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July 02, 2009

Should the Burqa be Banned?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The issue of the burqa (or the niqab) is one that I've struggled with because it forces us to choose between competing goods. It cuts to fundamental questions of the limits of tolerance and free speech. Mona Eltahawy is a courageous advocate for women's equality and I enjoy her columns a great deal, but I find her most recent piece for the New York Times somewhat perplexity. She advocates a burqa ban because the burqa violates women's rights. I agree with almost everything she says regarding the burqa, that it, in effect, "erases women from society." Agreed. As an American-Muslim, it both bothers and offends me to see women in major American cities with only their eyes showing. The niqab is an affront to the values I grew up with, but, then again, so are so many other things. I do not enjoy the right to not be offended.

Eltahawy also references Soad Saleh, an Islamic law professor who says that the burqa has "nothing to do with Islam" and is, rather, a cultural tradition. Again, I fully agree.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy said recently, "The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory.” Again, I agree with the first sentence but I'm not sure how the second sentence follows from the first. You cannot justify a ban on something simply by saying that it is a sign of the submission of women. There have to be legal and/or constitutional grounds for implementing such a ban, and, in this case, such grounds do not appear to exist. You could presumably institute or execute laws that prevent men from forcing their wives to do things against their will, but if the burqa is something some women choose to do voluntarily then such injunctions would not be germane.

What is interesting, and rather puzzling, about Eltahawy's article is that it does not attempt to make any real argument for banning the burqa, even though is presumably the intent of her piece. The idea that we can or should ban things we don't agree with is dangerous because it can easily be applied - as it often is - in reverse situations. For example, there have been attempts in Muslim-majority countries to silence minority opinions on the exact same grounds - that a form of expression must be banned because it is an affront to a certain set of norms and values that the majority holds dear.

On such grounds, anything that hints of criticism of Islam in Muslim-majority countries, even those that are supposedly secular, can be made punishable by law. Scholars and commentators have been charged with apostasy and, in some extreme cases, forced into exile for supposedly undermining the Islamic faith (see for instance the case of Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd). The reasoning here operates in parallel to Eltahawy's: Voluntary expressions of speech or faith must be restricted because they come into conflict with societal perceptions of what is "right." It sets a dangerous precedent, then, to go down this path, whether in the name of one set of ideals or another - even if we are convinced, as may very well be, that the one set of ideals is better than the other.

That said, I am more than willing to be convinced that there are indeed reasonable legal and constitutional grounds for banning the niqab, but I have trouble seeing how those might take precedence over the higher principle and constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech and expression.


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French President Nicholas Sarkozy said recently, "The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women.

So are slave collars. But I have a feeling that if someone wants to wear one on the streets of Paris, most of the oh-so-sexually-liberated French would not object.

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Why I wear a Hijab ?
By Raseena Sherif
I was asked by a friend about why I wear a hijab. This is my answer.

You asked me ages ago why I wore the hijab. It was always somewhere in my mind - not necessarily always the back - that I should reply and I finally decided I wouldn’t put off your reply any longer, and therefore you shall have it.

Having grown up in a practising Muslim household, many things were just handed over to me. And having studied in an Islamic school all my life, consequently having an entirely Muslim circle of friends, I never questioned them. That was the way things were done in my little world, and it was therefore the way I did things too. The hijab was one of them. I grew up in it. Physically and also mentally. I think the question, or at least the one with the more interesting answer, is why I continue to wear the hijab even after having spent more than three years now, in Christian colleges, and with a friend circle that is largely non- Muslim.

There are many things I found in the hijab as I grew up. Things as varied as the convenience of not having to spend considerable amount of worry and time on my wardrobe and outside appearance, to philosophical, spiritual, and you might be surprised to hear this, but even feminist concepts that I feel proud to stand up for and show my belief in.

In wearing a hijab, a woman is identified by the things she does and the things she stands for, rather than her looks. Even as a woman, there are times when I have found myself identifying another woman by her looks, where I might ask “Oh, the one with the long hair?” In underplaying my looks, I force others to look for more in me.

My hijab saves me a lot of the time, effort, thought and worry that would otherwise go into my dress, my hair, my skin and my make up. I think it’s a pity that while theoretically looks aren’t supposed to matter, one must spend so much time and money on them. With the hijab, looking good means looking neat and the best part is that I get to stop where others begin.

As a teenager, I have seen girls go to large extents to look attractive to men. I have heard of an entire class getting their mums to pay for breast implant surgeries as graduation gifts. I have heard of girls hanging themselves because they weren’t invited to a prom. I think it is so demeaning to believe that your worth lies in the admiration of the opposite sex. I think you insult yourself by preening in front of them. People say the hijab is oppressing. I think being compelled, by society, or even worse, by your own mind, to confirm to external standards of beauty is oppression. Mental oppression. In the hijab, I find dignity and freedom.

Corporate circles are aware of power dressing concepts and how women feel that if they dress in certain ways, then they gain power and confidence. Does this mean that there are women out there who are learning that the way they look can earn them power? I guess in their ideology, we in the hijab are powerless. Maybe in the corporate world, the way you dress does give you power – I’m not arguing with the idea. I just don’t want to think of what happens to the self esteem of the people who believe in this theory when they grow old, or lose their beauty.

And honestly, look at the larger picture. In society, the more women are expected to look that way at work, the higher becomes the man’s standards of beauty for women. The more dissatisfied he becomes with “ordinary” women. I think dissatisfaction is where it all starts from – look at the number of broken relationships, broken people, broken homes! I hate to think we are breeding a collective idea in the minds of both men and women about what a “modern day” , “powerful”, “influential” woman is “supposed” to dress like, and subsequently, look like. Why power dressing? Whatever happened to the power of goodness, the power of ability? Isn’t society supposed to run on the power of love?

