‘Just a piece of cloth?’
By Nadia Hussain, IACN News Editor
At a time when Islam, terrorists, fundamentalists, suicide bombers are in the headlines day and night, the veil (or hijab as it is known) is under attack once again. The concept of hijab and its accompanying feelings amongst the western world as a symbol of Muslim women’s subjugation and oppression by Muslim men is nothing new. But what is it about the hijab that it has spurred such attention and often heated debate, some of which we are presently witnessing with France, a ‘democratic’ and ‘free’ society in its attempts to ban this very hijab from the public domain. In their concern for the Muslim woman, the hijab is being forcefully banned in schools because it symbolises a ‘sort of aggression’, but aggressive to whom?
The western world has always attacked Islam and its adherents as being barbaric and backwards in its treatment to women, restricting liberty, equality and democracy, giving the impression that Islam is alien to these concepts. The hostility shown to the practice of hijab has been at the forefront of the battles. Needless to say that these ideas are pushed by ignorant politicians in their aims to legitimise policies that secure western hegemony over the Muslims and their lands.
Popular western culture, influenced heavily by the media that serves to strengthen negative stereotypes, is that Muslim women are compelled to wear the hijab by their fanatical men folk. These notions definitely need to be challenged by those of us living and working side by side the non-Muslims in the west.
It is unfortunate that most of the population relies on the television for their information and when the media’s sole aim is to defame and make a mockery of Islam, is it any wonder that those around us who know very little about Islam will be hesitant and keep their distance from us. All they know is that Muslims are violent and kill innocent people. A Muslim woman clad in hijab or a Muslim man with a full grown beard must be some extremist, part of some terrorist organisation , who’s probably a walking bomb, ready to explode!. This is truly sad. It is these sorts of anti-Islamic sentiments that lead some to commit acts to the extent of murder, of innocent Muslims especially of women in hijab. It is a shame that France has taken the stance that it has in order for secularism to prevail; some may say a religion in itself making Chirac the biggest extremist of all. What a shame that a country that is supposedly ‘democratic’ is denying its citizens the freedom to religious expression, an infringement of basic human rights.
Chirac wants to get rid of ‘all religious symbols’ from society. The hijab is not a symbol like say the cross in Christianity. It is a commandment of Allah (Most High), hence an obligation on all consenting Muslim females as established by the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and unanimously agreed upon by Muslim scholars.
Hijab is one the greatest assets of a Muslim woman. It is a tangible and silent expression of ones faith that says ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the servant and messenger of Allah’.
Orientalists have viewed the wearing of hijab as an obstacle to ‘modernity’ and progress of a nation. Supposedly that means women, where they are walking around scantily dressed, is coined progression. Sexual crime reaching heights unparalleled in history and teenage girls committing suicide because they want to look ‘good’ is probably evidence for that.
Wearing the hijab symbolises purity, modesty and is an empowering tool to the resistance of capitalist cultures that dictate that a woman must look a certain way, dress a certain way and talk a certain way. Pity, for those who simply cannot reach the required standards, detrimental mental and physical well being is almost inevitable.
Hijab elevates a person considering their worth, not on their physical appearance but to their pious deeds. It gives a woman dignity and respect as a person and not as a ‘sex object’.
The hijab is certainly not a hindrance to a woman’s progress and involvement in wider sphere of life. The Quran and lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is evidence to demonstrate that women played a huge part in community affairs and were actively engaged outside the home in various fields, be it trade, medicine, scholarships and even on the battle field. It is the hijab that gives a woman the protection to do these things without the fear of being molested or taken advantage of. Its is interesting to not that it is the women born and educated in western institutions that choose to don the hijab, it being the choice of thinking women. It is surprising when non Muslims sometimes ask as to why I wear this in a country where I ‘don’t have to’. They are obviously shocked that it is matter of personal choice and become more open to it once it is explained to them. Yes there are parts of the world where women are forced to do things against their will; however a distinction needs to be made between cultural enactment of Islam and Islam as established by the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
In order for us as a global community to work together, it comes down to having a deeper understanding of each other, opening the lines of communication and engaging in useful dialogue.