The Story of Mary, a Pure and Noble Example

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Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

Mary, mother of Jesus, can often be seen portrayed in paintings as a serene figure with her head always covered and has always been a revered figure for Christians, to such an extent that in some denominations her figure can be found in churches and even prayers are said to her. Children in the West are taught the Nativity story in primary school, how Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary were turned away from inn after inn until they found shelter in a stable where Jesus was born; among young primary school girls the role of Mary in the Nativity is a coveted one.

Along with Christians it is Muslims who also hold Mary in high regard and we can read about her in several places in The Holy Qur’an, about her own birth, her pious youth and the birth of Jesus and in fact chapter 19 of the Holy Qur’an, Surah Maryam, is named after her.

Before her birth Mary’s mother had promised to dedicate her to God. In chapter 3, verse 36 of the Holy Qur’an, the mother of Mary makes a vow to God,

“‘My lord, I have vowed to Thee what is in my womb to be dedicated to Thy service. So do accept it of me…”

The fact the new child was a girl was at first perplexing until the realisation came that God intended something special of her. She grew up a model of piety and complete trust in God which was to prove a great support to her in subsequent events.

In 2014 the first mosque built by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Ireland was opened in Galway and it was named Maryam Mosque (Masjid Maryam) after Mary, because of the fact she is a figure revered by Catholics, who are the majority in Ireland, and Muslims alike. At the reception held for the opening Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V stated:

Maryam, or Mary as known to you, is as greatly revered by Muslims as she is by Christians. In fact, in the Holy Qur’an, Allah has mentioned Mary at many instances and highlighted her esteemed status. Mary was the name of that pure and pious woman who is honoured by Islam so much that the Qur’an has said that all true believers are like Mary. This is because Mary established a very special relationship with God and she upheld her virtue and chastity at all times. She developed a special bond of love with God, whereby Allah conversed directly with Mary and He Himself attested to her truth. Mary believed in the Books of God, she was righteous and attained a special rank in terms of her obedience to God.“

The Holy Qur’an tells us of the moment when Mary found that God had chosen her:

“And remember when the angels said, ‘O Mary, Allah has chosen thee and purified thee and chosen thee above the women of all peoples.”
Chapter 3, verse 43

The true story of the birth of Jesus is even more extraordinary than that portrayed in the Nativity because Mary actually found herself near to giving birth seemingly completely alone. There was no inn and no stable in which to take shelter; instead Mary found herself in pain lying outside under a tree. Imagine the situation and how terrifying it would be.

But Mary was not alone as God was with her and she was told;

“Grieve not. Thy Lord has placed a rivulet below thee; And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree; it will cause fresh ripe dates to fall upon thee.“
Holy Qur’an chapter 19, verses 25-26

The tree provided sustenance in the form of fresh dates, a nearby stream provided fresh water to drink and wash and God gave her the strength to endure the birth. This complete trust in God and strength of character she displayed throughout her life makes Mary an extraordinary and inspiring role model for all women whatever their faith. This unique position of being held in such high regard by people of different faiths makes her a uniting force.

As Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V further said in Galway:

“She was most certainly an example for all true believers. Her elevated status is reflected by the fact that the Qur’an says that true Muslims should develop the qualities of Mary and if they do so then they will be those who never cause harm or suffering to anyone. Every Ahmadi Muslim therefore seeks to instil within themselves the purity, nobility and piety of Mary herself.”

What an extraordinary woman Mary was that she has become a role model for people down the ages and remains so to this day.

 

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The Benefits of the Hijab

hijab

Yusra Dahri, London

Introduction

Recently, a lot of controversy arose from Ofsted’s (Amanda Spielman) fear of the hijab ‘sexualising’ young girls, aged 4 to 5, who may wear headscarves in primary school.

There is no Islamic requirement for girls to wear a headscarf until they have reached full physical maturity, so it’s perfectly acceptable for a primary school child not to wear it. However, a young girl may want to wear it out of pride or love of her religion, or because she wants to emulate her female relatives out of admiration.

Isn’t it better for girls to have their mothers as role models, than the public figures who are arguably more ‘sexualised’ than anyone else? In fact one of the purposes of the hijab is to prevent the sexualisation of young women, which is only one of its benefits.

