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Islam in denial over burqas


They were furious. They were chanting slogans. They were swearing to crush the conspiracy being hatched against Islam. They were cursing the Western 'flawed' way of life. The rally was organised to condemn the banning of the burqa (full face veil) in France.

Paradoxically, hardly any of the protesters had actually read the text of the French enactment banning, from April, the full face veil. In countries like Pakistan, the nucleus of present Muslim extremism, where literacy is not more than 15 to 20 per cent and centuries old feudalism has been successfully forestalling education, who'd bother to find out and go through the text of the legislation?

The intellectual decline which has engulfed the Muslim world has thrown it into a dangerous state of denial. Everything that other, especially advanced countries, do is perceived and analysed in the light of 'conspiracy theories'. The majority of Muslims are suffering from a devastating persecution complex, which, in turn, is begetting and aggravating militant extremism. Such has been the reaction to the French burqa ban.

Every Muslim knows that wearing the burqa has never been irremissible in Islam. A considerable number of Islamic jurists do not support it. Millions of Muslim women, while reaping crops in agricultural fields, picking cotton in plantations of central Pakistan, handling herds in Central Asian pasturelands, teaching in universities, working in banks and elsewhere do not wear the burqa.

Billions of Muslim women have never, and will never, cover their faces while performing the pilgrimage to holy Mecca. They are not allowed by Islam to do so during pilgrimage.

In France, as elsewhere, only a handful of Muslim women cover their faces. Yet fanatics are making the French enactment an issue and presenting it as anti Islamic sentiment. The full face veil is being jumbled up with the hijab (head-covering). France has not prohibited covering of head. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has made wearing of abaya (robes) mandatory for all women who visit that country or live there, irrespective of their religion.

This brings us to another issue being thrown into oblivion by protesting Muslims. Millions of Muslims have migrated to the developed world where 'flawed secular' values are at variance with Islamic, or so called Islamic, requirements. There are more than 50 Muslim countries, some of which (such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Qatar) are fabulously wealthy. Why it is that not one of all these countries can accommodate Muslim immigrants?

Statistics are mind-blowing. According to 2009 figures, 365,000 Muslims have made Australia their home, 281,000 live in Belgium, 657,000 in Canada, 3,554,000 in France, 4,026,000 in Germany, 946,000 in Netherlands, 650,000 in Spain, 1,647,000 in UK, and 2,454,000 in USA.

Millions are ensconced in Italy, Greece, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Austria, Japan and New Zealand. Millions more are struggling to follow. There are long queues in front of the embassies of Western countries. Asylum seekers are setting ashore from boats and cargo vessels. Many manage to land with tourist visas and vanish.

Economics is not the only catalyst. The unemployed destitute and the affluent lucky-one are equally enthusiastic to reach these promised lands. The rule of law, democratic norms, equal opportunities, better education prospects, and religious, political and personal freedom attract them to these countries. None of these is available in their homelands.

A strange Kafalah (sponsorship) system is prevailing in oil rich Middle Eastern citadels of Islam. Every migrant worker needs, by law, a guarantor who must be a local citizen. The guarantor legally owns the business and all movable and immovable property of the migrant, and documents are held in his custody. Nothing belongs to the migrant, whether he is entrepreneur or employee, except his passport, which he must carry wherever he goes.

'When employers have near total control over migrants' ability to change jobs, and sometimes to leave the country, workers can get trapped in exploitative situations in which they are forced to work without wages, get beaten or face other abuse,' says a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

Outrage over slights such as the burqa ban in France are a distraction from these more important issues. Look at the protests against this backdrop. Isn't it a farce? Albeit a tragic farce!


Muhammad Ishar ul HaqMuhammad Izhar ul Haq is a poet and writer from Pakistan, currently living in Melbourne. Out of his four books in poetry, two have won national awards. He was awarded Pride of Performance in Literature, the highest award for a writer in his country. He has written extensively on religious extremism and terrorism. Having worked in civil service, he retired as Additional Auditor General of Pakistan.

