Thursday, September 29, 2022

Nothing Veiled About the Hijab: Veiling Has Become The Most Obsessive Topic Of Public Debate

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam 28 September 2022 One of the Islamic symbols that have been engaging widespread attention across feminist, Orientalist, social, religious, and political discourse is the veil-the hijab (a scarf wrapped tightly around a woman's head to conceal every wisp of hair). Veiling has become the most obsessive topic of public debate. Photo: The Hindu ---- The Supreme Court has recently concluded a hearing of petitions filed by several Muslim organizations challenging the verdict of the Karnataka High Court upholding the ban on the hijab. One of the observations of the Supreme Court during the hearing was that the courts are not well equipped to interpret the Quran. However, if we apply our minds to the vast literature on the customs and practices of the Holy Scriptures we can certainly; make valid inferences. So is the case with the hijab. The word hijab stems from the word hijab, meaning, "to prevent from seeing. In Islamic scholarship, the hijab refers to broader notions of modesty, privacy, and morality. A history of colonialisation Eurocentric and Orientalist discourse depicting non-Western cultures as “backward,” combined with the Gulf War, the “War on Terror,” and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, have all contributed to the misunderstandings of Islam and specifically, the hijab. Hijab has often been misunderstood to be a symbol of oppression or a sign of extremism, resulting in the idea that Muslim women need to be liberated from it. However, both Islamic men and women have done extraordinary work to clear the misunderstood concept in most cities. We are now at a stage where a veil is a sign of empowerment and even highly social women feel that it gives them agency. The entire discourse has now changed. The hijab has now become the most powerful symbol of Muslim women's rejection of Western notions of feminism. It is being used to articulate a new response to modernity. The hijab protects women from the sexual gaze. Instead of a sexual approach men take an interest in what was in the woman's head and her personality, rather than her body. Too many women exert power through their sexuality, and Muslim women find it very degrading. They consider it a form of enslavement. The hijab also expresses a translational form of Islamic feminism that has been marked by the entry of women into all public spheres of Islamic life including formal religious learning. Some women choose to wear the hijab because it is a national tradition of their country of origin, or because it is the norm in their local area, city, or country. Others wear it to demonstrate their commitment to dressing modestly and for religious reasons. Although people usually discuss the hijab only in the context of women, the Qur'an prescribes for both Muslim men and women to be modest, in both character and dress. Any differences between the Islamic dress of men and women concern the differences between men and women in nature, temperament, and social life. Hijab is a way of ensuring that the moral boundaries between unrelated men and women are respected. In this sense, the term hijab encompasses more than a scarf and more than a dress code. It is an instrument for engendering morality and chasteness. But at the same time, the hijab cannot be used as a marker or benchmark to judge the morality of a Muslim woman and her “Muslimness”. The purity of her spiritualism and chastity of her character is more important for a woman than the moral value of her hijab. For instance, if a Muslim woman is wearing a scarf but at the same time using bad language, she would not be fulfilling the requirements of the hijab. Recognizing the potentially intrusive and debasing power of the gaze, God instructs men and women alike in the Qur’an to lower their eyes and dress modestly in public. “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, God is well aware of what they do.” (Q24:31) “And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts and that they disclose not their natural and artificial beauty except that which is apparent thereof, that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms, and that they disclose not their beauty save to their husbands, or their fathers … (a list of exceptions)” (Q24:32). It recorded that the wives of the Prophet went veiled and in this way, they're able to be recognized by one another and be honoured by other women for their distinction. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in several misunderstandings about Islam. The previous and current misunderstandings of Islam have fostered further tension and several restrictions have been placed by several governments on hijab. Arbitrary rules are being introduced by educational and police authorities who are making the hijab appear like a big Islamic bomb. Hijab is essentially a concept of modesty and privacy, usually expressed through women's clothes. One of the biggest sources of misunderstanding between Muslim women and western feminists is sexuality, Muslim women do not wish to express their sexuality in public, and believe that its proper place is in the privacy of an intimate relationship. Sexuality is not to be used to assert power but to express love. Among Muslim women, the debate about the hijab takes many forms. Many believe that the veil is a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women. Several women have argued that the hijab allows them freedom of movement and control of their bodies. Understood in such terms, the hijab protects women from the male gaze and allows them to become autonomous subjects. Others have argued that the veil only provides the illusion of protection and serves to absolve men of the responsibility for controlling their behaviour. Both positions assert that Islam is not responsible for sexism. The Qur’an supports the notion of gender equality. Hijab’s purpose is simply modesty. The modesty of clothing, the modesty of thoughts, and the modesty of actions. It was once an armoury of the poorer classes. Today it is the mascot of the most enlightened Muslim