Wednesday, July 7

Burqas, Islam & You

I recently had a stimulating discussion with a Twitter friend (@Frezzi) about the proposed ban of niqabs in France which eventuated into a discussion about Western values versus Islamic values.

I must stress that the following passages are only an opinion.
What does the burqa symbolise? Is the "this is oppressive" argument made by the West only a coincidence? The pioneers of restricting Islamic garments are in fact Islamic countries: in Tunisia's case, the country as a whole; in Turkey's case, in schools and government buildings. These decisions were obviously made from a Muslim's point of view and were by no means perpetuated by Western values and beliefs.
The burqa, the word originating from "to patch up", is traditionally comprised of a jilbab, a hijab and sometimes a niqab.
  • Jilbab - covers the entire body except the face, hands and head
  • Hijab - meaning curtain, covers the head, symbolises morality and modesty
  • Niqab - meaning mask, covers the face leaving a rectangular slit for the eyes
The justification for these garments is in the Qur'an:
O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters, and the women of
the faithful, to draw their wraps over them. They will thus
be recognised and no harm will come to them.
God is forgiving and kind.
Qur'an 33:59
So why has Tunisia and Turkey restricted the wearing of religious garments? In these countries there is a political stigma attached to the garments, not oppression and gender segregation. The Tunisian government have specifically described Islamic garments as a "garment of foreign origin having a partisan connotation". Turkey, a secular country, has lifted the ban on universities because of the policy's growing unpopularity but naturally secularists have not welcomed the change. 99% of Turkey is Muslim.
The wearing of hijabs in Bangladesh and Morocco is discouraged. On the other hand, wearing hijabs and similar head-scarves are a status symbol and fashionable accessory in Indonesia and Egypt. Interestingly, some Indonesian girls also wear the hijab to detract unwanted male attention from themselves and ultimately prevent molestation. In Iran, it is necessary for women to cover themselves according to the Qur'an but wearing a niqab or hijab are not obligatory.
With the rise of immigration, Western countries, especially Western Europe, are facing issues of ethnic diversity accompanied by "refused assimilation". Border-racist policies and suggestions have arisen as a result of Islam's growing presence in the Western World. Geert Wilders suggested deporting all Muslims from the Netherlands and banning them from entering the country. Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly announced that burqas are "not welcome" in France, comparatively mild in comparison to Wilder's proposal. Marino Keulen of Belgium is pushing for burqas to be banned from agreeing municipalities. What is the West's rationale behind these bans? Security, gender equality and cultural assimilation. In other words, fear and differing philosophical and theological opinions on identity.
Nearly a quarter of the world, 1.5 billion people, are Muslim. According to bell curves and the general difference between humans there is undoubtedly a large range of Muslims that can be arranged on a spectrum. A tiny, tiny bit voluntarily wear burqas and other Islamic garments, an even tinier portion are forced to wear them. If we ban burqas we are denying a freedom of expression, not freeing women from oppression. If you want to set people free, why don't we increase our fight against racism or countries that still use slavery? Banning garments that hold moral values will ban the freedom to express one's moral values.

10 comments:

Nori said...

I am impressed! You are absolutely right!!!!!!!!

Randolf said...

Thanks Norman! The fact you say that means a lot, especially since you're a practicing Muslim.

AbsitOman said...

Choice is well and good, but I just hope that one day, no woman feels like she *has* to wear one of these garments to be considered modest or proper!

Randolf said...

I understand your point of view, AbsitOman. It is a male issue if the female complies only to detract male attention, however patriarchal connotations are slowly becoming moot. The West is probably creating this influence of redundancy upon Muslims in Western countries, so it's likely more of a choice in the West. Thanks for reading.

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