Topic tags: burqa ban, Muhammad Izhar ul Haq, islam, veil



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Existing comments

Thank you for these comments and insights. Too often citizens of democratic countries evaluate Islamic countries according to their own experience and perspectives and do not see it as an educated, reasonable person - such as you come across to be - see it. I have often wondered why Muslims do not emigrate to Islamic countries and why the wealthier Islamic countries do not open their doors to their Muslim 'brothers'. Your comments about Muslim women not being obliged to wear the burka should be widely promulgated in the west. Thank you again.

Skye | 07 June 2011  

Thank you for shining a little more light in a very gloomy irreligious narrow tunnel of misunderstanding.

Ray O'Donoghue | 07 June 2011  

Various religions have had customs and beliefs that became accepted as dogma. This has been unfortunate over the centuries and is currently causing more problems as the world grows smaller.

Tolerance will help but, more positively, representatives of various religions - and those who belong to none - could meet and, with mutual respect, establish principles of living that are common to all.

Bob Corcoran | 07 June 2011  

Personally I would like everyone's face in public to be uncovered. It is nothing personal against Muslims; I'm happy for them to wear robes and head scarves.

In the public arena it gives me a sense of security to be able to see the faces of those around and uncomfortable when I can't. This is similar, for example, for motorbike riders with full face helmets but they always seem to take them off when they get off thei bike.

The situation of migrant workers is far more important and prevails here in Australia, usually out of sight and out of mind of both politicians and voters.

Maureen Strazzari | 07 June 2011  

To wear or not to wear - that is not the issue. The issue is about power. Yes, we could argue that burqa bans act as "distraction" to more important issues, such as those you mention about the exploitation of migrants in oil rich Middle Eastern countries; but we can and should argue, with equal weight, that burqa bans in the West is a symptom of a growing Islamophobia. After all, is not the insistence of the West that the Muslim woman remove the burqa, a form of migrant exploitation? Why, because it's about clothing and women – that doesn't make it worthy of "outrage"?

Is not the West's assertion over Eastern practices a breeding space for Islamic fundamentalism? And isn't one of the most disturbing issues in this debate, about the burqa, hidden behind the burqa itself: the female Muslim voice that fails to be heard precisely because it is assumed (by westerners) it is veiled (by Muslim men)? Sarkozy's support of the ban is a political one, and that too needs some consideration in this debate. Does he not contribute in the silencing of this voice? Is this not an outrage?

Helen Koukoutsis | 07 June 2011  

This is a valuable, enlightening and informative insight from an 'insider' examining a contentious aspect of his own tradition. It is clearer these days that the issue of the veiling of women has become something of an emblematic line in the sand for conservative Islam and maybe a cloak for disguising another and more important kind of transparency, exposure to modernism.That there is intense resistance to this is plain.

One of the most vocal defenders of Islam as in no need of reform and passionate advocate of divine revelation as the authority behind veiling is Shoilee S. Khan who argues that Islam has no need to adjust to modernity because all of history and human development are to be found in its revealed sources.

A critic of this mentality is Azam Kanguian who insists that Islam, if it has any future in the modern world and to stand as a credible 'World Religion' must submit itself to the intense critical scrutiny to which Judaism and Christianity were subjected to during the Enlightenment and by the later European school of History of Religions Criticism. Kanguian calls this 'Caging the Tradition.'
One wonders if there is enough professional will and honesty among Islamic scholars to go through the catharsis of this type of examination, especially from those outside its Tradition.

David Timbs | 07 June 2011  

Everything that the author says about Muslim countries might be right, but what has that got to do with the French burka ban?

Ginger Meggs | 07 June 2011  

Some time ago I was suddenly confronted while commuting to work with a woman wearing a burqa. I have to say I reacted at a visceral level. I was shocked and offended. I did not have time to intellectualise this then, but later I tried to analyse why I reacted as I did.

