Shirin Ebadi: No
Liberty for Women
November 26, 2006
Today, I found an
Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the
Nobel Peace prize in 2003. She is known for her fierce campaign and pioneering
efforts for democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and
children. She was in India this week for a four-day tour.
Speaking to the media, she said, "When men can decide on their attire, why such
a liberty is not provided to women?".
This statement was her response to the query about the
imposition of hijab on women. According to her, she is both against the forced
wearing of the hijab as well against forcing women not to wear it. She believes
that it is women's rights and according to a famous saying, women's rights are
She further said that all the limitations have always
been imposed on women, men are free to wear whatever they want to — whether in
Islamic countries or western countries, it always depends on who benefits from
such impositions. Thus she believes in the new interpretation of Islam which
complies with human rights.
I cannot agree more with her statements. I also think
that a new interpretation of Islam is necessary so as to really represent the
compliance of Islam with the modern concept of human relationship and human
However, I have a little reservation on her statement
that "men can decide on their attire", while women are restricted to certain
form of attire, i.e. hijab, thus do not have any liberty to choose their desired
In Islam, there are certain codes of conduct for both men
and women. In a matter of attire they both must follow a certain dress code. And
if we go by the Holy Book, it is clearly described there that both men and women
should wear decent clothes so as not to invite harm of any form to any one of
For men, the most private parts of their bodies are
between their navel and their knees. Thus it is a must for all men to cover this
area (from navel to knees) of their bodies.
As for the women, their bodies, from head to toe, are
their private parts. Thus they are urged to wear "decent" attire so as to be
able to keep their privacy intact. According to the Holy Book, the wearing of a
hijab is not a must for women but it is "advisable" or "desirable".
The message in the Holy Book is clear: decency of
clothing for both men and women.
Thus when Shirin Ebadi said that men can choose any
attire they want while women do not have the same liberty, it, according to me,
is incorrect. In my opinion, both men and women have the same liberty to choose
whatever attire they like to wear as long as it is in compliance with the
general norms practiced in the society. Decency is the norm, and not rigidity.
Hijab is not a must, but decency is.
Islam is not a rigid religion. On the contrary, it is
quite a flexible one. Unfortunately, Islam has been hijacked by those "Muslim
clerics" in such a way that it is now being projected as a very rigid religion.
A new interpretation of Islam is hence necessary to project the true color of
Can anyone share ideas to re-intrepret Islam?