Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hijab and the Truth behind it

Sadia Dehlvi

Over a year ago, an Afghan woman carrying a baby in her arms and wearing a headscarf was shot in the head by an American Latino while walking on the street in Freemont, California. She died leaving six small children behind. There was a march in her memory where the women of Freemont irrespective of religious faith walked in protest wearing headscarves. The incident illustrates what the hijab has come to mean today. In a world where Muslims are associated with terrorism and are the victims of hate crimes, more and more young Muslim women are adopting the hijab as an expression of defiance and an assertion of Islamic identity.

Hijab is usually discussed in the context of women. However the Quran clearly states in Surah Noor: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that we will make for greater purity for them: and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.” Quran 24:30

The next verse says “and say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what appear therof; that they should draw their viels over their bosoms and not disply their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands fathers, their sons…” Quran 24:31

The Quran also clearly states “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error” Quran 2:256.

There is a tradition of the prophet where he asked the men to tell their women to cover their heads. Islam is based on the love of God and the Prophet Mohammad. Clearly, there can be no compulsion in love. Everything in Islam is based on intent. If one starves all day and does not intend to fast, the starvation does not give you the reward of a fast observed in the name of God. Similarly if a woman is forced into hijab or one who wears a designer turban and coat to make a fashion statement does not translate into hijab. The Prophet was gentle, polite, and never used force with any man or woman. Probhet Mohammad was often asked by his companions to define a perfect Muslim and each time he replied,” He amongst you who has the best moral character”. The essence of the Prophets teachings are a constant strive for inner perfection.

A woman must have the right to choose her dress code. The banning of headscarves for students in France is as oppressive as the Taliban forcing women into purdah. Last year seven states in Germany banned the hijab for teachers. In an attempt to be part of the European Union, Turkey has banned hijab for women in public institutions who are on the government payroll. In each case, it is the woman who is being used and has become the symbol of those who want to want to purify Islam or demonise it. Some European states have openly called the hijab a symbol of fundamentalism and extremism. Muslims around the world see the attack on hijab as a continuation of the onslaught against the Muslim World.

In Muslim societies from Egypt to Iran to Indonesia, many skilled professional women women wear the hijab as a matter of choice and should not be necessarily viewed as repressive. The hijab is often a matter of culture and tradition. In rural and traditional India women irrespective of their religions cover their heads. In the Muslim ghettos of India, they have little or no access to education or jobs, their faith is all they have and they cling to its symbols. The metro mindset now used to seeing almost obscene levels of fashion on film and television known confuses modernity with westernization. My grandmothers wore the burqa and yet they were very progressive. I have many cousins who are work as architects, doctors and lawyers while donning the headscarf and none of them are remotely oppressed.

What I find rather appalling is Indians accepting the Western notions of modernity while forgetting our own cultural legacy and notions of morality. Skimpily clad women on the ramp seem to prove that India has arrived on the world map. We have begun to view women who wish to cover their bodies as signs of obscurantism.

Sadly, Indian media is importing Western vocabulary, expressions and biases towards the Muslims. It is following the western media pattern of keeping the Muslims engaged in irrelevant issues. Soundbyte hungry journos rush to procure sensational statements from self proclaimed heads of the community which present opportunities for dialogues on the primitiveness of Muslim women. This deflects attention from the educational, structural, economic discriminations that millions of Indian Muslims face as a whole. The debate that should be taking up media space is where India has failed its Muslims and why is there gross under representation of the community in every field. The only place where Muslims are over represented are the jails. We need to focus our energies on corrective measures.


flygye12 said...

why dont you blog anymore !!!

hmm...why don't u start a blog called Sadianama? i love ur HT columns :)i know i know u don't want to make friends in the virtual world, but how will we be able to reach you otw?

Sadiyah said...

I came across your blog thru a convolted chain of links.

It was thrilling to realise that I had cut my "thinking teeth"... should there be such a phrase... on your writings so long ago and so far away. You were one of the first columnists/writers whose work I followed with diligence as a young adult in India sometime in the mid 80's. I have been away from the mothership since then but now with the magic of the net, I fully intend to catch up with all of your writing that I have doubtless, missed.

While I have not always agreed with every one of your stances, you have provoked me to think and make myself ready to appreciate other points of view! Thank you so much for that.

I do hope you will also return to your blog one day and find this message.

Warm regards,
Another Kiran in NYC

Mauni Alima said...

Wonderful reflections come by chance, as i catched up with ur blog, Sadia just to say God Bless U amin.
Do write more ...

Saba said...

