A Muslim Sisters’ Response to the Campaign of Dr Taj Hargey to Ban the Burka in Britain

niqab

As a British female revert to Islam, I am yet again offended by a man trying to impose his beliefs about what he thinks is best for me, what I should wear and how I should practice my chosen faith.

I would like to categorically assert that I did not accept the religion of Islam to have Muslim reformists try to chase me away from it, or deter me from following its normative tradition. Especially by someone who is clearly untrained and lacking in scholarly credence. [1]

The first baseless accusation I’d like to address, made by Dr Taj Hargey, who doesn’t deserve a formal introduction, is that the face veil poses a security risk.  Despite there being no evidence to support that veiled women are prone to committing criminal or terrorist acts, I do not know of any Muslim woman who has the slightest objection to removing the face veil to confirm their identity, thus adhering to much needed security measures in airports and other places that require heightened security.

In 2001, having being a Muslim for seven years, I deliberated and studied the issue of adorning the face veil and willingly adopted it for myself. That choice and the way I choose to dress have never prevented me from being a compassionate, positive and active citizen of Britain. Neither has it restricted me in volunteering for activities to promote health and fitness in my city. I have delivered presentations on Islam at schools, fed the homeless in my local area, and even taken part in parent’s races on Sports Day! Rather it is counter productive and negative campaigns by Dr Hargey which encourage unrest and distrust, whilst proposing a dangerous totalitarian law on dress code that threatens all of our liberties, whatever our faith and beliefs.

Another groundless assertion that Dr Hargey makes in ‘support’ of his campaign against the ‘burka’ is that the veil does not have a place in Islam and is that it is completely against Islamic thought and tradition. This claim is riddled with inaccuracies and misinformation. History documents that amongst the vast majority of Muslim scholars since the early days of Islam, there has always been a healthy culture of debating religious issues. These topics would include the best way to offer prayer, whether shellfish is a permitted for consumption and if the face veil is obligatory or just an extra act of worship. Within all schools of thought the face veil has always been considered, at the very least, to be an honored act of obedience to The Creator.

Dr Hargey also feebly attempts at a claim that the veil cannot be Islamic because other ancient cultures encouraged it prior to the advent of Islam. This is like saying the turban cannot be part of Sikhism, because the Arabs wore it before they did! In fact the claim that the face veil stems from deep roots in Persian tradition doesn’t wash either. Ancient Greek texts speak of the veiling, and the seclusion of women being practiced among the Persians as a means to separate the ‘elite’ from the commoners. Historically, the veil was an article of apparel that was a means of denoting social distinction. It was not a widespread phenomenon, but was restricted to a certain social class of women. [2]

In contrast the face veil, or ‘niqab’ adopted by Muslim women, is considered an act of obedience and commitment to The Creator, because as the Qur’an states,

“Indeed, the noblest among you near Allah, is the one who is most conscious of Allah.”[3]

Dr Hargey also dismisses the veil by arguing that it is a backward cultural practice. He usually cites the Pakistani community, and argues that it is just a primitive tradition of elderly Pakistani women. This pseudo-argument does not hold water. Modern Islamist feminists and contemporary scholars are infact trying to educate much of the developing world that many of their customs, including honour killings, the caste system and preference of boys over girls are not connected to Islam. They argue that these customs are antithetical to Islamic values and are rooted in ignorance.Pakistan is no model for the most practising Islamic society. The irony is, many of these Islamist feminists who struggle against backward cultural practices – wear the face veil themselves! Thus, the veil is a symbol for revival and progress.

It must be said that Dr Taj Hargey will not understand why women choose to wear the niqab without acknowledging the revolution that occurred amongst women at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The women during the early period of Islam enthusiastically adhered to the Quranic instruction of the veil as part of an uprising against the ignorant practices of those times.

Just as western history celebrates the burning of bras of the 1960’s, so does the Islamic world cheer the women of the Arabian deserts who tore their sheets in two so that they may cover their heads and faces.  This was their revolution, with The Creator as their Liberator and Protector, freeing them from sexual deprivation, degradation based on gender,and empowering them against a culture of immorality – Common practices in the age of ignorance included marriages that had more in common with prostitution than a contract of love and compassion. Islam emancipated women.

