The statements come in different ways and the actions take different angles, but no matter what justification may be given, it is clear as daylight that the attacks on Islam would never cease.
The issue of the caricature of the Prophet (SA) and the many films which have been produced showing Muslims as terrorists, are still fresh in the minds of Muslims. The insults done to Islam by defacing the Holy Quran in Iraq, as well as the open trampling in many Masjids in Iraq, have not been forgotten by Muslims. Not being satisfied with the amount that has been done, they go further to ‘officially ban’ the minarets of Masaajids in Denmark, trying their best to justify their action with ‘lame’ and ‘flimsy’ reasons. But that’s not all. Before the Muslims could actually digest what was really happening in the world, a new attack began in a different way. This recent onslaught is about the Muslims again, and now, it is an effort to ban the ‘Niqaab (for women) in France’.
Unfortunately, they got their support from the big Shaikh of Egypt, who thought to himself that he was doing a good to Islam when he used the remark about Niqaab. Little did he realize that he was being used as the ‘mouth piece’ for the ‘Critics’ of Islam.
As Muslims, we must take note of what is really happening against Islam and the Muslims today. We should not be naïve to the situation that have developed, and should not stoop to the so called ‘rational reasons’ and ‘justifications’ that are given on these issues that are targeting the Muslims. These are nothing but different modes of ‘attack’ on the Muslims. They may take different shapes, forms approaches and voices, but yet, the underlying objective remains the same and that is, to openly and directly attack the beautiful religion of Islam and its values.
In this respect, there has recently been a heated debate over the compatibility of hijab/niqaab, the Islamic modest dress, with contemporary western culture and values. Showing total disregard to the fact that this is a religious institution, Western Societies have today, made the hijab/niqaab as a battlefield, for a perceived ‘conflict of cultures’. For many ‘westerners’, niqaab is considered a dangerous, provocative symbol that challenges their ‘loose’, ‘free’, and ‘wanton’ way of behavior which is considered normal and good in western societies. To them, niqaab is seen as a mark of oppression and subjugation, and a sign of backwardness to women in Islam, one that is far from the truth.
The topic of hijab/niqaab has been one of debate for a long time in the west. Some have accused it of being a sign of separation and hence, call for it to be abandoned. Many argue that hijab/niqab is a religious symbol which is contrary to the notion of secularism and modernization. Muslims wearing hijab are subject to phony remarks and looks.
The war against hijab/niqaab started in Europe but soon spread to other countries, including some secular Muslim countries. Some Muslim countries internalized the western colonial stance on the veil as a symbol of backwardness. Reza Shah of Iran, in 1936, outlawed the wearing of the veil, it was decreed that Muslim women should dress the way western women do. Taxi drivers could be fined if they carried veiled passengers. Police were instructed to prosecute all those who did not desist from wearing the veil and to tear off the veil from their heads. Somewhat later, when scarves were known to be fashionable in Europe, a little laxity was permitted. Yet in 2004, an American woman of Turkish descent was expelled from the Turkish Grand National Assembly and her citizenship was revoked as she appeared for the swearing-in ceremony wearing a hijab. Thus, opposition to hijab/niqaab is one which started a long time ago and still continues. It is however amazing to know that the concept of veiling (as in hijab/niqaab) is not one that is inimical to classical western tradition. In fact, it is clearly evident that in traditional western culture, (which has its deep root in Judaism and Christianity), veiling/covering the head/body properly has been strongly taught, practiced and encouraged.
In this regard, Brayer points out in the Rabbinic tradition, it is unbecoming of a Jewish woman to go out with her head uncovered: ‘It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered’ and ‘cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen’. (Making sense of Hijab and Niqab pg. 27 ) In the New Testament, it is stated that, “if a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head.” (1 Corinthians 11:6)
Thus, the three major religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity have all preached the act of veiling for a woman. Self restraint, modesty, privacy and decency have always been the core teachings in these religions for a woman. Yet, a modern western woman sees it differently, and she finds herself in an entire different setting. Some western feminist writers have indicated that women in the present day western societies are taught from the early childhood that their worth is proportional to their physical attractiveness to the male gaze.
For a western woman, her beauty is how she is judged by the male, and not how she really is. While indicating to this trend of western women, Berger writes, ‘Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watched themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women, but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of women in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – most particularly an object of vision: a sight’. (Making sense of Hijab and Niqab pg. 28)
The western woman therefore, judges herself with the eyes of the male. She is concerned about how the male views her, how attractive she seems in his estimation, and how acceptable she is to him. With this burning desire to be seen and noticed, and with the urge to always seem more attractive and beautiful, she shuns from covering properly, begins to expose her private body and develops a liking for different ways of impressing her male admirer. In doing so, she becomes an adversary to chastity and modesty, and then becomes an enemy to hijab in Islam. In the mindset of such people, and in their society, there is no ‘welcome’ for hijab and niqaab.
In contrast to the conduct of such western women, there are those (of the Muslim women) who wilfully and open heartedly turn to hijab/niqaab, and find solace, comfort and joy in adopting it. To them, hijab/niqaab is a way of giving dignity to a woman’s femininity by discouraging unwelcomed sexual attention, and making her beauty (something very precious to her) unavailable to an uninvited guest or public consumption. It defines her Muslim identity and affords more respect to her. It is the ideal way of protecting her beauty and privacy and it is the God-given way of preserving her honour and dignity.
Viewed with this understanding and meaning, hijab/niqaab must not be seen as absurd or ‘backward’. Why should it be wrong for a woman to take one step forward in dressing decently and in a modest way, when an increasing number have taken two steps backward in nudity and semi-nakedness.
It is indeed strange to see that while those who cover themselves properly with hijab and niqaab are ridiculed and mocked, those who dress in an indecent and nude manner are given the full liberty to dress as they wish. How can there be a ban on covering with the niqaab, while there is the full permission to dress in a nude/semi nude fashion. If some in the west have the permission to dress with ‘skimpy tops’ and ‘scanty tights’, then others must also have an equal permission to cover their upper and lower bodies in a modest manner with the hijaab and niqaab.
So, what is happening in France today against Muslim women by proposing to ban the niqaab, is an unfair and unjust treatment to Muslim women. This amounts to nothing except a sheer attack on Islam, and victimization to Muslim women. If a ban must be placed on women for their decent way of dressing, then, to a greater extent, a ban must also be placed on the ‘vulgar’ and ‘indecent’ manner of attiring which is rampant in France.
If other women have a right to practice their religion and culture, then Muslim women living in France must also be given the same right. Banning the niqaab for Muslim women in that country will be an open violation of their religious as well as human right.