Ministry, told Reuters.

"There must be no exceptions in enforcing the Islamic dress code in Saudi streets. No one of any nationality is exempt in the eyes of religion,'' he said.

If we are in a Muslim country, then we must dress their way. Fine. I, then, will choose not to go there. But if they are in our country, then their rules prevail as well?

Ebrahim Moosa, professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, says the requests [for accommodations] are attempts to integrate with U.S. culture. They show "that America can become their home," he says.

There are different ways of looking at our being their home, too. When I was young, America was called a "melting pot," which according to Wikipedia is an idea…:

…most strongly associated with the United States, particularly in reference to "model" immigrant groups of the past. Past generations of immigrants in America, it is argued by some, became successful by working to shed their historic identities and adopt the ways of their new country. Typically immigrants absorbed the ways of the "host" society, while loosening to a varying degrees their connection to their native culture.

Ten years ago, when I went back to school, I found out that our country was now a "salad bowl." This is a way of looking at things called multiculturalism, defined by Wikipedia as when:

each "ingredient" retains its integrity and flavor, while contributing to a successful final product.

Here I need to refer you back to the quote by Ebrahim Moosa, which said that the requests made by the Muslim women are their attempts to integrate with U.S. culture. Integrate? Like in a salad bowl? Even in a salad, sometimes you have to cut a tomato to make it fit right. Or you slice chicken and rip the lettuce. Although it's not a melting pot, there still need to be some adaptations for the salad to work, to taste good and be  visually appealing.

I am glad those Muslim women want to feel at home in the United States. But if that is what they really want, why don't they try to adapt to our culture and our custom, as they so forcefully try to remind us when we are in their countries?




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