Five years after the Prophet’s migration to Medina, the fifty-ninth verse of Surah Al-Ahzab, was revealed,

O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. [4]

The Prophet (pbuh) was commanded to tell his wives, daughters and the women of the believers to ‘bring their outer garments close to them’ so that they can be recognized as noble women and not be harmed. In response to the verse, the women of Madina were reported to have come out with their faces covered in different ways. [5]

Whilst Dr Hargey mentions verse thirty in Surah Al-Noor,where Allah Almighty commands believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, he fails to follow it up with the mention of the following verse, verse thirty-one, where Allah then tells women to not expose their beauty except that which is normally apparent. [6] There are two interpretations for the ‘normally apparent’. Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) says it means the face and hands, however, Ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) interprets it as whatever is apparent after the face is covered.

These revelations and traditions are where the deep rooted Islamic view of face veil stems from and where I myself derive my belief that my niqab is as an additional act of obedience to my Creator. My interpretation, which is in line with the Shafi’, Hanbali and later Hanafi jurists has encouraged myself to emulate the women closest in affection and time to the Prophet of Islam, namely his wives and daughters. These women are my role models. Obviously Dr Hargey doesn’t consider them as people we should look up to. Perhaps Dr Hargey’s demeaning behaviour
towards the adherents of mainstream Islam is due to an inferiority complex?

Dr Hargey also says that the face veil is not permitted in Islam’s Holy City of Makkah during the Annual Pilgrimage. Having performed the Annual Pilgrimage once and the lesser ‘Umrah’ Pilgrimage twice, I can tell you it is a frequent sight to witness the Saudi security guards reminding the womenfolk, who do not wear veil, of its importance in such a mixed and crowded environment. Those who choose to keep their faces uncovered, when normally they would wear veil elsewhere, do so only due to adopting the ruling of Hanafi school which states that no cloth should touch the face during ‘Ihram.’ [7] When not taking part in the rites of the pilgrim, female visitors to Makkah are often seen wearing the face veil- a practice in line with normative Islam

Taking into account all Dr Hargey’s false claims, I conclude that either he is very ignorant about the religion he claims to follow, or like asserted previously he seeks attention due to inner feelings of inferiority when surrounded by strong Muslim women. Either way his campaign is yet another attempt of a man trying to dictate what a woman should wear.  Dr Hargey seems to be imposing his sexist views on women by telling them what attire they should adorn themselves with. He has joined the likes of fashion designers, men’s magazines and politicians such as Jack Straw, in attempting to forcefully impose the sexist ideology that a man has the right to entice women to undress against her own honour and free will. It is sad to witness that this form of sexual harassment remains unchallenged. Despite all of the sacrifices women have made throughout history, this hidden patriarchy continues unabated.  Dr Hargey’s proposal is a threat to Civil liberties whilst stunting the promotion of community and social cohesion that he claims to defend.

It is not an exaggeration to postulate that Hargey’s campaign is tantamount to sexual harassment.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission of  Britain states that the following criteria equate to sexual harassment, and urge victims not to be fooled into thinking it is reasonable to tolerate such behavior;

  1. Comments about the way you look which you find demeaning.
  2. Indecent remarks –(this would include comments such as “get it off,” “take it off”)
  3. Sexual demands by a member of your own or the opposite sex (this would include demands for you to reveal a part of your body which you consider to be private)
  4. Unwanted conduct on the grounds of your sex [8]

Since the private parts of a person is a place on the human body is that which is customarily kept covered by clothing in public venues and conventional settings, as a matter of decency, decorum, and respectfulness, [9] it then it follows that Hargey should be accused of sexual harassment. The idea of what is ‘private’ from one person to the next differs, but in no way should be enforced by others on the individual.

Although the above forms of sexual harassment can be inflicted by either gender, in all honesty I have only ever heard, “Show us your face/legs/hair,” and “Get it off,” from men, never women. These experiences have strengthened my determination to never let a man dictate to me how much flesh I should expose.

