World Hijab Day Comes to The Fellowship
On Sunday, February 5, I invited women to come to the Fellowship wearing a scarf in support of World Hijab Day. That invitation has sparked some important conversations among us about what it means to be a majority white institution supporting a minority faith (in this area) through the action of women wearing a hijab. It’s also sparked some conversation about the article I referenced on Sunday about Identity Politics. The purpose of this article is to give you some of the backstory of how hijab Sunday came to be and to invite your deeper reflection on the complex issues around cultural misappropriation, ally-ship, and white privilege. These are not new conversations to the Fellowship; indeed, we have been diving deep into these topics throughout the year, with Courageous Conversations, with facetoface, with Beloved Conversations on Race and Ethnicity and in the Racial Justice Action Team. However, I’m aware that many of you have not been able to participate in those groups, so I wanted to share with you some history and personally invite you into opportunities at the Fellowship for deeper reflection.
The Intent of World Hijab Day. Several members of our Social Justice Core Team participated in the ESTHER (our community organizing partner) sponsored event known as World Hijab Day on February 1, 2017. The brainchild of this movement is a New York resident, Nazma Khan, who came up with the idea as a means to foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women (non-Hijabi Muslims/non-Muslims) to experience the hijab for one day. When Fox Cities Muslim Women, ESTHER, UW Oshkosh Muslim Student Association, Fox Valley Youth Faith Alliance, Fox Valley Islamic Society, UW Oshkosh Interfaith Dialogue and Education Alliance, First Congregational Church Oshkosh, UW Oshkosh Women’s Center, Fox Valley Rapid Responders (of which Rev. Leah and I are members); Almadiyya Muslim Community Oshkosh all agreed to sponsor the event, I felt confident in aligning myself with this event.
Controversy around World Hijab Day. This event is not without its controversies; as (a) not all Muslim women choose to wear a hijab and (b) there are some countries and sects of Islam where women do not have a choice; the covering of not only their heads but in some cases, their entire bodies is a cultural demand. So, there is no uniform understanding or acceptance of the Hijab. However, given the relationship that the Fellowship has with the Islamic Society and the fact that members of our Social Justice Team participated in the event, I was encouraged to bring the event to the Fellowship.
Hijab Sunday at the Fellowship. Although I could not attend the February 1st event, I reached out to the Fox Valley Islamic Society and asked if they would welcome my hosting a Hijab Sunday at the Fellowship on February 5th. I contacted Mr. Mamdou Coubilay, who contacted women at the mosque, and their response was not only positive, but they offered to come to the Fellowship on Sunday and attend both services, to bring a hijab as well as literature about it, and be willing to speak with whomever wanted to come to the table to ask question or to wear a hijab.
My comments about the Hijab and its controversies. One of the critiques of World Hijab Day is that it is an opportunity for white women, in white-dominated spaces to do something that makes them feel good about themselves, but does not draw attention to the real threats that Muslim women face. It’s a fair critique. Because of our relationship with the mosque; and because women from the mosque offered their time and their hijabs, and because the event was supported by organizations that I trust, I felt it was a unique opportunity for not only solidarity, but education. My hope is that the event sparked conversation and yes, critique – but I see this as an important part of the work that we continue to do as an anti-racist, anti-oppressive institution.
On White Blindness. One of the concerns about stepping into these controversial issues is being “called out” either by other white people or people of color for being blind to the nuances of racism, white privilege and well-intentioned, but hurtful blindness. I’m not immune to these critiques of course, and some of the feedback I’ve heard recently has been hard, but so helpful in advancing my/our understanding of these difficult and challenging concerns.
So, I’m grateful for those of you who have taken the time to write me or speak to me directly about the issues raised on Sunday around not only the Hijab Sunday. If you’d like to engage more directly with these issues, I’m inviting you to attend the event at the Appleton Public Library at 1:00 pm on Saturday, February 11th. There will be another presentation about the Hijab with representatives from the Islamic Society to answer questions and we’ll continue the conversation. See you at the Library on Saturday, I hope!
