The rules

TLC, the “Yay religion!” channel, has a new show called All-American Muslim. Guess what it’s about! Guess what its take is!

Well in one way its take is fine. Good, show people that Mulims aren’t some weird alien species; excellent; promote fellow-feeling and peace; great. But…

Well I’ve only managed to watch a few minutes of it, a couple of times, because it’s so annoying. It may be more annoying than it needed to be – it may have gone out of its way to be annoying, by seeking out hyper-observant Muslims. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s normal in Dearborn.

Anyway my point isn’t actually about TLC or the show overall, it’s about the bits that I did see – both of which, as it happens, featured women going on and on and on and on about will they put on the hijab or not, along with women already in the fucking hijab and men saying well you really ought to put on the hijab. Both featured a lot of hijab. There was also a little about fasting during Ramadan, for variety.

What was so irritating about it was the settled assumption that there are rules, there’s a right way to do Islam, and that’s that. This was a theme that kept recurring even in the tiny fractions of the shows that I saw: that a good Muslim follows the rules and does it the right way. There were discussion scenes with people sitting around on couches discussing “hijab: yes or no” and “fasting: yes or no” and always there was this assumption: there are rules, and you can obey them or not obey them, but they are the rules.

Some of the time someone was being all “liberal” and saying “it’s none of my business” – but it was still always The Rules. What’s the point of being a Muslim if you’re not going to do it right? Why convert to Islam (which someone was doing, or thinking about doing) if you’re not going to do it right? One woman said she didn’t fast during Ramadan because it was difficult with her job and then taking care of her children. (Of course it is! Going without water and food all day for a month is unhealthy.) A man replied that whether she fasted or not was her business, not his. How noble, but of course the implication was there that she was not following the rules.

There was another depressing bit where a woman decided to start wearing the hijab, and she was all smiley and kind of trembly, as if she were announcing a pregnancy, and she told her husband and he was all happy…And she said they should take all the photos off the living room wall, because of course it would be silly to wear a hijab but let people see her without one in photos all over the wall…so they took them all down (and there were a lot).

It’s all so depressing – handing themselves over to these stupid, bad, anti-woman, anti-human, antiquated rules for no good reason except that it’s “religious.” They don’t question whether or not they are rules, and if so why it matters; the most they can manage (that I’ve seen) is to say things along the lines of “well if you want to be a bad Muslim that’s your business.”



  1. sumdum says

    They most likely go by the haddith then. Plenty of rules in them, and certain collections of haddith are very respected among such conservative muslims.

  2. says

    Sounds like a pretty accurate description to me. One of the reasons leaving Islam brings you a lot of peace is the freedom from all these stupid little (and big) things you’re supposed to do.

  3. Kate from Iowa says

    It’s not just the orthodox sects, either. I finally gave up on even trying to find anything useful in the Nation of Islam (think American Islam “lite” or Diet Coke Islam) when men I’d never seen before started trying to tell me wht to read, what to think and how to dress, act and eat.

  4. F says

    Kate from Iowa

    men I’d never seen before started trying to tell me wht to read, what to think and how to dress, act and eat.

    Did you get the bread lecture?

  5. Phillip IV says

    handing themselves over to (…) rules for no good reason except that it’s “religious.”

    I think the appeal to people works on two levels, here:

    On the first, it’s really just some sort of self-gratification – you set or accept a rule and then feel a sense of achievement for following it. This aspect isn’t really specific to religious rules, it works just as well with restricting yourself from getting your first drink before four in the afternoon. What religion adds in that regard is that religious rules don’t necessarily serve any purpose, so in many cases you can get to feel a sense of achievement for something that isn’t actually very hard on you – like abstaining from gay sex when you’re actually straight, anyway. And of course the added bonus: getting to feel superior to people who don’t follow that rule.

    The second level is more specific to religion, I think – it’s the appeal of adding a (naturally only pretended) element of meaningfulness to everyday life. For an atheist woman, choosing what to wear is just a matter of fashion or convenience, for her fundamentalist cousin, dressing ‘modestly’ is what a super-powerful, celestial being wants her to do as part of his overall plan of salvation – an actually completely mundane action becomes part of a vast, eternal struggle between the forces of light and dark.

