Part One

Once again a 'piece of cloth' (Niqab) has dominated our newspaper headlines and discussions on the internet. On Monday, Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Jeremy Browne called for a “national debate” as to whether or not Muslim women should be banned from wearing the niqab, especially in places of public social interaction.

His call was echoed by Conservative MP Dr. Sarah Wollaston, who said that “we must not abandon our cultural belief that women should fully and equally participate in society.” Her colleague Bob Neil said, “I do think we need to have a serious conversation about it.”

These particular brainwaves were inspired by two other recent news headlines regarding the face veil. The first is the news of Judge Peter Murphy agreeing to come to a compromise over a defendant wearing the niqab whilst entering a plea at a trial. The judge accepted that the defendant could reveal her identity – i.e. remove the face veil -to a female officer prior to the trial to confirm her identity. Judge Murphy had initially said she would have to remove the veil but then backtracked and arrived at a balanced and responsible conclusion.

The second story is that of Birmingham's Metropolitan College initially insisting that all those on its premises uncover their faces- whether it be removing their veils, helmets or hoodies – for security reasons. After an outcry and a very quickly planned campaign and petition against the decision, the college backtracked and has said that veils will again be allowed.

Surprisingly, the view of banning the veil is held on both sides of the political spectrum. The basic logic predicated by the left, including so called defenders of women's rights and even Mr. Browne himself, is as follows: we must ban the niqab, a barrier to communication, as it excludes Muslim women from any meaningful social interaction and prevents them from becoming active and engaged members of their society. He also believes that a significant number of Muslim women are under compulsion to wear the face veil and it is our 'liberal' and moral duty to save from this manifestation of patriarchy.

First of all, none of these hypotheses actually take the opinions of veil-wearing women into account. Lacking credible qualitative research, it is simply another example of politicians speaking for women instead of to them. Unlike Mr. Jeremy Browne and Dr. Sarah Wollaston, when a person actually speaks to veiled women, he/she will be informed that veiled women do not feel socially excluded at all, rather they feel that more attention is given to their voice rather than their image.

Politicians must realize that the overwhelming majority of veiled Muslim women are smart and independent people who are not in need of a white, middle-class knight in shining armor to slay their medieval male relatives and unveil their imprisoned faces.

It is certainly clear that they are not forced to wear the veil. A veiled woman will actually express how she personally feels that the choice to veil her face was her own, her religious duty towards her Creator, in which she felt great spiritual fulfillment, solace, independence and happiness. Fulfilling religious duties should not be conflated or confused with coercion.

Since a minority of British Muslim women wear veils, and they do so out of choice, the isolated incidents who may have 'pressured' to wear the face veil are, in fact, statistically irrelevant in the broader debate. This begs few serious questions: Is it logical to call for a nation-wide ban due to these isolated incidents? And why is such news flooding our newspapers? Even The Sun, which is an undoubted 'defender' of women's freedom and rights (!!), had front cover coverage of the issue calling for a ban. You couldn't make this stuff up.

It is extremely shocking that politicians and news outlets have exaggerated issue of the face veil to such an extent, whilst ignoring the real crises of the economy, the National Health Service, welfare reforms which are handicapping many working-class citizens, pensions etc. Undoubtedly, our country has much bigger fish to fry, so why all the fuss over nothing?

Furthermore, in trying to 'liberate' Muslim women, Mr. Browne and others fail to comprehend that by banning the veil the 'compulsion' and 'patriarchy' has not disappeared, but has merely been repackaged. Forcing women to uncover in order to promote choice and freedom is inherently antithetical and counter-productive; it's almost comical. Hence, it is not going to stop the 'subjugation' (in their assumption) of women but further restrict and marginalize them. There are many examples gleaned from the French ban on the niqab.

The right-wing reasons against the face veil mainly consist of the paradigm that Britain's elementary cultural heritage should be preserved and that the niqab is not very Western, not very Christian, and is not very 'British'. Of course, preservation of an aspect of culture (which isn't inherently virtuous or advantageous) should never precede a woman's right to veil her face for the purpose of modesty and practicing her faith. Moreover, unfamiliarity does not warrant a nationwide ban; a country as pluralistic and diverse as Britain must not taint its culture with maltreatment of its minorities.

For a good discussion on the security and other concerns some have regarding the niqab please read this post here.

In an age and society wherein women are being constantly used as sexual objects, it is somewhat hypocritical to advocate the banning of the face veil under the pretext of liberating women by taking their choice from them. One has to just survey and read what is happening in our society; in media, entertainment; films, dramas, girl's magazines, popular pop songs; the increasing sexualization of women through these various mediums should be a concern for all of us, people of faith and without.

There is certainly something dubious taking place in how a small issue like the face veil, where a minority amongst the minority of Muslim women desire to practice it, is making headlines. One cannot blame someone to be conspiracy junky if he/she believes that there is a concerted effort to demonize and marginalize Muslims in certain sectors of the media.

The response of the so called progressive Muslims

And of course there will be those pseudo 'clerics' and authorities on Islam and Muslims who will be championed by certain sections of the media to peddle their agenda of marginalizing Muslims as the 'other' who are not part of the British society. They are self-professed 'progressive' protectors of Islam and Muslims – or more accurately their understanding of Islam which the vast majority of the 1.5 billion Muslims do not subscribe nor agree to. Their argument is that the veil is a barrier in the West and therefore a ban should not be completely ruled out. They also maintain, and that is their main contention and argument, that the niqab is not part of Islam – it is mere a cultural phenomenon that is blindly imitated by Muslim scholars and women alike. The claim, particularly in the way in which some of these self-imposed authorities assert, that the niqab is purely cultural is an incorrect allegation which is not based on sound scholarship.