The Benefits of Wearing the Hijab

First and foremost, dressing modestly and wearing the headscarf allows you to please Allah, as you are fulfilling the commandment set by Allah in chapter 24 verse 32 of the Holy Quran for women to , “…restrain their looks and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty or embellishment except that which is apparent thereof and that they draw their head-covering over their bosoms…”  Ultimately, it should be our goal to please Allah.

One allegation often thrown at the way Muslim women dress is that it hides them, allowing them to be ignored by society. This is simply not true, as many Muslim girls I know would agree. The verse above is aimed specifically at women, giving them a unique role and also a great responsibility. Nowadays, the most common image of an ordinary Muslim is a girl in a headscarf, as it’s a well known Islamic symbol. By being outwardly Muslim we can shape the way people view Islam by simply carrying out the daily tasks of our dynamic lives.

The hijab is our statement to the world. It shows we are not afraid and we have no ‘inferiority complex’ of how we are viewed from a western perspective because our first priority is our religion. This not only protects us from unsavoury situations because we raise our modesty as our highest virtue, but it also shows us who our true friends are. No girl in secondary school wants to learn later on that her classmates ridicule her religion, but by wearing a headscarf you can see who would naturally approach you anyway.

This also creates interest as it’s very possible, even likely, that your classmates have never really encountered anyone who has worn a headscarf before, and would like to learn more about it. This creates a source of tabligh. I know that my own classmates were curious as to why I dressed modestly and had plenty of questions!

Sometimes we can be afraid of this type of confrontation, because we are not used to having things that are normal to us being questioned. However, it is nothing to be scared of, as it’s perfectly natural human curiosity and completely harmless. Instead we should be confident about the reasons why we wear the headscarf, and try to learn as much about it as possible, so we can genuinely answer anyone’s questions to the best of our ability.

It is also a constant reminder to us who we are. As Muslim girls, our outward modesty can remind us of the inward modesty that we need to maintain. Sometimes it can be very tempting to act in a certain way in order to ‘fit in’ but later on we realise that the school setting, which is our whole world right now, is only temporary.

Later on, you will be glad that through the hijab you were able to develop character, make decisions for yourself and stand your own ground. Personally these are things I learned from wearing a headscarf, but it can mean something different to everyone who wears it, even though we all wear it for our faith in Allah the Almighty, which shows how unique it really is.

There are many benefits to wearing the hijab, and I hope they prove invaluable to you too, Insha’Allah.

Vie With Each Other In Good Works

Vie

Maha Khan, London

As soon as the term ‘competition’ is articulated, one is instantly reminded of the inferiority and superiority of those around us. We are quick to start digging around in search for our competition in every aspect of our lives, whether it be deemed healthy or not. It is fair to say that the human-race has come this far due to the existence and practice of competition. Competition is deeply rooted within our biological framework, it could even be said to be a great part of our evolutionary heritage. Many social scientists would come to agree that competition is one of the most basic functions of nature. We compete for social status, we compete for recourses and general livelihood, and we compete against one another and even against our own selves.

Islam, a religion founded 1400 years ago acknowledges this very fundamental human need and advocates it in a manner where we can practice healthy competition. Allah the Exalted has said, “…vie, then, with one another in good works…’’ (2.149). Meaning Allah recognises the way humans operate in terms of competitiveness and instructs His people to utilise it for the greater good. A pristine example of this is painted in the Hadith collection of Bokhari. It is mentioned that Utbah Ibn Harith joined the afternoon Prayers led by the Holy Prophet in Medina. After concluding the service, the Holy Prophet stood up rapidly and continued to one of the chambers stepping across the shoulders of the worshippers. The worshippers were stunned by the swiftness of the Prophet (peace and blessings be on him). When he came back he acknowledged that people were questioning what called him away so urgently. So, he said: ‘I recalled that there was a piece of silver left with me and this disturbed me. I have now arranged for its distribution.’ This is a great example for the rest of mankind in terms of vying with one another in good works. We should look up to the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) and strive to become the best possible versions of ourselves, compete against ourselves and one another in ways which help better our souls and society.

