Sheik covering for men's weakness
( Anjum Rahman is a New Zealand-based chartered accountant and a Muslim)
November 01, 2006 12:00
ALL week there have been claims Sheik Taj el-Dene Elhilaly's comments have been quoted out of context.
I just can't imagine a context that could justify comparing a woman to a piece of meat, or any statement allowing a woman to be blamed for rape.
The Sheik's religion requires him to lower his gaze when speaking to women – irrespective of how they are dressed. His religion expects women to be treated with respect and does not condone violence against them.
Crimes of sexual violence are a man's problem. Completely covered women have been sexually abused, as have scantily dressed women. Close relatives have abused women in the safety of their own homes.
If this is a man's problem, why do Muslim women cover up? By covering, don't women buy into the argument that rape is a woman's responsibility? They make it worse for women who don't cover by creating the impression that such women deserve to be abused.
That position still relates sexual violence to women's behaviour (too much or too little clothing). It is the same as the argument that covering allows men to beat women without the results being visible. If that were true, women who dress scantily would suffer much less domestic violence.
The answer to reducing violence is in the hands of our men, in the same way that the answer to reducing violence against children is in the hands of their parents. Requiring women to dress more is not going to solve these issues.
For Muslim women, the requirement to cover is related to respect. It prevents another form of exploitation – the societal pressure to be pleasing in appearance, and all that that requires in terms of make-up, treatments and cosmetic surgery.
Yes, we are sexual beings, but we are so much more. We shouldn't be pressured to fit into norms devised by those interested in moving product. We shouldn't have to feel inadequate because of our bodies.
To put hijab in the context of rape prevention is to negate its power. That is why the Sheik's comments are destructive.
For me, the hijab is a position of strength – he turns it into a position of weakness and oppression. It's a personal statement of my relationship with God, but he makes it a statement about my relationship to man.
My wearing hijab should never have any negative impact on women who don't. I can never accept they have foregone the right to safety, neither does my religion.
In the end, all we can do is educate and articulate in the hope that our menfolk hear and respond. The message is simple and universal. We want to be respected, we want to be safe. When you hurt us, in the end you hurt yourself.
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