Local Muslims speak out on veils and tragedy
July 23, 2009 at 2:23 a.m.
Updated July 24, 2009 at 2:24 a.m.
An "I Love Islam" coloring book rests on a worktable in the center of the Victoria Islamic Center as children, both veiled and unveiled, licked ice cream cones after prayer.
Obaida Hamoudah, a mother and teacher for the Islamic children's class, sits watching. She wears a long flowing skirt that swishes around her legs. A hibjab, a traditional Islamic head covering for women, cradles her face.
In the mosque, Muslim women and girls are required to always wear the veil. It is Hamoudah's choice to do so everywhere else.
"People will be curious," said the 40-year-old Victoria resident. "But the scarf will not stop us from living our lives or living our lives normally."
It was a scarf, nearly the same as the one that covers Hamoudah's head, that sparked a vicious hate crime against a Muslim woman earlier this month.
On July 1, Marwa al-Sherbini, a 32-year-old Egyptian pharmacist, was stabbed 18 times in front of her 3-year-old son and husband during a hearing in a Dresden courtroom in Germany. She was there to testify against a man convicted of verbally and physically harassing her for wearing a hibjab.
She has since been dubbed the "veil-martyr."
Her body was returned to Egypt and buried on July 6, igniting passionate responses from Muslim communities in Europe and the Middle East.
The Victoria Muslim community responded with prayers and hope.
"As long as there is a hate crime for any reason we oppose it," said Dr. Shahid Hashmi, president of the Victoria Islamic Center. "We need to stress the importance of something like that never happening again. That's what we need to spread."
Harsh criticisms from fundamentalist Muslims against Germany for being racist have been decried as a "double-standard" by Mehdi Abedi, Islamic professor in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Houston.
"It shows the depth of hypocrisy of these so called men of God who are beating their breast for a human being who in their own law are not considered a full human being," he said. "Most of the women in the West are in a much better position than women in their own homelands."
The incident has caused women like Hamoudah to ponder, but not falter.
"I can put myself in her place," said Aziezeh Younes, a Muslim friend who also wears the hibjab. "It is very sad. She had no fault, she did nothing except wear hibjab."
Younes donned the hibjab in high school, defying her parents and later her husband, to demonstrate her faith.
"It's the way I am, I love it," she said. "It's my choice."
And although Hamoudah said she has never experienced discrimination, Younes confirms it exists.
"There was a guy in Walgreens once who said, 'why are you wearing that? You're in America,'" she said. "And I said, 'I know, I'm in a free country. That's why I'm wearing it.'"
The Qur'an states a woman is to cover herself with veils and cloaks, only allow the eyes to be visible, so "as not to be annoyed."
Hamoudah, who did not choose to wear the hibjab until she arrived in Victoria, said she does not completely agree with the literal writing, but believes her style of dress should keep her beauty for her husband only.
"It's a choice," she said. "It was my choice. No one really enforced it, but I felt that I would obey God's commands."
Hamoudah doesn't mind the questions, or curious looks. She and Younes only hope that other people will learn from the senseless tragedy of the woman they call "martyr."
"Don't judge you by the veil only," Younes said. "They need to learn about Islam, they need to learn about the Muslim community. There's too many things that people think about Islam, but if you read the Holy Book, you will learn and you will know it is peaceful."
Hamoudah, a school volunteer and substitute teacher, believes there is much for people to learn, and hopes to continue to reach out to help.
"The media and society have to change the way they are looking at us," she said. "The more we contribute to the society and when we show that we can make a difference, they will change their ideas about the way they look at us."