All the classical and mainstream contemporary scholars of authority maintain that the niqab is predicated upon principles (usul) of the Shari'ah and, though no direct evidences is postulated (according to the majority of the fuqaha), there are clear textual implications in both the sources of Law of the Shari'ah of the basis of niqab. The vast majority of the scholars are of the view that the niqab is not obligatory (wajib) while a good minority among them opined the obligatory view, while others considered it recommended (mustahab) or just permissible (mubah). If one surveys the scholastic tradition on this issue he/she will observe the profound intellectual richness among the scholars and the deep discussions the scholarly community had (and continue today) on these issues.

The reason why there is a discussion concerning the obligation or not of the niqab is how a specific verse in the Qur'an is interpreted in particular. None of the scholars, from all the various schools of jurisprudence within Islam, have articulated it in the manner in which these so called progressive experts of Islam have done. It only proves, to me at least, that they have no sound grounding in knowledge of the texts.

The main evidence employed by both parties, the proponents of the obligation view and those who assert that it is not obligatory is the following verse in Surah al Nur verse 31:

“They should draw their head coverings over their bosoms”

Those who say a woman must cover her face use this verse to argue that if Allah orders a woman to draw her head covering over her bosom, it means implicitly that she will be covering her face.

While other scholars counter that the same effect can be achieved by wrapping the head covering around the face and allowing it to drape over the bosom.

Therefore there is a clear valid and established interpretative discussion of that verse taking place by scholars. Scholars who argue the non-obligatory view acknowledge the soundness of their opponents' premises. These are valid legal interpretations of the sources of the shari'ah. In fact, most of the shari'ah or jurisprudence is premised from these various interpretative foundations. It is absurd and disingenuous to ignore that aspect of jurisprudence in Islam. If we were to pursue their methodology of thinking and extracting rulings there will not be any shari'ah or Islam to practice, just mere symbols and superficial beliefs. Is this what these progressives desire?!

I personally subscribe to the view generally that the niqab is not obligatory in Islam, though incline towards a position of some scholars who argue – from a purpose based (maqasidi) interpretation of the texts- that the ruling (fatwa) varies from obligatory, recommended or to just permissible depending on circumstances and contexts. That in some situations it is even better not to observe the face veil. Many of my family members religiously wear the niqab even though I do not consider it obligatory – it is their choice based on their study of how they carry out Islam.

No one should be compelled to wear it or take it off.

To conclude this segment of the post: at a time wherein the government spends around £6 billion every year due to alcohol abuse, it is surprising that the niqab is given the attention it has received in the media. We should be focusing on issues that affect us like the NHS, welfare reform, alcohol abuse etc, not an issue which a very small number of women trying to practice what they believe to be a religious duty – we should be protecting their right and freedom to choose to wear the niqab and not take that right away from them.

To be continued.

[Part Two of this debate can be viewed here]

Photo courtesy of The Sun

26 Responses

  1. maryan_04@hotmail.co.uk

    I loved your article and all the points, except one – The Sun Newspaper is NOT a newspaper that pioneer’s women’s right. This is not coming from an individual Muslim’s point of view, this is a generalization of what the Sun represents. The sun is the only newspaper to feature model’s who are hardly dressed and on a day to day basis, they constantly “shame” women in their newspaper. There’s even a national campaign to ban the use of models in their newspaper, which the Sun’s editor is choosing to ignore, despite the high-profile campaign that even celebrities have petitioned for. Overall, The Sun holds no position of respect or regard to anyone in the reporting/media industry. Honestly think the point of “Even The Sun, an undoubted pioneer of women’s freedom and rights” – is extremely exaggerated and ruins the credibility/sound intellect on a whole of this article.

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    • Hena Zuberi

      Assalam ‘alaykum,

      Ed’s note: He was being sardonic. I had removed the exclamation marks as it seemed obvious but have reinstated them to avoid further confusion.

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  2. ZAI

    I think the whole debate is ideologically informed.
    Many Europeans have taken secularism to mean whatever the dominant culture informs, to force “assimilation”, or outright hostility to religion. Secularism in much of Europe is no longer about
    the separation of religion and state, but become about enforcing liberal norms or cultural conformity.

    On the other hand, it is hypocritical for Muslims to criticize that and talk about
    nuances of “freedom”, especially religious freedom, in Europe then turn around and support
    ENFORCEMENT of niqab, etc. in Muslim majority nations. This point is regularly brought
    up by Islamophobes to dismiss our opinions on this matter…and unfortunately, they have
    a valid point there. That is ALSO a socio-religious IDEOLOGICAL position. So why can’t
    Europeans do what we advocate in Muslim majority nations?

    I am not making any judgement of niqab here. Simply pointing out that when we speak about
    paradigms of “freedom” and frame the argument in terms of legalities or law, that point will be brought up…and a Muslim who makes this argument would HAVE to distance themselves from
    supporting that in Muslim majority nations, or else it looks hypocritical and weakens the argument.
    What Muslims IN Muslim majority countries do is besides the point. We’re not living there or citizens there, and not responsible for what they do or don’t do. But we cannot sit here and SUPPORT it, if we support something DIFFERENT in Europe or the US. I’m not referring to the author…I’m talking about the general Muslim population, in England for instance. A lot of our brothers there would say “Yes, religious freedom”, then turn around and in the same interview support enforcing the burqa in Pakistan.

