By: Ferrukh Faruqui
Exceptional piece and it is indeed gripping. You have captured the imagination Thanks for writing this. Insha Allah I will be posting this to World Muslim Congress group as well as share it with Muslim women groups.
The Hijab ought to be a free choice, to wear or not to wear should not be compelled either religiously or socially or by the men in the family. Iran and Turkey’s two extremes serve as a good guide line to follow a middle path, the path of choice. The verse no compulsion is quite extensive and all encompassing in every aspect of life.
Rightfully, one's modesty is reflective in one’s heart, in one’s gaze and in one’s conversation. Indeed, this Hijab thing has caught on in the last 15 years. It is more like a fashion statement to Hijab, or it may give a false sense of superiority. Once one claims superior, the spirituality goes out of the door. Arrogance and Spirituality are indeed inversly proportional, greater the spirituality, lower the arrogance and vice versa.
We are striving as well to debunk the notion that Islam is a monolithic faith. You have expressed it very well.
The girl not responding to your Salaam, may not have to do with religion, I have encountered similar situations some twenty five years ago here in Dallas – when only a few of us were around. Any one who looked South Asian, we tended to greet them and they would quickly pretend they did not see me. In the grocery stores they will go hide in the isles until I am out of the check out. Incidentally, the word is South for the people you were describing and not South East Asian – and I don’t know what West Indian means – unless to mean Caribbean Indians.
Islam is simple and we need to keep it that way.
To Veil or Not to Veil
By: Ferrukh Faruqui
Quick, what do the words "Muslim woman" bring to mind? Is it the austere beautyof a face untouched by make-up, framed by a sober headscarf? What about thefresh-faced girl celebrating the end of exams over coffee with her friends,their shining hair swinging free? Could she be a swimsuit-clad mother frolickingwith her family on a sunlit beach or a hijab-wearing high-school senior poundingdown a basketball court, dribbling as she goes?
Can we envision all of these images or only one? Some may argue that women inIslam are homogeneous in thought, action and appearance; witness a recentMaclean's Magazine cover depicting an ominous array of black-garbed,stereotypically angry Muslim women – an image as frightening as it is false.
The truth is that Muslim women come in all shapes, sizes and colors, with allsorts of perspectives on Islam, the world and their place in it. Some areoutspoken and vocal, while others are more retiring. Some veil and others donot. And that's okay.
Another often overlooked truth is that hijab is actually a minor issue, bothwithin the teachings of the faith and as we go about our daily lives. But as theMuslim world intersects with western (particularly North American) society, theveil has by virtue of its very visible and prominent presence become fraughtwith layers of meaning. It can be a symbol of menace to uneasy westernerswondering if hatred festers within the heart of the young woman poring over herbooks in the university library. To the civil libertarian genuinely concernedabout the status of eastern woman, it may be proof of the downtrodden Muslimfemale, subject to the whim of her menfolk. Some women choose to retreat into acomforting anonymity (especially the very few who choose to wear the niquab, orface veil) while others boldly don the hijab in an attempt to proclaim theiridentity, autonomy and ideology.For these women, the hijab is a testament totheir faith.
For others in post-revolutionaryIran and those languishing under the rule of the unschooled Taliban, an equallymomentous and arguably more dangerous act would be to fling off the chafingrestrictions of the chador. And certainly the veil in any of its manifestationsis as susceptible as any other overt religious symbol to being hijacked forpolitical gain.
Among the oft-cited reasons to wear the hijab – an opaque covering that hidesthe hair and neck – is to preserve a sense of modesty and a desire to be freefrom the leering gaze of the male.
An infinitesimally few go further and cover their faces. The niquab is mostoften seen in the poorer, usually rural regions of a very traditionalpatriarchal society where women are generally absent from the public sphere.Invisible shadowy figures all, they are often burdened too with the guardianshipof family honor (notwithstanding the possible illicit relationships of theirmale relatives).
This bleak picture is in contrast to the heady world of seventh-century Arabiaas the new religion of Islam became established under the stewardship of theprophet Muhammed (peace be upon him).This beloved spiritual leader was also theadministrator of a nascent Muslim state where unveiled women participated fullyin public life, attending the mosque not only for congregational prayers butalso to engage in discussion and debate the sociopolitical concerns of the day.No one questioned his or her modesty.
