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A ‘Veiled’ Threat

May 3, 2010

The threat is from both sides. From those who insist on living by tradition and those who believe that such religious orthodoxy is unacceptable in today’s world. It is also perhaps a clash of civilizations. The Occident and the Orient are different and that is amplified by the recent decision of the lower court of the Belgium parliament. I am talking about the ban on burqa or nikab or hijab passed as law by the Belgium government. The Muslims of Europe are feeling threatened while the majority Caucasian population has welcomed the move. Muslims of Europe feel that what has been started by Belgium will be taken forward by France and slowly the whole of Europe might impose a ban on the burqa or hijab that Muslim women wear.

To those uninitiated (and that may not many in today’s shrinking world) a burqa or a hijab is a veil that Muslim women wear to cover their faces. An extension of this is the attire that covers the women from head to foot in a tent like contraption. It is believed that this is to maintain the dignity of the women. This attire is mandatory in all Muslim countries and women are frowned upon if they go out in public without the hijab. It is a medieval practice that has continued to this day. Those were insecure times and women were seen as a booty that men won in wars and conflagrations. What started off as an attempt to secure the modesty of women has in today’s world become a symbol of a faith!

There are Muslims who insist that there is no mention of women having to wear a burqa or a hijab in the holy Quran. They say that they do not go by the Hadith and if one were to go by the Holy Book alone there is no mention of the burqa anywhere in the Quran. Others say that this is not entirely true and that there is an oblique reference to the veil for women in the Quran. Be as it may, the religious stand on the burqa is not very clear.

The important thing is – what do the Muslim women think about the burqa? There are some who have welcomed the ban, but the majority of women say out aloud in public that they wear the burqa out of choice and not out of compulsion. Such women insist that women should have the freedom to choose their way of life and that includes the dress they wear. They cannot understand as to why the dress they wear should be a problem for anyone. If they want to cover themselves from head to foot in a black cloth then it is again their choice. I have a feeling that orthodox elements in Islamic community encourage women to insist in public that they wear the burqa out of choice and not out of compulsion. I have seen Muslim women just throw the veil or burqa with contempt and relief once they enter the precincts of their house. It is like a burden of their backs – literally. It intrigues me when I hear women proclaiming that they wear the burqa for the love of it.

The male counterparts have a different reason. One of course is orthodoxy. They want to follow the tradition and stand out as devout Muslims. Second, perhaps is their sense of insecurity and an attempt at avoiding chances of having to fight off any possible threat to their fiefdom from other males that is their women. And thirdly, and this is possibly the most unacknowledged is the concept of pardanasheen (behind the veil). It is believed that women retain their beauty if they are pardanasheen or behind the veil. They believe that the more people look at their wives or spouses their beauty diminishes and for the women, it is important that their face and their self is only for their man and no one else. In a way, this is a way for the woman to show her love for her man. One may call this primitive, but for some women this can be a way of life.

Then there are health issues. Women find it difficult to see through the veil and many have poor eyesight. They cannot exercise out in the open and are confined within the four walls of their house.  This is also a very real problem.

The above may all be true but perhaps in today’s modern times more than the above mentioned factors is the political reason.  The Muslims have this insatiable urge of wanting to assert their separate identity. They want to show that they are different and therefore a ‘devout’ Muslim must have special attire with a flowing beard and a pyjama-kurta wearing a skull cap. Their women must also have distinct attire – the hijab. The Muslims want to assert their distinctness and this is more of a political assertion as it is a social one. The concept of Dar –ur Harb and Dar-ul Islam plays into this and this is the most disturbing part. The Muslims by insisting on a separate identity and refusing to follow the norms of the host society are making a political statement and not a religious one. They refuse to amalgamate into the host society and that is why they are in constant conflict with all and sundry. One would expect them to try and be a part of the landscape, instead they feel that their identity will be lost if they become ‘one of them’. In today’s world, this is most unacceptable.

This insistence on a separate identity is what threatens the western society. It is true that others also follow their traditions but they are amenable to change and are not entirely inflexible. The obduracy of the Muslims when they go to a foreign land in following their own way of life makes the westerners uncomfortable and they cannot understand why a people should refuse to change even a bit. The local way of life must be respected and such insistence and ghetto mentality is detrimental to relations of the Muslim community with the rest of the world. This unending conflict between Islam and the rest of the world starts from such supposedly innocuous gestures. One cannot live in the twelfth century forever.

The recent terror attacks around the world have also thrown up security issues and the veil is therefore a threat to the security of communities. One cannot know who is behind the veil. Men are known to have worn the burqa to escape detection and indulge in violence. Security issues are put forward as the reason for banning the burqa or the veil.

The threat is on both the sides. While the west and the rest of the world feel threatened by the burqa or the veil for social, security and political reasons, the Muslim community feels that such bans are a threat to their way of life and their identity. A dispassionate view needs to be taken and it will be fair to say that in the twenty first century, women behind a burqa or a veil just do not gel with times.

Update 12.05.2010: There has been a fatwa issued by Darul Uloom Deoband forbidding women to work in offices where there are men and to wear a veil even at work place. NewKerela.com has reported the fatwa as follows:

Maulana Saidur Rahman Azmi Nadwai, principal of Nadwatul Ulema, talking to newsmen about the fatwa here today said the women of the community should not mix with their male counterparts in the office as per the Shariat.

” In Shariat, there is a clear cut direction that women should wear veil in the office and should not mix with the male colleagues,” he added.

There has also been an edict that a family should not live off a women’s earnings. This is a clear attempt at ensuring subjugation of women under the males of the family. There is a section of women that is absolutely incensed at the ruling and decree that is this fatwa.

Update 15.05.2010: Darul Uloom Deoband has now issued a fatwa calling purchase of insurance as haraam – un-Islamic. Their contention is that insurance is based on earning interest and gambling!!! The ‘interest’ part is understandable, but that insurance is based on ‘gambling’ baffles one. What next?

Update 18.05.2010: Next is that celebrating birthdays is un-Islamic!!!! This is a Jewish and a Christian tradition and haraam in Islam, according to Darul Uloom Deoband!!!

Update 14.07.2010: After Belgium, France has banned the full veil. The BBC has reported the development as follows:

France’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public. There were 335 votes for the bill and only one against in the 557-seat National Assembly. It must now be ratified by the Senate in September to become law.

The ban has strong public support but critics point out that only a tiny minority of French Muslims wear the full veil.

It seems that France will not be the last country to ban the burka, other European nations will follow. Lines are clearly drawn. The argument is that in France people need to follow the French way of life. Like it is expected for women of any faith to wear a veil in Saudi Arabia, similarly, in France any such covering is unacceptable. The other reason is because of security issues.

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