    Personally, I think this is the problem with ideological societies.
    Forget broad categorizations…you will have differences even within the
    SAME broad group. It becomes impossible to enforce things without infringing on
    someone else and their “freedom”.

    I’m in the US and I’m happy with it here man.
    Aside from the extreme of full public nudity, they leave everyone alone and you
    have a broad spectrum of choice to decide for YOURSELF. Muslim women who
    are discriminated against for hijab or niqab can go to court, and most of the time
    they win their case. The Qur’an says “lower your eyes” and I’m happy to do that, or turn off
    the TV, flip the page, or shut off the radio if that means I also have the freedom to
    follow my religion and live how I choose to. I rather that extra “work” for myself than to
    get caught up in the constant ideological fights in Europe or the Muslim world, and the hypocrisies
    they produce.

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    • Hira Amin

      Zai – Subhanallah, completely agree with you. This has been on my mind and you summarised it perfectly. We enjoy the liberty the West provides for us, but what do we advocate in Muslim-majority countries? We cannot support it here and say you have to live by our rules there. I have heard the argument that those countries do not espouse this level of liberty, so if you are unhappy then do not live there – but that same argument can be made in the West for niqabis. This point has to be taken into account when theorising Islamic governance in today’s times.

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      • saba

        Same here, I totally agree with Zai. Those who are the most voluble about the infringement of the civil liberties in the West, rarely get indignant when it comes to mandatory enforcement of hijab, niqab etc in some Muslim countries. It is an ideologically inconsistent position, and often does come off as opportunism. If you’re going to adopt a particular ideological position, and identify a particular rationale for it (civil liberties) then you have to be consistent about it, otherwise it sounds disingenuous.

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    • Zaheer

      Salaam,
      Some good points, but, at the risk of derailing the discussion, I think you’re missing “the bigger picture” (darn I hate that term).

      It’s true that supporting religious freedom in the West, but wanting Sharia law to be upheld in Muslim countries can be seen as “contradictory”, or weakening one’s argument for Niqab/other Islamic practices to remain legal.

      The tone of your comment also seems to champion “freedom”, and hold it up as ideally, being inalienable – such that America’s hyper-pluralism is seen as a good societal model, where Niqabis and strippers can walk happily side-by-side.

      This is dangerous – because it assumes that people live in vacuums and their behaviour does not affect each other. “Lowering the gaze” only gets you so far; a Muslim trying to raise a family in a community of nudists, pot-smokers, homosexuals and atheists might differ with you (extreme and contrived example, but I think you get my point).

      The thing about multiculturalism, and its extension to pluralism, is that, eventually, one type of thinking will take precedence. No matter how hard you try (and the West, plus large parts of the East and everywhere else, have been trying for a while now), this societal model fails in the long-term, because two or more groups cannot occupy the same space without either a mish-mash of all groups (a.k.a. lowest common denominator [LCD]) occurring, or one group dominating all others (see Apartheid, US history pre civil-rights era, etc.), or, as is usually the case, repeating cycles of violent bloody warfare, relative peace, power vacuums and focus on aforementioned LCD issues ($$$ and entertainment, basically) – see Egypt for a good example of this.

      So, while on the one hand you denigrate “ideological” societies, you also bemoan enforcement of liberal norms. These are inextricably linked – any society will have cultural norms, and multicultural/pluralistic ones will usually have liberal ones, because those are the only ones everyone can easily agree on – “hey man, let’s just all do what we want and see what happens”. Lowest Common Denominator type thinking takes over, and a country like America is a good example of what usually happens. Check back in 200 years as see if America is still as awesome, if it follows its current path.

      So, while this article is specifically about Niqab (and perhaps more generally about religious freedom in secular societies), the larger issues surrounding it, will inform it. Take home point – people need to decide what kind of societies they want. “Let’s all do what we want, and get along” has had its time in the sun, and shown, consistently, to fail. Nowhere in history have we ever seen such a society last. For those Muslims living in the West – your status is essential that of the dhimmi in ancient Islamic societies. Whichever religious freedoms they choose to bestow upon you, take them. When your religious practice breaks the law, or goes contrary to cultural norms, know that you will have to make a decision about just how important said religious practice is. This does not mean that you have to go “well okay if I want to wear Niqab in the UK, Pakistan should let women walk around naked.” – this is inverse logic, and a very, very slippery slope.

      Apologies to the mods for my long post:-)

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      • ZAI

        “It’s true that supporting religious freedom in the West, but wanting Sharia law to be upheld in Muslim countries can be seen as “contradictory”, or weakening one’s argument for Niqab/other Islamic practices to remain legal”

        W’Salaam.
        Br. it does not SEEM contradictory, it IS contradictory…and hypocritical.
        I am not evaluating the MERIT of Shari’ah and Muslim norms as opposed
        to Western liberal ones…naturally as a Muslim I believe in and cherish the
        Islamic norms above and beyond others.

        What I AM pointing out is that the use of legal arguments for freedom
        of conscience and religion in the west and the denigration of Western ideological arguments as a basis of neutral law that allows me to practice my religion without impediment can only be seen as hypocritical if I don’t support the same everywhere. You either support non-ideological government or you don’t. If you make exceptions that is hypocrisy. If we can enforce hijab based on our ideological foundations, then Europeans can also ban it based on theirs. That is the confrontation ideological societies inevitably lead to.

        “The tone of your comment also seems to champion “freedom”, and hold it up as ideally, being inalienable – such that America’s hyper-pluralism is seen as a good societal model, where Niqabis and strippers can walk happily side-by-side.”

