For Muslim Women, Veil Is Power And Beauty,By Riad Saloojee

For Muslim Women, Veil Is Power And Beauty

By Riad Saloojee, For The Calgary Herald October 14, 2009

Nothing can carve out cultural divides quite like the issue of the Islamic head covering (hijab) or face veil (Niqaab). Both continue to be the subject of not only debate but legislation the world over. We are not immune. Few Canadians would be unfamiliar with Quebec and its history with scarf-wearing Canadian Muslim learners. The issue has exhibited a tenacious longevity but, alarmingly, it continues to be hotly contested in ways that rarely rise to a sphere of mature discourse so essential to the functioning of any healthy civic society.

A case in point is the recent discussions on the topic, fuelled by plans of the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar University to forbid entry to women students who don the face veil. No sooner than the reported plans were revealed, did the Canadian Muslim Congress call on Canada to ban the face veil. The arguments raged from the face veil being a “symbol of Islamic extremism,” a “medieval practice,” the result of a patriarchal “male misogyny” and a “security risk.” The head scarf and the face veil, it was asserted, are “alien” to Islam, and the Islamic primary sources speak nothing of them.

The arguments were trite in that they summarized the prevailing wisdom of the antagonists; they were troubling in that they were generalizing, absolute and boldly simplistic.

The face veil is not a symbol of Islamic extremism, if extremism is understood as political violence against innocents. From the earlier inceptions of Islam, some Muslim women have worn face veils, believing, as they did then and do now, that it is either a religious prescription or something meritorious. Marrying the face veil with political violence is nothing more than a fanciful stretch.

The issue of the face veil within Islam is even clearer. More than 1,400 years of mainstream classical and modern Islamic scholarship have asserted that the head scarf and face veil have a religious basis, much of which is reported in explicit texts which are so numerous they cannot possibly be denied by any objective study of Islamic jurisprudence. Difference does arise as to which, the head scarf or face veil, is mandatory and scholars differ in opinion. And a radically dissenting view of one scholar in the corpus of the Islamic legacy is just that: the view of one scholar. But the religious and legal basis of the veil is a consistent feature in mainstream scholarship and the most elementary books on jurisprudence. Like it or not, it can’t be wished away. More liberal Muslims, and others, may well want to wish it away. The recent audacity of declaring the religious foundation as non-existent displays more than a callous ignorance to a long-standing legacy of scholarship –it robs hundreds of millions of Muslim women who wear the head scarf or face veil of any agency or religious sensibility. What are they–Muslim women from China in the East to the U. S. in the West–if not sequestered automatons?

Perhaps the idea might be a bitter pill to swallow but many, if not most, Muslim women root the veil in their values of modesty, a reclamation of femininity –even humanity–in the face of the ever-increasing commodification of women, a tipping of power in their favour through covering, a proud fusion of their spirituality and identity. For many, it is not and never was paternalism and patriarchy. For many, it is beautiful. At any rate, a point and counter-point that aims to convince is futile; what really matters is the daring to walk a little in the other’s shoes.

The characterization of face veils as a security risk also betrays a torrid ignorance of Islamic sources. Classical scholars have long acknowledged that a face veil, while a personal right, is never absolute. The state has the right to demand a temporary unveiling in issues of business or testimony and, a fortiori, public safety. Such exceptions can obviously be handled privately, but they represent a cogent consideration of broader social, economic and political needs.

The essence of our democracy is the sanity to agree to disagree. And the evidence for the call for a ban for the face veil rests on a threadbare premise: personal diktat. No self-respecting democracy allows personal diktat to heft legislation to crush basic expression and criminalize it.

Has this debate become so emotionalized that this fundamental linchpin principle becomes a plaything of fear mongering? Gangway to a slippery slope: let’s deny veil-wearers entry to basic education, curb them from jobs in public service, fine them, and veil them with bars of iron.

Riad Saloojee Is A Canadian Lawyer And Member Of The Canadian Council Of American-Islamic Relations’s Advisory Board. He Is A Full-Time Student In Arabic And Islamic Jurisprudence.

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald


5 comments on “For Muslim Women, Veil Is Power And Beauty,By Riad Saloojee

  1. Bie says:

    Thanks! You are great!

    • muslimah says:

      As sala’amu alaikum
      Jazakumullah for your kind words. “O’Allah do not call me to account for what they say, and forgive them for what they have no knowledge of, and make me better then they imagine. Aameen Thuma Aameen”
      Please remember the Ummah in your duas.
      Walaikum as salaam

      بنت محمد
      Bint Muhammed.

  2. Bie says:

    Is Nikub a fard? wats yr opinion on it?

    • muslimah says:

      As sala’amu alaikum

      As to your 1st question, I would ask you to please ask a Mufti or Alim (I do have links to 2 sources on my blog, feel free to use that or anyone else that you trust) the question, as it would be the best and smart thing to do.
      What I would do is share with you my view.

      يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ ِلأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلاَبِيبِهِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَنْ يُعْرَفْنَ فَلاَ يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا
      “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils)* all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”(Surah Al-Ahzaab 33:59)
      The Arabic word here is Jalabeeb (plural of Jalbab), which is the loose outer garment that covers all a woman’s body. It says here to use the Jalabeeb to cover all, and scholars say this means to use it to cover her head (agree upon by all scholars) and her face (agreed by many scholars, not all) and one or both eyes, in order for it to be known that she is a free woman and so not to be exposed to any harm.
      Ayesha (RA) said: “When (the above Verse): ‘They should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms,’ was revealed, (the ladies) cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces.” (Al-Bukhari)

      The Niqaab has have been a debate for centuries, over the issue of whether or not covering the face is obligatory upon a Muslimah. Those who argue that it is not required, point to the use of the word khimar in the Qur’an, and explain that today’s modern khimar does not cover the face, and argue that khimar has never referred to the covering of the face, but only to that of the hair, neck, and bosoms. While one cannot deny the support of Hadith that indicate that Rasulullah (SAW)’s wives wore khimar, one must realize and know that they covered their faces at all times in the presence of non-mahram men.
      For more on what I feel about the Niqaab-Hijab please read “8 Virtues of Hijab” ,“Hijab-The Veil”, “Hijab (The Veil): The Questions and Answers.” and “Niqaab – An Act of Obedience Niqaab and why we should wear it.”Inshallah may your question be answered. Walaikum as salaam
      “O Allah, make my love for You the most beloved thing to me, and Your displeasure with me the most fearful thing to me, and instill in me a passion for meeting You & when you have given the people of the world the pleasures of their world, make the coolness of my eyes (pleasure) in worshipping You. Aameen Thuma Aameen”

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