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The War Within Islam ( 3 Nov 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Reflections on Hijab ban in Muslim Turkey and a Hijab ‘revolution’ in the Liberal West

Hijab ban protects women's rights and Turkey's secular constitution

By Farzana Hassan, Nov 03, 2008

Secular Muslims are welcoming the decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey to disallow the lifting of the ban on hijabs as a significant triumph for secularism over repressive Islamist practices. The court recently ruled that amendments to the constitution by the ruling AKP to permit hijabs in universities, would amount to rendering "non-functional the basic features of the republic."

At the core of this decision is the realization that the hijab continues to be a tool of oppression for Muslim women, severely restricting their right to express their faith in their own unique and personal way.

Faith and its expression must be a matter of personal choice rather than a "categorical imperative" handed down through a system of belief that might be deemed by some as repressive and outmoded in its various manifestations.

While the decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey might restrict the rights of women claiming to have adopted the hijab of their own free will, one must question the authenticity of such claims through a process of unearthing some of the religious undercurrents of such decisions. In the same suspicion over the validity of such claims, European lawmakers have chosen to restrict the use of religious headgear in public institutions.

One would need assurances for example, that women who reject the hijab would not be subjected to coercion in the matter, simply because the orthodoxy considers it a religious requirement. The lifting of the ban in Turkey would have empowered the fundamentalist Islamic forces, resulting in the almost certain marginalization and oppression of women, reducing their role in society to one of subservience and subjugation. This would be tantamount to providing leverage to the religious right in their ceaseless attempts to enforce compliance for the practice where it is not voluntary.

Traditional Muslims often bristle at such criticism by downplaying the social pressures faced by women who reject the hijab. This, however, is a gross misrepresentation of reality. Even women, who supposedly choose it, do so because they are rarely if ever exposed to an alternative analysis on the issue, which does not consider the hijab a religious requirement.

Women's "choice" in the matter can be considered authentic only if they are exposed to alternative narratives on modesty, which do not prescribe the covering of the hair or face.

Turkey as a modern state and last bastion of secular Islam must continue to uphold its tradition of the separation of religion and state. The headgear or hijab is a political tool and a threat to Turkey's long secular tradition. Currently, there is tremendous pressure on secular women to cover up according to orthodox requirements, even in large cities. The present government has also attempted to eliminate the secular dress code in government offices. It has taken a slower, steadier path, careful not to jolt the establishment too quickly while at the same time floating an occasional trial balloon for social reforms to advance the Islamist agenda.

Islamism, quite distinct from Islam, is a fascist ideology that needs to be countered with equal force at each step of its numerous incursions into civil society. It strikes at the foundational principles of liberal and secular democracies such as Canada as well, seeking eventually to undermine cherished values of freedom, pluralism and egalitarianism.

At the same time the Islamists are brandishing the pluralism card to advance their religious agenda; they are making plans eventually to suppress any competing worldview.

And it is important to mention here that left-wing dalliance with multiculturalism as a social construct allowing the spread of Islamism is misguided to say the least. These people are barely aware of the Islamists' long-term agenda to establish a radical form of Islam which will ultimately allow no inter-religious or intra-religious dissent.

Proponents of multiculturalism must recognize that the two philosophies are mutually contradictory at practically every step of the game, and cannot possibly forge a genuine relationship based on universal humanistic principles.

Farzana Hassan is president of Muslim Canadian Congress. The Gazette (Montreal)


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Perfecting Our Hijab: Some reflections on the "Hijab Revolution" in the West    

03 November 2008

Written by Islamic Insights  

Is this really Hijab?

How many of us think we know the meaning of Hijab so well that we could practice proper Hijab, but only if we wanted to? While the Hijab serves as to preserve one's dignity, honour, and respect alongside the safety of one's beauty and chastity, these are all secondary reasons for observing Hijab. The fundamental purpose is that of obeying Allah's orders and striving to become obedient Muslims, so that we may be blessed with the promised rewards. Whatever the situation, sisters in Islam are trying hard when it comes to practicing the Hijab, but are we trying our best?

How many of you have seen a Hijabi smoking in public and thought, "Great, now people will label all Hijabis as smokers"? Now, let us not delve into the Islamic laws behind whether or not smoking is permissible in Islam or that females have just as many rights to engage in such acts as males. It doesn't have as much to do with smoking as with the fact that the Hijab is visibly the "flag of Islam", and as such, our sisters carry a great responsibility. Just to emphasize the weight of this responsibility which the Muslim women carry, we may relate a female's Hijab as having a similar level of importance as a male standard-bearer's role during war. Furthermore, this Islamic responsibility is a combination of two factors: not just the physical Hijab, but also the social Hijab.

