I’ve been following (and mostly lurking) this thread over at the JREF forums lately, as the various posters go back and forth examining the ideas that constitute Islam and the idea of ‘Islamophobia,’ a neologism intended to convey irrational fear of Islam and/or Muslims. Certainly it seems plausible that many Americans would harbor irrational fears of Islam, given that so much of our mainstream media exposure to that faith is tied in with some aspect or another of the so-called War On Terror.
That said, I do think there are some good reasons to fear Islam as a socially-constructed phenomenon that shapes how people view the world, and one of the better reasons was recently elucidated in wonderfully compact chart form by the people over at the Pew Research Center, in a Q & A with Dr. Mansoor Moaddel of the University of Michigan.
Dr. Moaddel characterizes these differences thusly:
In the Iranian context for example, there is a wide range of views on the veil from the religious perspective. For the Shia fundamentalists, the truly Islamic hijab is wearing a black chador (veil), an outer garment or open cloak that covers from head to toe, save face and hands (picture No. 3). For other conservative or moderate Muslims in Iran and other countries, a headscarf without showing any hair is the appropriate dress (picture No. 4). For casually conservative women, it is picture #5. For secular Muslims, it is No. 6. For Sunni fundamentalists in Afghanistan, the proper dress is a burqa, an enveloping outer garment (picture No. 1). In Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab countries, the proper clothing for women is a niqab, or mask, a piece of cloth that covers the face, in addition to the black cloak that covers from head to toe (picture No. 2).
Now of course t is undoubtedly true that all of the Abrahamic faiths have their fundamentalists who preach modesty and coverage for women, indeed, I have a bevy of Mennonite relatives back in Illinois who practice Christian headcovering to this day. That said, it seems relatively clear that Islam has preserved this tradition somewhat more emphatically than Christians, even when they are geographically co-located and living under the same de dicto legal regime.
I should mention, by way of peremptory caveat, that I’ve no problem whatsoever with women covering (or uncovering) so as to freely express their own values and preferences. The above graph would not be nearly so frightful if it wasn’t for this one that shows up near the end of the Q&A, answering the question of whether women should be allowed to dress as they please. Answering somewhat frightfully, I must say.