Posted by: Winslie Gomez | 25/02/2008

Headscarf: Religion, Politics, Modesty or Culture

Lawmakers in Turkey, a nation that wishes to be part of the European Union by 2012, voted recently to approve a constitutional amendment allowing female students to enter universities wearing Islamic head scarves; a move some Turks see as a threat to the traditional separation of religion and politics.

img thanks to

nuns-by-mybluemuse.jpgIs it strange, that the issue of a Muslim woman´s choice of clothing should have such controversy.

“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) …’ (Qur´an 33:59)

It would appear (from a non-Muslim) point of view that it is acceptable for a Muslim woman to wear clothes that observe three simple rules:

1. Some parts of the body must be covered.

2. The clothing must not describe the shape of the woman´s body i.e. must be loose.

3. The clothing must be thick enough i.e. not see through.

The overall guidance is that she should not attract attention i.e. not be an attention seeking person. It is more about moral character than about morality. This instruction is surely personal empowerment.

I am sure most sensible people would agree with the above guidance offered to a woman. Especially, when you consider that in obese Britain, we have girls who wear skirts, where the straightline length from left to right at the waist, is greater than the length. That is the point, when want to say, “girl, cover-up’ because even a horny male is put off by the sight of such un-aesthetic beauty.

Funny IMG

As a species we are ONE and yet we strive in every way to create the impression of the individual. I love the pursuit of the “individual’. You can see the dichotomy, I´m sure.

Individual – Group, Group – Individual.

The contention here is that, we take on group identity to add emphasis to our individual group because we are striving to find our individual identity. We dress “for the occasion’ so to speak.

No one could possibly disagree with the three point guideline of a Muslim woman´s attire.

If it were just a question of modesty, we would have no problems at all.

You want to cover up head to toe – fine.

You want to let it all hang out – fine.

Well that should be the consensus, however every single nation on this globe has differing laws to define modesty.

For a Muslim, they rely on their scriptures to guide their life.

“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like palms of hands or one eye or both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.’ [An-Nur:31] Quran 24:31

The issue in Turkey, in my (subjective UK) opinion, is specific to that nation and it is practically impossible for us from a UK (and you dear reader, please substitute your own nation) perspective to make a significant comment or appraisal except that we as humans cannot help but view the other from our own subjective point of view.

Here is what the media have to say.

BBC

A strict headscarf ban has been in force in universities since 1997. It was ordered by the secularist military.

The issue is highly controversial in a mainly Muslim country whose secular elite – including the powerful military – sees the headscarf as a symbol of political Islam, the

BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Istanbul says.

The move to ease the ban has been criticised by judges and university officials.

English Al-JAzeera

Secularists say the amendment will usher in a stricter form of Islam in the secular state

They fear lifting the ban would, over time, lead to heavy pressure on uncovered women to wear the Muslim garment.

CBS

The law forbids religious apparel and signs that “conspicuously show” a student’s religious affiliation. Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses would also be banned, but the law is aimed at removing Islamic head scarves from classrooms.

Turkish Daily News

If the headscarf is made a Constitutional rule, some female students will wear it and some will not. This will create, however, a separated class based on religious beliefs.

Whilst our near neighbour France in 2003

France is introducing a ban on the wearing of veils in schools, while in Germany, two states have proposed legislation which would also bar the scarf from educational institutions.

The measure is to take effect with the start of the new school year in September.

In the end the group identity becomes so important that the individual freedom no longer has any value, as in the case of the British dentist. Daily mail to the rescue

A Muslim dentist made a woman wear Islamic dress as the price of accepting her as an NHS patient, it is alleged.

Omer Butt is said to have told the patient that unless she wore a headscarf she would have to find another practice.

The opinion among Muslims is divergent as one would expect, because we are still each of us striving for that Individualism;

“To be a better ……….’

Source unknown

The hijab in an invention of the 14th century, and it has not real basis in the Koran. In the Koran, “hijab’ comes from the root “hjb’, which refers not to an object, but an action: wearing a headscarf, pulling down a curtain or screen or reducing light so as to prevent others from prying or looking in.

The change to the word “hijab’, from signifying an action to meaning an object, comes in the 14th century. The jurist, Ibn Taymiyya, was the first to use the word “hijab’ to mean “headscarf’. It was a headscarf that distinguished Muslim from non-Muslim women. It came to distinguish a woman´s identity and religious association.

Ibn Taymiyya stated that a free woman has the obligation to cover herself with a headscarf, while a slave is not obliged as such He justified this based on a maximalist interpretation (cf. Koran, verse 21, sura 24), transforming the words of a generic statement into a principle, by giving it a binding or legal sense. Yet all this – and we do well to point it out – was still an interpretation, an interpretation which gave rise to a rule.

This change in language and social interpretation is a sign of crisis within the 14th century Muslim world: the end of the great Islamic empires and the invasion of Baghdad by a foreign power – the Mongols of Genghis Khan. The “ummah’ (the community of believers) had to therefore face and struggle with what nowadays we call the principle of “otherness’. This posed the same problem then as it does nowadays: today´s Muslims now must cope with how to be themselves in a society dominated by non-Muslims. The headscarf is a sign of the Muslim community´s defensive reactions and focuses on legal norms not to create leeway for freedom of expression, but rather to establish a form of control – on Islam itself.

In the words of Gammal Banna

“The headscarf mentioned in the Al-Ahzab surat (chapter) of the Koran meant a

curtain or a door and not a scarf to cover the head,” while the “Al-Nur surat

asks women to cover their chests.” “Wearing the headscarf or not is part of a

debate on morals and not on religious obligations,” he said. “An erroneous

interpretation of the Koran leads one to believe that women are obliged to cover

their head.”.

There is no simple neat solution for this debate on modesty, identity and choice regarding the head scarf that we in the wider world can pretend to understand. It is deeply embroiled in the history, religion and culture of nations who have embraced Islam. The observation from wider society suggests the ongoing striving towards group identity and the polarization with its own set of problems.

Views are invited on the proviso that we refrain from hate-speak as these are sensitive issues and feelings can be fueled for some to react inhumanely.

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Responses

  1. Here in America, we are very serious about allowing people the freedom to wear clothes for religious reasons.

    And maybe that’s the reason people don’t take it seriously. At the mosque it is normal for me to see women wearing gossamer hijab that just covers the back of their heads.

    In Turkey, where they have to fight for their right to dress that way they might be really stringent about it. They might start wearing burkas and march down the street advocating abandoning reason for blindly and fearfully following the teachings of such and such mullah.

    And in Turkey where they have some very interesting minor sects of Islam, this could easily lead to a horrible loss of cultural diversity, and majority factions force their rules on minorities.

    All the Turks I know are religious so I can’t say for sure.

  2. Sheikhjahbooty
    Thank you!
    Your comment gives food for thought.

    It is difficult I assume for people to accept another who is divergent from their accustomed norms and therefore act out of personal “insecurity” but then find a collective voice to dehumanise the other type of person.
    They then rationalise their attitudes from religion or culture.


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