Veil issue not simple but most Muslim women don’t like it
Veil issue not simple but most Muslim women don’t like it
Tahir Aslam Gora
In any discussion of “the veil” on Muslim women, there are two issues to consider.
On the one hand, women’s liberties are threatened in many Islamic countries by oppressive laws and tribal values. On the other hand, a small percentage of professional Muslim women choose strict Islamic values, including veiling themselves.
In almost every western country, one can see hundreds of Muslim women wearing a hijab (a head covering), a burka (a full-length veil that covers the body), or a veil on their faces.
British MP and Leader of the House of Commons Jack Straw sparked Islamic fundamentalists’ anger one more time when he recently said the full veil is “a visible statement of separation and difference” that made community relations “more difficult.”
Later, British Prime Minister Tony Blair also said the Muslim veil was a “mark of separation” and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi echoed the remarks.
In Canada, this debate has been raised on many radio talk shows. There are many groups in favour of women choosing to wear the veil and many groups opposed. Let’s see what is behind this issue.
The majority of Muslim women are not in favour of wearing the veil, but a minority of Muslim women, who are in favour of it, makes the situation confusing for everybody.
This is especially true of Muslim women who are born or raised in Canada, or in any western country, and who may work as professionals and who are independent individuals. When they speak out for their right to wear the veil, then everybody else starts asking and thinking, “Why are others trying to deprive these women of their religious rights?”
Nobody dares to think that these women are actually depriving themselves of their feminine liberties in favour of religious brainwashing.
(These veil-obsessed Muslim women may also be reacting this way as a reaction to some of the anti-veil statements.)
One of our local imams recently wrote a letter to the editor, responding to another writer, about the status of women in Islamic countries. “But I guarantee that the writer, in his six years in the Gulf, did not see women abused and misused as selling commodities as in the West. I am sure he did not see a bikini-clad woman on the hood of a BMW or Mercedes to attract prospective buyers.”
This is a big statement, and ignores the fact that many Muslim countries have “red light” (prostitution) areas everywhere. If we don’t see specific red light areas in Gulf states, it is still true that thousands of places and people are involved in the sex trade in those countries.
Most Muslim people probably know this, but prefer to keep them secret — behind the veil — for the sake of the honour of Islam.
This is our religious and tribal character, and we Muslims don’t like to recognize those human instincts that have been condemned by our religion and in our tribes.
We are not yet convinced to acknowledge in our communities the fact of women’s individual liberties.
But things are changing. The recent participation of a Pakistani Muslim woman in an international bikini contest in China stirred our religiously curtained societies.
The advocates for the right of Muslim women to wear veils ignore one basic reality: This is not about Islamic faith.
If wearing the veil was a faith-oriented right, every Muslim woman should be striving for it. But most Muslim women — in Islamic countries and in the West — don’t practice this tradition, which was traditionally imposed by Muslim men.
It seems ironic to me when some western feminists and intellectuals speak loudly in favour of Muslim women’s right to put the veil over their faces. No sensible person is in favour of forcing women to take off their veil but many Muslim scholars and women’s groups are opening a debate on whether or not the veil represents Islamic values.
Since veil-wearing women and their proponents have a right to state their opinions, those who oppose this trend have the same right.
The vast majority of Muslim opponents think that the traditional veil is clearly a mark of separation, and consider it an element of the fanatical side of Islam.
Should anyone have a problem with the consensus of the majority of Muslims? If the majority of Muslims call the veil tradition an “attempt at separation” (not only in the west but in their own Islamic countries, too), should this statement be called — as it has been — absurd?
If western proponents of the veil see that as absurd, they may also appreciate the actions of suicide martyrs waging jihad, encouraged by the minority of literalist, fanatic Muslims.
Hold on for a minute. I do understand there is a difference in the degree of fanaticism between the veil issue and suicide attacks. But both fall into the core category of fanaticism.
The opponents of the veil do not want to snatch them from women’s faces. But they will keep exercising their right to denounce it just as they denounce other fanatical elements of the Muslim world.
There is a need to understand the difference between being separate and being moderate. There is also a need to understand that most Muslim women who don’t wear these emblems are still followers of Islam.
The conclusion of this debate should be that wearing a particular item of dress should be a person’s choice. But showing yourself — your identity — should be a choice made by society.
If a woman wants to show a hardcore Islamic religious symbol, she can be modest and wear a headscarf.
When a woman puts on a niqab (a head-covering with a slit for the eyes), a burka (a full-body garment that hides the eyes as well) or a face veil, then she must grant society the right to decide whether that is appropriate to wear in public.
It seems obvious to me that a secular society can’t accept citizens concealing their identity.
Just as the Netherlands seems determined to ban the burka and veil in public places, so women’s rights groups need to understand the reasons — which seem simple and logical to me — behind the decision.
There is no harm if Canada goes the same way (although there is no plan to do so).
Such a decision wouldn’t be against the multicultural mosaic of Canada. It would help us Canadians show our secular and moderate face.
