Part Two [Part One of this debate can be viewed here]

Although the pseudo-controversy surrounding the niqāb is at the vanguard of the tabloid agenda, we must ask ourselves why it is that in a liberal democracy, wherein religious freedom of its minorities should be protected, there seems to be an attack on these religious symbols of Muslims; whether it is the niqāb or the minarets, these emblems and the rights of the minority communities are being targeted by instituting (in this case a proposal to ban) and passing draconian laws. The feeling of many Muslims is that the niqāb fiasco is a smokescreen for what is actually taking place in Britain: there is a concerted effort from certain sections of the liberal and secular elite, as well as the media, to portray Islam and Muslims as backward, barbaric, outdated, and the niqāb and other such symbols and religious practices to be archaic and outmoded that have no place in modern, British society. In addition, there is a clear effort from certain quarters to demonize Islam and Muslims through these pandemonium-stirring type 'debates'.

The mainstream reaction of Muslims during the media hysteria is always reactive and somewhat emotional. At times it can be very vitriolic and aggressive; making generalizations of everyone in the west and painting them with the same brush – which gives the impression that the entire non-Muslim community is bent on attacking Islam and Muslims even at the cost of their own principles. Indeed there are some who fall into that category, however, there are many who will support the 'Muslim cause'. This aggressive and intellectually crude methodology is also employed when Muslims call for the 'Sharī'ah' and inviting non-Muslims to Islam.

Muslims, like any other minority community endeavouring to make positive contributions to the British society, will encounter many challenges of this nature due to the political and social environment in which we find ourselves. British Muslims have a unique struggle. We try to maintain our Muslim identity and at the same time we strive to make positive contributions and integrate into British society. This has led us to difficult position. There is a debate taking place regarding what it means to be British. Certain discussions that are taking place seem to be marginalizing and targeting Muslims and our religious identity in particular. Unfortunately, we do not have a substantial voice in the public arena nor are we participating in the debate on what 'Britishness' even means. Yet we speak with all guns blazing when the liberal fundamentalists steer and navigate the debates in politics and media how they desire without accommodating or considering the religious imperatives of Muslims.

However, during these instances the Muslim community needs to, in my view, revisit discussions on citizenship, integration, and contribution in British society. Our da'wah must be tailored to resonate with society at large in order to receive the best reception possible; but the question is how? Contribution in our British society does not equate to shouting and screaming slogans at people and reacting to the media hysteria. It does not make sense at all when some call for what they perceive and identify as being from the Sharī'ah in an environment where religion is seen to be suppressive and backward. For many, calling for a revival of religious practice is seen as a call to tyranny and violence.

There needs to be some understanding of how modern, liberal thought and societies perceive religion, particularly Islam: the dominant religion in The United Kingdom has been varying forms of Christianity, the most salient of which was Catholicism. The Catholic Church, however, was infamous for its deterrence of education and critical thought, to the extent that it prevented people from reading even the Bible itself! However, society at large was too profoundly inspired by the tide of education and the light of knowledge that it could no longer allow the Church to suppress thought and persecute thinkers. From this materialized the renaissance and the reformation, transforming the Western perception of science, education, religion, and even transforming Christianity itself. Hence, by and large, the Western paradigm is that:

(i) religion is incompatible with intellectual and scientific progress

(ii) religion should have no say in social, political and educational affairs

(iii) religion should take the back seat and let secularism take the wheel in order for civilization to flourish.

It was not long ago that religious adherence changed from something that was largely 'incorporated' by the state for the people, to being a matter of 'choice'. The main established religion really faded away into background in Europe and UK. Even recently (from the 80s) statistics prove that although people generally believe in God they only use religion when it suits them (i.e. during birth, death). It is more of a cultural phenomenon to them than anything else.

However, things began to change with the influx of Muslims and other minorities in Europe and the UK. Muslims in particular arrived to the UK and began building institutions such as Mosques and Madrasas. They began to demand more rights as British citizens – the right to practice their religion freely. What also emerged was the fear among some sectors of the secular elite that religious 'fundamentalism' was once again creeping into British and European societies. How did the elite secularists combat this perceived shift towards 'fundamentalism'? We witnessed the emergence and growth of 'new atheism', which became stronger and galvanized more support subsequently after the 9/11, and 7/7 attacks.

If we take the example of the Rushdie Affair for instance; many in the UK were shocked because, although they could understand the burning of books and effigies in the streets of Iran, they were scared and alarmed that this religious 'fundamentalism' was taking over in the streets of the UK. Christians too were alarmed by the 'Muslim voice' in public (although there was nothing substantial) and even newspapers like the Mail and the Telegraph appeared to be defending 'Christian' values.