His Holiness Khalifatul Masih V, worldwide spiritual head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community reminded of the Quranic injunction a few weeks ago in his Friday sermon. He said: ‘’Allah the Exalted states to the believers that “Your goal must always be fastabiqul khairaat!” It means that you must always endeavour to lead others in good works. Furthermore, Allah the Almighty has also referred to those, who perform righteous deeds and do good works as “best of creatures”…’ (Friday Sermon, 27 Oct 2017)

Islam deems moral degradation as the worst form of disease a human could attain as it has long term and devastating consequences, thus vying with one another in good work is vital to keep our society free of moral decay. It is known that moral degradation starts when people start to make poor and naïve choices that may seem harmless momentarily but slowly become the reason for moral destruction within society. The rippling effects of one’s action is evident to the way society operates hence it is necessary for one to make well thought out and purposeful  decisions that are not driven by desire for worldly riches but driven by the desire of achieving closeness to Allah. This way, the domino effect of one’s actions will only be good and do good for society and prevent further moral degradation.

We should show kindness and love to those around us, especially our parents; as Allah commands in the Qur’an, “…Worship none but Him, and show kindness to parents…” (17:24).   It is not possible to repay God’s favours, however in terms of one’s parents, we can try and return their love and kindness. May Allah guide us and help us follow the footsteps of our Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be on him) and make use of the time we have on earth in the service of one another and spend our time doing tasks that are good and compete in a healthy way so that we could please our Allah.

 

School and Well-being

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Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

At my school in West London there was a uniform policy of skirts, blouses and blazers. Trousers were not allowed at all until after I left when the great number of girls from the Indian sub-continent led to a change so trousers and in fact a traditional shalwar kameez in standard navy blue joined the uniform list. Until sixth form, when I was able to wear loose trousers and a loose shirt I had to follow the uniform policy. This meant instead of bare legs, socks or sheer tights I wore thick, ribbed opaque tights with my skirt. Islam requires obedience to authority and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has always advocated following rules so I felt this was a compromise which kept my dress modest while conforming to the uniform policy.

By the time my own children started school things had changed; skirts were and are still part of the uniform but have been joined by trousers giving the girls freedom of movement while keeping their legs covered. Schools are pretty tolerant about the requirements of different faiths and have allowed my children to sit out of Christmas Carols and to say their Prayers in an empty classroom during the short winter days.

While headscarves, or hijabs, were visible in some schools during my schooldays now they have become much more common. Muslim girls in secondary schools are routinely able to cover their heads but younger primary aged girls are also sometimes doing so. The subject of primary aged girls wearing headscarves arose recently with reports of some Muslims women approaching Ofsted with the wish to ban the headscarf in primary schools. This was followed by a report that Ofsted inspectors were to question young girls who do wear a headscarf. My reaction on hearing this was why are they trying to make trouble where there is none and is this really going to help a child’s well-being?

There are some primary schoolgirls who wear a hijab; in Islam the requirement to cover the head is once a girl reaches an age of full maturity which can start around the age of 12 or 13 so before that time she doesn’t need to do so and a parent shouldn’t force her to do so either. However there are cases where a girl may wish to cover her head; she may have seen women in her family wear a hijab when going out and wish to do the same. It would not occur to her that she is covering her head from men as the only reason would be innocently wanting to be like the women of her family. In that case is it really necessary to legislate against her action? Very young girls often wear bikinis or make-up which makes them look like their mum and at school will talk about how their clothing can attract the boys. Should legislation be extended to cover this too?

The idea of Ofsted questioning young Muslim girls about covering their heads is a dangerous one and brings up reminders of when children were questioned under the Prevent strategy to uncover evidence of extremism. A child drawing a picture of a man cutting a cucumber which he mispronounced as sounding like “cooker bomb”, another who drew his terraced house spelling it as “terrorist house” were both cases where children and their families were treated as suspects of sorts due to innocent mistakes. A policy of questioning young girls could go the same way.