The Qur’an reminds us: "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 (ordinarily) appear thereof." (24:31)

We all know that the meaning of Hijab is to be modest. But for some reason, every Hijabi we see seems to have her own interpretation of modesty. Hijab is a fundamental element of the Islamic faith, universal amongst all Muslims irrespective of the differing schools of thought. Despite this, the women in Islam are incapable or choose not to maintain a universal – or at least a similar – context when it comes to the physical Hijab. Sure, Hijab is not a "uniform", and Hijabis need not be marching around in exactly the same garb so that people think the sisters are forming some kind of Hijabi military base at the local community centre, but a little uniformity and attention to the "modesty" aspect of Hijab would be nice.

While it is natural for the so-called "Hijab Revolution" to have taken place recently, especially with the number of Muslims increasing in the West, there seems to be no "standard" with the Hijabis. This often leads to the Hijab aspect of Islam coming off as a "cultural" aspect rather than a religious one. Worse yet, due to the excessive differences among Hijab practices both physical and social, unfortunately our entire religion may come across as having no "standard" with an excessive amount of flexibility that lets individuals suit Islam to their own convenience.

An analysis of the Hijabi population will depict the variety of the Hijab methods practiced with the utmost differentiation when it comes to tightness, colours, sizes, and styles of Hijab. On one hand we have the fully-covered yet fully-colored Abaya Hijabis, and on the other hand, we have the Hijabis with clothes so tight (or see-through, for that matter) that if they wore a t-shirt, they would probably be revealing less. We also see those Hijabis who are covered well yet leave their bangs hanging out, or the very decently-dressed sisters with faces which are so immensely covered in make-up that their Hijab defeats the purpose of the above mentioned verse of the Qur'an, which is instructing women to not display their beauty in public except for that which is natural.

With the recent trends of Hijabi Runways, we see models on the catwalk dressed in the latest fashion clothing with a tiny little covering over their hair. Where is the value of Hijab in a catwalk, if the purpose is to establish one's character and self-respect on everything but their physical appearance? While it is necessary for the sisters to dress appropriately to their lifestyle contexts and careers, sometimes the mind can't help but wonder if the idea of "blending-in" but within the limits of proper Hijab is negated by the idea of "We wear Hijab, but still have a passion for fashion." Having a good sense of fashion doesn't attribute any negative aspects to a person's character, but if this fashion sense equates to beautifying one's self and displaying oneself such that our sisters appear to be physically appealing even while in Hijab, than something is very wrong with that type of Hijab.

The idea is not to point fingers towards the Hijabis and annoyingly peck at those areas where they falter, but rather to highlight to our Muslim sisters that the way we practice Hijab heavily affects the way non-Muslims interpret Islam as a whole. Not only this, but if there is fault in the way Hijab is being practiced, then the reward from God will be also be likewise. Proper Hijab does not just comprise of a tiny headscarf but can only be achieved when also combined with the maintenance of Islamic methods of social interaction.

One could argue that Muslim males should be just as cautious as women, and agreeably, they must! But it is a woman's physical Hijab factor which, when intertwined with the social Hijab factor, forms a special combination which makes her responsibility towards portraying Islam much more delicate and unique.

The social Hijab is basically the way a female presents her, behaves, and interacts with others in public. Looking back at the example of our sisters smoking in public, it is vital for Hijabis to maintain good manners while in the presence of others, because the truth is, Hijabis are judged by society based on their actions too. As women are being constantly judged by society, they deserve every right to demand self-respect.

A few ways by which sisters can obtain respect from society is by being particularly careful of the way they interact in mixed gatherings with the opposite gender. More than often I see sisters in brilliant Hijab; however, the way some sisters joke and spend time with non-mahrams can only hint that a bit of flirtation (which leads to forbidden actions) is flying in the air. However, we also do have the overly-friendly sisters who do not intentionally act the way they do around non-mahrams, yet they need to realize that intentions aside, there may be room for improvement in their Hijab practice while in the company of men.

Going right down to the bone of what "good behaviour" is, all we need to do is that the next time we are in public, we must stop and remember that Allah is watching us. If we remember this reality that our Lord is monitoring us at all times, there will be a guaranteed immediate improvement in our social Hijab. Out the window will go all the gossiping, coarse language, and disrespect towards elders and others, not to mention the flirting and excessive joking.

