Wednesday, October 25, 2006

COMMENT: Balancing the burqa

Some readers will be aware of the mass-debate in Europe concerning the veil worn by some Muslim women. What few are aware of is that this issue has been debated by Muslims themselves over the centuries. Canadian TV viewers have already had a taste of this debate later today. No doubt Australian TV viewers will also be treated to similar debates.

Only a small minority of Muslim women actually wear what has become known as the burqa, a tent-like single piece of cloth that covers women from head to tail. This is traditionally worn in Afghanistan and some parts of the Indian sub-Continent.

The burqa should be distinguished from the niqab which consists of a cloth to cover the hair and a separate cloth to cover the face except eyes. Only a minority of Muslim religious scholars have regarded the niqab as religiously mandated. The niqab is worn by a minority of Muslim women. Its historical origins arise from it being a symbol of female aristocracy as well as by reports that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad used to speak with men (other than the Prophet and men they would not marry such as their male relatives) from behind a curtain.

A larger minority of women wear the hijab which is of varying sizes and fashions and which covers only a woman’s hair. The hijab is commonly worn by Muslim woman in different styles and colours across the world, and can be adapted for climate and uniform requirements. Victorian policewoman Maha Sukkar was the first to wear the hijab as part of her uniform. In fact, some Western writers have coined the term muhajababes to describe women in the Muslim world who wear the hijab as a fashion symbol.

Although there is no empirical evidence to back this up, anecdotal evidence suggests most Muslim women do not cover their heads with anything other than an umbrella to protect against rain. However, many are upset by the insistence on some (usually male) politicians telling them how to dress. They also feel resentful at attempts to marginalise the few Muslim women who choose to wear any one of three forms of Muslim head dress.

Personally, I prefer not to wear a veil of any form. Though my partner often says I should wear a face veil if I haven’t shaved for a few days …

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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Anonymous said...

Any muslim woman wearing a hajib should be handcuffed to a muslim man and a muslim child. Then shoot the man in the guts and throw them in the ocean and lets see if Allah wants his race of dirty muslims to swim back to land. Any woman wearing a burqa gets thrown out of a helicopter and let's see if Allah wants his people to finally invent something useful like a parachute.

Law Student said...

"most Muslim women do not cover their heads with anything other than an umbrella to protect against rain"

I dont think that is something we should be proud about.

Anonymous said...


weez said...

Irf, on a related topic, al-Hilaly may have stepped in the poo again.

Your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Law Student, you are a clown.

Darlene said...

I've never read this blog before. You certainly attract some, umm, colourful comments. I think the graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi has some interesting things to say about the veil, which are partly encompassed in the following quote:

"...When they banned the veil in schools, I was against that. It became complete nonsense, because instead of understanding why the girls were putting the veil on their heads, they just made a law. And if by just making a law you could stop things, it would be so easy. Forbid persecution, and it doesn’t exist anymore? Of course it will exist, it will just become hidden. Just get rid of the veil and it will come out in another way. So the law is not a good idea for me. Then they cannot go to school to get an education, and the one way they have to become emancipated is then lost. At the same time, when the two journalists were taken in the name of Islam, no religion in the whole world allows this kind of thing. So of course there was very quickly solidarity. Even those for the veil, even the more fanatic ones, they just said “No.” Which is a very great thing. We cannot agree on some stuff, but the life of a human being, everybody agrees. All my life I have been against the veil, and now I am the one defending the veil. I hate the veil and what it means, I would never put that thing on my head, but I put myself in their place. It’s a question of these girls’ identity. Their mothers never wore the veil, and so they want to. Why? They have come to France, 30-40 years. For French they are not French, and for Arabs they are not Arabs. So the height of irony is that the veil has become a symbol of rebellion. When you are fourteen and they tell you not to do something, of course you want to do it."

Anonymous said...

At a place I used to work, one of the paralegals came into work one day wearing a patterned handkerchief/headscarf on her head to match the sixties influenced outfit she was wearing. The outfit was perfectly acceptable office attire.

She got a bit of ribbing about her outfit, with our boss making some joke about how she was dressed like a maid. She responded good-naturedly, retorting that she was being cut down for trying to be fashionable for once. All very light-hearted office banter.

Would a law prohibiting women from wearing the hijab (to school or to work) also ban women from wearing handkerchiefs on their heads for fashion? Or would it just ban the covering of the head for religious purposes only?

Such a law would be rather ridiculous, don’t you think?

It sounds all a bit authoritarian to me. How would you differentiate between the two? Would the school or workplace be required to ask?

When I see a woman wearing the hijab, I do not immediately make ill-informed assumptions about her political beliefs (terrorist!), or religious beliefs (fundamentalist!) or family dynamics (and assume that she is being coerced) just because of what she’s wearing. I do not think that it is appropriate for any legislation to do just that.

Different people wear what they choose to wear for different reasons. The libertarian in me says no to any prohibition of the wearing of the hijab.


Anonymous said...

Just turned on the radio. Phillip Adams is discussing the issue tonight on LNL.

I've missed most of the show but it seems like a good discussion, with women on the panel discussing. Hopefully, they will put up transcripts on the website.

Here's the link to the website:


Anonymous said...

niqab,burka is NOT a religious requirement for muslims, so can not be used as a guise. the reality is that this practice was done before islam was even invented. it was done by the aristocrat christians for example before mohammed.

It should be not be allowed, we do have a free society, but we also have a civilised society with laws to protect the public, and their welfare/happiness. you can not simply do what you want. we would not allow men to walk around in ninja suits as it breeds the perfect environment for crime, and it puts the public in massive ease. that is not just western people, i am originally from the east, and i see it amazing that we should allow this practice which is not mandatory in islam.

it exists solely to appease the insecurity of most muslim men. They see women without niqab/hijab as easy and flirtatious. they do not want men looking at their women. no one likes men checking out our girlfriends or wives, but we do not take the inhumane act of forcing them to cover up in this manner. If the majority of these women decided not to wear it, i assure you they will be frowned upon, and put under pressure by their insecure men, and uneducated,male immams..

until islam finds equality and allows women to be imams too, we will always see a backwards male chauvanistic islam, which 1400 years later is still what it is, just as the prophet mohammed made it...