Leaving aside mistakes being made it would not be healthy for a child to be singled out from their school friends to justify why she covered her head; there are enough reports of stress and mental health issues among young schoolchildren without adding to them when we should be helping children lessen any stress. Even in cases where older girls need to be asked about their hijab it should be ensured this is done sensitively and without making the girls feel they were being singled out for doing something wrong. It is difficult enough for Muslim children these days hearing about terrorist atrocities in the news as well as listening to anti-Muslim sentiment, sometimes to their faces; they can do without the added stress of being made to feel something they are doing or even their very faith is hated or wrong.

Growing up is a difficult time for children when even small problems can feel insurmountable; as adults our treatment of children needs to be in a sensitive manner so as not to add to any anxiety that may already be building up. Common sense needs to be used; if a young girl wishes to cover her head let her; if there are any concerns about a child which need further investigation it should be done in a sensitive manner through proper channels and not merely because she covers her head in school. Rather than causing problems where there are none our goal needs to be putting the well-being of our children first and help them grow up to be relaxed, confident young people who will make positive contributions to society.

Statutory Guidance for Schools, Hijab and OFSTED

graphic navida

Navida Sayed, London

The head of OFSTED Amanda Spielman announced earlier in the week that Inspectors would question girls who wear hijab in primary school to find out why they do so. She said ‘creating an environment where Muslim children are expected to wear the headscarf could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls’. If OFSTED inspectors go ahead and start policing the wearing of hijab in primary schools, this will have a detrimental impact on the social and emotional well being of the girls and it will be the gateway to intimidation and harassment of young Muslim girls. It needs to be stressed here that as far as the teachings of Islam go, it does not permit or instruct any individual to enforce the Hijab on women and certainly not on young girls.

There are far greater concerns for education authorities and they have stringent measures in place to protect children, the hijab has not been of concern in this regard. In the current turbulent times in education settings and at home parents from all backgrounds across UK are encouraged to talk to their children about keeping safe from abuse. The NSPCC launched an initiative ‘Talking Pants’ specifically created for parents to discuss the topic of sexual abuse with 4-11 year olds about their bodies and about keeping them safe.[i] This does not mean that children will become sexualised if parents dress them appropriately and talk to them in a child friendly way. Muslim parents adapt similar strategies explaining modesty to children from a very young age, to keep them safe from the harms of society in a child friendly and age appropriate way, this process does not include putting a young girl in a hijab but letting her know at the right age that she has the option to wear the hijab as a means to protect her from the harms of society.

Amanda Spielman should be pleased that Muslim parents are contributing in teaching their teenage children how to be safe from sexual exploitation and abuse after the age of puberty through the observance of hijab. Only recently ‘The Children’s Commissioner for England” has published a report looking into the current provision of education programmes related to the prevention of child sexual abuse in schools in England. Findings from 1,093 primary and secondary schools who responded to an online survey of head teachers show that: around half of primary schools reported that they teach topics related to sexual exploitation and abuse, compared to almost 90% of secondary schools; more than a third of primary schools and 15% of secondary schools do not hold specific sessions with pupils to allow them to raise concerns; 34% of primary schools and 16% of secondary schools do not have a confidential/secure place where pupils can disclose abuse; 20% of primary schools and 12% of secondary schools  do not have a designated person that pupils can go to if they have a concern.’[ii]

Bearing in mind the Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield’s report [iii] surely schools should have no problem with girls who choose to wear a headscarf freely out of her own choice, because it will never pose a hindrance in their education in fact girls choosing to wear hijab have excelled in academic and professional careers.

The Department of Education’s statutory guidance for schools continuously works towards implementing policies and strategies improving education and even promoting children and young people’s emotional health and well being. In some primary schools the overall aim was to equip children with the knowledge and skills to allow them to ‘successfully navigate the complexities of the social world that they are part of’. [iv]  Furthermore The Department for Education framework for the national curriculum at key stages 1 and 2 and includes: Inclusion responding to pupils’ needs and overcoming potential barriers for individuals and groups of pupils.

If OFSTED start questioning young primary school girls about their hijab, it will alienate them and make them feel as if they have done something wrong because they are being questioned by an OFSTED inspector. This can have a detrimental effect on the social and emotional well being of Muslim girls. We hope that OFSTED can continue focusing on their prime goal to improve education standards rather than target the dress of Muslim girls.