Although there is a significant growth in religiosity among Muslims, our da'wah or contribution to the betterment of the British society remains very weak. Politically, economically, in education and in media our voice is timid. There is no considerable Muslim voice in the decision-making process in society.

I believe the more we defend our religious symbols and practices in the public sphere the more challenges we will encounter, and we will not be able to influence or change them positively if we have not made any grounds on the aforementioned weaknesses that have been highlighted. We need to take responsibility to accurately and positively disseminate what our religion demands of us in this Society while being cognizant of the unique reality we are in.

Unfortunately, some of our actions also exacerbate the media hysteria when Islam and Muslims are discussed. The case, in which Judge Peter Murphy agreed to come to a compromise over a defendant wearing the niqāb while entering a plea at a trial, is one example that comes to mind. In all of the mainstream Islamic schools of jurisprudence there is a clear dispensation given to the woman in court to remove the face veil for identification. Although the defendant at this instance did approve a female for identification, nevertheless a more pragmatic approach to fiqh and its application needs to be observed in these situations especially due to the fact that Islamic Jurisprudence is accommodative of the cultural norms of a society if they are not in conflict with Islam. Just because we may find certain texts to be clear, that clarity should not be confused with the complexities of the context and environment in which the texts are applied.

For many Muslims, on one hand we want the right to practice our religion, which is of course correct. However, if the right to practice our faith in this society is defended in a reactionary manner and by having an isolationist approach (to a certain extent) we will not succeed in anything. If we do not have a positive and comprehensive voice in this society in order to discuss issues of core importance, isolated issues like the niqāb incident will resurface over and over again. Where are our representatives in media, politics and education? Do we have a solid infrastructure like other minorities so that our voice is not only heard but duly considered?

Imagine if someone wrote something negative in the media about how the Jews in Stamford Hill (London) were living and dressing (that's just a basic example btw). There would be uproar in the media and elsewhere. Politicians and leaders would be obliged to defend their right, and rightly so. Jews do not have to react to isolated attempts at restricting their religious freedoms because they have actively exerted more effort to become part of the fabric of their society, hence religious freedom (and their choice of dress) is acknowledged as their right. But will that same courtesy be afforded to Muslims? I would be correct to assume that it will not. Even if some do show this courtesy to Muslims, the powerful and the policy-makers will remain detached from the needs and feelings of Muslims.

This, on the other hand, does not mean that Muslims should abandon or compromise their beliefs, but, it is about being consistent, practical and realistic with our efforts to positively integrate and contribute while being faithful to our unique religious identity. Most, if not all Muslims living in the UK consider Britain to be their home; this is where they were born and Allāh knows best if they will also die here; therefore we must behave and carry ourselves in a manner that is conducive to our faith and our context. We must not have an 'us versus them' mentality. We should want good for the British people and that requires that our khitāb or address is suitable and appropriate – free from aggressive and antithetical rhetoric.

 

Photo courtesy of The Sun

12 Responses

  1. The Niqab Debate | How Muslims Contribute & Articulate Faith in British … – MuslimMatters | What Would Science Say

    […] The Niqab Debate | How Muslims Contribute & Articulate Faith in British …MuslimMatters We witnessed the emergence and growth of ‘new atheism‘, which became stronger and galvanized more support subsequently after the 9/11, and 7/7 attacks. If we take the example of the Rushdie Affair for instance; many in the UK were shocked because, … […]

