Periodically, I get involved in the everlasting discussions about what Muslim women wear or don't wear or should wear or should not wear. My position is very simple. We are adults. Leave us alone. That message is for everyone. Liberals who hate the "veil." Muslims who hate to see women showing their hair. Non-Muslim women who want us to look and act more like them. Non-Muslim men who make us the symbol of why Islam is an evil religion and Mecca should be nuked. Farhat Hashemi and other weird Muslim women who mind each others' business. Everyone else in between. But especially, Muslim men. Leave us alone. What is wrong with you? Go agonize about the contents of your own closets. We are grownups.
Today I received an e-mail from the Canadian pundit Tarek Fatah. I used to be an acquaintance of Mr. Fatah via Muslim e-mail discussion groups. I stay on his article-mailing list mostly because one time out of twenty the article may be something interesting I didn't already see somewhere else. But today he has pushed all of my buttons on the everlasting burning issue of what Muslim women wear.
Here is the article, with my thoughts added in italics.
November 21, 2006
An appeal to Muslim women:
Reject the niqab
By TAREK FATAH
The Globe and Mail, Toronto
Recently, there has been controversy around the veil worn by some Muslim women to conceal their faces. Many have viewed this as a conflict between Muslims on one side and the "Islamophobic" west on the other. Not so. The debate is being waged primarily within Muslim society and is part of the battle for the heart and soul of Muslim communities from Tunisia to Turkey, Indonesia to India, and right here in Canada.
This ignores the fact that all the recent news articles that reference this are about Western, non-Muslim countries trying to regulate what Muslim women can wear. Why would a Muslim columnist want us to ignore what is right in front of our faces?
Item: scarf-wearing Muslim woman shot in front of her kids - in the US.
Item - Dutch government bans the burka.
Item - British minister advises British Muslim women to take off the veil.
– who are we going to believe, Tarek Fatah or our lying eyes?
To begin with, the veil is not required by Islam.
None other than Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based Islamic scholar, stated in a Friday sermon that "it is not obligatory for Muslim women to wear the niqab [full face veil]." He added, "The majority of Muslim scholars and I do not support the niqab in which women cover their faces."
Great argument. I, a male Muslim, am quoting another male Muslim on what women should or should not wear. Female Muslims, listen, goddamit!
Yet the practice of covering one's face as an expression of Islamic religiosity is growing.
It is? Says who?
Mohammad Qadeer, professor emeritus at Queen's University, recently cautioned Muslim communities to "reappraise this custom, before a scare about terrorists or a bank holdup raises a public uproar against the niqab."
Indeed, just last week a jewel robbery in Toronto was carried out by a man dressed in a burka.
Wow. I bet you write articles to skiers to stop wearing their ski masks because bank robbers use them too. Why don’t you send these articles to me? This is such an awesome argument. I can’t believe no one ever thought of it before.
Women have the right to dress as they please -- but the rights of the individual have to be balanced with the rights of society.
Wearing veils -- whether as an expression of religious identity, or as a means of political defiance -- is not in the best interest of Canada's Muslim communities.
Exactly who died and made you the arbiter of what Canadian Muslim women’s best interest is? More to the point, why are you assuming that Muslim women cannot decide for themselves what their best interest is?
Why are Muslim women in Canada choosing to wear the Niqab and why is this choice growing (if indeed it is – you have given absolutely no proof other than your assertion that this is so)? Have you actually asked one?
Historically, the Muslim world has seen many women in power -- the Fatimide Queen Sitt al-Mulk in 11th-century Egypt, Razia Sultana in 13th century India, for example -- who governed from their thrones, presided over meetings with their advisers, with their faces uncovered, as shown in paintings from those times.
Huh. Many women are ambitious for other career paths than queen. Many women probably feel that they can do something really useful and good in their lives while wearing the face veil because the line of work they chose is not one that involves communicating with your constituency. Or is your argument that all Muslim women should desire to go into politics?
From the times of the early Arab Umayyads and Abbasids to the Turkish Ottomans, the Indian Moghuls and the Persian Safavids, never have Muslim women been forced by decree to cover their faces as an act of religiosity and piety.
