Shelina Zahra takes on anti-hijabists

Last Friday and last Sunday, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed appeared on BBC Radio debating the issue of hijab with two foreign anti-hijab agitators. One of them is part of London’s small but well-connected Iranian exile community, namely Diana Nammi; the other is Marnia Lazreg, who has just published a book entitled Questioning the Veil, through Princeton University Press. It should be noted that Lazreg’s website contains no biographical information about her, other than that she is Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center and Hunter College, City University of New York.

Sis. Shelina appeared alongside Lazreg on Woman’s Hour last Friday on Radio 4; you can listen to that (until this coming Friday) here until this coming Friday. She also appeared on Jumoke Fashola’s show, Inspirit, on BBC London last Sunday, and discussed a lot of issues with the host but also opposed Nammi who appeared “down the line”. You can listen to that here until this coming Sunday. Note that iPlayer only works in the UK.

I listened to the Lazreg discussion but it’s not available right now. However, the promotion for it on the Princeton website makes constant reference to “the veil”, a term rarely if ever used by Muslim women who use terms like hijab and niqab to make it clear which type of veil they are talking about. While I would agree that prevention of sexual harassment is not really a good reason, because in the countries where this kind of harassment goes on, women in hijab suffer from it as well, it is not relevant to women in the west who wear hijab. Here, it is mainly about a religious obligation.

The claim made during the Woman’s Hour discussion that women who wear hijab in the west are making life difficult for those in the Muslim world who supposedly do not want to is entirely specious and irrelevant. If a Muslim woman wears hijab because she regards it as a religious obligation, she is hardly likely to be sympathetic to one who is opposed to it somewhere else, any more than Lazreg, or the woman whose rights she and those like her favour, sympathise with our women’s rights. Besides, any relationship of cause and effect between the two is difficult to prove, to say the least.

Sis. Shelina made the point at the end of her Inspirit interview that there were more important issues in Muslim women’s lives than hijab, among them poverty and lack of education, and this is what should be stressed in any debate on hijab. The right to wear hijab itself is not in any danger; what is at stake is the right to receive an education and employment, and to take part in society, while wearing it. These are not women who advocate staying out of school after 16, marrying and then settling down to become housewives and have seven or eight children. In countries where home-schooling is legal, as in Britain and France, hijab in school and the workplace would be much less of an issue if that were the case.

In the case of the Jumoke Fashola appearance, the host completely overplayed the importance of the anti-niqab campaign and those calling for it, besides persistently referring to the so-called ‘burka’ which is hardly ever used by Muslims and normally refers to garments worn in the Emirates and Afghanistan, not to the niqab which is what is worn by Muslim women in the west. The “group based in London” is the so-called Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, and their website contains a lot of material on honour killings and female genital mutilation (which they claim is widespread among Kurds), but nothing much about the ‘burka’. Perhaps that’s because it’s not much of an issue as most Kurdish women do not wear it, and they are only jumping on the anti-niqab bandwagon because it’s an anti-Islamic one? It’s significant that they have a link to the “Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq” website; that is Houzan Mahmoud’s organisation, and is a Worker-Communist Party front organisation. I am not sure if Diana Nammi is a WCP member, but she is the London contact for the International Federation of Iranian Refugees, whose English-language paper, Hambastegi, is edited by Maryam Namazie, a notorious WCP activist (commonly promoted as a secular liberal by her western friends).

In calling for the ‘burka’ to be banned, Nammi has clearly forgotten that some women do wear it for other than piety, among them the sister of Banaz Mahmod, who was the victim of an honour killing in south-west London in 2006. She wears it to hide her identity from her family who raped and murdered her sister. Perhaps they would make an exception for her, in which case there would not be much point wearing it, of course. Anyone else who wants to debate the matter of niqab with this dishonest clique of Islam-hating exiles should remind them of this.

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  • When are people going to get over this whole “fabric on a womans’ head” bit? Seriously. I’m going to join the bandwagon soon. I’m going to start a movement to liberate Sikh men from their turbans! They are so oppressed. Having to wrap their long hair up everyday into layers of tightly wrapped fabric?! The humiliation, the oppression! I’ve had enough! Save the SIKHS!

  • DrM

    Most of these “exiles” are nothing but a bunch of homeless third world communists trying to make a living in the West, the “heartland” of imperialism they fought so hard against back in the glory days on the Soviet Union. The rest are just charlatans on the anti-Islam bandwagon to make a quick buck. Interesting they tight they are with the neocons who themselves out as radical Marxists themselves. Different turds, same gutter. .-= DrM´s last blog ..The Audacity of Hype =-.

  • coolred38

    I dont believe its ONLY about a scrap on their heads…its more about what that scrap of cloth represents…purity…virginity…morality…religiousity…lots of “itys” for Muslim women to live up too…unlike Muslim men who have no physical sign showing their supposed level (or lack there of) of piety.

    I will always be anti hijab as long as it continues to cause Muslim women harm in any way…and generally more harm comes from other Muslims than nonMuslims.

  • Hamed

    “Muslim men who have no physical sign showing their supposed level (or lack there of) of piety.”

    You mean like growing a beard and not wearing gold, silver, or silk? Als

    “I will always be anti hijab as long as it continues to cause Muslim women harm in any way…and generally more harm comes from other Muslims than nonMuslims.”

    Thanks for showing your statist colors. You are saying that the hijab should be banned because some people are harmed by it. Maybe we should ban driving, after all some people get hurt by it. It apparently does not occur to you that instead of punishing women who want to wear the hijab, people who use the hijab (Muslim and non-Muslim) as an excuse to hurt women should be the ones punished.

    Also, Stalin banned the hijab: . He also killed 20 million people and displaced or murdered entire ethnic groups. Maybe we should ban the espousing of secular socialist ideology. After all, it has harmed so many people- and generally more harm comes from leftists rather than non-leftists:

  • DP

    Salam alaikoum Brother Hamed, I think you missed the point. I wasn’t offended by what coolred had to say at all. The bottom line is people pay too much attention to what women should wear rather than checking their own adab and protetcing their own Islam.

    As a hijabi, I can assure you 100% that a woman in a hijab deals with a lot more social pressure from both within and without the ummah than a man who ” grows a beard and doesn’t wear gold, silver, or silk? ” To think that male clothing restrictions are anywhere close to what women have to do is inherently naive. Furthermore, people are less quick to judge a brother in tight jeans or spandex shorts for sports (that don’t go down to the knee) than a woman without a hijab. The man can still be a pious brother no matter if we can see his entire package through his shorts, but a woman without a hijab is somehow less of a muslim. So doubly so, men don’t get it. Finally, men can wear silver in Islam, the Prophet salli alllahu alayhi wa salam wore a silver ring, which is sunnah.

    I’m not for a hijab ban, I am for a de-politiczation and a de-legislation of what women choose to wear.

  • I’d be very surprised if Stalin banned the hijab completely (after all, didn’t lots of non-Muslim Russian women wear headscarves then?) I thought only the the paranja (burqa-like garment traditional in Central Asia) was banned…