Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hijab in Western Countries

Hijab in Western Countries
Adil Salahi, Arab News

Q. On the basis of my understanding of verses such as 24: 31, and 33: 53 & 55, the hijab is obligatory for Muslim women. However, some of our brothers and sisters living in the US claim that it is optional for those living in the US and other Western countries. They argue that wearing it is counterproductive, as it attracts attention to them and exposes them to pressure, discrimination and ill treatment. Please comment.
Nasima Zakariya

A. It is one thing for a Muslim to say that in his circumstances he finds great difficulty in complying with a particular Islamic duty, and a totally different thing to try to justify his noncompliance with it by saying that it is not a duty.

In the first case, the person concerned acknowledges the duty and his failure to comply with it, praying God for forgiveness. In the second, he tries to twist the meanings of texts in order to show that he does not contravene divine orders. This is extremely wrong, and God has denounced those among the Jews and other earlier communities who did that.

Verse 24: 31 is very clear in its instructions, requiring Muslim women to drop their head coverings over their bosoms so as to cover the top opening of their clothes. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has made clear in many Hadiths that a woman must cover her body, except her face and hands. This verse addresses all believing women, which means that its requirements apply to all Muslim women. As for the other two verses you have referred to in Surah 33, these are applicable only to the Prophet’s wives.

It is true that verse 55 implies the same requirements as certain parts of verse 24: 31, but this is to make clear that the general instruction also applies to the Prophet’s wives.

We need to remind ourselves that the Prophet’s wives had a number of special rulings that applied to them alone. Other Muslim women need not follow their suit, because God tells them clearly that they have a special case and that they are unlike other women. In fact, these rules specify certain additional restrictions, which means that their nonapplicability to other Muslim women is an act of God’s grace, making things easier for us.

Having said that, I understand the difficult position of Muslim women in Western countries, particularly in recent years. There must be collective counter pressure so as to make compliance with Islamic teachings acceptable. Unfortunately, such pressure does not seem to be forthcoming, particularly because governments in some Muslim countries are similarly opposed to the hijab. Nevertheless, all of us, even those who do not wear the hijab, should make clear to Western governments and societies that compliance with our religious duties is an inalienable right of every Muslim, man or woman.

Muslim women should continue to wear the hijab, so that they practically demonstrate that prejudice against them is nothing but flagrant discrimination. If there are certain rules that prevent them from doing their duty, they should do everything within the law to get those rules changed.

The community as a whole should bring pressure to bear on politicians, parliamentarians, the media and the government in their respective countries to ensure that they enjoy their rights of practicing their faith.

Unfortunately they have not been helped by the attitude of certain scholars, particularly by the fatwa given by some scholars. This fatwa is wrong in its very premise, and it betrays total ignorance of how things are done in Western countries. Thus, it gave ammunition to those who are against Islamic practices, and deprived Muslim women and communities of their constitutional rights to observe the teachings of their faith without pressure or prejudice.