(Published in 2008).
The Hijab Ban
20 Million — According to many estimates, that’s the number of Muslims in Turkey, who oppose the wearing of hijab by Muslim women in universities and schools.
Heeding to that support and in respect of the “secular principles”, Turkey today has a ban on wearing Hijab in universities and schools. The ban has been in place for a few years.
Very recently however, the Turkish government led by Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in association with the Nationalist Action Party has proposed an amendment to the constitution seeking the removal of a ban on hijab in schools and universities.
|This deal came to fruition when a compromise was reached between the parties allowing women and girls at universities to cover their heads only by tying the headscarf in the traditional way beneath the chin.
The government’s stance is that such a measure ensures liberties at universities, without compromising the secular principles on which modern Turkey is founded. They also contend that doing so will signal a progress in the field of rights and freedoms, thus allowing Turkey to join EU (European Union) membership.
Those who are in favor of keeping the ban have been voicing their concerns very loudly on this move by the government by releasing a declaration that states that “abolishing the move would pave the way to leading Turkey’s universities away from “rationality and reason.”
Muslims Supporting Hijab Ban
For 20 Million Muslims to support a hijab ban is shocking, to say the least. Mainstream Muslims have gotten used to the non-Muslim world frowning upon Muslim women’s hijab – but when it’s Muslims who oppose a Muslim women’s right to wear hijab, it raises the need for the Muslim Ummah to do some serious soul searching and ask tough questions. (You can Buy Hijab here)
It prompts the question that what is it about hijab and the image of Islam that is making so many Turkish Muslims (and probably other Muslims in other countries) passionate about the necessity of denying it to their fellow Muslims who want to instead don the hijab?
It raises the question that what is it that is driving one segment of Turkish Muslims to turn Turkey – a nation of 99% Muslims into a secular nation?
It raises the question that why are some Muslim groups bent to redefine the divine laws of Islam?
A false image of Islam
It is quite obvious that more than what hijab proponents wish in exercising their religiosity to wear hijab in universities and schools, the secular Muslim opposition wants to snub the issue lest it snowballs in what they feel may be a return of a “backward” Islam. And we know that labeling Islam to be such can’t be further from truth. Yet the unfortunate reality is that those Muslim fear mongers have drawn up an image of Islam that Islam isn’t – and they have collaborated with some in media circles to amplify that twisted image of Islam. Obviously, the painting of such a false image by media circles further feeds into the hijab frenzy thus in turn hardening that false image.
|I have discussed in earlier posts on this blog that unfortunately the practices of some groups of Muslims indeed have contributed toward the building of that aura of backwardness. This in turn has provided fuel to the agenda of those Muslims on the left to redefine and rebrand Islam to suit the standards of the so called “progressive societies” of today. Thus, while one sect of Muslims on the right took the religion to one extreme giving it the aura of backwardness, the other one on the extreme left is redefining Islam to be secular – a version that they believe will help them better assimilate with the new peoples of this world.
Backward – we know Islam is not, but unless mainstream Muslims undertake a conscious effort at grassroots levels to dispel and puncture hijab’s and Islam’s aura of “backwardness” and whatever else negative and false is associated with it, mainstream Muslims in general will find themselves squashed between these two extreme views of Islam always defending Islam’s improperly drawn up image by the Muslims on the extreme left and the extreme right.
“Secular Islam” – An oxymoron
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “secular” as something that is “not religious, sacred, or spiritual” or “not subject to or bound by religious rule”. Phrases such as “Secular Religion” or “Secular Islam” therefore are an oxymoron. But in recent months, the “secular Islam” movement has picked up enormously. Another article on the IqraSense.com blog discusses the new notion of “secular Islam” by Muslim secularists.
But what does “secular Islam” mean? An Islam not bound by religious rule?
That obviously does not make any sense. Whatever manifesto the Muslim secularists strive to propagate, they probably seem to be forgetting that unlike many other religions, Islam is a “way of life” – how one treat’s people, how one conducts oneself in a society, and the whole enchilada about living life is Islam. You can’t separate Islam from a Muslim’s daily life. A Muslim’s Islam for example does not begin and end in a mosque. That’s not how it works but obviously the “secular Muslims” have an agenda. You can read about their agenda and their charter in a related article on this blog.
