12/27/2004

All the Wrong Reasons

People are called to all sorts of faiths for all sorts of reasons, and it's hard to argue the merits of those decisions. That being said, I'm a little concerned about some of the reasons behind the growing trend of American Latinas seeking refuge in Islam.

Jasmine Pinet sits on the steps outside a mosque here, tucking in strands of her burgundy hair beneath a white head scarf, and explaining why she, a young Latina, feels that she has found greater respect as a woman by converting to Islam.

"They're not gonna say, 'Hey mami, how are you?' " Ms. Pinet says of Muslim men. "Usually they say, 'Hello, sister.' And they don't look at you like a sex object."

Many of the Latina converts say that their belief that women are treated better in Islam was a significant factor in converting. Critics may protest that wearing the veil marks a woman as property, but some Latina converts say they welcome the fact that they are no longer whistled at walking down a street. "People have an innate response that I'm a religious person, and they give [me] more respect," says Jenny Yanez, another Latina Muslim. "You're not judged if you're in fashion or out of fashion."
I can't help but think that this is at least partially motivated by youthful rebellion and a desire to shock her parents. Certainly, choosing a more conservative style of dress would have achieved the desired result of fewer wolf whistles on the street. However, this almost certainly would have been met with overwhelming parental approval and thus was probably not considered.

I can't help but wonder if Ms. Pinet really knows just how much respect women receive in the faith of her choice.
Nieves, a Filipina who was working as a maid in Riyadh in 1992, was invited by a married couple to celebrate the wife's birthday at a restaurant. She and a female friend decided to go. At the restaurant they were joined by a male friend of the couple. A group of mutawa'een (religious police) entered the restaurant, saw the group and arrested them. They suspected Nieves of being there for an introduction to the male friend of the couple. Nieves denied the accusation, but was deceived into signing a confession written in Arabic which she understood was a release order. That confession was the sole basis of her conviction and sentence - 25 days' imprisonment and 60 lashes which were carried out.
In America, Ms. Pinet will never suffer the sort of oppression that women in Saudi Arabia do. Still, taking refuge in the burqa as a way of obtaining a higher measure of respect from men seems like a strategy doomed to failure.