 

 

[i] Nspcc.org.uk. (2017) https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/advice-and-info/underwear-rule-guide-for-parents.pdf

[ii] Safeguardingkids.co.uk. (2017). Preventing child sexual abuse: the role of schools | Child Protection Training UK. https://www.safeguardingkids.co.uk/blog/?p=2837

[iii] Childrenscommissioner.gov.uk. (2017). https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Preventing-CSA-The-Role-of-Schools-CCO-April-2017-1.2-1.pdf

[iv] Ncb.org.uk. (2017).

https://www.ncb.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/attachment/NCB%20School%20Well%20Being%20Framework%20Leaders%20Resources%20FINAL.pdf

 

 

What Hijab Signifies: OFSTED and Primary Schools

Sarah 1

Sarah Waseem, London

Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector for Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education (UK)) inspectors will talk to primary school girls who wear the hijab to ascertain from them why they do so. The move comes after concerns that wearing the hijab could be interpreted as the sexualising of young girls.

Is the hijab more sexualising than wearing a skirt, which many schools require for girls but not boys? Surely Ms Spielman should also be questioning young boys as to why they might choose to wear trousers instead of skirts and vice versa with young girls? Interestingly there do not seem to be any plans to question young Jewish or Sikh boys regarding their head coverings, nor any concerns that they too, may be being sexualised.

Sadly the hijab has become politicized – a symbol of both oppression and defiance. Rather like the Kaffiyeh this simple piece of cloth has taken on a life of its own. Many, including Muslims, forget its true significance which is rooted in the maintaining peace in society.

The Holy Qur’an provides a social code and moral code outlining the boundaries that protect us all- men and women. Wearing the hijab is part of a broader Quranic instruction directed at both men and women regarding their responsibilities to God and to mankind. Men are first directed to ‘restrain’ their eyes down so that they do not transgress others’ boundaries (24:31) Women are then instructed in the next verse to do likewise and additionally to wear a head covering. (24:32) The hijab represents for both men and women, a visual reminder of the sanctity of that boundary of interpersonal relationships which is not to be transgressed if peace is to be maintained in human interactions.

Muslim women will often say that the hijab is not about limiting them, but about liberating them, a concept which some non-Muslims find hard to comprehend. How can this piece of cloth which seems to hide one’s beauty be liberating?

Boundaries protect because they delineate what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. The hijab signals to the observer, the rights of the wearer and reminds the wearer of the standards of moral conduct expected by the All-Seeing God. We live in an age where our moral compass has gone awry. The recent revelations from the abuse of women in Hollywood and within the Halls of Westminster are just one example that demonstrates that boundaries, that should be protecting of interpersonal relationships are being eroded.

So the hijab allows the Muslim woman to feel safe within the boundary she has declared around herself and reminds her of her moral obligations to her God. With that established, she can then go about her daily life without any fear of how her actions may be interpreted or misinterpreted.

Questioning young Muslim girls about why they might choose to follow the example of female role models among them, is intrusive, likely to be traumatic and completely unnecessary. The hijab does not sexualise – rather the contrary. For mature Muslim young girls and boys it signals a reminder of their responsibilities to each other.  For young Muslim girls who choose to wear it, it is an aspirational statement of wanting to be like their mothers and no different from non-Muslim girls, dressing up in their mothers’ clothing.   The Ofsted Inspectors would do better to have a dialogue with parents from all religions about the role that faith can play in producing well rounded young members of society.

 

 

A Letter To OFSTED

Munazzah 1

Munazzah Chou, London

Dear OFSTED

The case of your inspectors asking young primary school girls about their choice of clothing makes as much sense as CQC inspectors asking paediatric patients about their sartorial choices in clinic. Very little. The function of both organisations being the inspection and regulation of services, why one would wish to expand its already hefty responsibilities is curious.

A hijab is no barrier to education and learning so OFSTED should have no fear of their services falling on muffled ears; if the quality of education provision is high then the attainment of Muslim girls will be commensurately high.