Do you realy find logic when it is said that a women should hide her face and beauty and a man should only lower his gage... I'm not traditional; I'm not one of the so-called modern women either. What I have learned studying the society its the feudal society, the patriarchal setup which forces a women to be at guard, feel helpless. For educated woman like your cousins who use hijab though they are empowered as a part of their identity, for most it is not a decision, as a girl is born she grows up the way her family wants. Mostly confined in her home till she is married. Why should I cover my head because I am a woman? I am the source of life, why should I be hidden. Am I an embarrassment for the society? Its not only about Quran, history written by men portrays women as insecure and weak. It comes from the Rishis and ancient texts as well.... but I don’t accept it. How can you say that a woman if she believes in God should cover her beauty? I can understand covering boson, but why to hide your face and live without an identity. Take a look at the unwritten history, or at the places where matriarchal society still exist. There is no eve teasing, rape or domestic violence. I live in Delhi and I know that Jama Masjid area is any day safer for women on the street than most other areas, but as you said it should be by choice. There should be no bias against the veil but there should be no compulsion either and it should not be considered as a proof of faith. I read your write ups, like them very much....

Rajeev said...

if hijab is so good then why don't you wear one?

aaquib said...

I am Aaquib, student MA Masscomm,MCRC, Jamia. I studied Islam my self and a few years at Madrasa Amenia, the premier institute of Islamic thoughts and jurisprudence. Sadia your article was referred to me by a classmate Priya Thuvassery. Indeed its impeccably potent and timely. You have adorned pertinent points in precise diction where some phrases scintillate. Though i dont have time and i often never come to blogs,I feel like answering some people here. But as a male I dont have right to comment; even Islamically its the women who have to decide. Probably some of my friends who weren't raised as religious but revolted with their lots to cover themselves completely up, would sometime dwell upon that, if they ever wished. Or probably only Kamala Das...

mohammad said...

asalam wr wb

yes i totally agree with u ,sadia mam actually i want to meet u please contact me through my mail ( mohammadkakhalid@gmail.com ) ,doing MBA from jamia millia islamia ,and wanna write and brush up my writting skill and wanna also share sum thoughts so please do favour ,will be grateful to you


meh said...

Muslims in india have themselves to blame. They have forgotten the basics of Islam which gives highest priority to education and knowledge. the first words spoken by Allah thro Angel gabriel to Prophet was Iqra. The importance of learning and reading in islam is given highest importance.
But unfortunatly we Indian muslims niether read the quran and understand it and nor do we seek knowldge.
The basics requirement for every muslim is to read and follow Quran and if they do this i am sure things will change in our community.

Mirza said...

Excellent as always sadia ji you are kewl, and to rajeev its sadia' ji's choice . as its a choice not force

Madiha said...

"Skimpily clad women on the ramp seem to prove that India has arrived on the world map. We have begun to view women who wish to cover their bodies as signs of obscurantism."

I read this line over and over. It has magnificently taken into account the strive for equalizing modernization to westernization.

I am a young Muslim girl and have grown up in the West. I constantly come across people from all over the world in astonishment when they discover that I neither drink nor show my legs, yet I don't wear a head-scarf.

I have even encountered comments such as "Oh Wow. I couldn't tell you were religious..."

"You've grown up here?"

"You look so fashionable though"

It's sad to see how modernization and religion can't go hand in hand to a vast majority, and how they are almost like blacks and whites.

Wonderful piece of writing.


Anonymous said...

I was ok till the last few lines where you hint that India has failed its muslims. Is the country to be blamed for a community not being successful and being represented? India the last time I checked was a democracy with a constitution that protects the basic rights of every Indian. It is sad that educated Muslim Indians look at this as a failure of the Indian state. Is it not upto the individuals to improve their state of affairs?

Brio said...

Hijab and the Truth behind it

Dear Sadia dehlvi ji ..
I read ur article and i would comment that " incomplete knowledge " is very harmful , if we talk about Surah Noor , in this surah itself... Allaha SubhanawaTala ... commended his profet to tell his women and tell his people to convey their women ,, when u go out .. cover urself with a large cloth in arabic called JALBAAB ,like to cover ur head and ur body ,, and pull out the " ghoogat "so u can cover a bit of ur faces also ,, this is an mark of ur independence ..

We can find the full details described by various islamic scholars of various countires about Hijab , parda ,, so please to all fellow human beings.. I would again
stress over the point incomplete konwledge is harmful . .

and to know the truth we have to work bit hard ,, Almight God knows the best,

Salahuddin said...

Hijab is all about an inner respect for apposite gender.

I am totally agreeing with Saadia Sahiba she actually elaborate all the mysterious quarters of hijab.

Islam is derived from the word called Sa'lam which means peace.Islam provide a peaceful asylum(Pa'nah)[urdu word] to every individual in its orbit.

Men are asked to lower their gaze and women that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what appear therof; that they should draw their viels over their bosoms and not disply their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands fathers, their sons…

In both cases men are securing their love and respect for their beloved women and women are asked to do the same for their dear men

And tell me guy, who is against hijaab (Read Securty)?