Tahir Aslam Gora The Hamilton Spectator
(Apr 19, 2007)
Muriel Walker, a French literature professor at McMaster University, did her best to raise awareness and sensitivities on campus about hijabs, and the Muslim women who wear them, by organizing a Wear A Hijab Day earlier this month. All women were invited to wear a head scarf to show support for those who regularly wear it.
“I want this to help sensitize people about Islam,” she said.
I wish some Muslim school in Canada, or at least a teacher in any Muslim school, would have done it the other way around. They could have sensitized hijab-wearing Muslim girls to the skirt-wearing girls of their host society by offering to let them wear a skirt for at least one day.
Religious harmony and understanding another culture is not a one-way phenomenon.
However, academics and organizations working to promote multiculturalism should not overlook the reality that the hijab is not the legacy associated with every Muslim woman.
Promoting the hijab as a sign of a woman true to Islam is an attempt to marginalize the majority of Muslim women in Canadawho don’t consider this Islamic tradition as an essential part of their faith.
Wearing the hijab, or not, should not be a big issue. But the journey from hijab to full veil or niqab should be a big concern in a secular or multicultural society. Concealing one’s own identity should not be accepted in a multicultural society because such hardline thinking ultimately destroys the face of multiculturalism.
Let’s have a look at the debate of the hijab tradition in the wake of the recent controversy in McMaster.
The Muslim proponents of hijab say that wearing it is not due to any suppression of women by Muslim men or by faith itself. According to them, the head scarf is the choice of those who prefer to wear it.
But how did that choice come to be? Surely, through their home environment.
A Spectator reader wrote well in a letter to the editor: “They may say they wear it by choice but their choice has been affected by cultural conditioning.”
Some Muslim activists compare this debate with the lack of controversy over what Christian nuns wear, and accuse the West of showing a double standard. This has no merit, because nuns don’t impose their dress code on Christian society at large. This is a sort of job uniform.
In the case of hijabs, proponents would compel women to wear them.
A Muslim woman at McMaster told a Spectator reporter: “The main reason (for wearing a hijab) is to please your Lord.”
What does that mean? Is the Lord’s pleasure judged through the eyes of one particular faith?
During this struggle to understand other beliefs, racist taunts against Prof. Muriel Walker were spray-painted on her office door.
As a reaction to that, a rally against “Islamophobia” and condemning racist taunts was organized last week.
Of course, such rallies are an important response but the hijab tradition debate is a matter beyond any rally. It’s a very delicate issue and needs to be addressed scholarly and logically. There is not much room at present for being diplomatic.
The horrendous killing of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez in Mississauga, allegedly by her father over the issue of wearing hijab and adapting to Islamic values, raises the question one more time: Is the hijab a compulsion or choice in Islam?
Many Muslims in Canada argue it’s a choice, but many view it as a compulsion, too.
Self-described modern Muslims claim there are no clear instructions in Islam about compulsion of hijab.
On the other hand, devout Muslims insist Islam dictates that once a woman reaches puberty, every part of her body except her face, hands and feet must be covered.
In the wake of the Parvez killing, there is again an open debate over religious and cultural differences among Islamic scholars, Muslim feminist sisters, multiculturalists, media, veil- and hijab-rights activists and society in general.
Muslim feminist sisters appear in the media to tell the public that they wear hijab on their own, no one forces them.
In the case of adult women, if they choose to wear the hijab, one can understand their own will. But seeing hijabs on the heads of little girls and teens doesn’t reveal their choice. Parents and families surely force girls in Grades 2 or 3 to wear the hijab.
When these little ones reach their teens, some of them retaliate, as was apparently the case with Aqsa.
Some get a deadly fate, some survive.
Some get used to it. They even become advocate for those “Islamic rights.” For instance, a Muslim sister recently told the media that when she was asked to wear a hijab in Grade 3 she felt it very weird but now she is accustomed to it.
Most hijab-wearing Muslim ladies claim they do so because of their own will, but they don’t reveal and realize that it’s a conditioning imposed by their men, families and so-called values.
Aqsa Parvez is not the only victim of these values.
There are thousands of victim girls every year across the Muslim world. Then Islamic scholars come out and announce that honour killing is not acceptable in Islam. They claim that whatever is happening is not Islam. That’s good news.
But those traditional Islamic scholars never emphasize that there is no need of hijab or veil in Islam.
If they announced that, there would certainly be less conditioning of Muslim girls and less pressure on them. So the reality is that they demand the hijab.
Where is choice, then?
It’s shocking that Aqsa’s many classmates knew the grave situation between Aqsa and her family, but no body thought to inform the police about that tense situation.
There is a lesson through this terrifying incident: Whenever classmates sense any threat for their hijab- wearing friends from their homes, they should immediately inform their school office. In such cases, the school should respond immediately by contacting police, the Children’s Aid Society and the family itself.
We should not take this incident as just a matter of one family. We now need to understand that there is religious suffocation happening in many Muslim families in Canada.
We should also make it clear to all religious groups that Canada is a secular society. We can’t tolerate any more such horrendous acts.
Tahir Aslam Gora is a Pakistani-Canadian writer living in Burlington. He is the author of several books and is working on two manuscripts, Understanding Canadian Multiculturalism and Why Islam Needs To Evolve.
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