Even when considered from the perspective of secularism, secular Turkey’s stance on hijab and other similar Islamic issues seems to run opposite to the principles of secularism itself. These secular idealists seem very “religious” about knocking down everything about Islam’s teachings. Even the most secular nations of the world don’t come close to the secularism that Turkey has espoused. Consider the US for example – it is the largest democracy in the world and by all measures including that of its constitution is considered a secular nation. The US with its 82% Christians has rarely considered any such move that would deny the citizens of its country the right to exercise religious freedoms, especially when they do not encroach into anyone’s lifestyles, security or business.
|While this whole concept of “secular Islam” seems to defy intellectual reasoning, unfortunately, there are many in Turkey’s so called intellectual class who actively advocate the hijab ban. Dozens of university rectors and deans in Turkey released a declaration that voices their concerns about wearing hijab in universities and schools by stating that “abolishing the move would pave the way to leading Turkey’s universities away from “rationality and reason.”
Fortunately, there are other academics around the country who have issued their own declaration in support of the removal of the unjust ban saying:
We who are university instructors have been following recent discussions as well as years of policies regarding clothing and outfits closely and with great concern. We believe that universities should take an approach favoring freedoms, not prohibitions, when it comes to fundamental human rights such as the freedoms of thought, expression, religion, belief and education. We want our universities to be remembered for the science they are engaged in, as this is the worthy way for contemporary, civilized countries. We believe that as in every country, the freedom to dress whichever way a person wants should be given to all of our students without discrimination on the basis of religion, belief, thought, race, ethnic group or gender, and demand that all implementations to the contrary be halted at once. We announce this to the public with respect.
Perhaps secular Turkey may realize one day that imposing a ban on hijab is drawing the nation further from secularism and that the movement of anti-Islam has morphed into a new religion of its own. Call it whatever you wish – but that’s not secular by any standards.
Defying Islamic religious teachings on Hijab
Having to witness this resistance by Muslims about wearing hijab highlights another issue. We know that Islam is not a man made religion. Islamic teachings are divine and pave a way for success and peace in this life and hereafter by enjoining certain guidelines and warning against following others. For example, gambling, eating pork, alcohol consumption and wearing hijab are almost accepted to be as undisputed teachings by most mainstream Muslims and scholars. This therefore raises the question for those who seek to change hijab laws of whether their stance is based on a religious interpretation by a group of certain scholars or is it that they seek to amend the laws of Islam on their own accord. What gives them the right to amend God’s laws? If they feel they have the right to do so, then where do they draw the line? Given the fact that wearing a hijab (head scarf) is only one part of Islamic attire, what else will they prohibit mainstream Muslims from doing next? Moreover, why is consuming alcohol or eating pork any different from wearing hijab when there are clear instructions in the Quran and Hadith about all of the above?
Our continued ability to separate right from wrong enables us to maintain the sanctity of right and wrong and prevents the compromise and eroding of ones values over time. Even in cases when we personally may be engaged in something that’s on the “wrong”, it is vital to maintain that distinction as that leaves the door open for the transition to the “right”. Not respecting the line that separates the right from the wrong leaves one exposed to the waves of gradual change that in some cases may be catastrophic. This is similar to what we know about the boiling water and frog analogy. The boiling frog story states that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will fail to feel the change and thus never jump out and will die in the process. The upshot of the story is that people should make themselves aware of gradual change lest they cross that line and suffer a catastrophic loss. How many values and principles can you personally point out that were once frowned upon a few years ago but today have become part of everyone’s daily lives?
To those Muslims who want to redefine Islam through a mix bag of ideologies and theologies, the message of the mainstream Muslims is clear – Get to know the proper Islam and stop diluting the religion in the false hopes of using it as a panacea for self inflicted problems. There are better ways to guide through the maze of today’s challenges than compromising the ideals of the religion. Islam came about almost 1500 years ago with a message of peace to suit all peoples of all times. Its message is more humane than any human rights organization’s charter and more liberating for women than any women societies’ manifesto has to offer. Don’t let ignorance and misrepresentations guide you to carve out new inconsistent theologies, doctrines and dogmas.
And to those Muslims on the extreme right mired in the principles of extremism and backwardness, the philosophy of the message is no different. Get to know and understand the spirit and the context of the Islamic teachings and rulings. Use knowledge, increased reflection, flexibility, and wisdom – all concepts inherent in the principles of the religion to change the image of Islam into what Islam really was meant to uphold.
What do you think? Do you think that hijab is not mandated in Islam? What is your opinion about the efforts of those bent to “secularize” Islam?
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