        It is not perfect, but it preserves the peace. This is something ideological societies cannot say, because most of them collapse after slipping inevitably into various totalitarian, dictatorial or authoritarian state models that are overthrown by an exasperated populace…or as in the case of Europe leads to constant tension and laws such as these niqab and minaret bans.

        “This is dangerous – because it assumes that people live in vacuums and their behaviour does not affect each other. “Lowering the gaze” only gets you so far; a Muslim trying to raise a family in a community of nudists, pot-smokers, homosexuals and atheists might differ with you (extreme and contrived example, but I think you get my point).”

        Yes brother, I agree the environment is/would be rough for not only a practicing Muslim…but also for practicing Christians or Jews. But it is not a clear/cut and black/white issue. Have you heard about the prostitution, drinking, partying, homosexuality, etc. in Saudi Arabia or Taliban-run Afghanistan? Have you seen how the abaya flies off as soon as the plane touches down in Paris? Have you read that internet pornography searches are the highest in Muslim nations?

        That public atmosphere guarantees nothing brother. You might prevent SOME people from bad PUBLIC behavior, but most will find a way to do what they want regardless…and preventing that would require a government so intrusive and totalitarian that it would become despised by the people and inevitably overthrown. There are many good Muslims in the West despite the ills, and many bad Muslims in Saudi, Pakistan or wherever despite the “protections”.

        Finally, if I had to choose I’d prefer the challenge of these ills and take my chances rather than living in a police state. That’s my personal preference and I will answer to God for whatever mistakes I make. Other Muslims can make their own choice…but I REFUSE to live in a Talib state with some fanatic beating me because my beard isn’t long enough or my aqeedah is not to his liking.

        “The thing about multiculturalism, and its extension to pluralism, is that, eventually, one type of thinking will take precedence. No matter how hard you try (and the West, plus large parts of the East and everywhere else, have been trying for a while now), this societal model fails in the long-term, because two or more groups cannot occupy the same space without either a mish-mash of all groups (a.k.a. lowest common denominator [LCD]) occurring, or one group dominating all others (see Apartheid, US history pre civil-rights era, etc.), or, as is usually the case, repeating cycles of violent bloody warfare, relative peace, power vacuums and focus on aforementioned LCD issues ($$$ and entertainment, basically) – see Egypt for a good example of this.”

        ..and Islamist groups haven’t failed brother? Did the Taliban succeed…or did Afghans happily join with the US/NATO to overthrow them, even beating them in the streets if caught? Did the MMA government last in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or did the Pakistanis there throw them out of office the first chance they got? What was the reaction of the Malians to the Islamist takeover? How many Iranians love their regime? What is with the blind and indifferent attitude of the Egyptians while their army is ruthlessly wiping out the ikhwaan? Why are the Tunisians demanding their government take action against the Salafi political groups? Why is Somalia disintegrating into statelets rather than living under the rule of the Islamic Courts Union or Al-Shabab?

        Yes, multi-cultural societies may become corrupted and fail in the long term.Moral and ethical decay may set in over time. But the Islamists cannot even last SHORT-term. Every place they come to power it’s a disaster and their OWN people chase them out. What kind of sustainable model is this? It has been UNsuccessful EVERY place it’s been tried.

        “So, while on the one hand you denigrate “ideological” societies, you also bemoan enforcement of liberal norms. These are inextricably linked – any society will have cultural norms, and multicultural/pluralistic ones will usually have liberal ones, because those are the only ones everyone can easily agree on – “hey man, let’s just all do what we want and see what happens”.

        I do not see any paradox or oxymoron is what I said. I oppose the enforcement of liberal OR conservative norms/lifestyles/thought as law because it is by its nature an ideological position, not one of neutral consistent law. What about that is inconsisent? It is not liberalism I’m against, as it will exist in to some degree in any open society…just as conservatism would. It’s the ENFORCEMENT that makes it a problem.

        As to the 2nd point, tolerance does not mean everyone would adopt liberal norms. Tolerance and liberalism are hardly the same thing. You’re conflating two different things and extrapolating a straw-man slippery slope based on the conflation. The very existence of very religious Muslims, Jews or Christians in the US belies this. That’s exactly WHY Europe’s recent course is wrong in my opinion. It infringes on religious sensitivities to enforce liberal values by fiat.

        “Lowest Common Denominator type thinking takes over, and a country like America is a good example of what usually happens. Check back in 200 years as see if America is still as awesome, if it follows its current path.”

        Whether it’s “awesome” or not is a moral/ethical argument. In that case, I don’t need to wait 200 years…it’s decidedly un-awesome in my opinion given the consumerism, greed, destruction of the environment, decline of morality, etc. But we are not talking about morality or ethics here, we are talking about how to base law on a foundation acceptable to a multi-ethnic/religious/cultural population that doesn’t result in hypocrisy, oppression, or subjugation…and the resultant anarchy of sure rebellion.

        The Islamist model is a total failure. It does not work, nor will Europes forays into ideologically enforced liberalism lead to anything good. If you have a suggestion as to how to maintain this peace through an ideological frame work that DOESN’T rely on a veritable police state, I’d be glad to hear it. I’d also be interested to hear your thoughts on the failure to achieve this utopian morality in Muslims states despite enforcement and why all of the corruption, immorality, etc. is also present in these states if the ideological model works.

        “Take home point – people need to decide what kind of societies they want. “Let’s all do what we want, and get along” has had its time in the sun, and shown, consistently, to fail. Nowhere in history have we ever seen such a society last. ”

        …and what ideological society has prospered brother? Which Islamist group has succeeded? Communism? Ethnic nationalism? Which ideological society has succeeded in maintaining peaceful co-existence without resorting to authoritarianism or totalitarianism which leads to rebellion and repeated failure?