The unfortunate fact is that despite our claims of advancement in the fields of science and academics,the world we live in today is just as rife with prejudices and pressures to fit into what is ‘normal,’ as it ever has been.It doesn’t matter if an individual is white, black, yellow, fat, thin, covered or not- there will always be a section of the community who will frown upon our appearance and choices and aim to take away our freedoms. Even more consequential is that we are ‘thrown’ into this life as slaves to our circumstance, not able to control our place of birth, our parents or lineage, our DNA or our social condition. Infact there are psychologists who deliberate quite rightly, that we never even chose to exist at all. [10]

This state of bondage is magnified when we are pressured to fit into the social norms of our communities, taking the form of a suffocating cultural slavery. Sometimes our participation in following changing fashions and trends is willing- we quite like those maxi dresses that are now ‘in vogue’ or we don’t mind paying ridiculous prices for the new smart phone which has only one additional feature different to the previous model- but most times we un-wittingly and un-willingly succumb to societal pressure.

Another form of enslavement is the servitude to our desires, many of which are harmful to our psychological state, our loyalties to others and our spiritual well-being. Examples include the urge to pursue that unobtainable man or woman at the expense of our pride and dignity,the drive to follow our dreams no matter who gets trampled upon and the desire to fulfil every filthy fantasy thus degrading our very being.

This is where Muslims like myself prefer to rid ourselves of all these forms of subjugation and find solace and purpose in submitting to the Creator becoming ‘His’ slave alone. This may be interpreted and adhered to slightly differently from one striving Muslim to the next, but the intention and willingness is the same and should be respected equally.  Islam is not monolithic, and Hargey cannot force his views on the mainstream Muslim community. This bigotry must stop.

I could easily fit into todays ‘norm’ of dressing to impress. As a white woman living in England it would barely raise an eyebrow. And if our lives just conclude in the grave, ultimately us all finishing up as worm buffet, as some would have us believe- what difference does it make if I lived a life as a Devil and you as an Angel? I however believe to have found the only logical purpose of life,choosing to please my Lord thus removing the chains of societal pressures. If we are not permitted to do this, or have not discovered the true freedom that comes from it, I believe we may as well just keel over and die.

My journey to hijab, and later, the face veil, was a spiritual endeavor and a religious choice. Wearing hijab for me once adopting Islam was a no brainier. The images I was brought up with of a pious chaste Mary (Allah be pleased with her) covering her beauty for her Lord, had a huge influence in this. Despite some reservations within my close circle of friends and family, once I decided to wear the face veil it was due to my own convictions;I had no doubts about my decision. Even my husband did not believe it was necessary at that time, but after listening to my reasons, he supported my assessment. He eventually was persuaded and agreed there was a strong case for it within the Islamic tradition. Yes, surprising as it sounds, I, the woman, got a man to agree with the veil.

It does make me wonder what Dr Taj Hargey would do if his wife or daughter decided they wanted to adopt the face veil? Would he force them to go against their values and beliefs? If so, wouldn’t he turn into that dominating male figure he claims to vehemently oppose? Actually, isn’t he doing that already?

By Ruqayyah Dawood

[1] https://coolnessofhind.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/taj-hargey-devout-scholar-or-devious-swindler/

[2] https://suite.io/paula-i-nielson/2sxe2dq

[3] Al-Qur’an [49:13]

[4] Al-Qur’an [33:59]

[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 4481

[6]Al Qur’an [24;30-31]

[7] Ihram is the sacred state of the pilgrim which includes two unsewn pieces of cloth for the men and other rules such as not killing a creature or trimming the nails.

[8] http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/your-rights/equal-rights/gender/sex-discrimination-your-rights-at-work/sexual-harassment/sexual-harassment-your-rights

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intimate_part

[10]Thrownness”, according to Heidegger and Binswanger, is a psychological term referring to the circumstances that characterize a person’s existence that are beyond the person’s control.

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A Muslim Sisters’ Response to the Campaign of Dr Taj Hargey to Ban the Burka in Britain

One thought on “A Muslim Sisters’ Response to the Campaign of Dr Taj Hargey to Ban the Burka in Britain

  1. I don’t know if my message will reach so call Dr Taj Hargey but listen to me very carefully let me convey this message of Prophet Muhammad peace and blessing of Allah be upon him he said “if you have noting good to say then remain silent and keep your shot” so Dr Taj there are many important things to talk about than this and let me tel you the peace will never come to this world accept we respect each other’s faith.

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