Hoover Crescent Islamic CenterBy Alli Smith, Delaney Craig, Katie Allen, Kelsey Richardson

Introduction

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today. In fact, over a billion people follow Islam. While the most populous Muslim countries are in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, there is an increasing amount of Muslims in North America. The Muslim community in Birmingham, Alabama, is growing rapidly and places like the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center are proof of this. The Hoover Crescent Islamic Center is “one of the largest Muslim prayer facilities in the greater Birmingham area” (“Birmingham Islamic Society”). Hoover Crescent has Friday prayer services, which we attended to get a better understanding of the Muslim Community, specifically with women and their role in society.

This is a view from the women’s area of the prayer hall looking in the direction of prayer. They are separate from the men who sit closer to the front . Photo: the authors.

The women at Hoover Crescent changed our perspective on Muslim women and how they are treated in the south. In most Eastern cultures, Muslim women are viewed positively by themselves and society. In Western cultures, specifically in the US and the south, non-Muslim often view them more negatively and inaccurately. However, many Muslim women are choosing to ignore these negative views and to not let oppression define them. In today’s society, there is an overwhelming trend of Islamophobia that inaccurately depicts Muslim women.

Pride

In many Eastern cultures, Muslim women are viewed postively and they feel a sense of pride about their identity. The Quran promotes the equality of both men and women. In fact, Salah S. Al-Mannai from Qatar University stated, “Islam sees a woman as a mother, sister, wife, helper, and supporter. She has a role in the society and contributes to it” (Al- Mannai). Obviously, gender inequality is an issue all over the world. In most countries, women did not gain equal rights until the last century. However, in the Islamic religion today, religious leaders seek to promote equality among all. Most women feel equal to men and develop a sense of pride about themselves. For example, “Islam liberated women from cruel prejudice and gave them dignity and the pride of being female. Islam projected a woman as being comparable to a man, and embodied the philosophy of being both equal and different” (Al-Mannai). While some Middle Eastern and Asian countries have inequality between men and women, the religion of Islam pushes boundaries and promotes equality in their societies.

Pictured here is what a Hijab, worn by Muslim women, typically looks like. Photo: unknown source.

Misunderstandings

Being a Muslim women in North America comes with many challenges of acceptance and misunderstandings. Women of Islam are easily detected by the way they present themselves to society. Throughout history, Arab women have been captured with a consistent theme of the “veiled and primitive” (Haddad). “Such photographs have the effect of fostering common suppositions about Islam that denote it as a faith and cultural system that is basically inferior to that of the West” (Haddad). The Western representations of the women of Islam has shed a false light on who they truly are and how they are “different” to the rest of the world. Through social media, TV, and film, Muslim women of America have set expectations from their society setting negative definition of what a true Muslim stands for. According to Buchalter, “there are about 7 million American Muslims and over 50% say they have experienced bias or discrimination since September 11th, 2001” (Buchalter).  Through our mass media outlets, the Quran is constantly being criticized and misunderstood. Certain actions of people of Islam have led to the mass stereotype that every woman of this faith is like. Religion has no one definition for what they stand for, therefore, it is unfair to place a single definition to a religion that is not our own. Westerners need to be better educated on cultural and religious differences in order to create a better environment for those of different beliefs to live.

Acceptance

In one of our visits to the Hoover Islamic Crescent Center, we had the unique opportunity to speak with Tanveer Patel a highly successful business woman here in Alabama. She is an entrepreneur who has started two tech companies and is the CEO of one called ConcertCare. She is heavily involved in the business world, local community, and religious community. As we spoke to her she was adamant about how being a Muslim woman in a career field filled with men did not slow her down. She believed her religion encouraged her and taught her how to be a part of a community. Muslim women are choosing to accept who they are and finding more liberation in who they are. The Western culture has been pushing for feminism, which in a study conducted by Anderson Beckmann and Al Wazi, most of the Muslim women would say they are feminist, but do not agree with all the Western feminist beliefs. Yes, Muslims want equality in the workplace, equality in everyday life, but in Western culture feminists try to push how the hijab is oppressing women. In the eyes of Muslim women, this is not the case at all. It empowers the women, giving them identity in who they are. These women, including Patel, want the Western culture to understand there is nothing oppressive about what they wear or their religion and want them to accept their choices even if it goes against what they are used to.

Tanveer Patel. Photo: The Business Journals.

Conclusion

With the Muslim community growing at such a rapid pace in the West, there also comes the growing need for Westerners to be educated on the Islamic faith. Muslims, especially Muslim women, do not view themselves as oppressed, yet the Western culture tells them that they are being oppressed. This difference in perspective comes from a lack of understanding. Westerners are telling Muslim women that their faith is holding them back from being all that they could be. However, the Islamic faith promotes the power of the female and deems her as an importance to society. This is what inhibits Muslim-Christian relations. As long as the Western culture remains uneducated about the female pride that Islam promotes, the relationship between Christians and Muslims in the South will remain rigid. So, rather than falling into the culture of Islamophobia or telling Muslim women that their faith is restrictive, Christians and Muslims alike should commit to learning and understanding the lives and beliefs of one another. After all, relationship begins with understanding.

Hoover Crescent Islamic Center
Address: 
2524 Hackberry Ln, Hoover, AL 35226
Web: https://www.bisweb.org/
Congregation Organized: 1990
Current Site Opened: 2008
Affiliation: Birmingham Islamic Society

Sources for Further Information

Al-Mannai, Salah S. “The Misinterpretation of Women’s Status in the Muslim World.” Digest of Middle East Studies, no. 1, 2010, p. 82. EBSCOhost.

Al Wazni, Anderson Beckmann “Muslim Women in America and Hijab: A Study of Empowerment, Feminist Identity, and Body Image.” Social Work 60, no. 4 (March 2015): 325-33. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/swv033.

Antell, Rachel, and Diana L. Eck. Acting on Faith: Women’s New Religious Activism in America. The Pluralism Project, 2005.

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, Jane I. Smith, and Kathleen M. Moore. Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.  

Kabir, Nahid Afrose. Young American Muslims: Dynamics of Identity. Edinburgh University Press, 2012.  

Khan, Shahnaz. Muslim Women : Crafting a North American Identity. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

Makayla Melvin. “Hoover Crescent Islamic Center.” Omeka at Auburn. Accessed October 16, 2019.

Wazni, Al, and Anderson Beckmann. “Muslim Women in America and Hijab: A Study of Empowerment, Feminist Identity, and Body Image.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 3 Aug. 2015, academic.oup.com/sw/article-abstract/60/4/325/1851977.

Alli Smith, Delaney Craig, Katie Allen, Kelsey Richardson were students in Introduction to World Religions in Samford University’s Department of Biblical & Religious Studies in fall 2019.

Published December 17, 2019.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s