Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lifting the Veil

Seems like the last week or two I've been fielding questions on the whole to-wear-or-not-to-wear the veil question. I guess what with it being an issue of feminism and religion it definitely falls in my court so here goes:

The idea, touted by Jack Straw, Tony Blair et al that the veil is alienating for non-muslims totally misses the point. The veil is not worn to create a barrier or as a symbol to show a woman's religion. The veil is worn because Islam teaches women that their bodies should not be seen because they are a temptation to men. Now pause> rewind> play>. Men are tempted by their bodies and that's their fault and they should cover up so men won't feel bad. You know if men are tempted by the sight of me in hot pants that is THEIR problem and THEY need to deal with it. The whole idea that women should blame themselves for the effect they have on men is ridiculous and offensive. It comes under the heading of well-if-you-wear-mini-skirts-you-deserve-to-be-raped school of thought and we don't believe in that rubbish.

The veil is also not required by anything in the Quran, which simply says men and women should dress modestly and women should use a their scarf to cover their bosom (not their eyes!). The idea that the hair and even the face must be covered comes from Islamic leaders - male ones - who use it as a means to oppress women. There is no end to the things that veiled women cannot participate in fully - sports, physical work, dance, theatre, and of course now meetings with Jack Straw...

I don't think we should prohibit adult women from wearing the veil if they wish to. Remember these women have been taught that they are revealing sexual parts of their bodies if they take the veil off, that's like saying women should go to work topless, which they shouldn't unless they really need the money to put themselves through college... We should however look with pity on those women who do wear it and who often do so insisting it is their own choice. These are victims of extensive long-term cultural brain-washing and intimidation from their own families and communities. These women need more contact with the outside world, not less.

As if to prove my point for me there is a very revealing interview on the BBC with Aishah Azmi, the teaching assistant who lost her job as a result of her insistance on wearing a full face veil. During the interview she is asked whether or not she wore her veil when she was being interviewed for the job by a male member of staff. Her reply is - and this is amazing to me - "Do I have to answer all the questions?". Now I put it to you that this is NOT a woman who lives her life freely based on her own choices. This is a woman who has been pushed around, who is used to being told what to do.

This case also highlights the fact that expecting school girls to wear the veil is sick in the extreme. Firstly because it teaches them that their pre-pubescent bodies are somehow sexual and secondly because they're too young to have made up their minds yet whether or not they are religious. We should never refer to Muslim children, or Christian children. They are the children of Muslim or Christian parents. We wouldn't talk about a 6-year-old capitalist or an 8-year-old existentialist. Children should be allowed to make their own decision about religion when they are 16 or 18 or older if they choose based on fair teaching, dealing in facts. This is covered in length in Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion as recommended in just about every other post I write at the moment!


Zola_Malay said...

A great poem written by my friend Miranda Dunn:

The VeilBy Miranda Dunn
What lies beneath the veil Jack Straw?
What lies cover your eyes striking you blind?
Why does the black veiled womanUncover the darkest corners of your troubled mind?
Shall we all take off our veils Jack Straw?
Is there a truth you hope to find?
The weeping mothers, the limbless men…
Wounds, which open their gaping mouths?
What lies beneath the veil Jack Straw?
Will Salome dance with the Baptist̢۪s head?
What mystic secret will reveal the truth?
Fears your life will end with splattered Meat?
What lies beneath the veil Jack Straw?
Will you be swallowed by desert sands?
Your bones picked white by the vulture of time?
What is hidden by the veil Jack Straw?
What lies behind the veil Jack Straw?
A Muslim woman with an independent mind
Human flesh and human hair.
Eyes that see you as you are.
Do you want to take off your veil Jack Straw?
Will you fold away the tissue of lies?
The half truths that cover us with innocent blood
Will you put off your veil Jack Straw?
Will you put off the Veil?

Zola_Malay said...

An article I read sometime ago sums up the issue of the hijab:

Whilst I do agree with most of what both Cruella and Sarah have said, I decided to wear the Hijab solely as it made me feel closer to God. I am the only female in my family to have done so and still get alot of stick for doing so!

I would disagree with Cruella on allowing my offspring to choose there own path, part and parcel of parenting is being able to bring up your children with the best possible morals. This becomes moreso explicitly required in the Islamic faith. As a muslim I have a duty to God and a responsibility to my future children to bring them up in an Islamic way. I see no problem with this providing you also teach compassion and understanding towards others.

O mankind! We have created you from a single male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honoured amongst you in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous of you (49:13)

I suspect if you or Dawkins have / or decide to have children you will be biased on the fact of teaching them "there is no God" so that would make you no different to a religious parent?

