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Facing the Facts About Veil
Samar Fatany, Arab News —

I am truly disturbed and troubled by the attitudes of some Muslim women in the West who are alienating Islam from the rest of the world and fueling hatred of Islam.

The current debate in Britain over the wearing of the face veil is an issue that needs to be addressed and confronted within the Muslim world. Religious leaders, Muslim scholars and enlightened Muslim women who are aware of their rights and obligations in Islam need to speak out and explain the true position of Islam on the subject of the face veil if we are serious about supporting Muslim communities in Western societies and if we wish any measure of respect in the global community.

Muslim women living in the West need to be given accurate religious guidelines. They should reconsider their attitudes if they wish to coexist and live in harmony within the societies they have chosen. The confusion over what is allowed or forbidden is causing distress to many Muslim women who need to understand their religious duties correctly. Muslims also are obligated to respect their duties toward the communities in which they live.

The controversial British school teacher Aishah Azmi who has put herself in a position where she cannot do her job and has denied the right of children to a full education because of her insistence to be veiled needs to understand the negative consequences of her actions for the whole British Muslim community.

British officials are justified when they criticize the practice and have every right to resist this trend that threatens the dignity of their women and their way of life. Even in Saudi Arabia, where the face veil is more popular, not all women accept this imposed practice.

Almost all Muslim countries consider the veil an unnecessary, imposed tradition. Many Muslim scholars neither encourage imposing it as a religious obligation nor deem lifting the veil as sinful.

Educated and enlightened Muslim women who know their Islamic rights should not be intimidated by the extremists who are working hard to propagate the trend and impose it as a basic requirement of Islam. This is a fate that all Muslim women should oppose.

The majority of Muslim women are not against the hijab, or head scarf, which is an accepted religious obligation among all Muslims, be they liberals or extremists. The niqab, or face veil, is considered an unacceptable tradition in most parts of the Muslim world.

Some might argue that women should have the freedom of choice and should be allowed to wear the face veil if they wish, without being discriminated against as in the case of the British school teacher. However, when the practice offends others or is a cause of discomfort or irritation then it becomes a problem that needs to be confronted and resolved. When women who are doctors, nurses, teachers, receptionists or broadcasters decide to veil their faces they do an injustice to their profession because they are projecting themselves to their clients, customers or patients.

In my view, working women who wish to remain faceless may do so if they work behind a desk at an office or if they work from their homes. Even in our own country, some of the deviant men caught by police have sought to hide themselves behind the veil and abaya. Is it any wonder in a Western society that such might arouse the suspicions of some?

It is the duty of every Muslim woman to attract people to Islam — not to arouse their hatred and distrust. If a woman becomes a source of resentment, she does Islam an injustice. The black face veil, historically associated with executioners in the West, is not an attractive sight that would encourage anyone to become a Muslim.

When a Muslim woman is conservative in her dress and modest in her appearance and wears her head scarf elegantly, she honors her Muslim identity and commands praise and respect for her elegance and decency in the West. It is not a sin to be admired for portraying an image of modesty and piety.

There is no question that the face veil is an obstacle to Muslim women’s integration into Western societies or the rest of the world — the Muslim world included.

Extremist interpretations of Islam regarding the rights of women have alienated and harmed the global image of Muslim women today. Western nations open their borders to people of the world and encourage them to work toward citizenship and assimilation into their cultures. The face veil in their societies is as alien as the loincloth and just about as unwelcome. When people visit Saudi Arabia, we expect them to dress in an inoffensive manner to our culture. Should we hold them to a different standard when it is we who visit or live in their countries?

The women who insist on wearing the face veil in the West are victimizing the rest through their unwillingness to adapt and assimilate. They are intimidating and provoking discrimination and racism against all unsuspecting Muslim women of the world.

Muslim fundamentalists who oppose the progress of women and blame them for the ills of society want to deny women their God-given rights. They believe that women should neither be seen nor recognized as equal partners in our progressive world today. Moderate Muslims should declare to the whole world that when these extremists discriminate against women they advocate an un-Islamic ideology. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) preached respect and kindness toward women and was polite and compassionate to all the women he met.

The followers of the Prophet should follow the true Prophetic teachings and not allow the extremists among them to alienate them from the rest of the world with rigid interpretations of the Qur’an. Verses from the Holy Qur’an reveal that God Almighty told Prophet Muhammad that, “if you were a severe and harsh-hearted person, your people would have abandoned you.” (Surah Al-Imran, Verse 159)

Radical actions and intolerance must be recognized as contrary to the divine guidance of Islam and against the teachings of the Prophet.

There may be various interpretations of Islam; however, whether traditional or modern, liberal or conservative, Shiite or Sunni, there remains one fundamental truth which all Muslims agree upon and that is that Islam is a moderate religion that teaches tolerance and piety.

Traditions and customs that are fanatical or bigoted ignore the true essence of Islam. In the past Islam was spread throughout the world by the assimilation of Muslims into different communities. Whether in Spain, Russia, China or India, the Muslims abided by the local laws and customs and were accepted and respected wherever they went. It is truly sad to see our religion hijacked by a misguided minority devoid of any spirituality who instead adhere to a rigid and flawed interpretation of Islam. Such intolerant attitudes are contributing to the alienation and exclusion of Muslims in the rest of our modern world.

Muslim women cannot remain idle spectators and watch silently as others defame their image and distort their identity. They cannot remain indifferent or act as if the veil controversy is not their concern. The views of those who are against this practice, men and women, scholars and academics must be heard above the shrill whining of those who oppose any dissent and brand any opposing view as less correct than their own.

In order to correct misconceptions of people in other countries, we need to provide them with a more accurate picture of the position of the majority of Muslim women in the global community. We have a duty to ensure that the rest of the world does not make a blanket judgment on all Muslims — and that we do not make a blanket judgment about the rest of the world.

— Samar Fatany is a Jeddah-based radio journalist. She can be reached at



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