        ” For those Muslims living in the West – your status is essential that of the dhimmi in ancient Islamic societies. Whichever religious freedoms they choose to bestow upon you, take them.”

        We are not dhimmis, we are equal citizens with the same rights as apply to everyone else…which is exactly WHY it would be hypocritical to appreciate that here, while advocating something different in Muslim majority nations. They are free to do whatever they want over there, but we cannot sit here and applaud it if it’s different from what we want for ourselves here.

        …and before anyone even suggests it: HIJRAH IS NOT AN OPTION. When even ONE of our racist Muslim nations allows it and will give me citizenship, let me know. This is home.

        “This does not mean that you have to go “well okay if I want to wear Niqab in the UK, Pakistan should let women walk around naked.” – this is inverse logic, and a very, very slippery slope.”

        No, but it does mean that Europe would have the same right to base law on
        liberal ideology that deems the niqab “oppression” and prevent them from practicing it. Further, they cannot argue for religious freedom free of biased ideological constraints if they don’t support that abroad as well….or they’ll be called hypocrites and not taken seriously.

        If they cannot adjust that contradiction for themselves, perhaps they should think of going to labor in Saudi or UAE without citizenship then. This is exactly the kind of stark dichotomy ideological societies produce and exactly why the neutral US system is preferable despite it’s many problems and many of the resulting immoralities. It preserves the peace and allows co-existence.

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      • Susan

        Assalamu ‘Alaykum,

        Should we not consider this unsavory exposure to Jahiliyah customs and values Hijrah and Jihad fee Sabeel Ilaah?

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      • saba

        Zaheer,

        Yours is a fair comment, and I agree that people do not live in vacuums, unaffected by each other. But ZAI’s basic point brings up a broader range of intrinsically linked issues which are of significance to Muslims today, and are not adequately acknowledged by many Muslims (indeed, most). The crux of the niqab issue (demanding freedom for women to dress how they want in Western countries on the basis of civil liberties and human rights etc, and then being willing to deny that same freedom to women in some Muslim States) has a broader significance, and resonates in other matters; vigorous responses by Muslim minorities to real and perceived discrimination in Western countries, and the reality of the very poor treatment of religious minorities in a number of muslim-majority states (where there aren’t even formal guarantees of equality, and this is not even considered a worthy end by the governing bodies of these countries), and things like demanding full religious freedom as a minority and the apostasy laws in place in some Muslim States. Personally, after having read Abdullah Saeed’s excellent and very comprehensive book on apostasy “Freedom of Religion, Apostacy, and Islam”, I’ve become convinced that death for those who have left Islam is not actually an Islamically prescribed and sanctioned position.

        Coming back to the core argument though, it’s fine (and right) for us to demand the rights and religious freedoms which we are entitled to living in democratic Western States, but there is a severe disjuncture between this, and our general willingness to ignore or underplay the (often much worse) treatment of religious minorities (or even sects of Islam which are considered heretical) in many Muslim majority states. That is what is really hypocritical, and just comes down to petty identity politics, without a sound moral basis. You’re against what you have described to be “America’s hyper-pluralism …. where Niqabis and strippers can walk happily side-by-side.” Like you I don’t think that ‘maximum autonomy’ is some kind of ultimate good in itself, and the situation described, is one as Muslims, we find repugnant. But pluralism does seem to be the way to go…As persons subscribing to Islam as a religion, we have a definite idea of what constitutes the good, and what amounts a well-lived life…but I’m stating the obvious when I say that there is no universal consensus on these core questions….and unless, we’re going to start forcing others to subscribe to our views, this necessitates a pluralism of sorts. We can try and be good ambassadors for our religion, try to actively persuade others towards our path, take an active part in public life, or oppose legislation which we think is not for the common good, and which contravenes a fundamental tenet of our faith. But how can we eschew with a pluralistic set-up, and fail to exhibit the tolerance which we so vigorously demand from others? Coming back to the specific niqab debate, you say that ‘if we demand freedom in this case, we should support it across the board’ is inverse logic….but what is an appropriate alternative rationale, or ideological basis, or argue the case for the hijab/niqab? We can argue that the hijab, or more generally, dressing modestly is intrinsically meritorious. But because there are differing conceptions of the good, on what other basis can u argue for this apart from inadvertence to civil liberties?…this is a genuine question.

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      • saba

        * sorry, at the end, I meant apart from advertence to civil liberties

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      • Zaheer

        Salaam – thanks for the responses.

        I’m not sure who to reply to here, so I’ll reply to my own message and hopefully address ZAI, Saba, and Susan’s responses (henceforth one entity). I won’t do the quote-response (or quote-response-quote response:-) because I’m afraid our comments are getting monstrously lengthy and hard to read:

        As I expected, but was hoping against, your argument is hinged on a binary view (despite noting the non “black/white” nature of religious vs. secular societies) of civilizational structure: either you’re secular, or you’re a religious police state where the only way to ensure your society is socially conservative (in the context of the local ethno-religious-cultural traditions) is to have hundreds of laws enforced by public flogging etc. Sadly, I would like to say “that’s a strawman”, but countries like Afghanistan etc. kind of bear this binary stereotype out.

        However, as with most modern debates, this one is lacking historicity. It’s looking only at recent history, and noting the failure of “hardline”/”extremist” Islamist (or Islamist-leaning) societies to remain stable. This is then contrasted with the relative peace in secular societies, and the greater religious freedom in those countries. Game-over, right?

