Noor Tagouri is not the controversy, Muslim women representation is

It's been four days and all I've heard about is Noor Tagouri's decision to be featured in Playboy. So now I'm officially at the tipping point and need to add my thoughts to the mix.

I have much respect for the intellectuals and leaders in our communities who have tried to have difficult conversations in a post-9/11 America, but this Noor Tagouri controversy is a clear demonstration of why our efforts towards beneficial progress are merely attempts and rarely ever successes. We are continuously paralyzed by old conversations on hijab, modesty, and Muslim women's bodies. Noor in Playboy is not the controversy. This controversy is the controversy.

This is really a debate on the question of Muslim women representation. So instead of ripping apart Noor, let's have that conversation instead. Who represents us? Who validates our existence, accomplishments, and struggles? Who is worthy of our praise and celebration? Who is deserving of our criticism? Who has the power to define the Muslim women’s normal?

Is it influential leaders defining the laws for Muslim women such as Yasir Qadhi in his "Like a Garment" series who essentially condoned marital rape or Nouman Ali Khan in his That's Messed Up" series where he scoffs at a woman for questioning hijab?

Is it the middle-class Muslim woman economically empowered enough to make decisions about what is or isn't immoral or the Muslim woman who is forced into sex work to feed herself?

Is it modesty inclusive of beauty or modesty exclusive of sexuality (while we are at it, feel free to throw out a few definitions because we are sorely lacking consensus)?

Is it the Noor in "Somewhere in America" or the Noor in a magazine that once featured Malcolm X or the Noor who monopolized on modesty-rhetoric in her campaign to be the first hijabi broadcast journalist?

If actions and language have meaning and consequences for women then Noor in Playboy is the last thing to spark violence against women. The Muslim community has been excellent at exploiting and tearing down their own women on provisions of morality. Playboy just helped propel this conversation front and center.

Four days later, the Muslim women’s body is still controversial. The double standards still exist. Sex is still taboo. Hijab is fetishized. Gendered violence (symbolic or otherwise) remains a significant fear. Noor in Playboy hasn’t changed a thing. We are our own greatest impediments to change–it’s unfair to lay all this to rest on Noor’s shoulders when she is a product of our community and systemic flaws.

So can we please stop talking, yet again, about another Muslim woman's modesty? I'm just so tired.

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