girls. They often describe how it liberates them from the toxic consumerist culture, from men’s predatory gaze, sexism, and from impure moral thoughts. Women wearing hijab have been very candidly and publicly emphasizing that dressing modestly and covering their hair minimizes sexual harassment in the workplace. It is a path that aids in self-purification and coming nearer to their Creator. Paradoxically, it is the women who rely on the veil to signal to others that the argument that the veil is indicative of oppression has no logic. A woman can wear it as an instrument of modesty, yet still, embrace all of the rights and opportunities are given to other modern women. The French authorities see both feminism and Islam as inherently at odds, not because of their ideology but because the people of France are embracing Islam in droves., For the general public, the attraction of Islam is it provides more discipline than other religions. They are in a way trying to refuse modernism and get back to a society with more family values and a clearer distinction between men and women. The official authorities see the veil as more about social exclusion and are using this strategy as a subterfuge to control the growing number of converts to Islam. It is being maliciously labelled as a social disrupter that precludes integration and is being used as an alibi for several discriminatory policies and arbitrary rules. They want to subdue the Muslim community to keep them tethered to the secular society. The hijab is also becoming popular because it expresses a translational form of Islamic feminism that has got nuanced by the entry of Muslim women into all public spheres including formal religious learning. It is a vehicle for distinguishing between women and men and a means of controlling male sexual desire. The hijab is not a piece of cloth but a mascot. Muslim women are using it to reclaim their right to speak to re-appropriate their own destinies. Indeed, today many female Muslim intellectuals living in Muslim societies and the West, are questioning several negative preconceptions surrounding these issues. In particular, they contest the classical analysis which stipulates inequality between men and women by asserting that it is certain biased readings, endorsed by patriarchal customs, which have legitimated these erroneous inequalities. They must understand the necessity of recognising and consciously accepting the broad cultural differences between western and non-western conceptions of autonomy as well as respecting social standards that reflect non-western values. Muslim women must work in full partnership with Muslim men, rejecting Western models of liberalisation, but also, and more importantly, asserting their own. Modesty is the defining emblem of Islamic values. The Arabic word for modesty is Haya. The interesting thing about this word is that it is linguistically related to the Arabic word for life (Hayat). Modesty is the virtue that infuses spirituality into the soul. This connection between spiritual life and modesty exists because the virtue is not just about outward appearances; rather, it is tolerance first and foremost about the inward state of having modesty before God–meaning awareness of divine presence everywhere and at all times that leads to propriety within oneself and in one’s most private moments. Prophet Muhammad said, "Every religion has a chief characteristic and the chief characteristic of Islam is modesty. “In Islam, modesty is a virtue for both men and women. The Prophet himself was described as being the epitome of modesty in his behaviour with people. When the Qur’an tells believers to lower their lustful gazes and guard their chastity-important aspects of the modesty tradition-it begins by commanding this to men before women (Q 24:30-31). This connection between spiritual life and modesty exists because the virtue is not just about outward appearances; rather, it is tolerance first and foremost about the inward state of having modesty - meaning an awareness of divine presence everywhere and at all times that leads to propriety within oneself and in one's most private moments. Outward modesty means behaving in a way that maintains one's own self-respect and the respect of others, whether in dress, speech, or behaviour. Inward modesty means shying away from any character or quality that is offensive to God. The outward is a reminder of the inward, and the inward is essential to the outward. Once the erroneous understanding and flawed logic behind the hijab gets cleared, they are bound to acknowledge that the hijab is a women’s cultural armour and there’s nothing veiled about the hijab. We must get referring to the clich├ęs and misapprehensions connected to Islam in France. We must show that French culture and Islam can live together in peace.” Assert Muslim women A veil is seen as a genuine expression of a woman's religiosity. It’s a badge of their womanhood, representative of their resilience as females in a world determined to control every aspect of their being. Paradoxically, it is the women who are engaging with the modern world who appear to rely on the veil to signal to others that this is their way of expressing their freedom. A woman's attire has never been about perception, it is solely a matter of interpretation. What got lost amid such interpretive crossfire is the core message that women should not be objectified. Historically, modesty in dress has been defined by local customs that sometimes even predate Islam. The most sobering words for hijab come from Michelle Obama which she expressed when she addressed hijab-wearing students as the first lady of the United States: “Maybe you read the news and hear what folks are saying about your religion, and you wonder, if anyone ever sees beyond your headscarf to see who you are, instead of being blinded by the fears and misperceptions in their minds. And I know how painful and how frustrating all of that can be. But here’s the thing—you all have everything, everything, you need to rise above all of the noise and fulfil every last one of your dreams." ----- Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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