Islam stands for peace. Ahmadiyya Muslim community presents the real picture of Islam.

The true victory of Islam, as is evident from the word 'Islam' (submission) itself, lies in our complete surrendering our selves to God and freeing ourselves of our egos and our passions. No idol, whether it is the idol of our desires, our our intentions, or the idol of creature worship, should stand in our way, and we should submit ourselves entirely to the will of God. After reaching this state of Fana (self-annihilation), we will attain baqa (the life of eternity) which will give our eyes a new light, our minds a new passion; and we will become a wholly new being and the same Eternal God will become for us a new God. This is the true victory, and one aspect of it is Divine ammunion.(the green announcement p. 28)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Assessing British MP Jack Straw’s Comments Concerning Hijab In Islam
  Majlis Sultan-ul-Qalam, USA and Lajna Imaillah Media Watch,  USA  December 2006

      On October 6, 2006, in the wake of the suspension of a full- face veiled teaching
assistant in the United Kingdom, former British Foreign Secretary and current leader of
the House of Commons Jack Straw made controversial remarks about the Islamic
tradition of hijab or “covering.”  Specifically, Mr. Straw wrote in the Lancashire
Telegraph that Muslim women should remove their niqabs when visiting him because he
“felt uncomfortable about talking to someone ‘face to face’ who [he] could not see.”
The niqab, he claims, is a “visible statement of separation and of difference” that is
“bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult.”
While he did not condone any law or formal prescription banning hijab in the United
Kingdom, Mr. Straw said that he would rather hijab (and not just the niqab) be abolished
all together.

        Mr. Straw’s comments have since plunged the United Kingdom – and indeed
much of Europe – into a debate over Islamic integration. Notable European political
leaders have supported Mr. Straw’s comments. British Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed
Mr. Straw’s sentiments, calling hijab “a mark of separation” that “makes other people
from outside the Muslim community feel uncomfortable.” Italian Prime Minister
Romano Prodi agreed with Mr. Straw remarking, “You can’t cover your face. [Muslim
women] can’t be hidden.” The Dutch Government has gone so far as to propose
legislation banning outright the wearing of the niqab in public places, and Dutch
Immigration Minister, Rita Verdonk, has signaled the imminent end of hijab altogether in
The Netherlands. 

     However well intentioned Mr. Straw’s comments were, they exhibit a
fundamental lack of knowledge of Islamic traditions, the role of women and the function
of hijab. In particular, Mr. Straw and his supporters makes several faulty assumptions:
(1) hijab is a peculiar Islamic construct inimical to Western culture and society; (2) hijab
inhibits the freedom and equality of Muslim women in the West; and (3) hijab thwarts
integration of Muslims in the West.

        We address each assumption in turn.
1. Hijab’s Deep Roots
     First, Mr. Straw wrongly assumes that hijab is unique to Islam and foreign to the
West. Notwithstanding Islam’s distinctive teachings concerning hijab, the wearing of a
veil is not unique to Islam.

     The veil can be traced back to 13th Century B.C. in ancient Assyria
(Mesopotamia). At that time, wearing the veil was a mark of social class and not
religion.  The law required all Assyrian women except prostitutes to cover their heads in 
public. Similarly, ancient Greek and Roman artifacts suggest that wearing a veil was
not an uncommon practice. Although the veil’s significance in Greek and Roman
society is unclear, its custom cannot be discounted. 
      Beginning with Judaism, wearing a veil took on religious significance. It was a
symbol of propriety and modesty. Jewish women would cover their heads in public in
observance of Jewish law.  Jeremias commented: “When the Jewess of Jerusalem left her
house, her face was hidden, so that her features could not be recognized.” A Jewish
woman’s failure to cover her head during the Tannaitic period was “considered an affront to
her modesty. ” The veil elevated a woman’s high status in Jewish society.  Today
some orthodox Jewish women still practice traditional Jewish teachings by wearing
scarves or wigs.
     Similarly, the Bible taught the wearing of a veil long before Islam. In the Old
Testament we read:
“When Re-bek'ah raised her eyes, she caught sight of Isaac and she swung herself down
from off the camel. Then she said to the servant 'who is that walking in the field to meet
us?' and the servant said 'It is my master' And she proceeded to take a head cloth and to
cover herself.” (Genesis: 24:64-65)

In the New Testament we read:
“But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head
for it is one and the same as if she were a (woman) with a shaved head. For if a woman
does not cover herself let her also be shorn; but if it is disgraceful for woman to be shorn
or shaved, let her be covered.” (1 Corinthians: 11: 5-6)

As explained from these verses, the Bible treats the wearing of a veil as an inherently
righteous undertaking. The Virgin Mary is often depicted in works of art with her head
covered. In fact, for a time it was obligatory upon Catholic women to don a headscarf
while attending church service. Today Christian nuns and Amish women continue to
cover their heads.
Finally, traditional Hindu women also wear head coverings while in the company
of men, further highlighting that hijab is not exclusive to Islam.  Sometimes veiling is
accomplished with a loose end of the woman’s sari, and sometimes it is done with a
scarf- like fabric.
     Thus, hijab must be understood in the context of the veil’s cultural and religious
2. Hijab’s Liberating and Equalizing Force
     Second, Mr. Straw wrongly assumes that hijab inhibits freedom and equality of
Muslim women.

