Madonna wears traditional Muslim niqab veil because it’s been ‘that kind of day’

June 25, 2014

Madonna’s having a bad day, so decides to wear a niqab. While most people would maybe don a pair of tracksuit bottoms or a baggy T-shirt, the singer chose to wear a traditional Islamic headscarf to get her through what she describes as “that kind of day”. She shared the picture on Instagram, along with the perhaps ill-advised words: “#unapologeticbitch” – as if to pre-empt any possible backlash, which would of course be likely. Not that she cares; she’s “unapologetic”.

Both the burqa and the niqab refer to the principle of modesty, and for some are a statement of religious and cultural identity. Madonna, if her statement is anything to go by, seems to treat it like a lazy day onesie. She has dabbled in Muslim veil-wearing before – in July last year she shared an Instagram picture of herself wearing a chain mail mask, with the caption: “The Revolution of Love is on… Inshallah [Arabic for ‘God willing’].”

How are Muslim women doing in political cartoons?

Political cartoons are a powerful medium because, although they are not news, they facilitate the delivery of specific messages. Political cartoons work in two ways: they reflect particular ideas and/or aspects of pop culture, and they influence the audience’s own views. Due to their simple approach (drawings and funny dialogue), they are often more accessible than regular newspaper coverage or even TV.

Yet, because political cartoons tend to be a safe mode of expression, they can easily become influenced by gendered stereotypes. This is not because cartoonists are evil misogynists (although some might fit this description), but because they need to connect with particular cultural-accepted views on gender and gender relations. Women are treated differently than men, in that they tend to be taken less seriously, they rarely have agency, they are often hyper-sexualized and many times examined under a “virgin-whore” framework.

When it comes to Muslim women as represented in political cartoons catered to non-Muslim Western audiences, a few prevalent themes can be easily identified. I tend to collect political cartoons of Muslim women, posted on Facebook and elsewhere online. The themes I mention in this post are pretty representative of many other cartoons out there, and the images included here are just a sample. Muslim women seem to look the same, and usually wear hijabs, niqabs and/or abaayas (the blacker, the better!) When it comes to the niqab in political cartoons, it tends to serve the purpose of deleting the women’s presence, voice and agency. This resonates with the idea that niqabi women are already oppressed, so why depict them with an agency that they do not have?

Another theme present in political cartoons is the prevalent attention to Muslim women’s bodies. While Western women (such as female politicians) tend to be hyper-sexualized through sexy clothing, over-done makeup, and high heels, Muslim women are hyper-sexualized through the cartoonists’ obsession with their “exotic” way of covering. This reflects the “covered vs. uncovered” dichotomy that is often discussed in the Western media where uncovering is equated with freedom and covering with oppression (see Sex and the City 2). It is also commonly expressed that Muslim women’s bodies are not their own, but someone else’s (like the state, their male relatives, secular and religious institutions, or the media).

Reconciling pop culture and Islam: Interview with Melih Kesmen

Melih Kesmen, the creator of fashion label Styleislam, recounts the success story of this small company. The German designer of Turkish background made his first t-shirt, bearing the slogan “I love my Prophet”, during the cartoon controversy in Europe. He received a lot of positive feedback from Muslims and non-Muslims, which caused him to open a fashion label for street wear with Islamic slogans. Reconciling the two cultures he grew up with, Turkish-Islamic and German street art, his label has become very popular and the most successful in this niche market.

Young Muslims UK perform national talent competition

Young Muslims revealed the future of British Muslim music and art when four up-and-coming acts from across the UK triumphed at the Young Muslims (YMUK) national talent competition. Hamza Fletcher, Asia Ali, Rabi Niam and Safina Qamar performed their poetry, comedy, music and art alongside the leading Islamic Nasheed group Native Deen, before a packed audience in central London this weekend.

For the second year running the YMUK Talent Search highlighted some of the best and most successful Muslim upcoming artists across the UK. Hamza Fletcher, the extraordinary beat boxer from Birmingham, Asia Ali, an exciting new Somali comedian from Manchester, Rabi Niam, a unique and inspirational poet from East London, and Safina Qamar, the stunning visual artist from Manchester, all triumphed at this year’s event. The competition reflects the huge diversity of talents among today’s young Muslims.

Young French rapper Diam’s converts to Islam

Young French Rapper Diam’s (Mélanie Georgiades) has converted to Islam, explaining to the French Press, “Medicine was not able to heal my soul, so I turned toward religion.”

Diam’s has received a great deal of media attention as she has adopted a black covering and hijab since converting to Islam following marriage to a Muslim man.

Islamic superhero comic “The 99” among top 20 pop culture trends worldwide

The creator of a bestselling comic designed to show the world the tolerant and peaceful face of Islam has written an open letter to his young sons explaining how the project grew out of 9/11.

In the letter, written for the BBC News website, Kuwaiti psychologist Dr Naif al-Mutawa, says his superheroes – inspired by the Koran and known as THE 99 – were designed to “take back Islam” from militants who had taken it hostage.

The comics, which now sell about one million copies a year in several languages, are soon to be made into an animated film by Dutch media company Endemol. Early last year, Forbes magazine announced THE 99 were one of the 20 top pop culture trends sweeping the world.

Multicultural event celebrates Britishness

Muslim hip hop is as British as morris dancing — if not more so, claims a Sunderland lecturer. World-renowned academic Dr Amir Saeed from Sunderland University is fronting an event which aims to celebrate the true meaning of Britishness.

The senior media and cultural studies lecturer is chairing the “Music and Us” event on Sunday at Spitalfields Music Festival in London. “Being British doesn’t just mean playing cricket and the floral dance — if it ever did mean that,” said Dr Saeed. “It is important to celebrate multiculturalism in Britain, especially at a time when the BNP are beginning to have a real impact on politics in the UK.”

“Music and Us” will feature multicultural musicians and films by local people, as well as looking at how important music is to the way young people express their identities in modern Britain.