        The thing is, when it comes to our religious rituals, and our aqeedah, etc, the constant refrain, such that it’s become a cliche (albeit a praiseworthy one), is “we should follow Qur’an and Sunnah”. Yet when it comes to how to rule ourselves, while we take Qur’an and the Prophetic model into account, we tend to look elsewhere and try things which even the non-Muslims can’t agree is the best civilizational model.

        Forgotten is the greatness of the first Islamic states, Islamic nations under the Khalifa Rashidun. Those are nice stories to hear about, and to brag to your non-Muslim friends about how good those societies were.. Yet we forget that those societies were based on a model of social and religious cohesion. And distinct cultural groups were allowed to rule themselves so long as they did not desert Islam. Yes, there was religious freedom for non-majority religions – but not unrestricted. And they were expected to respect the religious and cultural norms of the majority. See Abbasid, Ottoman empire, etc.

        Not saying these were perfect/utopia – that doesn’t exist. The point is, good, long-term sustainable societies are hard to build. The easy route is what we have now – “do what you want, let’s all be free together”.

        So, in summary – early Islamic civilization is the perfect example of a sustainable society based on ethno-cultural and religious cohesion (for the most part). The contemporary religious police states are not what I had in mind as an alternative to liberal multiculturalism. Since I didn’t imply this in the slightest, it’s telling that that is the first (and only) alternative which came to mind, and was the crux of your entire arguement.

        That’s exactly the problem – people think the only alternative to “everything and anything goes” is countries ruled in an Islamist police-state manner. There is such a thing (or used to be, anyway) as societal-cohesion – i.e. we don’t have to make a law for everything. We compose our society out of people who all, roughly speaking, want the same thing. We let minor differences be that, and don’t encourage “beating me because my beard isn’t long enough”. This way, people will _want_ to behave in a certain way, and not need a law or a man with a big stick to tell them how to live.

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      • ZAI

        Br. Zaheer,
        Everything you described IS an open society akin to the United States or Turkey under the AKP. We’ve descended into a game of semantics.

        Yes bro, of course we want to produce people who want the same thing: Islam. We want it produced from the bottom up through teaching & reforming carried out by individuals and communities…and not from the top down by an authoritarian individual or group. We want the Islamic society by producing good Muslims who govern well, not a government that produces “good” Muslims. The society will have boundaries based on the natural and organic ‘aml of the people it’s made up of.

        Ok, bro…everything you described IS an open society that allows for that to take place. You just don’t want to use the dirty word “secularism” to describe it and you assume it will automatically lead to a hedonistic society rather than the Islamic outcome you want.

        #1 Secularism is not a dirty word because many Europeans, liberals or Islamists have made it so. All it means is the government itself is not ideological or sectarian, and/or monopolized. It does not necessitate populations cannot have definitive values or morals that FLAVOR the government on an ON-GOING basis. So call it whatever you want: secularism, open-society, whatever…If you’re not advocating for an ideological top-town coercive state, you are supporting a NON-Ideological state APPARATUS.

        #2 This open society does NOT necessarily imply an inevitable hedonistic hell. What it DOES mean is that Muslims need to get off their seats and WORK, If you want an Islamic environment, you must perpetually produce good Muslims who will reflect that in government. Because the STATE is not ideological, it is up to the people to fashion the society as individuals and communities and to maintain it because some self-appointed holy politburo will not do it FOR us. Yes, that means we will have setbacks: some days people who do not ascribe to Islam or an interpretation of Islam that can be considered orthodox might “win”, but that just means we work harder to reverse trends or change laws. It is a give/take process that never ends.

        Unfortunately bro, it IS a stark choice between supporting THAT or a totalitarian model. There are certain pre-requisites and a balance required:

        1. All parties involved MUST admit that even opinions based on Qur’an & Hadith are still only opinions. They cannot claim to
        speak in the name of God or the Prophet. That being the case, anything they produce must be subject to possible reinterpretation, change or disagreement.
        2. All parties concerned MUST admit that the clear, indisputable
        ayah’s of Qur’an dealing with law and law enforcement are very few. They must limit themselves to these civic verses and not go beyond them in promulgating law, especially interfering with people’s personal beliefs in aqeedah or practice of ibaadah.
        3. They MUST agree that these laws are mostly meant to deal with the public space and not private space, with SOME exceptions concerning issues like protecting children or domestic abuse.
        4. NO VIOLENCE.

        If those pre-requisites are removed…thereby removing the apparatus of a free society, it DOES slide into an authoritarian model and THAT is the temptation Muslims must avoid like the plague. It is not enough to establish the hadd(limits), the norm of general freedom and the process of law must be kept non-ideological.

        The prophets society or the society of the khulafa rashidoun? Abbasids? Ottomans? Bro..they were open societies with SOME hadd. It is these Islamists who are carrying out a bid’ah introducing the idea of controlling everything and everyone at everytime… and acting as if law and it’s implementation has no interpretative or procedural process whatsoever.

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      • Zaheer

        Salaam – I’m glad we’ve reached some level of agreement.

        Our remaining disagreements are few – you could argue they’re semantic in nature, but I’d disagree.

        The thing with an “open” society is that anything can happen if you let it- generally speaking, this means lowest common denominator – history bears this out.

        However, you’ve mentioned that this is dependent on the populace – and here we are in total agreement. If the population is conscientious enough to realize that their everyday actions defines the societal norms, then there’s no reason why the societal model you’ve described can’t allow for the flourishing of an ideal Islamic state.