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  2. Greg Abdul

    I am in America and Muslims here we have this same identity problem. This is complicated by the fact that each of as individual Muslims in West is subject to a particular situation that is hard to be advise on because who can explain all the complexities of two billion individual existences? I go to work in a warehouse/factory. I am the only Muslim in my department. I tend to the in the show myself too much “isolationist” camp.
    But just last week, I saw a Muslim manger, with birthday balloons and cards in his office. I have previously seen him work on the committee that organizes our annual year-end celebration (really a Christmas party). Our approaches are totally different and he is way more integrated and making way more money than I am. But a lot of that is because I pray at work and openly identify myself as Muslim. We both have been there for a long time. However, the anti Muslim element in our workplace clearly do not like me, never have and maybe never will.
    In truly open liberal societies, there is an inherent hostility that has nothing to do with religion, like dogs fighting over a bone for the small potential benefits flowing from any particular situation. The next raise or affiliation that will lead to more income is a constant thread for all of us living in the West. I say, I am a terrible Muslim. I am no saint. But I love the prayer. I love my practice of Islam and I always want more.
    If you run your religion to be accepted, many of the hiders say, after you are so wonderful in your conduct somewhere down the line, they will ask you your religion and then you can preach. That’s a lie they tell themselves. The reality is the good people are silent while and at the same time, people like Bin Laden shout from the rooftops they represent Islam. Since the majority of us in the West hide what we really are, the non-Muslims, after many decades of our hiding, have decided the Bin Laden represents true Islam.
    The hiding/assimilation has brought tremendous individual opportunities to individuals Muslims at the expense of our Ummah being identified with criminals. Under our present dynamic of hiding, the rules are now that no decent Muslim would cover, wear a beard or openly practice Islam in the West. I relate this to race. I am a black man. Our struggle was what it was because most people simply had no choice, There is no hiding skin color. Gays in the US are making huge strides, because they are fighting for open sanction of their relationships. Yet here we are, claiming we are God’s people, following God’s book, but many of us think the best thing we can do is pull off the hijab and those in the masjid parking lot.
    It took me years to begin praying at work. I love the salah. It cost me a lot to pray at work. I am no “hamza salawat.” But the little prayer Allah gives me, blesses me and it one of the best things in my life. There is an emptiness involved in running from your religion to please others who are not blessed with the faith. They are unhappy and filled with personal problems and misery loves company. I have been there, in their shoes. The non-Muslims believe there is no option for them other than to continue down their unhappy road and part of the reaction we get from non-Muslims is that we challenge the idea of the inevitability of their suffering.
    Each has to decide. I stuck my head in my Muslim manager’s door just to give him salaam and I felt pity for him. He spoke and looked thoroughly exhausted. You kill yourself, put your God back from you to please them, and their reward is basically to give you a little more money and work you to death.
    We all need money. We all have to choose as individuals about how we express ourselves as Muslims. What too many of us fail to realize is the real cost we pay for making sure our religion is so silent that it offends no one. Our Prophet is God’s greatest creation for all time, never to be surpassed, yet thousands of people wanted to murder him once he received revelation. So to the Muslims who have figured out how to practice Islam without offending non-Muslims, I say you know a trick our Prophet was not very good at.

    Peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah,

    Gregory Abdur Rahman

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  3. John Howard

    The fundamental fear I have with your faith as a person of secular beliefs is that you do not differentiate between state & your God. We in the west have spent centuries in blood sweat & tears to separate the two. We also believe in a national state. That is our country comes first not our religion. Muslims here believe that a Muslim in Afghanistan/Palestine etc is more their brother than a fellow citizen who is not Muslim. We can never trust that Muslims won’t attack us because of this. Couple this with the fact that you as a rule don’t assimilate or even pretend to makes most of us very wary of Muslims

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    • Inqiyaad

      Hi John,
      Actually, Islam does differentiate between state and God. The Qur’an is replete with reports of states whose leaders (Arabic-Mal’a), kings, and oligarchs (chosen leaders) not only rejected God but also perpetuated iniquities on their own people or on the other (I will suggest that you can start with chapters 11, 21, and 23 at http://www.quranexplorer.com/quran). They furthered their own agenda or the agenda of a select few people and convinced the plebeians that their policies were for the common good (economic, national security, fulfillment of personal desires etc.). There are also states whose leaders submitted to God and established justice. Islam preaches the reality that God is your primary well-wisher because He is the only one free of needs. All others will dictate policies according to their personal tastes and benefits, be it 50.00000001% of your fellow citizens (if they ever will be really in control) or rulers. Especially, the ones in positions of power can be corrupted if they are not mindful of a higher power that will hold them accountable. Islam preaches the reality that there is a higher power.

      Islam preaches that all mankind is equal and cannot be differentiated based on things that are beyond human control (nationality, race, wealth, social hierarchy etc). The only differentiator is submission to God and goodness that should ensue from that submission. Still, it does not place barriers when it comes to establishment of justice, helping the needy, taking care of your neighbor (read-your fellow citizens) etc. Conflict arises only when national policies are against Principles of Justice. Still, Islam has strict guidelines when it comes to how one can address these conflicts. I cannot assure you that there will never be a random, uneducated Muslim (Islamic education), overwhelmed by emotion after looking at atrocities committed in your name, who will attack you. However, I can assure you that Islam prohibits stabbing anyone in the back and acting on emotion. I hope you read the Qur’an to find out more from the source.

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    • Nicol

      Tbh I agree with the person bellow.

      Yes you might be worried that the Muslims might put their Muslim brothers and sisters before you but in fact our religion teaches us to treat everyone the same no matter what race or religion you are. It teaches us to respect everyone and tolerate everyone therefore a genuine believer wouldn’t put the Muslim brother or sister before you but in fact would treat you equally.