I don’t believe that children in primary schools are required in Islam to wear hijab but it cannot be right to single out any single religious group within the wider school community for closer inspection. At least I don’t believe that it can be done without making that group feel targeted, for the group to become defensive and insular and eventually marginalised.

Let us assume now that these children are forced to wear hijab, contrary to Islamic teaching. Will their education suffer because of this piece of cloth? Should we not be more concerned about the suffering of a child in an unhappy home with no right to self-determination. Surely even these concerns fall outside the remit of OFSTED. A teacher is best placed to address any social concerns once identified. If a teacher wishes to ask older Muslim girls about their hijabs it must be handled sensitively so that they do not feel isolated or discriminated against.

The idea that hijab equates to sexualisation of girls is just bizarre. I can think of many items of school uniform which could be considered to play a part in sexualisation of young girls- but to have this accusation levied against the hijab falls outside my understanding.

Islam does not require young girls to wear hijab but if a personal choice is made from a desire to emulate their mothers isn’t it healthy that they see their mother as a positive role model within a secure and happy family unit. No school or government linked body should take any action that could serve to make any Muslim child feel as though there is something wrong with their religion or culture.

Yours

Munazzah Chou

Ofsted, Hijab and Primary School Muslim Girls

Laiqa 1

Laiqa Bhatti, Surrey

When Ofsted announced that their inspectors will talk to primary school girls who wear hijabs a few days back in order to tackle ‘sexualisation of children’, it raised a lot of questions and debate. In a climate where Islamophobia and related hate crimes are rising, the hijab has been the go-to issue for the Far-Right. Yet it is shocking to see an Independent body such as Ofsted announcing plans that further alienate and discriminate against Muslims.

In the Holy Qur’an, the requirement for the hijab is only for those women who have reached full physical maturity, which most certainly does not apply to primary school girls. The reality is that age the Hijab is a symbolic piece of clothing that many young Muslim girls see their mothers, older sisters or other female role models in their life wear. Questioning them most likely would yield the answer along the lines of ‘because mummy does it’. I know I started wearing the hijab because of inspiring women around me. That is what children do, they mimic behaviours around them. My two-year-old son would run around in my headscarf, proud to be like mummy, and now half a year later, like daddy he proudly wears a hat on his head during prayer time. If he was to go to primary school in a hat, or if a Jewish boy wears his kippah, or a Sikh boy his turban, will they be questioned too?

The reasoning behind this proposition was even more disturbing as the chief inspector said the hijab could be interpreted as “sexualisation of young girls”. This alone displays the lack of awareness behind the hijab and its spiritual purpose. If anything, the hijab removes all kinds of sexualisation rather than form it. And as it does not even apply to young girls, besides wanting to be like mum or being proud of their religion, young, impressionable girls will be marginalised and interrogated on something that they themselves are not old enough to fully understand yet. If Ofsted, as an organisation was unable to understand the philosophy of the hijab, how do they expect little children to understand and furthermore convey it? When the focus of OFSTED should be on policies that create equality and inclusion of every culture and religion and as a result improve education standards, this implementation will create nothing but confusion, distress and marginalisation of Muslim girls simply due to their choice of wearing a hijab. Even with girls in secondary school, unless every pupil is questioned for their reasoning of their way of dressing either way, then it is discrimination based on religious beliefs.

In actual fact, sexualisation of children, inside and outside of school has been a very real issue for years is becoming an epidemic issue. Maria Miller, a senior Conservative MP reported a 71% increase in peer-on-peer abuse in schools in the past three years with more than 7,800 reported cases in 2016. [1]

This increase has been put down to unsupervised internet access from an early age meaning as many as 95% of year 7 boys having accessed pornography. [2] Combining this with the ever increasing sexualisation of women and the pressure on girls to conform to stereotypes witnessed on TV, internet, particularly social media, sexualisation of children as a result and the lack of victim support in schools is shocking and is not being addressed quickly or effectively despite the rise in this. Yet Ofsted is focused on looking to possibly ban the hijab in primary schools when, considering that only 5% of the UK population are Muslims, the number of little girls choosing to wear the Hijab is very small.

