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Muslim Women in Britain Seek Fairness, Not Favors

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By Sajda Khan

 

The face-veil has become the epitome of European xenophobia. Burka and niqab are two terms which are commonly used to describe a face-veil. The niqab is a face-veil covering the entire face leaving the area around the eyes uncovered. The burka covers the whole body including the face with a mesh or voile around the eyes.

Once again, Britain’s obsession with the face-veil of Muslim women has sparked controversy.  Writing in the Telegraph, former foreign minister Boris Johnson said that the attire was oppressive, that it is not in the Qur’an and that he thought it was ridiculous that people choose to go around looking like letter boxes and bank robbers. While Johnson faces an internal Conservative Party investigation, let us be honest; he is not the first and will not be the last to condemn the face-veil. Since the time of colonialism and up until now, there has been a legacy of Western politicians condemning the veil as sinister, misogynist, oppressive, a mark of separation, and the litany goes on. Sadly this trend of Islamophobia has emerged within our society with impunity.

Politicians and people who hold public office should adopt the British values of tolerance and respect in the language they use; making belittling comments about the practices of a culture or religion is a catalyst for the far-right to embolden discriminatory policies. Muslims are already seen as a fifth column and alienated from society, and comments like this do not help with integration but instead, reflect an illiberal and closed society, leaving  minority communities susceptible to stigmatization and abuse.

There has already been an increasing number of attacks on women for their visibility of being Muslim women, and as a result, these women are either forced to curtail their freedom to choose to dress how they wish or they are forced out of public life. This suggests that there is no place in Britain for women who choose to wear the face-veil and creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy.

Furthermore, it undermines our values which include individual liberty and respect for other cultures and religions. A liberal democracy is built upon the foundation of respect and upholding the rights of others even if we dislike the choices that they may make. Tolerance is the willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviors that one may dislike or disagree with.

Muslim women choose to wear the face-veil for a myriad of reasons. Some wear it as part of a religious or cultural identity while others do so as a sign of empowerment, or even as a fashion statement. It is true that in some parts of the world Muslim women are oppressed and may be forced to wear the face-veil, and this  should be opposed. But to stigmatize women who choose to wear the face-veil is also antithetical to the tenets of a liberal society.

Even within the Muslim community there are some Muslims who are eager to denounce the face-veil because they believe that it is not Islamic and a preposterous choice. Many of these Muslims may even agree with Boris Johnson: that it is right not to ban the face-veil but it is not prescribed within Islam, hence Muslim women should  not wear it. They will also argue that the face-veil is an erasure of women and that the ideology that supports it is an antithesis of feminism. It is true that there are no verses in the Qur’an that explicitly state that a woman must wear the face-veil. However, let us not ignore the fact that Islamic law is not simply a literal reading of the Qur’an. We have an entire epistemology: there is the Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), and the scholarly interpretations and opinions. Muslim theologians have debated and differed on the issue of the face-veil ever since the era following the death of Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Some scholars have held the opinion that it is an obligation to wear the face-veil while others have said a  Muslim woman is not obliged to cover her face. For many Muslims then, the face-veil is rooted in Islamic tradition, but they will differ as to whether or not it is compulsory.

The point is though, whether or not one believes the face-veil is a requirement, no one has the right to tell a woman what she should or should not wear. In addition, people on either side of the discourse should not promote an intolerant austere vision. Islam is not monolithic; there are nuances and these should be respected, even if we choose to disagree.

More importantly however, what seems to be deliberately obliterated from the hysteria around the face-veil, is the actual voice of those Muslim women who choose to wear it. Arundhati Roy said: “There is no such thing as the voiceless. There are only the willingly unheard.”  So, whether it is Muslims or non-Muslims, let us not disregard the individual choices that many of these women make and let us not adopt an ethnocentric approach to the face-veil, because that is no doubt, an affront to our British values.

I would say, the face-veil in Britain is symbolic of Britain being a diverse, open and liberal society. It demonstrates the ability of the British to be able to absorb differences and to accept foreign customs. Societies are, no doubt enriched by cultural variation. The presence of  heterogeneous mores is a sign of pluralism and let us not forget, pluralism is one of the hallowed values of our country. Surely,  an ethnocentric approach is clearly an affront to our British values – values that demand a lot more respect than this.

Finally, Muslim women seek fairness, not favors; so, let’s not deny them the individual freedoms that Britain prides itself on.

 

 

Sajda Khan is a writer, and is currently completing her PhD on the Seerah and its relevance to the West. She can be found on Twitter as @SajdaKhanUK

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Safa Nadem

    August 27, 2018 at 12:24 AM

    Excellent points made! This is the best written piece I have read on the Niqab!

  2. Avatar

    Yousaf Ali

    August 27, 2018 at 12:51 AM

    Wow MashAllah – a wonderful article!

  3. Avatar

    Fazal

    August 27, 2018 at 4:42 AM

    Awesome article, keep your great work going.

  4. Avatar

    Ansah Tariq

    August 27, 2018 at 6:47 PM

    Some pertinent points made in the article. The writer has succinctly addressed the fanaticism surrounding the face veil and how it is starkly contrasting to the rhetoric and values Britain prides itself on

  5. Avatar

    Alkalaam

    August 29, 2018 at 12:47 PM

    Barak allahu Keek, May allah increase you in knowledge and amal.

  6. Avatar

    Shira

    September 4, 2018 at 4:37 PM

    Masha Allah Brilliant article

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Politics

Imam Omar Suleiman Calls for Unity at Bernie Sanders Rally

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Imam Omar Suleiman made a special appearance at a Texas rally for the supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. In his speech this February 16th, Imam Omar Suleiman called for “[a]n America of safety, dignity, love and unity. An America where we uplift our most vulnerable, celebrate our diversity, and unlock our collective genius.”