Who kept pearl in a shell?
Who kept seeds in a fruit?
Who kept flower in a bud?
Who kept Musk in Deer?

It’s a rule of nature my friends!!

Let’s recall Dr. Muhammad Iqbal

Ye He Maqsood-e-Fitrat Hai Ye He Ramz-e-Musalmaani

Akhu’at Ki Jahangiri Muhabbat Ki Farawani

Anonymous said...

Your blog is og great importance for me as I have always seen you as a modern woman. I won't say like others that I am totally agreed with you but your article has provoked many thoughts in me. We muslim women living in western countries are fighting two wars. One with the western world and the other with our stereotypes. Time stands still for those families who migrated here in 80's and 70's. Women have to fight on many warfronts, her identity is questioned more often here. I myself, raised up in 80's and 90's Lahore may get confused sometimes. It is not so easy to maintain our values here.
I use sjal to cover my head and go to job in shalwar kameez and I think it is ok as long as I am convinced myself.
Your thoughts inspired.
With best regards

Rahul said...

Dear Sadia Ma'am,
Your article was very informative, and nice. I am someone who is trying to understand Islam better, and also my fellow Indians who are Muslims, and the challenges that they face. In my time in Bombay,where i interacted with tonnes of Muslims,
i felt that Indian Muslims, atleast some of them have ghettoed themselves. -It is the value system of many Muslims themselves that is leading them to not avail the best of the opurtunities given, and be at one with other Indians. I agree with 'Meghalaya', when she disagrees with your viewpoint, that India has failed its Muslims. Yes many Hindus carry some amount of prejudice towards Muslims, but a greater amount accept them. And this is something i have encountered with Muslims in general.A sense of otherness. As long as this sense of exclusivity lies, there will be friction between Indian Muslims and Rest of India, or Muslims and anywhere in the world. Yes, one can point out the Western hate towards Muslims; Indians being prejudiced against their Muslim nationals, but what about pointing the 'otherness, the sense of exclusivity' that Muslims feel and excercise towards others. In NYC, i met some Muslims who were deriding yoga, Westernization, New York City, Jews, and complete denial of 9/11. Some were even wanting me to convert, and leave my own religion of Hinduism. From these encounters i feel Muslims themselves need to be more appreciative of others, and need to put in more themselves than demand.

Aniket Navalkar said...

I partially agree with the point that Rahul has made .Namely that of "otherization" on the basis of faith. And this issue has not quite satisfactory been addressed by Sadia. The domain of "otherization" is not exclusive to muslims only, Hindus do it too, rampantly, and amongst themselves along caste and class lines. The entire principle of othering even among Hindus is based on ritualization but it doesn't have any legal sanctity. In Islamic Sufism , Baba Bulleh Shah has actually questioned ritualisation and caste hegemony. He condemned calling people labels like sayyad, pasmanda etc etc. However, we really don't find a large majority of muslims considering hindus equal on the basis of their faith. And this I feel is the crux of the problem which is not addressed sufficiently. In so many Khutbas , while ISIS, terrorism and expansionism is condemed, it is done so only cuz Muslims don't have a single Khalifa. If there did exist a single Khalifa, "Qitaal fi sabilillah" is jayaz and perhaps a fard too. In Muslim dominated areas , there is most definitely a cultural and a religious hegemony over other "kaafir" religions. One gets a notion that there was never any tahzeeb , any culture , any civilization in India before the muslims brought it here. I know this first hand as I lived in proximity of Muslims. And now with puritanical ideas like Wahhabism and Salafism spreading in the muslim landscape, things r getting worse. Now saying "Khuda Hafiz" is as much Shirk as saying "Hey Bhagwaan". The problem that I have with Sadia is that the core principles of sufism of purifying the heart, which she correctly attributes to the teachings of Hazrat Nizamuddin Ahuliya, Khwaja and Chishti remain the sole propriety of muslims on the basis of ritualism and the juriceprudence they follow. Rejection of ideas and principles of other faiths and cultures is still rife even among the practicioners of Sufi Islam. What makes one feel that Buddha's teachings had no influence on Sufism? He talked of the entire dissolution of ego based on observing mind matter phenomena! What about Kabir? Wasn't he a sufi who also analysed the Ramayana? But no mention of him at all in the sufi discourse which gets reductionist to Chishti and Khwaja just because of their Islamicness. A gross rejection of teachings of other faiths and making Sufism the sole islamic propriety does not really help. Now when the Sufis are getting a backlash from Wahhabis, there shouldn't be much complaining to do. Whereas in the days of the old, the Punjabi Sufis like Bulleh Shah & Farid of pakpattan confronted and questioned ritualism and the clerics taking the propriety of the faith. All in all, the puritanical ideas and the "othering" the others on the basis of faith is as rife among Sufi Muslims as it is in the Hindus. And unless this madness stops, we are not moving anywhere as a society....