      Even though you might see few examples in society where a Muslim would prefer to live in a community with another Muslim you can’t pretend either that you would choose to live in a Muslim community instead if your own community so tbh it works both ways and In fact you might find that even the Muslim community or in fact other communities such as the Hindu community might be scared to trust you.

      However I firmly believe that a genuine believer in islam would treat everyone equally even tho you might find examples that these things don’t always happen but honestly, instead of pointing fingers at each other we should just tolerate each other and work together so we can live peacefully and also educate each other about different cultures because segregating communities will create even more tension and fear.

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  4. ice100

    I am a muslim women living in america, the daughter of immigrants from syria. I have never been told or forced to wear the hijab. My parents have let me keep my hair out and dress however I like, as long as I wear modest clothing.

    Dressing up in a niqab, or burqa should not be forced upon any woman, and those men who do so are hypocrites! Why cover your face, I shall never understand…

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  5. Hossain

    Thank you for educative article. It will help us to lead a sound life alongside of modern life.
    If you have any Effort Please help poor muslims.
    Your Small amounts make a big difference.Small sacrifices for us help transform lives of poor or orphan muslims living in Our world.

    The more funds we receive enable us to actively pursue extending the project into builds new masjid or reconstructs damaged masjid.
    Donate : http://www.dwpm.org

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  6. Iftikhar Ahmad

    Once again, Muslims of Britain are under the microscope. This time it is the niqab, the face covering worn by many Muslim women. Calls to ban it, have a national debate about it etc are being made by non-Muslims and so called ‘progressive Muslims’ like Yasmin Alibhai Brown. Neither of these two groups of people have any idea why a Muslim woman wears a niqab and proceed with their tirade based on their own assumptions; preaching to Muslims about their own faith. What positive outcome they think they will get out of this; quite how this will promote community cohesion and understanding is beyond anyone. What irony! They Offend Muslims, propose to limit their freedom, and yet still talk about social cohesion and freedom in the same breath. In a country where women have won the right to bare almost everything, we have a proposal to ban people from covering almost everything. People’s freedoms are being limited in the name of emancipating them. The newspaper that has page 3, is campaigning for the niqab ban on page 1. Male MPs want to tell women what they can’t wear; ‘progressive Muslims’ i.e. non-practising Muslims are the new Muslim theologians; and practising Muslims are the extremists.

    Muslim scholars have differed on whether or not covering the face is obligatory for women. This is true also of the four famous and currently practised schools of thought. The Hanafi and Maliki schools do not consider covering the face to be Muslims accept both positions as acceptable interpretations. Preference is either based on an academic leaning or based on precaution and prudence. The fact that there is disagreement does not take any matter outside of the pale of the Islamic tradition. On any Islamic issue where there is a difference of opinion, the individual chooses what to do. There is no force or coercion. In the matter of the niqab, many women find it more conducive to Islamic teachings around modesty, chastity, and neutralisation of sexual attraction, and so wear the niqab as a mark of their commitment to these ideals and their piety. It doesn’t even have to mean they consider it obligatory; nor does it mean that those who do not wear the niqab are less chaste or modest. It is about one’s personal feelings about themselves and how they manage their own spirituality. Many of my students know that I do not consider it obligatory. I see them join my classes without the niqab, soon after, they start wearing the niqab. I don’t even know why they did it. Ultimately, it’s their choice and none of my business. But it is religious choice and not a cultural one, which means a woman makes the choice to adopt an Islamic teaching in the hope of being rewarded by Allah (swt). This is the essence of any religious practice.

    The idea that women are being forced to wear the niqab is laughable. I’m sure some wear it because their husbands or fathers want them to. But choosing to respect their wishes does not mean they are forced. Maybe the would-be heroes who seek to emancipate niqab-wearing Muslim women should actually talk to niqabi women to find out how they feel rather than excluding them. An act that is so undemocratic, one wonders what kind of government these MPs think they represent. At the root of it is ignorance and arrogance. Ignorance of what the niqab really is about, and arrogance that leads to imposing one’s own views, preferences and anxieties upon the freedoms of others. Whatever happens, Muslims will adapt and we’ll move on. We’ve seen and been through worse. Britain as a whole needs to think carefully about what it stands to lose if it goes down this path. As far as I am concerned, democracy, human rights and liberal values are now being interpreted in a very dubious way. Muslims just have to stick to their principles. We were around before modernity and many other aspects of new-age conventional thinking, we will not be dictated to by it, we have not given in to it like Christianity and other faiths, and indeed we have no need to do so. Furthermore we will be around the day they have moved-on and become unrecognizable to westerners whose ancestors fought for them. It seems they are already moving on, albeit a move backwards
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislam

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