 

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/nov/02/sexual-attacks-in-schools-action-is-taking-too-long-says-mp

 

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/12/sexualised-behaviour-in-very-young-children-increasing-say-teachers

 

 

Why I Too Choose To Keep My Headscarf On!

Sarah 1

Sarah Ward Khan, London

Sometimes people stare at me in the street.  I’ve come to recognise that certain look that crosses a stranger’s face of confusion and bewilderment.  For I am a white woman in a headscarf – an anomaly, not fitting the mould.  There is no cultural or familial pressure for me to conform, mine is entirely a matter of choice.  I’m a walking oxymoron: woman from a culture of apparent freedom and advancement, dressed in the garb of supposed oppression and subjugation.

But I don’t worry about the looks of the occasional passer-by.  My life is not defined by these fleeting interactions based on assumption on both sides. My life and my choices are defined by a faith rooted in a love of God, deeper than considerations of others.  My dress is a deeply personal choice, selected by me and upheld by my own convictions.  Yet so often commentators believe that if I wear a scarf I must lack the intellect or awareness to understand my lowly status.

Yet the truth is something much more powerful and is known only to those who understand in the deepest recesses of their soul that hijab is a spiritual affirmation, a footstep on the path to enlightenment, inner peace and acceptance.  Let me explain how.  Covering the hair is an instruction of the Holy Qur’an.  It states;

‘Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do. And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-covers over their bosoms….’(Chapter 24, verses 31-32)

Firstly, the hijab is not simply to ward off uncontrolled men.  The instruction in the Qur’an is aimed at men first, they are told to lower their gaze.  There is no burden on women to shield themselves from men, the burden is placed fully and firstly on the men themselves.

Secondly, the hijab is not to hide women.  Quite the opposite.  The Holy Qur’an tells women they are beautiful: all women, without comparison and without exception.  This single affirmation unites women in a bond of sisterhood, removes competition and increases self-confidence. Muslim women do not cover themselves in female company because they are then on an equal footing – they are all beautiful.  How many anxieties and discords could be eliminated if women embraced this philosophy, stopped doubting themselves and took pride in their elevated status as beings of inherent beauty?

Thirdly, wearing the hijab acknowledges that women are more than simply what they wear.  When we operate in an environment when we are covered, other people cannot judge us on our looks.  We do not elevate our physique and physical appearance to be our most important asset.  Instead, we invite people to judge us based on our character, our conduct, our speech and who we are as a person.  In a society where illusive and fleeting values of youth and beauty are paramount, we offer an alternative.  Know us as a person, the qualities that will not fade with the passage of time.  Judge us by our values that will weather any storm and improve with age and experience.

For the spirit of hijab is more than a fashion trend.  I have worn hijab since my youth, when modest fashion and hijabi trends were unknown to most of the Western world.  My adherence to hijab is not based on force, but on choice.  So I do not mind if I get the occasional stare in the street, for I am stronger than the fickle winds of change. I follow a long line of women from all cultures and religions, who knew that hijab is a positive affirmation of my intrinsic value as a woman.  And if I am the last hijabi standing, then I will continue to stand with the self-belief and conviction of faith that this practice is the right one and it is enduring.

Wearing The Hijab In Islam

 

Navida 1

Navida Sayed, London

Over the last decade the hijab has become one of the most widely discussed and controversial topic not only in the West but also in Muslim societies. The covering of the head has also been debated among some Muslim scholars and they have joined in the debate on whether or not the wearing of a headscarf is required of Muslim women. Before we discuss what some scholars are saying we will see what led to this debate. [i]

Recently the topic of hijab came into the spotlight through social media platforms. Some European governments have introduced legislation against wearing the full face Hijab. In pursuit of their own political agendas some of the Western countries repeatedly intervene and attempt imposing and elaborating a dress code about how Muslim women should dress in the name of secularism, as a result this is dividing societies rather than uniting.  It leads to backlash and hatred against Muslim women in hijab. This has resulted in many with little awareness of Islam to identify Muslim women in hijab either with terrorism or as oppressed women in desperate need of liberation from their hijab.  Sadly all the negative media propaganda and recent hate crimes against Muslim women in Hijab has resulted in some Muslim women to turn their back on wearing the veil and forming countercultural statements.

