To Hijab or Not To Hijab

Personally, when a discussion about head/face covering for women in Islam drifts to an argument about whether it is religiously-mandated or culturally-dictated, I feel the speakers should see it from a non-believer’s point-of-view. We do not believe in the primacy of the Koran, so are therefore unlikely to be particularly impressed by an appeal to it (the same goes for Christian evangelicals insisting that the Jesus-bloke is the Son of God because it says so in the Bible).

In Western-style secular societies, one should be free to as socially conservative as one likes as long as one does not expect to be indulged by state-organs or to force similar behaviour on non-willing participants. I dislike any use of the term “communtity” – other than to refer to a geographical location, such as a urban street or farming hamlet, which members leave when they move outwith – because of the sectarian undertones.

(That said, I was gratified to see the Quilliam Foundation recently endorsing Barry Obama for his referring to multiple “Muslim communities”, from differing ethnic groups and religious confessionals rather than one homogenuous entity called the “Muslim world/community”. This was a point at which the pro-sectarian political editor of the New Statesman, Mehdi Hasan, took personal offence becoming, as Terry Glavin may have said, a parody of an angry Muslim.)

A blog which I have recently discovered is that of the Southern Muslimah, a female convert to Islam from the US South. And, I have just finished reading through a two year old missive on the relevance of Koranic dress-codes on *men* as well as women. She starts off:

A muslim man and his wife are walking down a crowded street in Miami. It’s hot and humid. The woman is covered showing nothing but her hands and face and the man……well, many times is in jeans and a t-shirt or perhaps shorts and a t-shirt.

That is a scene I saw frequently enough in Edinburgh. And, even with the cooler temperatures there, it did grate on me. Not only that the wife, either through choice or coersion, was declining to participate in a basic form of human interaction in Western society – i.e. revealing her face – but that the husband felt that he could choose those parts of Western cultural mores which pleased him, and that his wife should follow those of his culture which pleased *him*.

The Muslimah’s objection is not necessarily that the wife’s attire is not essential for her religion, but:

Yes, rest assured my husband is dressed in long sleeves, pants, and has his head covered too. We’re happily suffering through the heat together. Solidarity!

Right-on, sister! More power to your elbow!




Some people may do a double take when they learn that Muslim men have a dress code as well. Some men take their dress code lightly. Some think the women’s code is more important and thus spend their lives lecturing various women about what to wear and what not to wear. These men need to seriously understand that disobedience to Allah is disobedience to Allah whether you are a man or a woman.



Absolutely delicious. The Muslimah goes on to offer her interpretation of Koranic dress-codes for men:


 Trim the moustache and save the beard. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] It is haraam (forbidden)for women to imitate men and men to imitate women in the way they dress, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) cursed the men who imitate women and the women who imitate men.”

Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5546.

It is Sunnah to pay attention to keeping one’s clothes clean, without feeling arrogant or exaggerating about that. […] 


Over on this side of the pond, the Lancashire Council of Mosques has affirmed a statement that wearing the veil (so, I assume this is the niqab and even the burka) is religiously-mandated and not culturally-dictated. Quite what the killer argument behind this is unclear to me, a non-sectarian, but the LCM seems to think it is a humdinger of an argument:

‘Islam places great emphasis on dressing modestly. The Almighty says in the Holy Qur’aan, “O Prophet! Ask…(believing) women…to draw their cloaks (Jilbâb) all over their bodies” (33:59).

A problem is that a scholar at Al Azhar University in Cairo disagrees:

Moustafa Al Shaka’a, a member of Al-Azhar’s influential Islamic Research Academy, said Sarkozy should not be telling Muslim women what to wear.

“Neither the burqa or the niqab is ordered by Islam,” Al Shaka’a told Gulf News.

“They are local costumes, but Muslim women should not be forced to remove them. It’s a matter of personal freedom.”

I have separate opinions on Sarkozy’s posited ideas, but I can definitely see the disreputable motivations in self-appointed communal gatekeepers instructing women, who may wish to follow a particular religious tradition and are quite likely to be already disempowered because of culturally-dictated SE Asian patrichial influence found in much of this country’s Muslim populations, that concealing themselves from wider society is a religious duty.

On his blog, however, on Islam Online, Anas al-Tikriti picks up a similar theme. In addition to being the chief executive of the Cordoba Foundation, al-Tikriti has deplored the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Not because they are depraved murderers who detonate bombs in tents full of women and children or use children as decoys, but because they did not spend enough time killing American and British soldiers.

It is extremely frustrating for the Muslim communities in Europe when supposedly learned voices from the Muslim world emerge apparently supporting the rights of European governments to legislate against Muslims and their practices. Those voices which went into great lengths explaining to European media outlets how the burqa and niqab aren’t compulsory upon Muslim women were missing the point by a very wide mark. This further illustrated the problems that can potentially emerge when scholars who do not have a grasp of the prevalent political realities can create more problems for the Muslim communities in Europe trying to achieve progress in their pursuit of “positive integration” and real partnership with their wider European societies.”

Which “supposedly learned voices” are these, Anas? Those who are challenging your demanded right to communalise Western Muslim populations, with coincidentially you as the gatekeeper? Individuals such as Dalil Boubakeur, the Rector of Paris Mosque who:

[…] insists that Islam in France should be an “open and convivial Islam that allows people to live side by side”.

He fears that anecdotal evidence that more women are wearing the burka in France is linked to an “excess, a radicalisation” among some Muslims.


Back to the LCM: one of the key signatories was the senior vice-chairman of the LCM, and Labour councillor for Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Salim Mulla (pictured here, but not in traditional Islamic attire).

I have discussed Mulla before, in relation to his implication in a series of abusive and inappropriate e-mails sent within differing local Councils in the Lancashire area.

The Jewish Chronicle is reporting that, although a number of Lancashire County Council employees have been either dismissed or reprimanded, Standards for England – which deals with complaints against sitting Councillors – states it has received no complaint concerning Mulla.

The e-mails in question had concerned Operation Cast Lead during December 2008 and January 2009, in which the introduction is reported to have stated:

The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors from World War II are doing to the Palestinians exactly what was done to them by Nazi Germany

No, this is what the Nazis did to European Jews:



Learn to tell the difference.


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