Tying religiosity and piety to face coverings is a 19th- and 20th-century phenomenon started by the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia. Due to Saudi Arabia's oil wealth, and the funding of Islamic schools around the world, the Wahhabis are managing to impose their irrational cult on Muslims in the Western world. The Wahhabis want everyone to believe that women should accept a second-class status. And they want women to believe that this segregationist ideology is something they've chosen for themselves.
This is why Egyptian women in the late 19th and early 20th century used to wear a veil over the lower half of their faces? Because of Wahhabi influence?
Have you ever actually asked a Niqabi woman what her rationale for veiling is? Do you think they are incapable of speech or something?
Choices can only be made if the individual is, realistically, in a position to exercise a free choice. But there's pressure within any minority community to conform. And so Canadian Muslim women are told they must not stand up to their organized disenfranchisement.
I only see Canadian women being told, by you, to ditch the Niqab. I will take your word for it that the opposite message is also happening. Why is no one telling Canadian women to do whatever the hell they want, because they are ADULTS?
In the late 1990s, the city of Toronto commissioned Michael Ornstein of York University to study the growing levels of poverty among the city's racial minorities. His report, Ethno-Racial Inequality in the City of Toronto, was a bombshell.
Prof. Ornstein laid bare the simmering poverty among minorities in Toronto. He wrote: "Combining all the non-European groups, the family poverty rate is 34.3 per cent, more than twice the figure for the Europeans and Canadians.
"Non-European families make up 36.9 per cent of all families in Toronto, but account for 58.9 per cent of all poor families."
The statistics for Muslim communities ranged from 40 per cent to 80 per cent living in poverty.
If women in marginalized families are made to cover their faces, Muslim communities facing the poverty trap will find it increasingly difficult to get out of it. A veil over the face will close the doors to employment in professions where face-to-face human interaction is absolutely essential -- a police officer, a physician, a nurse, a school teacher, an airline pilot, a submarine commander, a judge, a lawyer, a bank clerk, an office receptionist or even a store clerk.
Your connection between the fact that the poor are often minorities and the fact that a tiny percentage of Canadian Muslim women wear a face veil is ludicrous. Lots of things contribute to why minority and immigrant communities are poor. You are making this up because you think it must be true. You need to have a study proving this. I know of many women in the Middle East who do various sorts of jobs and cover their faces. I don’t know what the situation is in Canada. I do know that these connections you are making are only in your own mind. They may or may not be true, but you have presented zero proof.
How many of the non-European people mentioned in the study by Ornstein are Muslim? How do you explain the poverty of those other groups who don’t have the face veiling issue and yet are poor?
In short, the veil creates another obstacle to the economic empowerment of a community that already faces discrimination based on skin colour and accent.
But you can solve that too, can’t you? Next: An article by Tarek Fatah telling Muslim women to use “Fair & Lovely” whitening cream so they can get jobs and not have to deal with discrimination. And an article by Tarek Fatah calling mosques to ditch the Quran classes and start offering Berlitz English lessons so that people can lose their accents.
The Islamists who are pushing the veil are not fighting discrimination or solving problems. They're making it more difficult for us to progress.
Which Islamists are actually pushing the FACE veil? I have never ever heard this in any Western Muslim’s speech or khutba. Again I have to take your word for it that this is actually happening, but I still don’t understand why your opposite pushing of women to make choices you want is any better than theirs.
A bright and prosperous future for Muslims in Canada can best be ensured when we are seen as fully integrated into the fabric of Canadian society. That doesn't mean giving up any part of our faith, which is constitutionally guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But it does mean that Islam must not be used as a tool to score political points for the Islamist agenda.
So women who dress a certain way are tools for someone else’s agenda. Do you think women are grownup human beings? Apparently not. We are infants who are manipulated by either your enemies or by you. Remind me why they should prefer to be a tool for your agenda as opposed to the “Islamists/Wahhabis/Extremists” you keep mentioning (who may or may not exist). Because I see no difference.
Tarek Fatah is host of The Muslim Chronicle on CTS-TV and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
And he knows what is best for Canadian Muslim women!
Say "No" to the Burka in Canada!
The Burka and the Niqab are not the same thing. But whatever.
"The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some day, we will look back on this article by Tarek Fatah and laugh hysterically until we weep at the patronizing tone and ask ourselves "how did men back then arrogate to themselves the right to tell women what to do?" Hey, we can dream with Ralph, can't we?