     As an initial matter, the view that hijab inhibits freedom and equality arguably is
a reaction to the original Biblical explanation concerning the same. St. Paul teaches:
“A man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God.
But woman is the glory of man. For man was not created for woman, but woman for man.
This is why the woman ought to have a sign of authority over her head, because of the
angels.” (1 Corinthians, 11:7-10)

Thus, according to St. Paul the veil is a sign of man’s authority over her. A veiled
Christian woman is pious only insofar as she accepts her inferior role to man. Perhaps
owing to this explanation, many in the West view the veil as a symbol of inferiority,
subservience, and degradation.
     But the Islamic rationale for hijab is entirely at odds with this prevailing stigma.
In Islam hijab signifies modesty and is a means of protection. A multitude of Quranic
references attest to a woman’s equality to man. For example, the Qur’an unequivocally
explains that men and women belong to the same species and possess identical aptitudes
and propensities. The requirement of hijab is not intended to imprison a woman or
render her susceptible to male dominance. Rather, it is intended to enhance her Godgiven faculties.
     In Islam, faith is premised on the belief that God created men and women for a
lofty purpose, namely establishing peace in society. Since a peaceful home is the basic
unit of a peaceful society, Islam seeks to protect marital harmony by promoting modesty.
In the United States, nearly 40% of all marriages end in divorce, half of which end due to
extra- marital affairs. As a precaution, the Qur’an enjoins women to draw their head
coverings over their bosoms when in the presence of men outside of the family:
“And say to the believing women that they restrain their looks and guard their private
parts and that they display not their beauty or their embellishment except that which is
apparent, thereof, and that they draw their head coverings over their bosoms, and that
they display not their beauty or their embellishment save to their husbands…” (24:32)

The injunction concerning hijab is an obligation not limited to women but refers to men
as well; hijab only assumes a different form:
“Say to the believing men that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts.
That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well-aware of what they do.” (24:31)

     Yet another purpose of hijab is to protect women from unwarranted harm. In the
West, often there is a casual willingness to dehumanize women by seeing them first and
foremost as sexual objects. A staggering US $57 billion worldwide is generated by
pornography.  This is more than the combined revenues of all U.S. professional football,
baseball and basketball franchises and exceeds the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and
NBC television stations. The pernicious consequences of such sexual degradation are
well known. In the United States alone, one of out every three women has been the
victim of physical and sexual abuse, and a woman is raped every two and a half
     Because women are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, Islam advises them to
take their protection into their own hands:
“[T]hey should pull down upon them their outer cloaks from their heads over their faces.
That is more likely that they may thus be recognized and not molested. And Allah is Most
Forgiving, Merciful.” (33:60)

Thus, hijab is a physically manifested barrier to unwarranted harassment. It is not a
disgrace or a hindrance for a woman; on the contrary, it honors her and frees her from the
bondage of society and the obstacles that prevent her intellectual, moral, and spiritual
advancement. Indeed, by electing to safeguard herself and her virtues, a woman protects
society from social evils such as adultery, spread of disease, children born out of
wedlock, rape, and divorce.
     A woman does not have to rely on her physical beauty or dress in order to
contribute to society. Her character defines the peace, prosperity, and progress of a
nation. This is why the Prophet of Islam emphasized the importance of religious and
worldly education for both men and women; indeed, education is one of the basic
elements of a progressive society. According to Islam, women have the power to
eliminate suffering wherever they tread, and the liberating force of hijab makes them the
architects of the fate of future generations. Indeed, the true Muslim woman is neither the
exploited woman of the West nor the stymied woman in totalitarian Arab regimes.
     Mr. Straw also neglects the fact that Islam itself safeguards against a harsh and
irrational application of hijab. There is no law in Islam that punishes a woma n from not
abiding by hijab. Hijab’s fundamental aim is to protect a Muslim woman and to provide
her greater liberty to participate in society. Where hijab fails to achieve this aim, Islam
allows for relaxation of the requirement. 

3. Hijab’s Integrative Role
     Finally, Mr. Straw wrongly assumes that prohibiting hijab will somehow improve
integration and social cohesion.
     Other nations have attempted to improve integration by banning the veil. France
outlawed headscarves in public schools. Turkey outlawed the wearing of the veil in
public places. By most assessments, such efforts at “integration” have had little
success. In France, for example, recent rioting is a clear indic ator that Muslims
continue to feel alienated and disaffected. The reason is obvious. The veil has nothing
to do with integration. The real barriers to integration are poverty and unemployment.
For example, in the United Kingdom two-thirds of children of families of Pakistani and
Bangladeshi origin are growing up in poverty.  More than 20 percent of all Muslim
youths between 16 and 24 are unemployed. Muslim women practicing hijab have
nothing to do with these sobering statistics.
     Moreover, at a micro level, hijab does not prevent communication. Technological
advances have made it easier for society to communicate virtually without “face-to-face”
dialogue. The face has never been the only essential tool for effective communications.
Prime Minister Blair can be effective communicating to the British public over the radio
just as he can in person. A Muslim woman can be effective communicating with others
even with her face covered. Quite obviously, it is the substance of what is said that
counts more than the appearance of who said it.
     In addition, efforts at integration should not come at the expense of restricting the
fundamental human right of religious freedom. Essential to successful integration in a
democratic society is the enmeshing of divergent religious cultures and traditions.
Forcing a Muslim woman to “unveil” is thus a self-defeating measure. Not only does
such a measure violate a Muslim woman’s fundamental human right, it also prevents
Western society from understanding, and perhaps even integrating, Islamic traditions.

At their core, Mr. Straw’s remarks concerning hijab in Islam reflect an entirely
flawed and ultimately dangerous understanding of true Islamic teachings. Mr. Straw
wrongly assume s that hijab is foreign to the West, inhibits the freedom and equality of
Muslim women, and thwarts the integration of Muslims in Western society. In actuality,
hijab has deep roots and ensures true freedom and equality for women. Moreover, far
from thwarting efforts at integration in Western society, hijab can potentially benefit
Western society.

No comments:

Post a Comment