  6. says

    They don’t question whether or not they are rules, and if so why it matters; the most they can manage (that I’ve seen) is to say things along the lines of “well if you want to be a bad Muslim that’s your business.”

    The legalism of Islam can be astounding. I was reading some cleric a few a weeks ago who was earnestly imploring his followers to, er – take food from the edges of a plate rather than from the centre. Good etiquette, perhaps, but a moral command?!

  7. Gregory says

    One of the big things that makes Islam different from Christianity is that its doctrines are based on orthopraxy (right action) rather than orthodoxy (right belief.) While Christians obsess over the nature of the Trinity and the mechanics of salvation, Muslims obsess over what rules are the right rules and whether or not they are following those rules correctly. That creates a mindset that those of us raised in a Christian-ish culture do not have.

    I haven’t seen the series — I learned a while back that TLC is just not worth my time — but I suspect that the producers are themselves Muslim, which would explain the focus on actions and rules rather than beliefs and traditions.

  8. sailor1031 says

    I’ve said it before – I’m sure I’ll say it again. All these pettifogging rules are for little children. Great big grown up people know what they should and shouldn’t do. Need for all these rules is a sure sign of great emotional immaturity in so-called adults. Unfortunately religion creates a social environment where that immaturity becomes the norm and people become like those rule-bound little kids in kindergarten and first grade who saw you break a rule and told the teacher.

  9. says

    I’ve actually been watching this show religiously (pun intended) since I first heard of it. My brother has been dating a practicing (liberal) Muslim for four years, and as rumors start to swirl about a possible wedding, I have become increasingly curious about Islam and how “the rubber meets the road” with western culture.
    There are some obvious issues. She at first hid the relationship from her family, and has only in the last year come relatively clean with them. She desperately wants my brother to convert to Islam (her family considers this a must) and I don’t see this happening. I had a two hour conversation with her about the subject. My brother has sworn off pork, observed Ramadan, and slowed but not stopped drinking alcohol.

    I watched the episode you mention, and think you sugar coated (or weren’t watching) some of the themes:
    1.The woman who took the hijab did so partially because she wants to get pregnant and honestly believes that Allah has punished her (or failed to bless her) with infertility for not taking the hijab. (Allah has slacked in His punishment of my atheist wife, I guess)
    2. The mullah she spoke to about her fertility said it is forbidden to seek fertility treatment unless the husband’s sperm is used, and adoption is forbidden.
    3. When she was presented in the hijab to her family, her father actually said “I have my daughter back”.
    Bloody fucking hell. Srsly. I think this may have been within earshot of his other daughter who does not wear the hijab.

    The constant droning about “Your choices are between you and God” were nauseating.

    “Yes, do as you please, because it’s just between you and a Being both of us are convinced meters out temporal and ultimate justice for even the most trivial infractions”


  10. Godless Heathen says


    One of the big things that makes Islam different from Christianity is that its doctrines are based on orthopraxy (right action) rather than orthodoxy (right belief.)

    Interesting, because Judaism seems to be very similar (and Catholicism, to some extent). My parents were raised Jewish and Catholic and I have a theory that the reason so many American Jews who marry non-Jews marry Catholics is that they both have a background of ritual and action being important to their religious practice. Unlike Protestants.

    I could be wrong about Catholicism, but I do know that part of the reason my mom’s family didn’t attend a synagogue or really practice much Judaism when she was growing up is that she and her mother rejected the emphasis on rituals and doing things the “right way” and privileging men over women, when certain things, like people’s emotions and relationships, should be more important.

  11. says

    George – oh lordy! Perhaps I shouldn’t say anything, but…well, I will at least say make sure (if you can without family friction etc) your brother knows what the rules say about people who Leave Islam.

    Oh the hell with it, it’s no use trying to be politely cautious. I don’t think anyone should ever convert to Islam, because one of the rules is that “apostasy” is a capital crime. Never convert to any system that includes the rule that you should be executed if you leave.

    It’s not really the risk, so much; it’s the hateful nature of the rule. It’s like converting to being kidnapped. It’s like converting to being a hostage. Yes please, I’d like to convert to your lovely religion which will kill me if I decide to leave.

  12. says

    I didn’t sugar coat anything; I didn’t see the items you cite. I really should grit my teeth and watch all of it. It’s just that it irritates me so much I get squirmy! But it does sound just horrible, and revealing.

