The Shabina Begum case (part 3)

The discussion of yesterday’s ruling on Shabina Begum’s jilbab has continued apace in both the media and the blogosphere today (given that the first morning papers to report the story would have been today’s). A lot of people won’t be surprised that much of the media coverage has been unsympathetic. The Daily Mail is as thoroughly unsympathetic as you might expect. Its editorial this morning claimed:

Yet again, Britain is diminished by a destructive cocktail of human rights legislation, legal aid, lawyers living high on the hog and judges who seem bereft of common sense. And yet again, the public watches in despair as another perverse ruling makes nonsense of values once taken for granted.

The first paragraph is actually a rehash of the canards beloved of the Daily Mail and other right-wing populist papers. If we didn’t have human rights law, Parliament could ride roughshod over anyone and everyone with a 50.1% majority; without legal aid, only the rich could afford access to the law; the bit about rich lawyers is irrelevant, and the bit about judges lacking common-sense (“common-sense” being a common right-wing slogan meaning the first thing that comes into the head of the person who doesn’t have time to think) is just their opinion. The fact is this: the school had an “Islamic” uniform which, as modelled by another girl (which, contrary to my earlier impression, is not Shabina Begum) in the Standard and today’s Mail, is not Islamic.

Further on, the same editorial alleges that the rights of other people have been ignored in favour of the interests of a minority. But nobody’s rights have been infringed; on the contrary, they may have been extended. Some girls may not want to wear the jilbab; others might want to. The leader also brings up the old saw about the possibility of families pressuring girls to wear the jilbab when they themselves don’t want to. I’ve heard this ridiculous argument from my aunt, who herself forces her own daughter to wear a skirt to school, when she doesn’t want to! The Mail wouldn’t hesitate to defend parents in any other case where their wishes conflict with their children’s.

The BBC has a more balanced discussion, although its “Have Your Say” page contains the usual nonsense from the “peanut gallery”. The BBC’s page discussing what Islamic scholars and women’s leaders say about hijab refers to a “Dr Anas Abushadyan” of London Central Mosque, whose name is actually Abu Shaadi (I can’t remember how he renders it in English letters, but there’s definitely no “an” on the end). Dr Abu Shaadi confirms that the shalwar kameez is acceptable Islamic dress, although it’s not clear whether he means shalwar kameez in general or the version of it shown in yesterday’s Standard.

Ahmed Weir noted that the girl is a member of, and supported by, Hizbut-Tahrir which has caused an awful lot of trouble in the community over the past few years. HT are obnoxious and the stereotype of a “Hizbi” in this country is of the youth spouting childish certainties about the group’s political ideology. I met a group of them in east London a few years ago, and they claim that their founder was “mujtahid mutlaq”, a plainly nonsensical idea. The conclusion was that because they are behind this, well, ‘nuff said. I disagree, because HT in any case don’t have the resources to bring this to court. This was done by a non-Muslim children’s rights organisation, and her representative was the Prime Minister’s wife. If our own daughters were being forced to dress unacceptably, we would welcome support in changing the situation, whether it came from heretics (like HT) or non-Muslims. And the argument that she could have gone to the other school (which she eventually did) which does allow jilbab does not wash either. Everyone knows that there is such a thing as over-subscription, otherwise known as the school being full. Only so many pupils can transfer from one school to the other.

There is an irony in this case, which is that the jilbab in question in this case is not, in fact, the jilbab of the Salaf. Shaikh Riyadh al-Haqq of Birmingham mentioned in a tape, since withdrawn, that the mufassireen described a jilbab as covering the whole body, from the head down, not the Syrian-style overcoat worn by sister Shabina (you can read what Shaikh Muhammad bin Adam says about this on SunniPath here). The women of the Salaf drew this over their faces. This style of jilbab is known as chador in Iran and the bui-bui in Kenya and Tanzania, but apart from this it’s quite rare now. But whether or not sister Shabina is Sunni, Shi’a, Wahhabi or HT, we shouldn’t attack her for using the law to ban schools forcing girls into an un-Islamic dress code.

And Allah knows best.

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