Muslim Youth Camp Dress Code Policy Change
April 2, 2016
The Muslim Youth Camp of California (MYC) has lived through the trends of Muslim societies over the past 55 years; it has tried to maintain a middle ground with issues pertinent to Muslims. MYC lived through its first decade or so with little to no attention given to dress codes, as it was not a popular subject of conversation amongst the Muslim community in its early years. In the 1970s and 80s, Muslims worldwide focused more attention on women’s clothing and brought that debate home to MYC. Seeking middle ground, MYC adopted the expectation that women of physical maturity would wear “loose clothing and a headscarf.” We are now in the middle of the 2010s, and after a year of deliberation and consultation with our Executive Committee, the MYC Board has decided that another evolution in our dress code policy is appropriate.
Beginning at MYC 2016, MYC will not require any specific form of headcovering for any female MYC campers, of any age. Instead, we will emphasize a holistic message of modesty, focusing on all aspects of our lives, and how behavior and speech are equally important markers as is dress.
It should be noted that this change in policy is about the headscarf only. We are not changing any of our other dress code policies (e.g. dress to and from the pool; knee-length of male shorts, etc.).
We want to be clear that we are not endorsing any particular fiqh rule on this subject (either now or in prior years). Just as the role of classical Muslim governments was to serve the public good (maslaha ‘amma), rather than selecting and enforcing a singular fiqh school on their populations, the MYC Board sees its role as seeking the “public good” for our little camping ummah (community). This year, our Board has decided that enforcement of this particularity of dress does not serve the MYC public good. This decision comes after a great deal of attention to the pros and cons of our prior policy. Some of these are:
- When required by MYC policy, headcovering can act as an equalizer among women. Like any uniform, it can diffuse social lines drawn based on visual symbols.
- Requiring head covering allows women to try it for a week to see how it would feel without the social stigma with which it is associated in the general American public, and possibly experience it in a positive way.
- Requiring head covering allows women who do wear it full-time to spend one week free of feeling labeled and perhaps outcast in their daily lives.
- Requiring headcovering reinforces to women who do not wear it full-time their right to wear it when they want, giving them an opportunity to own it as part of their Muslim identity even if they don’t wear it full-time.
- Requiring headcovering at MYC aids in the project of breaking away from one’s daily routine to focus on inner development, not one’s outer appearance.
- Requiring headcovering makes some women feel hypocritical if they don’t wear it in their daily lives. Many choose not to come to MYC, including those who would be valuable contributors to MYC faculty, staff and counselors, solely because (even if they have no objection to others wearing it) they do not want to be forced to wear a headcovering.
- By requiring headcovering at MYC, we might be sending the wrong message to our campers, promoting the perception that women who don’t wear it full-time are not fully committed Muslims. This undermines the MYC philosophy of acceptance of diverse opinions in the Muslim community.
- Requiring female headcovering focuses a lot of attention on one piece of clothing and diverting attention from a broader value of over-all modesty in dress.
- It is very difficult to maintain a dress code throughout the week without policing campers, which can undermine the MYC philosophy that each person is unique and a valuable contributor to the community.
- By requiring headcovering, MYC may be unknowingly contributing to an unproductive standard by which men and boys learn to judge Muslim women — i.e. boys may leave MYC with categorically less respect for Muslim women who do not wear a headcover.
- Headcovering policing by counselors of older girls’ can often interfere with their ability to bond with their campers, creating relentless fighting over this one matter, rather than connecting in a way that promotes communication and open space for real counseling to happen.
The openness with which we are sharing these pros and cons is meant to illustrate the serious consideration which the MYC Board has given, and continues to give to this topic. We have long realized that any choice is not without costs. Nevertheless, collectively as a Board, experiences over the past couple of decades have led us to believe that no longer requiring headcovering for female campers is a policy that better serves the public good of today’s campers at MYC.
Our New Holistic Modesty Policy
With our new dress code policy, we intend to reframe conversations about modesty at MYC away from particular items of dress, towards a holistic concept of modesty – encouraging our campers to think about how we act, talk, show respect for others, and so on. We also intend to encourage our campers to try out all different ways to come closer to their own spiritual practice. This may include changes in their personal dress, or their spiritual reading choices, or their prayer and meditation practices, their level of service to others, and so on. We will encourage our teachers and counselors to be aware that youth are influenced strongly by peers, and be vigilant and aware of the interpersonal camper dynamics that are contributing or detracting from our holistic modesty policy. This might include lessons on respect and behavior, to educate our campers about the importance of physical actions and speech. Our aim is to help our campers put dress in an appropriate place in the much larger context of overall Muslim adab (decorum) and akhlaq (manners/ethics).
We will continue to make MYC a safe space for those women whose piety includes headcovering – where they know they will not be harassed for wearing it, and also where all women feel safe, without stigma, to try out different styles of dress associated with Muslim practice and history around the world.
We Welcome Feedback
As this is a very context-driven topic, the MYC Board will be paying close attention to the social and educational impact of our new policy on our community (as with all our other policies) and we are always open to thoughtful input from MYC campers and staff. It is MYC’s ability to hold together even when we disagree with each other that makes us such a strong community. We thank you for your continued support and understanding as we do our best to create a healthy and productive Muslim environment for our MYC family.