        I think you are mistaken in your belief about what kind of society the US is – the one I had in mind in my previous post is radically different to the USA’s pluralism. I don’t think you’ve understood my post if you think that I’ve essentially described America as my ideal society. You also persist in your binary worldview of civilization types. This is a mistake. However, I recognize now I cannot make you realize this. I can only suggest looking further back than modern history to see what I mean.

        At the risk of “descending into a game of semantics”, I’d also like to point out the error of calling both modern states like the US, or even Turkey, and early Islamic societies “open”. You see, language is a reflection of thought, and those who control language and the meaning of words, to some extent control the discourse which uses that language. So as much as we’d all like to believe otherwise, the meaning of words is crucial. If the US is an open society, then may Allah protect us all from using the same name to describe the Nabiyy’s (s.a.w.s) and succeeding generations’ societies by the same name.

        The other issue we’re skirting around – or perhaps it is an assumption, as it so often is in contemporary debates – is that of how these governments are chosen. If we’re talking the kind of unrestricted liberal democracy championed in places like, yes, the US (again), then we need to stop the discussion because we then have different axioms in our “debate system”.

        As I’ve mentioned before, I see the early Islamic societies as praiseworthy models. Ipso facto I think Shura is the best way to elect a government, and ipso facto I don’t believe everyone’s political opinion is equally valid. This is heresy in today’s climate, especially amongst Muslims living in the West, who cherish “everyone’s right to cast a ballot”. Perhaps this is another avenue for debate, I’m not sure. I feel it’s a no-compromise issue for the society I envision, though.

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      • ZAI

        Br. Zaheer,
        We’re going to have to agree to disagree.
        You’re right, we have different definitions/axioms of an open society and what the best construct for Muslims is. I essentially believe in democracy and that the best way for Muslims to produce an Islamic society is to be good Muslims informing that democracy, and from what you have written above you don’t care much for democracy and want a form of ideologically informed Islamist government, albeit not as “brutal” or “harsh” as the majority of current Islamic political parties envision.

        I don’t agree with your vision Br., just as you don’t agree with mine, mostly because it is WIDE open to abuse in my opinion. and in my opinion that abuse is guaranteed. You want a Shura, but don’t care about the vote? Well, who picks that Shura then? Who acts as a check against them? Who has the power to remove them or to rescind laws they pass? Without a democratic mechanism to remove them, what prevents violent rebellion from becoming the sole mechanism available to remove them if they’ve become tyrants?

        I do not have a binary view Brother, but rather I think you’re too idealistic. I admit, there is not only the Taliban on one end or Democracy on the other. What YOU fail to see though, is how quickly and easily what you envision can slip INTO being the Taliban. You are underestimating the corrupting power OF power, especially when the people wielding that power think they’re doing what they’re doing in service of religion and/or God.

        There is a very thin line between what you want and what the harsher Islamist want, and I don’t trust some individual or group not to go over it. That’s why I’d rather get to the goal through democracy which spreads out the power. I thank God every day that US Christian Fundamentalists have been repeatedly checked by democracy. In short, I do not trust these Islamists or even most modern day Muslims. They are hardly anywhere close to the Prophet(S) or Khulafa Rashidoun that I would give them similar power, especially if there is no democratic mechanism to remove them.

        We also see Islamic history differently brother.
        I do not see where the prophet(s) or khulafa rashidoun established an ever-present state that pervades everything.
        I see them following the Qur’an and hadith VERY strictly in applying that which the Qur’an and hadith very explicitly sanctioned a government to apply by order or implicitly ordered by mentioning hudoud punishment. Those things are VERY few…can be counted on the ten fingers. Nothing close to what the harsher Islamists or even the Islamist-lite model you’re advocating envisions.

        As for the lowest common denominator, I agree with you on it’s possibility, but I rather that be combated on a win/loss ebbing long term basis by producing good Muslims, than to put faith in an ideologically informed monopolized government from above. I think the latter is wide open to abuse. I rather social-ills than the type of religiously-informed violent abuses we’ve seen in Muslim nations.

        Finally, yes…we disagree on people’s standing in society if you don’t believe everyone has the right to a political voice. That is the very definition of an elitist ideological model and as someone who has had family and friends dragged away at 2am by both communist and Talib thugs for speaking their mind, I definitely don’t agree with you. Put aside atheists or non-Muslims…that would also inevitably lead to the side-lining and persecution of MUSLIMS who don’t agree with the so-called shura. Again, you’re pretty much advocating the SAME thing as the majority of current Islamists, but just hoping they won’t be as harsh or brutal.

        I see no way how what you advocate preserves the peace or allows co-existence with pluralities. Ennahda has just stepped down yesterday adding to the list of Ideologically informed Islamic models that have lost power because the population got fed up. You think what you’re advocating won’t lead to violence, repression and ultimately rebellion?

        You think you’re going to get an Islamic enivornment by placing power in the hands of a select few who you trust to simply be good and not abuse that power by being harsh or tyrannical? I think that’s a pipe-dream. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

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  3. idesireranks

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatulllahi wa barakatuh

    Awesome, may Allah accept it from you. JazzakAllahu khair. Brits do have a way with words and Alhamdulilah you have a way with words as well.

    This article needs to be spread everywhere.

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  4. June

    Assalamu alaykum
    I just love the imagery here: “Politicians must realize that the overwhelming majority of veiled Muslim women are smart and independent people who are not in need of a white, middle-class knight in shining armor to slay their medieval male relatives and unveil their imprisoned faces.”

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  5. Susan

    Assalamu ‘Alaykum,

    This well-written article makes a few assumptions basically around the “all or none” argument:

    1) That there is credible, qualitative research that all Niqab-wearing women choose to do so;
    2) That all veiled women do not feel socially excluded;
    3) That all veiled women feel that the Niqab “gives them voice”;
    4) That, and this more of an inference, that Niqab-wearing women “not in need of a white, middle class knight in shining armor…” are not white.

