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Islam and Pluralism ( 25 Oct 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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VEIL THREAT: Jumping on to the ban wagon

The Shiv Sena wants a ban on the burqa and hijaab for its own political agenda. Muslim feminists and liberals disapprove of it because it oppresses women


By Mohammed Wajihuddin


No piece of cloth has created as much controversy as the burqa. And the Islamic outfit is once again in the news after Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna demanded a ban on it this week.


The incendiary and anti-Muslim Saamna isn’t exactly the most credible proponent of a ban on the burqa. However, even within the Muslim community, a group of activists and scholars have been at the forefront of the anti-burqa, especially the anti-hijaab (face veil), campaign, criticising the latter as a regressive device which turns women into objects. “It is a tool of women’s oppression,” declares the feisty Hasina Khan of Awaz-e-Niswan, a Muslim women’s advocacy group. “When you tell


women to observe purdah, you are actually segregating them, creating a wall between men and women.”


Khan, who vehemently fights the patriarchal tradition which treats women as objects of desire, sees the purdah issue popping up at her workshops all the time. Many of the participants at her workshops are burqa-clad women but she does not force them to shed the burqa because, she says, once the veil blocking their minds is lifted, they will discard the veil which covers their body as well.


How did the garment gain such a strong foothold even in cosmopolitan cities like Mumbai?  Khan maintains that the 1992-’93 riots added to the Muslim community’s sense of insecurity and sent it on a desperate search for religious roots. “The burqa became part of their religious identity,” says Khan. “Suddenly, even those families which had never forced their women to wear the burqa accepted it. It became the assertion of a community which felt besieged.”


The rise of Wahabism through fund-flushed Saudi Arabia also tremendously encouraged the burqa culture in India. The Saudis began funding conservative Islam, also called petrodollar Islam, mainly through Indian madrassas. “When I was a child, I had never seen so many burqas in the streets. In the last two decades or so, the burqa has become almost customary among a big section of Muslim society. It is the Wahabi influence,” says Noorjehan Safia Naaz of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.


What historically fuelled the practice of keeping women behind the veil? A pre-Islamic custom (Greek and Byzantine societies practised purdah too), the wearing of the veil entered the Islamic framework due to a selective reading of certain verses in the Quran. The Quran contains seven verses concerning burqa or hijaab. Most votaries of the veil, especially the orthodox ulema, cite a particular verse which says: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and wives of the believers that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments (when in public), so as to be recognised and not harmed.” The verse was revealed after it was reported that some ruffians were harassing women of the Prophet’s house.


Muslim liberals do not believe that the Quran ordained the face veil for Muslim women. “The outer garments mentioned in the verse do not refer to the face veil,” says Islamic scholar Zeenat Shaukat Ali. Senior cleric Maulana Shoeb Koti cites another verse to back his argument that the face veil is not Allah-ordained: ‘Say to believing women that they should lower their gaze and remain chaste and not reveal their adornments save what is normally apparent thereof, and they should fold their shawls over their bosoms.’ “If Allah wants


believing women to be covered from head to toe, why does He say that they should lower their gaze? A woman who is veiled doesn’t need to lower her gaze. This means the face veil is not mandatory,” says Koti.


Today, there is resistance from some women who willynilly wear the burqa, but it is subdued. Farrukh Waris, vice-principal of Burhani College, recalls one of her female students once confiding in her that she kept her burqa on only till she was in her mohalla. “She detested the burqa,” she says. “Once she was out of her mohalla, she would put it in her bag. There are many students who are loath to wear it but have to submit to the culture which is being imposed on them.” The pro-burqa group, however, will never accept that women are coerced to wear it.


It is time Muslims reinvented themselves and discarded the face veil, which is not God-mandated.


Source: Times of India