By Tabassum, New Age Islam
23 June 2018
Some people claim that dressing in a certain way, wearing a particular headgear, maintaining their facial hair in a certain manner or adopting other such ways of looking distinct from others and standing out from them in public is mandated by the religion that they claim to follow. They also argue that appearing in this distinct way in public is a basic right of theirs—the right to the free practice of religion. In recent years, some such demands have stoked major controversies in different parts of the world.
Whether or not such markers of identity are indeed mandated by the religion that those who make these demands claim to follow is a question that I am neither qualified to handle nor interested in exploring. But what is vexing is that these demands are generally framed by their backers solely in terms of religious rights, while the fact that rights must always go along with responsibilities is generally completely ignored in the heat of these debates.
When people who adopt a particular marker of ‘religious’ identity in public (which they claim is mandated by their religion), they send out a loud, although non-verbal, message, simply by their distinct appearance—that they are followers of a particular religion (or claim to be so) and members of a particular community that is linked to that religion. Now, because of this, it is very likely (whether they like it or not) that their behaviour in public—every bit of it—will come to be associated in the eyes of others with their religion and community. Rather than being seen just as individuals, they will be perceived as members of this or the other religion and community and even as representing them in some sense.
This situation places an enormous responsibility on people who insist on appearing in public in this distinct manner—for, now they are responsible, in a major way, for the reputation that their religion and community has among others. How they behave in public will play a major role in shaping how others look at their religion and community. It is likely that people who see them will associate their behaviour with the religion that they claim to follow and to their community. Any unseemly behaviour on the part of such people will likely cause those who witness their behaviour to link it, in some way or the other, with their religion and community, thus further solidifying negative views about them. They may even attribute their behaviour to their religion and to their community as a whole. On the other hand, if someone dressed in a particular ‘religious’ way behaves well in public, it is likely that others who are impressed by their behaviour will develop a positive image of their religion and their community.
This being the case, people who insist on what they regard as their right to sport markers of identity in public that clearly indicate their membership in a particular religious community must recognise the great responsibility that they must be willing to take on —the responsibility for the good name and honour of their community and the religion they claim to follow among other people. That means that they must recognise that they need to be extra particular to behave decently, for their every action will have repercussions for how others regard not just them as individuals, but their religion and community too.