For now, I want to close with a word of gratitude, for your thoughtful responses, for your caring and for your ever-growing engagement with the work of anti-racism. We are one another’s teachers and I count myself blessed to be a part of you.
Why does the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship display a Black Lives Matter Banner?
We hang a Black Lives Matter banner as part of our congregationally approved mission to lead in social justice. Our national association of Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations has a long and proud history of showing up for racial justice. Unitarian Universalists in general, and members of the Fellowship in particular, have long been at the forefront of justice issues, whether it be standing on the side of love for Marriage Equality, partnering with the local Juneteenth celebration or providing support for students of color at Lawrence University.
What is Black Lives Matter?
Black Lives Matter is a movement and a response to the reality that the United States was built on a legacy of slavery, racism and oppression that continues to take new and ever-changing forms. The systemic devaluing of the lives of black and brown people needs all of our attention.
Read about it in their own words at blacklivesmatter.com.
Why not All Lives Matter?
Throughout US history, black lives have not mattered as much as white lives. Even today, black people in this country are incarcerated and killed at higher levels than their white counterparts. They receive less and poorer-quality healthcare and education. They earn less for the same work. Does this seem fair? We don’t think so!
A sign that says “All Lives Matter” would deflect from an important national discussion. Our sign says that the people in our Fellowship believe people of color, and particularly black people, when they say that they continue to experience serious and systemic racism.
Why single out black people?
Look at it this way: If you heard that someone in your community was organizing a fundraising event for breast cancer, would you show up with a sign that says “What about other cancers?” Probably not. Rather, you would hopefully feel that highlighting and working to end one form of cancer could help educate the general public about the health concerns of the day and even support the long-term eradication of multiple kinds of cancer.
How have others responded to our sign?
If you’re reading this, you might have a strong reaction to our sign. We have received a wide range of responses to the sign. We’ve received violent and threatening hate mail and messages. Our sign has been vandalized and stolen. People have laughed at us. Yet, we’ve also been approached with curiosity by those who are genuinely perplexed and wish to learn and think more about racism and other issues of our day. We have heard that our sign is meaningful; that it’s the reason people came to the Fellowship for the first time or keep coming back; that it makes people feel like this is a place where true dialogue, growth and social justice leadership can happen. Our ministers and members have been contacted by strangers with tears in their eyes who are overjoyed and heartened that we have taken this public stance in a majority white, primarily conservative area.
What else is the Fellowship doing for racial justice?
Our Racial Justice Action Team seeks to educate the congregation on issues of white privilege and white supremacy. We respond when asked by people of color to participate in activities; but we do not presume to lead or give direction. Members of our congregation also continue to support the work of racial justice, both in the congregation and in the wider community by facilitating conversations about diversity and supporting the efforts of those who seek to break cycles of systemic inequality in prisons, schools, government, and various for-profit and non-profit organizations.
We have a lot to learn and we can’t do it alone. We invite you to join us in our fight for justice, equity and compassion in our world. Our services are at 9 and 10:45 a.m. every Sunday from the 3rd Sunday in September to the Sunday before Memorial Day during the program year and at 10:00 a.m. in the summer. We hope to see you at the Fellowship.
For more information, check out these resources:
*Huffington Post article by Julia Craven “Please Stop Telling Me That All Lives Matter”
*Unitarian Universalist (and senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship) Rev. Meg Riley’s “Up To Our Necks”
*Blacklivesmatter.com, a good primer on the events, issues, demands, analysis and resistance
*Black Lives Matter- In Ferguson, Staten Island and the Fox Valley Sermon by the Rev. Roger Bertschausen from January 17-18, 2015
“America is a better place; we are better people because we are in the process of laying down the burden of race and creating the beloved community, a community at peace with itself. None of us, not one of us should give up. Not one of us should throw in the towel. It is in keeping with the movement, in keeping with the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence to be hopeful.” — John Lewis