In this blog I discuss the arguments around the Muslim head gear and the social issues surrounding it.
How can a modern enlightened state to allow its people to follow their evil cultural practices?
Had we not forcefully stopped the Hindu religious practice of Sati women would still be killing themselves after the death of their husband. Why should Muslims have any objection if the state forcefully stops women from donning the hijab/niqab/burqa. The argument that women voluntarily wear some form of the Islamic headgear is not enough to make it legitimate. After all some Hindu women voluntarily killed themselves in the name of Sati.
If the above passage made sense to you then let me explain why it should not.
- Two cultural practices cannot be equal just because they are cultural practices. It would be same as saying a Burqa is same as the bikini because both are pieces of clothing.
- While a modern state cannot allow every cultural practice a modern state cannot prohibit a legitimate cultural practice just because it is a cultural practice. Every cultural practice needs to be evaluated independently.
- The cultural practice of donning a headgear is in no way comparable to the cultural practice of a woman being killed or choosing to die after the death of her husband.
Let us now test the argument that that Sati and Burqa are both oppressive and hence they can be equated. Sati did not stop because there were laws against it. There is absolutely nothing that a state can do if the woman decides to commit suicide after the death of her husband. The Hindu woman has decided that she will no longer follow this barbaric practice and hence the end of Sati.
On the contrary there is empirical evidence that most Muslim women wear the headgear voluntarily as a part of their cultural identify and do not see it as either barbaric or oppressive. Had this been the case there would be no Muslim women in the western world wearing the hijab. Turkey aggressively tried to enforce a secularist culture. Hijab clad women were banned from universities and after several decades of secularism most Turkish women still prefer some form of Islamic head covering.
Well how can you say that they voluntarily choose to wear the headgear when they are conditioned to wear the headgear since they are children?
Good question. There is no society in the world in which parents do not influence their children. You are most likely to identify yourself as a Hindu if you grow up in a Hindu family in India. You are most likely to identify yourself as an atheist if you grow up in an atheist family. You are most likely to identify yourself as Muslim if you grow up in a Muslim family. And when you identify yourself as a Muslim the Hijab may come as part of that cultural identity.
Thousands of women convert to Islam every year around the world and they are more likely to wear the Islamic headgear as compared to someone who was born in a Muslim family. This is a clear indicator that is not always about cultural conditioning but about a legitimate cultural choice.
The Islamic headgear is as cultural as it is Islamic. You will hardly find anyone wearing a burqa in Turkey. Unlike the subcontinent burqa was never a part of the Turkish Islamo-cultural identity. People often become more protective about their cultural identity when they see that it is under threat. A Hindu is more likely to search for his cultural roots after migrating to the west. The idea is to preserve and protect the culture in face of the pressures to conform to the dominant culture that surrounds you.
Why the fear of Hijab?
Once can understand people’s discomfort with the face covering niqab because face is an important of identity and it can be quite confronting to talk to someone “face to face” when there is only one face available in the conversation. Then there are security concerns. A person wearing a balaclava or a helmet cannot be allowed into bank so why a niqab clad woman should be allowed inside a bank in the name of culture? These are legitimate concerns and should not be seen as an attack on culture.
The attack on the Hijab is however a completely different matter. The idea is the force the woman to conform to the ideals of the dominant culture. For e.g. you will rarely see Oprah Winfrey in her natural Afro hair. She has to look whiter than white. How many white women that you see around you choose the afro hairstyle? Hardly any. How many African American women do you see with blonde wigs and straitened hair? Many. The minority should conform to the dominant culture of the majority or else get ready to be ridiculed, mocked and shunned from the civil society.
In the western societies the debate about the Islamic headgear is as much about the Western Identity as it is about the Islamic identity. There is no reason for these two identities to clash. There are hundreds of examples where hijab clad women have made it big in their professional careers. Muslims must also do their bit by discouraging the practice of niqab. Feminist extremism challenging the cultural identity of Muslim women is having exactly the opposite of the desired effect.
Islam is not going away, Muslims are not going away. There will more and more Hijabs around us in the future. The choice is ours. Either we can remain in a perpetual state of confrontation or we can just accept it as a part of multicultural society and move on. The Hijabs are coming.