Today is Global Pink Hijab Day, when Muslims globally, unite for a cause: Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA). The hijab part of it is meant to highlight that Muslims are active in the campaign, but also to educate people about Muslim women and their garb – which for many (but not all) of us, consists of a Khimar (head-covering). It is also part of the larger BCA campaign, which is ongoing throughout the month of October.
Muslim women and their bodies: one of the most talked-about topics of the decade. Muslims however, seem to be caught in this awkward position between the openness and vitality of the Sunnah and our own socio-culturally imposed taboos, which make it difficult for Muslim women to grapple with physical and sexual problems, just one amongst them being: Breast Cancer. We are taught to be modest in our behavior and dress, but this has somehow become construed to mean that we need to be prudish to the point where speaking candidly and honestly about factors which impact our bodies is a no-no, and even worse, is if a Muslim woman (oh the shame!) were to express sexual dissatisfaction.
Initiatives like Pink Hijab Day are doing much to counter these inhibitions.
Islam is a remarkably unpretentious religion on issues of body and sex (although in practice Muslims may not necessarily be so). The body, particularly the bodies of women, are not seen as shameful and sinful entities (in theory), nor is sexuality seen as a necessary evil. The vitality of the tradition is noted especially in the importance given to women’s physical satisfaction during intimacy.
Breast-feeding is a highly valued practice in Islam, as is motherhood on the whole. In the first part of a beautiful verse in the Qur’an, Allah recounts the story of the mother of Musa (as), saying:
“So We sent this inspiration to the mother of Moses: ‘Suckle (thy child) … ” (Q, 28:7)
Here, Allah himself states that He inspired Musa’s (as) mother (which incidentally, forms part of a larger discourse which classical scholars engaged in about the Prophethood of women, some believing the “inspiration” in this verse to be indicative of it) to suckle her child. Need we say any more about the Divine significance of breast-feeding?
Islam is also amenable to concepts like wet-nurses, and actually bases kinship on these relationships – the Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) own wet-nurse, Halima Sa’diyya (ra) was revered and beloved to him till the end of his life.
A narration comes to us from A’isha (ra), who used to praise women of the Ansar in the following words, “How good were the women of the Ansar that they did not shy away from learning and understanding religious matters” (Muslim), referring particularly to matters of intimacy and ritual purity.
So, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, to survivors and victims of the illness and to Muslim women at large – I say, there is no shame in religion to speak unreservedly about problems we face as women – as our historical counterparts and benefactors have taught us.