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Hijab Politics

From my PostGlobal contribution

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hijab Politics
I come from a tribal family from Pakistan and was brought up to respect the religious wishes and inclinations of all people. This meant that my mother and sisters never wore the veil, and even when my mother visited the tribal areas for the first time in 1942 and wanted to wear a veil, my father told her she should not wear it if she did not wish to. My uncles and aunts were initially shocked by my mother turning up in a sari and no veil, to which my father replied that religion was a personal matter.

Thus, all the noise in Europe over the issue of the veil seems to me a bit overblown. I personally do not believe that the veil in modern times is necessary, and as societies modernize and educate their people they will realize that the issue of a veil is more to veil one’s intentions rather than a simple cover up. In equal measure, I agree that Muslims in Europe and America can modernize and not necessarily Westernize. Yet when such societies are put under siege, with media pressure to abandon what they think is important, there is a tendency to drag one’s heels and avoid change. The freedom-loving sense within me says that if in a democratic and free system one religion is allowed to practice its beliefs, so must the others.

I feel a personal sense of disappointment that the Turkish parliament has decided to change a secular tradition in Turkey, but that feeling has to be weighed with the fact that this was an act of parliament and not an arbitrary decision by a mullah. Although as secular democrats we may find it as a loss to our ideals of freedom, we must also accept that this seems to be what the Turkish people voted for. In that sense, accepting it is vitally important, as is the hope that if indeed the people did not want it then the rule will be dissolved through the action of future parliaments. What is important is that the veil is not imposed, but is a matter of choice.

The issue of the veil is more contentious within ostensibly Christian countries, where Muslim minorities may wish to wear the veil (as was the case in France) and laws are passed to take away that individual choice. In UAE, where I live, there are Christian churches on land donated by the government and there is a freedom given to the various faiths. I do hope that other Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia, will eventually adopt the same attitude. Throughout history there are examples of coexistence that stand out, i.e. Spain under the Muslims. Passing laws that are targeted against religions never works, as we have seen in history, and in the same vein all that the Turkish government has done is granted the freedom of choice to women to either wear the veil or not. I would hope that in the long run, the veil will not be imposed but will continue to be a matter of choice. Choice is, after all, the premise of any democratic system, however we may disagree with it. Thus, to me, forcing women to wear the veil is also wrong.

Posted by Anwer Sher at 6:40 PM

Labels: hijab, islam, politics, turkey, women 

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