Women choosing to walk away from the hijab as feminists or because of modernity actually believe that the hijab is ingrained in culture rather than faith. They pander to the arguments of those who erroneously believe that Muslim hijab wearing women are brainwashed into saying they are wearing it out of choice and they are not forced to wear it. Activists are taking the removal of the hijab to a whole new level, from videos and blogs on how to remove the headscarf to linking the headscarf as an out dated cultural practice. To further confuse matters some Muslim males opposing the headscarf have jumped on the bandwagon too, they quote five so-called high profile Muslim Scholars as an authority who issued a fatwa on – ‘The Permissibility Of Not Wearing The Headscarf’, I will only touch on some of their points here.

The first is Khaled Abou El-Fadl ‘ who critiques the predominant Muslim position of viewing the khimar (veil) as a piece of cloth that covers the head and face or just the head. He argues that if the headscarf itself causes women to stand out and put them in the way of harm and if uncovering the head is not considered socially immodest or licentious then it would be permissible for Muslim women to not wear the headscarf.’

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi also shares the opinions of Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Ghamidi and his affiliate Farhad Shafti that ‘the khimar (veil) was neither a religious act nor did it pertain to modesty.

Abdullah Bin Bayyah ‘argues that hardships allow for uncovering of women’s body parts or hair in public.

In relation to the wearing of the headscarf Bin Bayyah’s student Hamza Yusuf mistakenly asserts that ‘the laws are there to serve human beings, we are not there to serve the law. We are there to serve Allah, and that is why whenever the law does not serve you, you are permitted to abandon it, and that is actually following the law. … The law is for our benefit, not for our harm. Therefore, if the law harms us, we no longer have to abide by it.’

The late Shia cleric, Ahmad Ghabel deemed as an authority on Islam, ‘argued that the head covering was not obligatory but recommended, he also said there was no consensus as to whether hair constituted parts that must be covered.’

The fifth person the late Nasr Abu Zayd argued ‘covering of body parts and the hijab are subject to socio-cultural norms and therefore are changeable and not fixed. He opined that both are not legislated by Islam but are rather specific to the Arab culture.’[ii]

Citing the above-mentioned individuals as authorities on Islam is misleading. Deliberation on their arguments in detail is for another time. In a nutshell as scholars of Islam they are all inaccurately asserting with authority that Islam does not require women to cover their heads with a headscarf especially in countries where they may be facing discrimination or persecution because of their headscarves.  However the real and only authority on Islam is the Holy Qura’n.  In Islam, modesty and chastity are very important tenets of faith, and are achieved through establishing certain codes of behaviour and dress. It is said in the Holy Qur’an:

‘And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-covers over their bosoms…’ (Ch.24:V.32)

The veil is a word used generically, which could refer to Hijab, Burqa, Niqab, headscarf or outer garment used to cover the body. Because Islam is a global religion there is no specific or compulsory dress for all Muslim women. Each country or community adapts its cultural dress code to observe the Hijab in accordance with Qur’anic instructions. In essence, this does not mean that the Hijab stems from cultural dress in fact the beauty of Islam is that it allows women to adapt their cultural dress in accordance with teachings of Islam as mentioned in the above verse of the Holy Qura’n.  Observance of the veil is definitely part of a Muslim woman’s faith, as it is clear from the Holy Qur’an.

Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab in Western countries do not struggle with any kind of inferiority complex or dilemma about whether or not they should wear the hijab. They do not feel constricted or objectified instead they feel confident and empowered.  The Hijab establishes dignity and respect for women, so that they are recognised in society as individuals who are respected for their intelligence and personality rather than for their physical appearance.  For Muslim women having the right to choose what to wear including the hijab is the most liberating and empowering choice of all.

 

 

[i] HuffPost Canada. (2017). 5 Muslim Scholars On The Permissibility Of Not Wearing The Headscarf. [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/junaid-jahangir/islam-wearing-hijab_b_14046520.html

[ii] HuffPost Canada. (2017). 5 Muslim Scholars On The Permissibility Of Not Wearing The Headscarf. [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/junaid-jahangir/islam-wearing-hijab_b_14046520.html