People say the hijab is “backward”. So I’m guessing I can find forward in the opposite. Hmm. In which industry does the focus lie on beauty, on desire and exposure? It’s the fashion industry! Starve yourself to get the right look, and once you get it, you can rule the world! If you die in the process, oh, how sad! Enjoy your short period of power, by the way, because tomorrow when you lose that figure of yours, you’re going to be dropped like a hot plate and no one is going to turn around and give you a second look. Personally, I think the hijab is fast forward.

I know someone who doesn’t really like the hijab, but finds it convenient to wear one when she’s traveling by bus. She’s saved the stares and the gropes. People wearing hijab find that men don’t mess with them as much when they’re in one. They’re given a decent amount of space when they’re walking down a side walk.

I can go on about the hijab and what it means to me, or what can be found in it. But the reason I wear it is none of them. In Islam, a person does a thing because her Lord asks her to. And because, she has faith. She believes. She believes in the Infinite Wisdom that the Creator of the universe would have. She believes that what comes from Him can be nothing less than the best. That does not translate to unthinking obedience.

In the Quran, we are repeatedly asked to use our brains, and to think for ourselves – not to evaluate everything God asks of us, but to establish for ourselves that there is only One God, Allah, and that the Quran and all that is in it cannot be from any other source than Him. But once you do come to that belief, as I have done, you also believe in His Infinite Wisdom. You don’t need any other source of advice, or knowledge – you have the Creator of the universe in front of you. To settle for a lower source doesn’t make sense. It results in, not blind obedience but faith. And from that point on, it is a spiritual journey.

We continue from there, trying to please Him by following His various injunctions. If He allows us to see the beauty and the wisdom behind them, that’s great. But those reasons do not then become the primary reasons for following those injunctions. The reason for doing what we do remains to please Him. And we feel good about pleasing Him, for we know that He is not a whimsical Lord. What pleases Him is what is good for humanity. Sometimes in so many more ways than we realize. In so many ways that it surprises us when we find another. And because we believe in accountability. That is the reason I wear the hijab.

Looking back now, at how I began to wear the hijab, I’m glad I did start the way I did. In spite of the fact that I prefer to find things out for myself, and hate taking things for granted, or doing things without really believing them. Because having started the way I did, to me, the hijab was always just another type of clothing.

I think about the kind of stereotypes people have about hijabs, and women who wear them, and I know that if I were left to discover the hijab for myself, it would have been tough for me to go beyond those stereotypes, to go back on all that I grew up hearing, seeing and believing, and to allow myself to actually see the hijab for what it is and its beauty. Having grown up wearing it, in a society that didn’t jump to conclusions about me because I did, or look at me like I was weird, I have always felt comfortable in it, and never thought of myself as any different from the rest. It was just my way of dressing. And with the stage for objective evaluation of that type of dressing set, I have come to love that way of dressing above others.

On the other hand, I know there are those that hate the hijab they wear. I feel bad for them – for the fact that they are forced to do something they don’t even understand, and the fact that they haven’t understood something so beautiful. However, I think the saddest part is that they are losing out on both the happiness they might have found in dressing the way they would have liked to, and the happiness they could have found in pleasing their Creator. It’s always our intentions that are considered and if you’re doing something only because you’re forced to, it doesn’t count. You might as well enjoy yourself living life the way you want to. And then if you are fortunate enough to find God for yourself, I think you are really lucky.

In fact, I feel bad for all those Islamic ideologies that are reduced to meaningless customs and traditions, and the joke that they have been allowed to become in the minds of people. Anyway, I won’t start on that or I shall go on for a couple more pages. I just want to ask you to make a distinction between actual Islamic ideology and the actions that one sees from some people born into Muslim households – especially the kind I heard you grew up with.

In the hijab, honestly, I feel blessed.

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As a Muslim Lady, I want to say certain things:
There are lots of misconceptions about MUSLIM WOMEN in West, let me make things clear:

1. Western media needs to do survey of Muslim countries to find out real picture, it shouldn't be Biased.
2. Read Chapter NISA(Women) from holy Quran, it speaks about Women Rights, to Property, Education, Work, Liberty and freedom of thought and speech.
3. 50% of Business in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is headed by Muslim Women, Read Arab News.
4. There was no Women American President, but Muslim countries had Female leaders like Benazir Bhutto, Khalida zia, sheik Haseena, Megawati Sukhano putri of Indonesia
5. TALIBAN and ALQUIDA don't represent Islam, there are the monsters created by USA(CIA) Pakistan to counter communism and Soviet block.
6. Through out Islamic History there were great Muslim female leaders like Razia sultana, Ayeaha, MAriyam, Khadeeja, Fatima, Juveriya etc
7. Islam doesn't restrict female from driving Cars, Saudi Law does, in Islamic history Female warriors rode horses and waged wars.
8. BURQA is no sign of slavery, but sign of Protectiona nd Modesty.

Thank you very much. I am wonderring if I can share your article in the bookmarks of society,Then more friends can talk about this problem.

Ban the Burqa and ban the cloistering of nuns.
In France that should work.

If muslim women are so beaten down by their religion and culture that they WANT to wear that crap let them. Modesty is covering your boobs not your hair.

It's oppression. I see Pentacostal couples and I want to ask the husband, "does your preacher tell you what to wear?"

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