Robert Jackman said...

I agree with alot of the stuff you've written, but don't fool yourself into thinking that Jack 'Get your face out for the lads' Straw has even the slightest concern for women's rights.
If Jack cared about women being oppressed, then why didn't he raise the veil issue with Saudi Arabia (where women are forced to wear the full veil) when he was foreign secretary? Probably because he was too busy selling Saudi Arabia weapons.
And although the veil may be a symbol of intolerance or women's oppression, there's a huge hypocrisy if we are to say 'we're a liberal tolerant nation, so you MUST be liberal and tolerant too!'
I really enjoyed reading your blog, and I'm sure my readers will too, so I'll put a link to your blog on mine.
Have a read of mine and leave a comment if you will.
Robert Jackman

Cruella said...

Very very interesting Robert, I should probably publish on this at greater length. When we see other countries engaging in racism - such as apartheid - we leap to our feet, not that everybody makes a fuss but enough people do that something eventually gets done. When it's women's rights all the heads go back in the sand.

Zola, interesting stuff too. Your firends poem oddly refers to dancing. My understanding of the sort of Islamic teaching that goes along with full veil-wearing is a type of Islam in which women would not be allowed to dance.,,3-2222409,00.html

And your point that for yourself wearing the hijab makes you feel closer to God, this strikes me as incongruous since the Quran never mentions veils. Surely it can at best make you feel closer to certain muslim clerics who advocate it.

Also of course when you say "closer to God", to me I think "easier to remain brainwashed and shut out from the realities of life which given even a little consideration would quickly lead you to atheism...".

The idea that religiously-raised children have more "morals" than those raised non-religiously seems to be to be totally upside-down. If I have children I'll teach them to assess for themselves what is right and wrong based on how they would wish to be treated themselves. You meanwhile will be teaching your children that they should follow blindly a set of laws loosely interpreted from a very old book because if they don't horrible punishments will befall them and their loved ones. I would call my children "moral" and yours "frightened".

Zola_Malay said...


May I correct you, I had stated I wear the Hijab and not the Veil (burqa/nikab).

The hijab does not oppress a woman. In fact, it does the exact opposite, it liberates her. It gives her much more freedom than any woman could have. Hijab gives a woman freedom from constantly worrying what other people think about her (yes you might say thats a male problem but its clearly not, young teenage girls are dying from eating disorders raised by these complexes). It gives her freedom from being judged according to only her physical appearance. It gives her freedom from being degraded and freedom to remain dignified. It gives her freedom from being looked at as an object. It gives her freedom from being used to sell products. It gives her freedom from feeling she has to meet the impossible male standards of beauty that is both tiring and humiliating.

A lot of people think that hijab is only a piece of cloth, but the truth is that hijab goes way beyond that. Hijab is a symbol of modesty and modesty is one of the most prized qualities a person can possess. When I began wearing hijab, I immediately felt like I had become more modest not just with the way I dressed, but also with the way I spoke and acted with myself and other people. I felt like my faith had increased and that was the first step towards becoming a better person.

I also felt glad that I could easily be identified as a Muslim with my hijab; I felt glad that I was a visible representative of Islam.

Wearing a hijab here in the UK means so much more than to wear it in Saudi where is it forced on you.

On the second issue of religious children being more moral or not than atheist, I have not said that in my post. I have said it would be my responsibility as a muslim to raise muslim children. Im not sure which muslim children you have met recently, certainly the ones I have met to date are not by any means frightened.

Robert Jackman said...

Cruella - any opinions on the Cameron/Rhymefest meeting?

Cruella said...

How can wearing a veil free you from worrying about being judged on your physical appearance? Surely not being judged on your physical appearance is what will stop you worrying about it. For that to come about we need a change of culture.

Besides I assure you, wrong as it may be in both cases, you will be judged much more quickly for wearing muslim headwear than you will for wearing ordinary clothes, however sexy or otherwise.

And here are some frightened Muslim kids I've heard about recently:

(murdered "for wanting to live her own life")

According to a BBC Asian network survey one in 10 Dritish Asians believe honour killings are justified if the victim has treated the family with disrespect. That is not the measure of a liberated society.

Zola_Malay said...

Agreed, but neither is that a measure of Islamic society.

You generalise far too many times on too many issues on the acts of minorities. With over 1.5bn followers and perhaps the fastest conversion rates in the western world, surely you must admit that there is an appeal to the free liberalised mindset to Islam?

The cases you have cited on honor killings are disgusting, and has no room in Islamic society or in any society as such. However, this is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed.