Religion 07 Oct 2006 02:49 am

On the Veil Again

A few thoughts on the burkha issue which has become animated all over again thanks to comments made by Jack Straw.

Straw’s comments seems to have raised the blood pressure of many Muslims which is somewhat hypocritical (but not wholly unexpected) since the burkha converstaion has been in currency in Muslim societies for generations. But then attitudes towards the veil vary across social, national and class boundaries. In South Asia perceptions of the burkha are in the same socio-cultural place occupied by the blue rinse or net curtains here. Whereas in Saudi Arabia, women are required to wear the full niqab by religious law. This is probably why Saudi women from St John’s Wood tend to throw them off quicker than you can say “Ahlan wa Sahlan“, as soon as they exit Saudi airspace.

There is no Shariah law that obliges women to cover their face and nor is it traditional, in spite of what the Salafis tell us. As for a reading on some theological points on why the burkha is redundant see the post here by the Bengali blogger Mezba.

My personal views towards the burkha are simple: I find it repellent and frightening. And if a Salafi Musim tells me that that’s the whole point brother, then I would ask why aren’t men made to wear a similar garment since women have eyes and sexual thoughts too. Sexual modesty, should you choose to make it obligatory, is a two way street. And besides, modesty is an inner attitude not an oversized outer-petticoat made of umbrella fabric. The Wahhabis don’t get that but the sufis do.

However, women should be allowed to wear the burkha if they want to. But sisters here in the UK should remember the mantra:

If you want to get ahead
Show your head

8 Responses to “On the Veil Again”

  1. on 07 Oct 2006 at 3:37 am 1.andrew morris said …

    Very interesting piece! I agree with much of what you say - it’s a conversation that is happening, and needs to continue, within Islam. I’m not a big fan of umbrella-fabric either, but entirely accept other people’s right to wear what the hell they like. Amazing that Olvier Letwin of all people had to step forward to make this point

    The sad thing in all this is that Jack Straw, for all his careful tones, is not really interested in a burka-debate at all. He’s just lining himself up with John Reid et al in a vote-grabbing bid for the deputy leadership. It’s a cynical attempt to grab headlines, to push himself forward from the gloomy obscurity of being Leader of the House, whatever THAT means…

    And yes, to back up your point I will start wearing a full burka myself now right here on the streets of Dhaka. Just watch me glide along…

  2. on 07 Oct 2006 at 5:06 am 2.kobial said …

    Jack Straw, who usually does jack-shit, couldn’t have timed it better! He had to grab the headlines during Ramadan. This is a time when my Muslim friends suddenly become ‘practising-Muslims’ — e.g. only during these 4 weeks you won’t find space in any London mosque during Friday prayers. Needless to say, the normally sensitive Muslim transform into an ulta-sensitive one during this period. Personally, I find the burkha abhorrent. Nonetheless, I think Straw is playing the cheap publicity game, given the timing of his comment.

  3. on 07 Oct 2006 at 5:11 pm 3.Sid H Arthur said …

    I totally agree with you both. Jack Straw has no right to take the moral high ground after his role as the FS when they were going for the bombing of Baghdad.

    But he has learnt from the John Reid and Abu Izadeen episode that if a public personality comes out with an observation about the Muslim community it will make them look good thanks to the obligatory “Offended Muslim” chorus their comment will undoubtedly generate.

    They end up looking like high-minded social architects rather than the cynical political players that they are. I expect to see loads more politicians use this cheap new device.

  4. on 07 Oct 2006 at 7:00 pm 4.Mezba said …

    To me it’s a matter of choosing your fights - Jack Straw is quite left wing and open to immigration and yes - his support for the Iraq war was bad - but so was the position of most of the Labour party. He has raised a valid - if uncomfortable and trivial point - less than 5% of Muslim women in Britain wear the veil.

    I disagree with the if you want to get ahead show your head mentality and if someone tried to ban hijab we should all oppose that move as that comes under freedom of religion.

    Note also I am not saying niqab should be banned but Muslim women should stop wearing it out of their own accord and because it helps in dawah and deen.

    Christians forget that most of them 40 years ago would not leave the house without a head covering on.

    Mary and Mary

    Mary and child

    It is one of the great ironies of our world today that the very same headscarf revered as a sign of ‘holiness’ when worn by Catholic Nuns, is reviled as a sign of ‘oppression’ when worn for the purpose of modesty and protection by Muslim women.

    Meanwhile in the Bible we find St Paul saying:

    “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head - it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (I Corinthians 11:3-10).

  5. on 08 Oct 2006 at 1:22 pm 5.Sid H Arthur said …


    Salaams. I think the distinction that needs to be made between a headscarf and wearing a full burkha with the black cloth that covers the entire face, sometimes with an opening for the eyes needs to be made to frame this discussion. The garment that is the point of this debate is the burkha and not the whole practice of head-covering as such. You have reasoned yourself that this is not a religious requirement, in fact the opposite.

    Nor are we saying anywhere that women should not be allowed to wear this garment if they want to.
    But lets face it, the burkha/niqab that covers the entire face is an article of clothing that needs to be chucked into the dustbin of improper social custom. Not all customs are good.

    I quite understand the spiritual roles of women and men but there is also their pragmatic roles. If Muslim women are going to enter education and training to fulfill their talents and ambitions, how can they, in practical terms, engage with others with their faces covered?

  6. on 09 Oct 2006 at 2:27 pm 6.sonia said …

    i don’t agree with even the hijab. why should anyone have to cover their hair? but it’s one’s personal right to wear one and when the French came up with their silly hijab ban i was most annoyed - it was a highly counterproductive move and a totally non-secular thing to do. in any case the State ought not to interfere with what people wear - i find it highly offensive that Saudi Arabia and Iran make their women wear a hijab but banning something is just as bad. effectively force one way or the other is the same to me.

  7. on 09 Oct 2006 at 3:06 pm 7.Sid H Arthur said …

    I particularly liked ‘Aqoul’s take on the Salafi reaction to the Straw comments.

  8. on 11 Oct 2006 at 1:43 am 8.Rowshan said …

    5% of Muslim women wear hijab - that’s a minority within a Muslim women, and then a minority in the Muslim population and then a minority within the British population. Do we need to give valuable airspace to a debate that actually only effects a tiny, tiny, tiny minority’s right to choose. Is it so important to us that we debate this over and on top of what should be foremost on Straw’s mind - the peace of the world? I’ve never understood why people give a toss that a women wears a hijab and not bat an eye lid if she’s naked. What’s worse for women’s lib? (this one is for the white feminists who grew up in the 1970s). Surely it’s not the hijab that is corosive to the social cohesion in society? There are other more damning things.

    Our over-reaction to this tiny, tiny, tiny issue tells us more about ourselves than the ladies who wear the hijab. I believe hijab takes away the individuality of women and encourages a more collective solidarity between women - what’s wrong with that?

    As to whether men should wear hijab - they ain’t pretty enough to get women’s hormones raging in the same way so argument doesn’t apply. Women’s sexual appetites don’t encourage the same level of prowess from women towards men ( I am assuming a straigght world scenerio here for the moment)as we see from men, but i stand to be corrected.


Trackback This Post | Subscribe to the comments through RSS Feed

Leave a Reply