    Jazakum Allahu khairan for the thoughtful article.

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  6. mebsworth2013

    Hi there,
    My fiance is Muslim. I want to know why the veil is to be worn? And I also want to know if a man can have 4 wives and why? And can a woman have 4 husbands? If not, why not?
    And also I’ve heard about cliteredectomies. Why?
    I am looking forward to your reponse.
    Mimi Metcalfe

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    • June

      It’s difficult to leave a concise answer to each of those questions. There can be much more said about each answer I give and if you like you can come speak more about it at http://sisters.islamway.net/forum You could also ask your fiance or ask the Muslim women at your local masjid (mosque)

      Why is the veil to be worn? The Qur’an is believed to be the literal word of God and thus the commands in the Qur’an should be followed. There are two verses most often quoted that scholars argue is why the veil is to be worn 24:31 (used in this article) and 33:59 “that they should draw down their shawls over them. That will make it more likely that they are recognized, hence not teased” I once again would refer you to any Muslim women in your community for further details to this answer since the answer can be much more personal for many women.

      Why can a man have 4 wive? Once again it is something allowed in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is for all people for all times, so the allowance of having 4 wives may not even be necessary in some cases. Simply because it is allowed does not mean it is required. In fact the Qur’an encourages men to have only one wife if he is uncertain of his ability to treat each wife fairly. For a personal example, even if my husband was financially capable of supporting a second wife, he tells me that his feeling for me are too strong and that he knows he would not give the same time, love, and attention that she deserves to a second wife.

      Why are women not allowed 4 husbands? This has to do with inheritance rights and biology. A man with 4 wives can have 4 children in a year and a woman with 4 husbands can still have only one. Although this question goes in tandem with the previous question, I do not feel I have the proper knowledge to fully answer correctly. I would advise you to take this question to the imam of your local masjid.

      Why are there cliteredectomies? All the scholars I have read state this as a specifically cultural practice and in fact does not come from Islam at all. Cliteredectomy is not equivalent to the male circumcision and is in fact FGM. FGM is not to be done and as far as I know is looked down upon by Islam. In my opinion, cutting off the clitoris is more equivalent to cutting of the man’s sexual organ. However, female circumcision (not FGM) is allowed and some scholars even say it is required. This has to do with hadith that states circumcision being part of the fitra (human nature). Other scholars state it is not required, merely a liked act that is not necessary, since other hadith detailing acts of fitrah do not list circumcision. If a woman is to be circumcised at all, the equivalent to a male circumcision is only cutting the clitoral hood and not the clitoris itself. “A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (SAW) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.”

      Insha Allah the information I have given you is good and may Allah forgive me for any shortcoming in my efforts. Once again I encourage you to ask about these issues at your local masjid and coming to http://sisters.islamway.net/forum for further discussion.

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  7. iamshalina

    If I tried to focus on what can be considered as a very ugly part of Islam, I wouldn’t see the beauty in them very same things today. Therefore I suggest you focus on your relationship with Allah SWT first. Who is Allah? What are the 99 names, where are the signs Allah has sent (Science V Islam). I think I’ll write a blog on this in sha Allah

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  8. grace

    It is really naive not to understand why the veil is a considered a security risk, you can steal and commit any crime you want with your identity concealed. Also wearing a big heavy coat makes it even easier to conceal your identity and conceal merchandise.
    If you really feel it is wajib then do so but understand how other people view it.

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    • Nick Lynch

      Thank you for your interesting article, but I do have a couple of bones of contention to pick with you if I may.

      I quote: ‘British Muslim women wear veils, and they do so out of choice’.

      Not always! Some women are forced to wear the apparel against their will or because they feel pressured (see Theodore Dalrymple’s article in the Telegraph, 14th September). I do not dispute that the majority of niqab-wearers do so out of choice rather than necessity, but it’s important for someone to speak out for the minority of poor women who cannot. Being forced to wear the niqab I’m sure you’ll agree is oppressive and should not be allowed. You correctly note that such incidents seem to be ‘isolated’, but I’ll argue that it’s very difficult to gauge the exact number since they may be extremely relucant to come forward. I don’t think their statistically irrelevant at all. Unfortunately it’s nigh on impossible to identify who is wearing out of choice and who is not.

      By permanently covering their faces in public, they quite literally create a barrier for communication. Whenever I am talking to someone in person, I don’t just hear their words, I study their facial expressions too – there are many scholarly articles on the internet revealing the importance of facial expressions in communication. Why anyone would want to create a barrier of communication is beyond me, it’s conducive to dissociation with the rest of society which can never be a good thing. One possible reason, albeit I agree in a minority of cases, could be that they are forced to wear the niqab – or at least strongly encouraged to – by others who do not want them to socialise, which takes me back to my first point. Another reason may be that they themselves do not want to socialise, which is their choice, but still rather disappointing.

      There are also security concerns that people could use the niqab to conceal their identities in order to commit dispicable crimes. When the face is concealed, it’s obviously more difficult to track down the culprit. Thankfully Mary Konye was caught earlier this year but the next criminal may get away with it. For this reason I am not keen on having balaclavas, large hoods or pretty much anything that conceals most of the face, in public areas.

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  9. syed moeen uddin

    Very good effort by the author. Naqab is the part of our religion . in Islam women is not allowed to show the parts of her body to a unknown man. it is basic step to the religion . This article has got a place in my mind.

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