Religion and faith

The Hijab unveiled – a response to Nazeeya Faarooq

The Writer of Hijab whereforth dost thou commeth? Nazeeya Faarooq, in her article has seemingly probed into a billboard and attempted to develop an intellectual response to an innocent picture. It is good in one-way to develop pondering minds but not so good when it becomes a cynosure, thus steering people away  from much more pressing and important things in life.

I have nothing to disagree with her about the dress of the Ceylonese Muslim women of the past. As I don’t find any contradiction in the dress of the Muslim women of the past in comparison vis a vis the  concept of Hijab in Islam nor do I find any contradiction with the modern version of the so called “Hijab” as an attire.

But what I find amusing to see in the writings of Nazeeya and few others is their lack of understanding of Islam from its sources and their very often confused and confounded notions about the Hijab. Very often the Hijab is confused as attire; In Islam the attire is part of the concept of Hijab and not otherwise.

And this concept of Hijab is applicable to both Men and Women.

Hijab is a condition of mind sprouting from one’s Iman (belief) that envelopes, screens and shrouds oneself in respect to all the social intercourse in dealing with the opposite sex whether be male or female.

To the men the Qur’an says: Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. (24:30)

To the women the Quran says ‘And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss’ (24:31)

To men the parameters of the dress code is defined as covering from navel to knee. This is only a parameter and it is up to him to wear whatever he pleases.

Similarly to women the parameters are to cover their body (only when they go out) exposing their hands up to the wrist and their face. This is only a parameter and how they cover – whether like the traditional Ceylonese women or the modern and trendy Sri Lankan is immaterial provided the Islamic parameters are met.

Within the defined parameter one may wear anything that suits the time and clime irrespective of geographical, political or other boundaries. It is imperative to understand that tradition and culture in the modern world are transitory things and are in a state of flux and therefore Islam defines only the parameter so that it can stand the test of time and clime.

There is nothing called “our own cultural form of dress”, human development together with the development of technology and materials has contributed a lot in changing the style of living and the way one dresses, and therefore holding to “our own cultural form of dress’ is irrelevant. The writer can see the writings of R.L.Brohier -Discovering Ceylon and Robert Knox’s- An Historical Relation of Ceylon if required and get an insight into “our cultural form of dress”.

Nazeeya goes on to assert about the ignorance of the young girls about an alternative to Hijab (attire), I should note that a knowledgeable Muslim has no issues about what to wear and how to wear if they are knowledgeable of the parameters. No individual in a democratic or Muslim society has the power to coerce one another in respect to what to wear and what not to wear. Therefore if Nazeeya is not wearing Islamic attire it is her choice but she is not franchised to make sweeping generalizations leading to a typical “pot calling the kettle black” scenario.

Her assertion that “They think that they are better Muslims than non Hijab wearing Muslim women”, is applicable to the writer herself by the stance exposed in her writing where she seems to suggest that she is a better Muslim. In a modern world where form follows function, her function defines what form she takes and it is up to her decide who she is.

Her claim that the Hijab is a state of mind is true but what is in the mind comes out as behaviour in action. Therefore if it’s one’s belief that the concept of Hijab is something as God Almighty commanded upon the Muslims, it should come out in the open in action and behaviour as opposed to saying something bordering on the likes of -I believe but won’t let it out. For instance a spouse can say to the other ‘I love you! But if this is not translated into action and behaviour, in reality you will see your spouse leaving you and find someone who translates love to action and behaviour.

She goes on to stress that the “Hijab serves to accentuate difference and alienation”; I strongly disagree with this rather dubious function that she assigns to the Hijab. Having experience life both in Sri Lanka and outside Sri Lanka, I can state with conviction of how wonderful Sri Lankans as a people are. The average Sinhalese or Tamils have not been discriminatory of Muslims.  Being a practicing Muslim, neither I nor my parents or siblings have suffered discrimination at the hands of the average Sinhalese or Tamils. It’s a cliché to express that every community have their black sheep and the Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim communities are no exception, but it is better expressed than not. Therefore I wish not to tarnish the image of my Sinhala and Tamil brethren by suggesting them to be ethnocentric or discriminatory of Muslims.

If the writer fears that Muslim women wearing the Hijab can lead to segregation and ethnic discord, is she suggesting that all women shed the colourful diversity that they contribute to Sri Lankan female society  – and in doing so maintain such monotonous uniformity in appearance in true traditional style that no person would help to “accentuate difference and alienation”? I’d rather think not.

The best Muslim is he /she who practices Islam to the best of his ability and knowledge only to satisfy one’s creator.

“On no soul doth Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns”. (2:286)

So every Muslim should Endeavour to live as true Muslims to the best of one’s ability and the rest is in the hand of God Almighty. Therefore it is better to restrain one of commenting on the others than setting lofty examples in practical life as true Muslims so that it will be a beacon for all.

I wish the erudite writer to read more on the sources of Islamic knowledge as half learning is dangerous.