It occurred to me later that here was someone who was alien to and rejecting my culture while at the same time benefiting from it. Mr ul Haq articulates what was probably hazily on my mind: she was benefiting from Australia's economy as well as "law, democratic norms, equal opportunities, better education prospects, and religious, political and personal freedom". On the other hand, I felt as though I was the enemy: a potential rapist and non-Muslim.

I also found it offensive not to be able to see her face: in conversation and communication we read the body language of the other person. Face covering prevents that, but also breeds suspicion: what is she hiding?

For me, this is not about power as Helen Koukoutsis postulates. I have absolutely no problem with Muslim women wearing head coverings -it is the burqa that offends me.

Frank S | 07 June 2011  

I work in the middle east country. I am a Christian and some of my colleagues are Muslim men and women. My life has been enriched by knowing these people. I marvel at the similarities of our lives, loves, concerns and anguishes. We love to laugh, drink coffee, share meals and stories. Your article is as it should be. To be a Muslim you do not need to cover your face. Some do not even cover their head but they live the ideals and values of their religion. The media and Muslim leaders need to be more proactive in letting all cultures know the truth of what it is to be a muslim and covering a woman's face is not one of those truths. Islam does not need to change its core beliefs and values but it does need to question some of its practices.

Islam does not need to fear the 'west' as, if it allows itself, will find that western culture is compatible with Islam. Islam can live beside other religions and cultures as well as teach, learn and grow. Education is important and Islam needs to be ready for a growing younger generation who begin to ask questions. Those migrants who travel to the 'west' will have their sons and daughters exposed and educated in a different world from their parents and they will start to search for a truth in their beliefs.. Is Islam ready for that? Probably not, but the questions will start to come anyway!

Catherine | 08 June 2011  

Saudi arabia which is home land of islam and it symbolyses the values of islam. West should wake up and learn to call spade a spade.

mildpace | 08 June 2011  

Perhaps the countries with "flawed secular" values should also adopt the "Kafalah" system employed by "oil rich Middle Eastern citadels" when considering Muslim migrants?
Or would that be 'un-Christian'?

AlexNjoo | 08 June 2011  

The subtle difference between " Muslim " and "Islam " should not be ignored. The plight of present day Muslim Countries can not be attributed to Islam. The importance which Muslims' holy book has attached to knowledge, analysis, punctuality, honesty in trade and in all other walks of life, has been forgotten by Muslims.Their prophet said that fulfilling promise was part of belief . This is not seen in most of the Muslim Countries. In short ,onus of present plight is on Muslims, not on their creed.

Thomas Oatway | 08 June 2011  

Well put Frank S.

Skye | 09 June 2011  

Thank you for such a reasoned article which clarifies many misconceptions. I wish this article could be mandatory reading.

Susan adams | 10 June 2011  

You wrote:
"The importance which Muslims' holy book has attached to knowledge, analysis, punctuality, honesty in trade and in all other walks of life, has been forgotten by Muslims."

That is true, but present day Islam (sunni and shia) is not solely based on Islam's holy book, i.e. Quran. Just like Judaism where there is Mishnah and Gemarrah besides the holy book Torah, Islam is also plagued by a plethora of other epistemological sources, such as oral law (hadith) attributed to Muhammad, laws made by Companions, laws made by Muhammad's family members... etc.

Whereas the Quran's commandments are based on reason and justice, these other sources that have integrated themselves in the organized Islam, are fraught with dogmatic insistence on extremism, prejudice against other religions, misogyny, and various inconsistencies and confusions. So the problem is not only with Muslims as you said, major part of the problem emanates from this epistemological problem with Islam: various law-making sources combined and tied together.

Hassan | 11 June 2011  

You are right Mr. writer , we do not listen to things carefully and develop actual understanding rather we like to blindly follow others who stand as a torch bearer of Islam. the only reason i found is that we lack basic Islamic education of life even. See here that what has been done in the name of Islam <a href="http://www.dunyanews.tv">live pakistan news </a>. we need to teach the people around us that at least before taking big steps in life we should be patient enough to research issues which are sensitive.

faaiz muhammad | 21 September 2011  

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