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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COMMENT: Catching Danny’s Fire at Parliament House

On the evening of Tuesday October 24 2006, I joined President of “Catch The Fire Ministries” and Assemblies of God Pastor Danny Nalliah in a Round Table Forum held at Parliament House on the topic of Terrorism and the Death of Democracy.

I was running late to the Forum, quite typical for people of Muslim background. American Muslim stand-up comic Preacher Moss referred to this phenomenon in his comedy act recorded on the Allah Made Me Funny DVD. He pretended he was a TV reporter covering a hurricane …

This is Bob Johnson from Action News. We’re down here in Orlando awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Abdel Malik. It was meant to be here 8 hours ago but you know how they are!

I spoke first. And at first, I admit I was a bit stunned to discover that my notes were not with me. I’d left them in the car!

Still, I did make some remarks of how I viewed key notions of “democracy” and “terrorism”. My basic thesis was that democracy was perhaps more threatened by our response to terrorism than by terrorism itself.

I took some detailed notes of what Danny Nalliah said. It perhaps wouldn’t be fair of me to rely purely on these notes, especially given that he himself was unable to keep to his prepared speech. I can’t say I blame him given the general and broad nature of the topic.

Some of Rev Nalliah’s comments did disturb me. I felt disturbed that Nalliah was pandering to a certain redneck sentiment which has become the new form of political correctness, especially since the Liberals have co-opted the rhetoric and sentiments of a certain former small businesswoman from Ipswich.

The main points of Nalliah’s speech might be summarised as follows:

1. The mindset of people living outside the West needs to be understood. Virtually all Asians are deeply religious and are quite open about their religious identity.

2. Most Easterners regard people with white skin as being Christian. They then attribute the excesses of Hollywood and other forms of Western decadence to Christianity.

3. Many Easterners who migrate to Australia are troubled when they meet Westerners who are openly atheist or without religion.

4. The extreme Left’s secular push into government and policy making has created an environment of decadence which terrorist groups use to argue that the West is evil.

5. The Christian Right needs to emerge and capture the political and social agenda of Australia. It needs to take Australia back to its Judeo-Christian heritage and foundations.

6. Immigrants need to be educated about the realities of Australian life. Immigrants need to stop playing the victim. They should stop becoming ghettoised. Multiculturalism must be opposed completely. We can have a multi-ethnic Australia but not a multicultural Australia.

7. If we have different cultures being imposed on Australia, we will end up with a civil war.

8. Under Sharia law, it is a punishable offence to criticise the government.

9. Western governments and communities should stop apologising.

10. Muslims need to stop saying one thing in public to the TV cameras and another in the privacy of their homes.

11. Most Muslims may not be terrorists but most terrorists are Muslims.

After listening to Nalliah’s speech (which went around 20 minutes overtime), I was wondering if he had forgotten what the topic was. Certainly many people from his ministry (who seemed to dominate the audience) cared little for the topic. Most asked questions about particular verses from the Koran or sayings of the Prophet which allegedly point to varying forms of violence.

One Bangladeshi chap stood up and claimed he had studied Islam upto Masters level and was an ex-Muslim. I asked him where he studied Islam. He replied in his village madressa (religious primary school). I’d never known any village madressa (or indeed any primary school) to hand out Masters degrees. He later admitted that the madressa he studied in was from the Ahl-i-Hadis sect, which makes up hardly 2% of the total Muslim population of Bangladesh.

An assortment of Middle Eastern Christians stood up and embarrassed themselves by screaming incoherent noises (I felt like Sheik Hilaly and his bodyguards had just converted to Christianity!) about Christians being oppressed by pro-Western governments. Perhaps they expected me to defend governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Yeah, right.

In fact, one Lebanese chap who claimed to have converted from Islam to Christianity (in his case, no doubt a happy-clappy variety) went onto declare that Lebanon is an Islamic state. I doubt most Lebanese would agree with him.

One audience member asked me what I thought of alleged Muslim intolerance to other faiths. I told him that intolerance to any faith was intolerable. I then called upon Mr Nalliah to retract the statement he made in his Ministry newsletter which called upon his members to pray for God to tear down Hindu, Buddhist and Masonic temples.

On numerous occasions Mr Nalliah mentioned his Tamil Sri Lankan background. He said that Tamils were fighting for their rights in Sri Lanka. It is quite possible that Tamils were and are experiencing discrimination from the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. But what struck me was that not once did he condemn the Tamil Tigers, despite it being pointed out that they were the most prolific group of suicide bombers in the world.

One lady commented on how Mr Nalliah spent his speech talking about acts of terror by Muslims against Christians. She asked why he did not mention Bosnia or Chechnia as examples of Christian violence and terror against Muslims. Nalliah replied by mentioning that he was told by Serbian soldiers he had visited that Bosnian Muslims were in fact ex-Kosovar Albanians who were allowed to move into Bosnia by Serb authorities.

All in all, it was lots of fun to sit back and watch the event descend into a circus of Christian Right fanaticism and intolerance. I hope Rev Nalliah is provided with more opportunities to speak on these issues. I also hope he brings his rent-a-crowd with him. Certainly it makes for excellent entertainment.

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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