Admirable are those sisters who manage to establish such respect and dignity for themselves amongst non-Muslims, that without having to explain the "rules" of our religion, people who interact with the Hijabi are able to grasp her character through non-verbal vibes and act accordingly while in her presence. For example, when someone uses a bad word around a Hijabi and there is an awkward silence, people stop what they are doing and look at the Hijabi with embarrassment and mumble an apology. Or when there is ill-talk about another person behind their back, and when people realize that a Hijabi is present, the topic is quickly brushed off. This is the type of dignity and respect that Islam believes women must command and deserve from society.

While the world seeks to establish identity through attractive clothing and glitzy appearances, without giving much importance to behaviour, morals, social conduct, and self-respect, it is absolutely imperative for us Muslim women to maintain both the physical and social Hijab in such a way that reflects its true purpose and as a result of which we can proudly stand before our Lady Fatima Zahra and Lady Zainab (peace be upon them) on the Day of Judgment without regrets.



written by agreed , November 03, 2008

I agree with all the points of this article, but I think the importance of men's behaviour is a little underemphasized here - I suspect this was written by a male. I think men deceive themselves if they think they are not nearly the same level of representative of Islam as a woman in hijab - seeing a Muslim male smoking is if not equally repugnant and taken as representative of Islam, then nearly so. Muslim men sometimes think they are invisible, that they can go to clubs and bars, they can ignore their prayers, they can dress immodestly, and none of it matters or reflects on their religion, but it truly does. If you consider that a large percentage of converts to Islam are women who learn about Islam through men, many of them are actually getting very bad examples of Islam from the first Muslims they meet, and that can cause problems.

That being said, I am one that thinks fashion and hijab don't really quite mix. Not saying a woman has to look frumpy or dress inappropriately for the job she's doing, etc., the intention of the fashion industry, as far as I can tell, is to draw attention to women's bodies as a form of art or advertising/sales. Further, it is a very materialistic industry that promotes discarding perfectly good items for the latest trend, as well as overpaying for name brands, etc. I think women are constantly pressured to adapt their hijab to the latest trends, to make it more attention-getting, tighter, brighter, glitzier, etc. The effect is to make a hijab-wearing woman less modest and really make her hijab-less just wearing a scarf.


written by what is modest dress , November 03, 2008

I think that is a good question to ask, for men and women, before heading out the door. Maybe you have seen that TV show on the Discovery channel with the family with 17 kids and one on the way. Anyone looking at how that family dresses would call it modest, even though the women don't cover their hair. So although we should make sure the extent matches Islamic rulings and for women does cover the hair, we also need to ask, is this a modest style so that others seeing it would look at it and think that is an appropriate descriptor to apply? If it is tight, fancy, really bright, etc., then chances are it wouldn't be described that way and we need to think about if it is appropriate.


written by HiddenSoldier , November 03, 2008

it is absolutely imperative for us Muslim women to maintain both the physical and social Hijab in such a way that reflects its true purpose and as a result of which we can proudly stand before our Lady Fatima Zahra and Lady Zainab (peace be upon them) on the Day of Judgment without regrets.

The author seems to be a female.

Whilst in the eyes of Allah (swt) both men and women are equal whilst smoking/engaging in other generally disliked acts, I think the idea is that Hijabi Muslims in particular, are much more identifiable as Muslims in comparison to the majority of Muslim men.


written by Anonymous , November 03, 2008

Whether the author is male or female, shouldn't be a factor.


written by no kidding , November 03, 2008

People sure are getting argumentative here lately! Can't we all just get along and try to learn/benefit from the articles and be positive?


written by ... , November 03, 2008

If we remember this reality that our Lord is monitoring us at all times, there will be a guaranteed immediate improvement in our social Hijab.


Add to the list Shaking hands with non-mahram

written by HadhratKhadija1 , November 03, 2008

Can we all also agree to not shake hands with non-mahram. It gets very confusing for non-Muslims when they see one Muslim willingly shaking hands and another refusing to do so. We could do each of us a big favor if we just went by one standard of politely and elegantly rejecting a handshake by a non-mahram.


written by shaking hands , November 03, 2008

Yes, it is hard - like if a teacher has parents show up for conferences of course the parents try to shake hands, or people go for job interviews and want to shake hands, or you receive an award and the person giving the award in front of everyone extends his/her hand. You don't want to offend them, but when meetings are so short and long explanations aren't possible, it can be hard to set a good first and only impression if they misunderstand and get offended or hurt feelings. If there were a universal response it would make it just a little bit easier, even in places where Muslims aren't common, because they might see it in the media or something like that.