Islam eschews monasticism. We (men and women both) live in and are of thisworld and are exhorted to strive to reach our full potential in all fields ofhuman endeavor, be they intellectual or spiritual. We must accept ourresponsibility to become fully contributing members of our society, be thatsociety in Copenhagen or Khartoum or Odessa or Ottawa . The face veil may beimpractical in this regard. In any meaningful human discourse, we rely onnonverbal, often facial cues to direct and enhance communication. Especially inour pluralistic society, it is incumbent that we be mindful of the sensibilitiesof our non-Muslim neighbors and avoid erecting an unnecessary barrier tounderstanding.
Taking up the hijab can be a potent form of protest in places like France andTurkey where the state has unwisely proscribed its wear. In 1926 Iran , Reza Shah's minions forcibly removed the hijab from outraged women in the streets.But in 1979, following his triumphant return from years of exile in France , theAyatollah Khomeini decreed the return of the chador as if insensate womankindmust meekly accept whatever the mullahs pronounce.
What those mullahs, the state and often the press (both western and eastern)conveniently ignore is that, just as there is no compulsion in religion, therecan be no single edict on the topic that carries weight with all. Women's bodieshave again become a convenient battleground on which to wage ideologicalbattles, and not so incidentally to control those same women as well.
Cynical men on both sides of the divide attempt to manipulate the naïve woman:the deeply conservative to erase her from being, and the misogynistic fashiondesigner to create fantastically impractical, blatantly sexual outfits of dressthat few women would choose to wear. It's always our choice, though, to rejectthe ridiculous, whether it emanates from Parisian runways or the autocraticedicts of a self-styled mullah.
When I was a child growing up in Winnipeg , my siblings and I were the onlyMuslims in school. It felt a bit odd, but it was the only reality we knew. Noone seemed threatened by us; they were more bemused by our dark exoticism amongthe milky complexions of our Caucasian classmates.
Later, the Muslim presence in Canada grew and was reflected accordingly in ourprairie town. We attended Muslim summer camp, built a mosque and evolved as acommunity. During this time, I never heard the word "hijab."
Sure, we covered our heads when we recited the Qur'an and performed salaat, theritual prayer. No one scolded me or gasped if an errant hair escaped my gauzydupatta. No man succumbed to his baser desires as we wandered freely through theprayer hall attending lectures and day camps. We weren't relegated to a "women'sonly" entrance or space. We couldn't be; we belonged where we were.It was ahalcyon time.
Because the first Winnipeg mosque served as the only Islamic center of worshipin that vast unpeopled province, we were a multi-ethnic group. The majority ofus were immigrants from Southeast Asia, mostly Pakistan , with a smattering ofArabs from the Levant , some Bosnians, and some West Indians. A few of the Arabwomen, by no means all, covered their hair. None of the others did. It wasn't anissue.
However, things began to change. Political events beyond my ken at the timestirred the global ummah. Their ramifications reached even placid Winnipeg ,dozing on its prairie. Some younger Muslim girls were beginning to wear thehijab. It didn't affect me particularly, believing as I did that the decision tocover is a deeply personal one, an outward display of inner faith.
But when conditions begin to change, they very often continue to change andthat very quickly indeed. The previously tolerant atmosphere seemed to darken.Some hijabi women seemed to feel that theirs was a superior Islam, that wenonhijabis were floundering in stormy waters, were not quite as enlightened asthey were, and were perhaps even destined for hell. One particular incidentremains etched in my memory. Strolling down a wing of the local mall, I happenedupon a recent acquaintance sidling past me. "Assalaamu alaikum," I called,thinking she hadn't seen me. She glanced briefly toward me before continuing onher way. Discourtesy is always discomfiting, but this encounter was moretroubling than most. Upon mentioning the episode to a mutual friend, she noddedsagely, quite unperturbed. "You see, Ferrukh, she didn't say salaam to youbecause you don't wear hijab."
The matter-of-factness of this explanation was as stunning as it wasspurious, and silenced me temporarily. It did, however, force me to confrontsome hard truths about intolerance and to articulate to myself my own belief inan inclusive, loving faith.
