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Wednesday 18 April 2007
‘Hijab has nothing to do with morality’, say Canadian Muslim activists

Farzana Hassan, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, and Tarek Fatah, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, write in today’s Globe and Mail, as we’ve long argued in Judeoscope, that the hijab is a political symbol:


Originally a source of modesty, the hijab, or Muslim head scarf, has become a political tool. Its latest manifestation came this week with the sight of 10-year old Muslim girls refusing to give up their hijab in a Quebec tae kwon do tournament, when the helmets would have served the same purpose of modesty and much more.

There is not a single reference in the Koran that obliges Muslim women to cover their hair or their face. The only verse that comes close to such a dress code (Sura 24, "The Light," verse 31) directs believing women to let their head coverings obscure their bosoms.

Yet, in the past few decades, Islamists and orthodox Muslims have made the covering of a woman’s head the cornerstone of Muslim identity. The head cover been pushed as a symbol of piety and only the Egyptian and Saudi version of the head cover — the hijab — is considered worthy of respect. Coverings that originate in South Asia, the sari or the dupatta, have been relegated as less authentic under Islam.

It is true that through history, Muslim women have chosen to wear the hijab for reasons of modesty. Today, however, some wear it for the opposite reason. "Young women put on a hijab and go dancing, wearing high heels and lipstick. They wear tight jeans that show their bellies," 75-year old Nawal Al-Saadawi, Egypt’s leading feminist, noted recently. She is bitter at how the covering of a women’s head has been misrepresented as an act of piety and the most defining symbol of Islam.

Beyond fashion, however, this supposed symbol of modesty has assumed a decidedly political and religious tenor, dominating the debate on civil liberties and religious freedoms in the West. Any opposition to the hijab is viewed as a manifestation of Islamophobia.

The piece of cloth becomes a subject of controversy also because those who favour its use claim it is religiously mandated and regard its use as their Charter-protected right. To dispense with the garment while playing a sport would amount to committing a sacrilege.

Islamists have turned the hijab into the central pillar of Islam. They consider Muslim women who do not cover their heads — the vast majority — as sinners or lesser Muslims. They should come out and debate the issue rather than using young Muslim girls as shields to pursue a political agenda.



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