Tue Oct 10th, 2006 at 08:31:22 AM EST
The matter of Islamic Veiling has become a hot topic in the UK. Sadly the traditional media have shown neither imagination nor flair in their examination of it. Merely pitting conservative muslims, both male and female, up against Joe and Jane Public in one of the least informative debates you could imagine. As it's one of the most important discussions we can have in the secular world at this time, that's a crying shame.
So I welcome Yasmin Alibai-Brown's essay in the Independent (trapped behind subscription wall, so no link). Extended quotes below;-
Promoted by Colman
We don't yet live in an islamic republic where men and women are forced to live on separate planets. Millions of muslims in europe abhor these obscurantists for the way in which they have brainwashed young women to seek subjugation. It breaks our hearts. After all, caged birds often prefer to stay in their cage even after they have been freed. I don't call that a choice.
A liberal nation has no obligation to extend its liberalism to condone the most illiberal practices, as long as it ensures genuine equal standards for all.............................. The media lurches drunkenly between pandering to muslim separatists and maligning us all as the aliens within.It is hard to be muslim today. And it becomes harder still when some choose deliberately to act and dress as aliens.
The young women in nicab (full face covering) who claim they have made the decision without coercion understand nothing about the sacred islamic texts, the struggles for gender equality, the history or the unpleasant sexual symbolism of what they claim is just one more lifestyle choice. "Oh I won't have that green coat, I think it is the black shroud for me. Suits me better, don't you think ?"
Britains who support them know nothing of the march of Wahabism. I have been uncomfortable for years sbout the rapid rise of the hijab too, because for islamic purists it is the first staging post on a road map that leads to the burqa, where even the eyes are gauzed over.Some young hijab wearers say they feel wanton and must go higher to the hiqab. So when does this country decide that it does not want citizens using their freedoms to build a satellite Saudi Arabia here ?
We can't answer that question, because islamicists say we are not allowed such conversations. Straw isn't allowed because he is a white man. Parliament can't because there is no muslim woman MP. I'm not allowed because I am a bad muslim. "Stuff that" I say. The garment offends me and this is why.
The sacred texts have no specific injunctions about covering hair or face. The veil predates islam and was common amongst Asssyrian royalty, byzantine upper-class Christians and also Bedouins - men and women - when sandstorms blasted their faces. Women from the Prophet's family covered their faces to prevent harassment from petitioners. The son of Umar, a companion to the Prophet asked his wife to veil her face as well. To which she replied " Since the almighty has put upon me the stamp of beauty, it is my wish that the public should view this beauty and recognise this grace upon them."
In the 10th century, veils were imposed across the Middle East specifically to diminish the status of women. Female chastity and "honour" became jealously guarded. But the cutom never spread far. You didn't find it in Pakistan, Banglasdesh, Indonesia, thailand or Malaysia. A witness in Turkey in the 14th C noted that women's faces were always visible. In 1899 a muslim writer, Qasim Amin, wrote a treatise, the emancipation of women, in which he proved that the veil was not an inviolable part of islam. His ideas incensed conformist women, who attacked his gender, not his arguments, (Helen adds : Just as Nazirah Zein-ed-Din was attacked by male clerics for being female when she made similar arguments in Algeria in 1928 in her pamphlet "Removing the veil and veiling")
These arguments inspired Attaturk in Turkey and the Shah of Iran to ban the veil.
Sadly this made them into a cause. In Iran educated women who fail stringent veil tests are imprisoned, branded whores and beaten. In Iraq, palestine and now algeria too. In Afghanistan the Taliban are pushing women back into the home and full burqa. Instead of expressing solidarity with these women, santimonious British niqabis are siding with their foes.
The sexual signals of the hijab and niqab are even more suspect. These covering as are physical manifestations of the pernicious idea of women as carriers of Original Sin, whose faces and hair turn men into predators. In Denmark a mufti said unveiled women were asking for rape, so rape by muslim men is now rising alarmingly there. In truth, half-naked women and veiled women are both solely defined by sexuality. One group proffers it, another witholds. A young girl in a boob tube or hijab are both symbols of unhealthy sexual objectification.
The niqab expunges the female muslim presence from the landscape and hands over the world to men. It rejects human commonalities and even membership of society itself. They dehumanize themselves and us too by wearing it. Public and private institutions should have the right to ask citizens to show their faces to get goods and serices. Hoodies and crash-helmet wearers already have to. Why should niqab wearers be exempt ?
Irshad Manji, the author of "The trouble with islam today" also rails against the veil,
Call me superficial, but desert tribalism can be detected even in what muslims are instructed to wear. Millions of women veil themselves, accepting it as an act of spiritual submission. It's closer to cultural capitiulation. Post revolutionary chadors as modelled by iranian women come originally from the Lebanon. Now that's a heavy-duty import. While the Quran required the Prophet's wives to veil, it never decrees such a practice for all women. Why should it Veils protect from the sand and heat. Not exactly pressing concerns beyond Arabia, the Sahara and the Australian outback.. To cover my face because "that's what I'm supposed to do" is nothing short of a brand victory for desert Arabs. Tell me, should allah operate like Prada ?
She has also argued that, as Mohammed asked his wives to wear the veil to denote their status as "Blessed of Mohammed", for other women to take the veil is to deem themselves equally "Blessed". A position she contends is potentially blasphemous.
However, without a real debate it is impossible to know how true these arguments are and how seriously we should take them. After all, within Islam there is the concept of Ijmah, the concensus of the community. The thinking being that God would not allow the entire ummah (muslim community) to be in error, so if a custom was accepted by all muslims it must be authentic.
So there is much that needs to be debted, both within the muslim community as well as with the wider secular society. Sadly no such debate will occur and meanwhile the pressures seem to be building to drive our society into not-so-silent cultural conflict.