There's nothing complicated about Islam. At its core is a belief in tawheed– the oneness of Allah and the acceptance of Muhammed, peace be upon him, as Hislast prophet. Its precepts are simple too: to be kind to each other, to keepfrom wrongdoing, to try to do the right thing. Surely then, common courtesytrumps any notion of a false superiority based on a questionable interpretationof the expression of feminine modesty. Would this girl be so churlish, I wonder,as to refuse to respond to the cheery "good morning" of a colleague or aclassmate?
Some time later, the same mutual friend confided to me earnestly: "You know,Ferrukh, just because I wear hijab doesn't mean that I'm better than you are."Gazing back at her with equal gravity, I responded quietly: "I never thought youwere." Dumbfounded, she stared at me until we both burst into laughter. Therelief of returning to the common plane of human fallibility from the rarefiedrealm of religious exertion freed us both from the invisible fence that aseemingly innocuous length of cloth had built between us. True modesty residesin the heart and is expressed in every word and glance and gesture. Its sistervirtue is humility. The truly faithful shun spiritual arrogance. Pride in ourown piety has no place in Islam.
Nor has unreasoning compliance with glib pronouncements uttered by complacent,usually unlettered authoritarians of both genders.
A multitude of women, a spectrum of opinion and a diversity of thought, allunited under the banner of Islam; this is Muslim womanhood. Bestowed withintelligence by our Creator, Whose first command to us was "Iqra!" ("Read!"),wecontemplate the Qur'an and find wisdom there. We look to the ever more complexworld around us and ponder the concerns that collectively weigh on us. Everstriving to find our place in North America, as Muslims and as equal citizens,we will raise our voices to confront the dangers that threaten us all – the lossof rationality to fear, of civilization to chaos – while resolutely marching tomeet a future in which the acknowledgment of our common humanity willInsha'Allah bring us to peace.
Comments added by Mike Ghouse on 2/17/07
Learning is a life long work, and all of us are engaged in it.
First of all, Qur’aan is a book of guidance and not a law book, and guidance implies freedom and discretion.
Apparently discretion was used when Hazrat Aisha (RA) covered her face in the example given below.
This debate was suppressed for centuries, as the arrogance of the keepers of knowledge did not allow any thinking. If you have to go to China to learn, did not mean much to the keepers, what they knew is all there is to know. One of the messages of Islam was to free individuals from the clutches of clergy.
Thanks to Allah, we are getting our freedom now, we are able to question and learn. However, we always need to seek guidance from the learned as an additional effort and part of checks and balances. We have to have the freedom. As long as we are within the core beliefs, we are fine.
Belief in one creator, belief in the Day of Judgment as our behavior in our life hinges on it, belief in Muhammad (pbuh) as he is the one who showed us the way, belief in justice and truthfulness as that fulfills God's vision of a society of equilibrium. (Qur'an, Al- Hujurat, Surah 49:13: O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Allah is Knower and is Aware).
Ritual mechanisms like Salat, fasting, Hajj and Zakat were part of the equation to put us on the right path.
One such ritual recommendation is Hijab or Modesty. Modesty is one’s heart, it is in one’s attitudes and it is a two way street. Modesty is for both men and women. In matters of faith, when Allah tells us that there is to be no compulsion in deen, then there ought not to be any compulsion on women to wear Hijab.
Modesty is given, all normal people, both men and women wear modest clothes. Most Muslim men and women are faithful to each other and most of the societies we live in “democratic or otherwise, care for the safety of the un-safe. The material form of Hijab that is used “from a shuttle cock Burqa to just a piece of cloth over the head ought not to be imposed on any one. Let it be a woman’s choice.
“No compulsion” is not selective, it is universal in application. No compulsion can even mean asking one if they are fasting in Ramadan, as it amounts to flaunting one’s own fasting and making it embarrassing to the other. You fast, because you are fulfilling an obligation, but do not compel others even subtly. It is between them and their God; ultimately, they are the one’s to account for. Not you and I.
Islam is about freedom and not compulsion.
No one should be a control freak, and we should not allow any one to compel us to do what he or she wishes. That is the reason we do not have a pope, we have the freedom to follow the guidance of Qur’aan. Following the deen is individual’s own responsibility as and how we live in the society becomes a communal responsibility. That is why we have to learn about each other (within our group and outside our group) , and know each other so we can figure out a peaceful way of co-existence
Jazak Allah Khair