This article appeared in today’s Daily Mail, and is meant to be in defence of Shirley Chaplin, a nurse in Devon who took her healthcare trust to court to secure her right to wear her cross while caring for patients, as she had done for 30 years until the rules were changed a year or so ago. Nothing wrong with that, on the surface. However, Taj manages to get his agenda of attacking Muslims while pretending to represent “moderate” Islam into the article, as might have been expected, by attacking women who wear the so-called burqa and a new mosque planned in Camberley. (More: Engage.)
His opening claim, that “Christianity is under siege in this country”, on the basis that nurses cannot wear crosses in some NHS hospitals, is palpably ludicrous. However, the historical links between healthcare and Christian institutions are a fact; it’s why nurses’ uniforms have evolved from what looked like nuns’ habits and why they used to be called “sister” (of course, that was when they were all, or nearly all, female); the St John Ambulance organisation also has its roots in a monastic organisation. The excuse given is that patients might grab her necklace; the real reason is probably not even hostility to religion but just that it was another opportunity to make workers a bit more uniform and a bit less individual. (In the mental health sector, suppressing religious symbols might have some justification, since religious symbolism features heavily in some mental illnesses, but that surely isn’t so when treating normal, physical illnesses.)
Hargey claims that there is no conflict between Islam and Christianity, that we come from the same Abrahamic tradition, and uses what he calls the “key verse” in the Qur’an, “the people closest and dearest to Muslims are those who say: ‘We are Christians’”, as proof that Muslims have a duty to defend Christianity when it is under attack. The question should be asked whether these same Christians when they come under attack; would the nurse or the airline attendant suing for the right to wear a cross to work defend the right of a Muslim woman to wear the hijab if it came to it? Some would but, as has been seen in Europe and in some of the attempts to establish a Christian right in the UK, some definitely would not.
He then goes on about “shrill demands for the imposition of the burqa in the Muslim community”, a baseless accusation. Who is demanding the “imposition” of the burqa, or even the niqaab? All that is being asked is that women who choose to wear it, for whatever reason, not be harassed or prevented from going about their business. He claims, “I would not want to see it banned, for that might only heighten the sense of martyrdom and grievance among the zealots, but I certainly believe that mainstream Muslims have a duty to speak out against it”. The Muslims who wear and support niqaab are not “zealots”, and I’ve known plenty of them. While I don’t doubt that there are a few who wear it because people in their family insist, many wear it because they regard niqaab as the completion of hijaab and because the women who were closest among the Sahaba wore it. They are not, by any means, all or even mostly hardline “salafis” or even Deobandis.
He also alleges, “the same argument could be made against minarets, which unlike Ms Chaplin’s crucifix, could also be seen as inflammatory - and for which there is no religious requirement in Islam”. It is true that minarets are a cultural rather than strictly religious tradition, and that the earliest mosques originally did not have them, but the fact remains that when Muslims came to this country, they came from countries where mosques had minarets. Their value in this country, where the call to prayer cannot be given in most places because it would cause a disturbance, is mainly symbolic, but in many places, they have adjusted in size and design to reflect this (the clock-tower minaret at the mosque here in Kingston is one example). They are not “inflammatory”. People have decided to make an issue of them in other countries. That is all the controversy is about.
I agree that there is no real reason to stop this nurse wearing her cross. However, that point could have been made by any Muslim without taking side-swipes at Muslims. It appears that these side-swipes were the real purpose of Hargey’s whole article: to show himself and his small clique in Oxford as representing “real Islam”, as if what is practised by a million and a half Muslims in this country is not. The fact is that Taj Hargey is regarded by any Muslims in this country who have heard of him as a disloyal, unrepresentative nobody who gets airtime because he tells the media what they want to hear.
Possibly Related Posts:
- Make no mistake: "halal hysteria" is malicious
- Why Muslims don’t join the Christian Right
- Taj Hargey is wrong: there is no ‘British Islam’
- Outbreak of media splaining over niqaab
- Britain’s mosques are not a ‘swamp’