By Zaira Ashraf Khan
The debate on the Hijab/ Burqa Ban spurred in many countries across the globe urging its abolition is being viewed as a sign of primitive Muslim culture having no place in the modern societies by some; it has also earned sympathy from many others who oppose this constriction on the freedom of expression.
Many countries have urged and suggested the ban on the hijab /burqa through legislative fiat, if need be. Recently, legislators in China’s far-western Xinjiang province passed a law to prohibit residents from wearing burqas in public, in a continued campaign against what authorities view as “religious extremism”. Similarly, France, home to about five million Muslims, was the first European country to ban the public use of veils, both face-covering niqabs and full-body burqas. The law , in France and Belgium, was introduced in 2010 , makes it illegal for anyone to cover their face in a public places. Judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) have upheld France’s burqa ban, accepting Paris’ argument that it encouraged citizens to “live together”.
So, here the question that arises is that does the burqa, or broadly speaking, the hijab, symbolise oppression?
Will Durrant, in his book, “The Story of Civilisation ”, has presented a picture of the development of civilisation very eloquently. According to Durant, “being clothed was a sign of an advanced nation which would distiguish themselves from primitive societies, more bent towards the nakedness”. This leads us to conclude that clothes have never been a sign of oppression. Rather, dignified clothing symbolises honour, respect and modesty.
If the argument for the ban is “oppression” then this is more a case of the derived perception of the people who have failed to understand the status of the attire among those who choose to wear it. Moreover, the argument that they state regarding it acting as a restraint on the interaction among the members of the society is because the society has itself alienated them. Those who are comfortable with it can best attest to the fact.
In the final analysis, the ban on the Burqa is a one sided debate. Muslim women- the object of the ban- have effectively been excluded from it. However I, as a Muslim woman, would like to put my point across: before speaking in my name, and trying to liberate me from the age old practice and supposedly orthodox traditional interpretations of the verses of Qur’an, I would like to point out and affirm that I reserve the right to what I wear!
Now, in terms of the second argument of banning the Hijab, it is held that the that Veil is sign of extremism. This argument clearly rests on the Islamophobia which has engulfed the entire world today and made people judgemental and less rational. Islam, and like any other decent civilisation upholds morality and regards the same to be “a part of faith for both men and women”. As far as it being a sign of religious extremism, most Muslim women wearing the hijab/ veils have proved themselves to be peace loving and patriotic citizens. The practice of wearing the veil is a sign of their obedience and sincerity towards their religion which, in turn is a source of their spiritual upliftment and solace.
The great scholar of Islam, Sayyid Qutub in his commentary of a certain verse of the Quran that counsels modesty states that “ Islam aims in establishing a modest society [clean from all sorts of ethical immoralities] that abstains from projecting sensual desires at every moment … Lustful looks and wanton display of beauty only enhances sensual instincts. The mandate of Islam in the creation of a clean society is to prevent this unbridled display of sensual desires and provide a natural and peaceful way out for both the genders”.
Broadly speaking, Islamic aims at the nature of a society where each member respects the individuality and purity of existence of the other, demanding respect and honouring each other. This aspect of upholding one’s dignity is unfortunately lost in the modern world.
Following the injunctions of Islamic texts does, in no manner, make one extremist just as following Bible doesn’t make Christian Nuns extremist. More over the, difference in opinion regarding face veil does in no manner authorize its abolition.
In this modern era, morality is ceding space and ground. It is a heavy burden of man’s dark past which humanity is still carrying on its shoulders unconsciously in blind pursuits and stagnation. To get rid of these essential values which allegedly restricts one’s freedom and hinders the options of fulfilling one’s desires, our societies have thrown away the “burden” of morality. But, unfortunately , some Muslims are beign misled by the same as well.
Some Muslims are also found striving hard for the implementation of the ban stating their duty to liberate the poor, destitute and “oppressed women” who are not allowed to open up in society like many others. The question is, just because someone is different, does it make him or her oppressed? In addition, this whole liberation campaign launched in supposedly freeing us from the clutches of primitive culture demonstrates their lack of knowledge of facts and the religion itself. Muslims wearing burqa or the hijab do this out of their own will as attested by some of these reports:
“I’ve been wearing the niqab for many years and all I want is to live in peace; says a law student Stéphanie Lécuyer who is a revert to Islam.
Respect and honour don’t come from being like others, or following what others follow – that’s why I put the niqab on. It’s my way of expressing obedience to my Lord; it’s a command that I adhere to, through which I find my honour. It is not a garment of oppression, it is a garment that represents a timeless modesty that does not conform to society. I feel liberated by the fact that I choose what you see. We pass judgement on how a person looks before we know them. When you deal with me, you deal with my mind, my personality, my emotions and what I have to offer as a person – and that’s it”
I have attempted to present my voice here. Politically motivated tactics and techniques for eliminating Islamic identity cannot and should not be done in my name. I, as a Muslim, am proud of my outfit and it is the demonstration of freedom of expression which is very much upheld in our modern societies. The societies that we are living in are devoid of values and thus making high claims of liberation in such societies means nothing more than making yourself more accessible to those who don’t respect you for what you are rather are more concerned about your looks.
—The author is an Assistant Professor, Department of Islamic Studies, Government College for Women, Srinagar. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org