  13. says

    You are preaching to the choir.

    How to be diplomatic (I truly adore his girlfriend) has been an ever present challenge.
    Not to mention that she considers me someone who is more “reasonable” about the issue than my brother.

    I have so far avoided blogging about it- mainly because my blog is linked to my FB- to which she is “friended”, and I had a good friend bring the subject up on his blog to get other points of view.
    My feeling thus far is that he won’t convert- so the issue is moot for now. I hope.

  14. Grace says

    No, you don’t understand. Islam protects women and holds them in high esteem. Also, “Women’s Rights” ruins everything (sound familiar?)

    This is a comment on a Facebook page dedicated to giving Saudi women have the right to drive a car:

    “I cleary said i have no objection in muslim women driving a car if she maintain her Islamic dress and the Islamic ethics, and her modesty.Secondly i just want to remove the misconception that Isl…am opresses women.Indeed the woman in Islam is bestowed with respect and honour.Islam has protected and dignified women contrary to other civilisations.Islam is protector of the rights of women.

    “Very people knows that in USA women were allowed to join the battle since 1901 but they were not allowed to take active part – They only played the part of a nurse.Later on after the ‘Feminist MovementEhad started in 1973, the ‘Feminist movementEdemand­ed E‘Why aren’t women allowed to take active part in the battle field?

    “So the American government allowed women to take active part in the battle field.And according to a report of the Defense Department of America, which was released on the 23rd of April, 1993 it said that, 90 people were sexually assaulted in a convention, out of which 83 were women and 117 officers were charged with in disciplinary action Imagine in one convention only, 83 women sexually assaulted.

    “Is this what you call ‘Women’s rights?

    “If you think that this is what is ‘Women’s right then you can keep your rights to yourselves. We do not want our sisters, our daughters our mothers to be sexually assaulted.

    “The Limits of Freedom

    “Islam has given to mankind freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of action but within a correct and reasonable framework, (i.e. whereby one does not harm others or oneself), so that certain foods and drinks, which are very harmful, are not permissible because of the harm they cause to oneself. Likewise slander and assault and the like are not permissible because of the harm they cause to others. In the same way, the overuse of natural resources is not allowed because it causes harm to forthcoming generations.

    “Western talk of women’s liberalization is nothing but a disguised form of exploitation of her body, degradation of her soul, and deprivation of her honour. Western society claims to have ‘uplifted’ women. On the contrary it has actually degraded them to the status of concubines, mistresses and society butterflies who are mere tools in the hands of pleasure seekers and sex marketeers, hidden behind the colourful screen of ‘art’ and ‘culture’.

    “In the end it is not that only muslim women should be respected and non-muslims not.A women either a muslim or non-muslim are equally respected and treated with honour in Islam.”

    Preach it, sister!

  15. Kate from Iowa says

    You too, F? I always thought that was particularly silly. And since half the time we were growing up the biggest food problem was one of there not being enough to eat, period, I just really didn’t need a list of “you can’ts” shoved into my face. Did your Mosque have the How To Eat To Live workshops on why you aren’t supposed to eat white food? No potatoes, no white beans, no white flour, no white sugar, no white rice, no white corn…it was an enormous what the fuck moment. I mean really, what the fuck was that all based on? (Supposedly. I have to assume it was based on something.)

  16. David Hart says

    “orthopraxy (right action) rather than orthodoxy (right belief.)”

    Possibly, but if Muslims are obsessed with doing the right actions, it is only because they believe that doing the right actions is the route to gaining God’s favour. As ever, the weird behaviour of the devout stems ultimately from the weirdness of their beliefs.

  17. Gregory says

    @Grace #15 – You reminded me of a line I heard years ago: “The only reason men put women on a pedestal is because this makes it easier to look up their skirts.”

  18. Grace says

    @ Greg #18
    LOL. And it’s easier to knock someone to the floor who isn’t standing on their own two feet.

    I just can’t believe the many crimes feminism is supposedly responsible for. Now it’s sexual assualt? I didn’t know women in Islamic countries were safe from rape. Don’t they get stoned to death for the crime of being forced? If they show too much eyelid? Yes, having no rights is great protection.

    I’m waiting for women’s rights/feminism to be blamed for the hole in the ozone layer (if it hasn’t already.)

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