The video of the full speech may be viewed on his official Facebook page.

When asked whether his presence at the Sanders Rally served as an official endorsement of Sanders by Iman Omar Suleiman, he responded on Instagram, “Not an endorsement just yet, but genuine appreciation for his time, listening, and authentically engaging the community.”

Although Imam Omar Suleiman has not endorsed any specific candidate, he has previously stated,

“I don’t believe in uncritically adopting a platform, or letting a party take advantage of our vulnerability. We need to challenge Democrats just as strongly as we do Republicans, while remaining independent and principled. We have a right to an agenda like any other community. Politicians should have to work for our vote, and we shouldn’t shy away from where we differ with candidates even when we vote for them.

You can read my article on voting here in which I lay out those principles.”

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Civil Rights

Podcast: Muhammad Ali, Superhuman and Super Human | Amaar Abdul-Nasir

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Why is Muhammad Ali the only one known around the globe simply as “The Greatest”?Click To Tweet

It is in part because Ali wasn’t just a boxing superstar. Rather, he played a large role in creating what the definition of a boxing superstar has become. And he wasn’t just a social activist; he was a cultural trail blazer.

In that respect, Ali holds a place on the most exclusive of sports lists: His name sits next to Jackie Robinson as athletes and historical figures whose impact on sports and society leaves them without peer.

From putting America on blast for its racism and hypocrisy when it was still very dangerous for a Black man to do so, to taking a loud and very public stance against the Vietnam War when it was dangerous for any American to do so, to in later years lending his resources to a variety of social and political causes, Ali’s strength and compassion shined even when his body couldn’t always keep up.

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#Current Affairs

Coronavirus And The Impetus To Close The Chinese-Run Concentration Camps

My Appeal to the International Community to Save the Lives of 3+ Million Uyghurs in China’s Concentration Camps

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According to Dr. Adrian Zenz, an independent researcher based in Germany who has testified on several occasions on Capitol Hill, the concentration camps in East Turkestan number up to 1,400 (8 Nov 2019, [1]). It has been estimated that the number of the Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic minorities being held in those concentration camps can add up to more than 3 million.

On February 5th, 2020, when the official Chinese government’s media were reporting that coronavirus death toll on mainland China was 600 – 700 [2], Tencent briefly listed 154,023 infections and 24,589 deaths from Wuhan coronavirus [3]. That is, the actual death toll is about 40 times higher than what the Chinese government reported. East Turkestan (known as Xinjiang) is far from the epicenter of the outbreak and just 55 cases have been reported in the region so far [4]. We can easily believe that the actual number of the people who fell victim to coronavirus in East Turkestan is tens of times more than the above figure.

Among those who died in Wuhan, 61% died in their homes. Currently, almost all the Uyghur population in East Turkestan is locked up in their homes. 

The situation of the 3+ million Uyghur concentration camp detainees is worse by several degrees. Keeping 3+ million Uyghur alive detainees is a complex, expensive and extremely difficult project. Are the 3+ million detainees still alive? Are they still being fed? How and from where? 

There is a real reason to fear a rapid spread of coronavirus in the controversial Chinese camps. “The virus spreads from person to person through droplets disseminated by sneezing or coughing, and confining large groups of people together, possibly without adequate access to germ-killing soap and water, will increase the likelihood of an outbreak.” [4] 

I have started to panic. Most Uyghurs in the United States have families there, and they are dealing with the camps and the virus, and we do not know if they have enough to eat, have masks and enough heat to survive.

“If the international community fails to pressure China to take adequate actions to prevent outbreaks in the region, the nature of its mass network of concentration and forced labor camps will add an entirely new dimension to China’s ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs.” [5]

“Uyghurs in the diaspora fear if the virus isn’t already in the camps, when it does reach them, the consequences will be catastrophic, leading to mass outbreaks and high mortalities very quickly given reports of overcrowding, starvation, forced labor, sexual abuse and torture in the camps. As China has largely ignored the issue of the virus spreading in the region and its crimes against humanity in the region are ongoing, it’s unlikely the Chinese government will allocate resources to address the issue.” [5]

I call for:

  1. UN to send a delegation to the region to find out if the concentration camp detainees are being provided with enough food and heat to survive.
  2. WHO to send a delegation to the region to evaluate the spread of the virus, assess the risks in the camps and take all measures necessary to prevent mass outbreaks and deaths. 
  3. WHO, the UN, international human rights groups, national governments and the rest of the international community to pressure China to close the camps and release the millions detained immediately as part of the global response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  4. Global health and humanitarian organizations to send medical supplies and teams to screen, diagnose and treat affected individuals in the Uyghur region including those in China’s concentration camps. (Items 2 – 4 are almost identical to those in [5])

[1] https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/detainees-11232019223242.html

[2]https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/cloneofcloneofchina-coronavirus-outbreak-latest–200207231158175.html

[3]https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3871594?fbclid=IwAR1k3x27tW2jNmmQzbaNOWtciIwlP3z70GWvj2XcRhestwB6T6l16pSqL18

[4] https://www.france24.com/en/20200212-exiled-uighurs-fear-spread-of-coronavirus-in-china-camps

[5]https://www.change.org/p/demand-china-release-3-million-uyghurs-before-coronavirus-outbreaks-in-concentration-camps?utm_content=cl_sharecopy_20183581_en-CA%3Av2&recruiter=53261213&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

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