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Hijab or Niqab?


by Hussein Shobokshi


01/11/2006 - Asharq Al-Awsat


There is still talk regarding the comments made by former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw regarding the niqab (face veil) and how it “causes separation” in society. It is well known that his statements have and still continue to trigger a number of reactions. However, Straw’s comments are not the first to address the topic of women in Islam. In 1990, concerning the requests made by Muslim communities to have their own schools, and as Shadow Education Secretary in the Labour Party, he said, “those who object to the founding of such schools are wrong and possibly harbor racist inclination.”


At a later date and during a conference held in London about the future of Islamic education, Straw said, “The way that Islamic society views women must be studied thoroughly and one must look at the origins. There have been many claims that Islam is against women based on the non-existence of female preachers and the lack of female teachers in the mosques. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding the role of women in Islam and the role that they have played in the history of Islam. Upon reflection, one finds that the Muslim woman has been given more importance than Jewish or Christian women in the past. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) ascribed to women rights of inheritance 13 centuries before the British government did. Furthermore, Straw’s comment about niqab and the controversy that surrounds it is not new to the Islamic scene.


Over the past few days, Dr Souad Saleh, a female preacher and graduate of Al Azhar, stated that niqab has no roots in Islam and that it degrades women. This led to a prominent member of the Egyptian People’s Assembly, known for his strict views to launch a campaign against her, declaring that killing her would be legal. There are hundreds of others who would agree with Souad Saleh’s views on niqab, but the problem is that within the Islamic world itself, there is a state of anger, inflexibility and adherence to one view and the opinions of particular scholars. This weakens the Hadith and the religious edicts that allow opposing opinions.


Noticeably and funnily enough after the sympathy and condemnation as a result of the French decision to ban the wearing of headscarves in state schools, those who protested against the French decision did not protest against the French Muslims whose faces were uncovered. It seems that the clamor of opinions surrounding the veil, affirming that it is the only valid approach is strictly for local consumption. The state of extremism and anger, prevalent in more than one situation in the Islamic world, which perturbs people and weakens its defense, is our challenge – not the comments made by a British official or the decision made by the French government. The approval and silence surrounding the unsuitable way that opposing opinions are dealt with will keep this part of the world in a state of trepidation.


The Islamic religion and its noble Prophet (pbuh) showed respect and dignity to women, and one must confess that it is the not-so-few men of religion are the ones responsible for desecrating her in this unacceptable manner.




Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al Takreer on Al Arabiya, and in 1995, he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his B.A. in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.



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