Muslim country bans niqaab shock!

This didn’t quite come too late for yesterday’s entry on niqaab, but that was dragging on too long and I had an appointment this morning that I should have been preparing for while I was writing it. However, there was a story that the Syrian government had banned women from wearing niqaab while in universities in that country (public or private) (also here). That story turned up on the front page of today’s Daily Star, a drastically inferior tabloid published out of the same sewer as the Daily Express (or Daily Spew).

So, does anyone still want to tell niqaabis living in the UK that, if they want to wear a “black sack” or a “burqa”, they should “go back” to a Muslim country? It’s always interesting how they promote the idea that face-covering is some alien tradition that really belongs “back home”, but crow when the governments “back home” make like difficult for women who wear it. While niqaab isn’t yet banned in public places in Syria, banning it would be an easy matter for the Syrian government, which is a dictatorship with its base in a minority religious community (the Alawites) and a much-feared secret police, to ban it any time they wanted. (After the Hama uprising in the early 1980s, which led to that city being bombed and left in ruins for months afterwards, the régime’s thugs pulled hijaabs off women’s heads in other places in Syria, and there were reports of rapes.)

I have read blogs on a few occasions complaining about how hard life is for non-hijaabi women in the West because Muslims are so condemnatory towards them. This one is a recent example:

I realize now, years into my understanding of my own identity of a Muslim American woman, that most frequently women who don’t wear hijab tend to be harassed, marginalized, patronized, lectured, judged, attacked, and insulted—get this—BY THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES, the Muslim community specifically.

I’ve read countless articles, blogs, books, etc where Muslim women whine about their rights to cover, to not be judged for their choices, etc. But the opposite isn’t always true. If a woman by choice doesn’t wear the hijab, she is mistreated or pressured by the community to become a hijabi. I find it interesting that Muslims tend to preach and demand rights from others, yet they fail to fulfill them themselves. Where is the respect, freedom of choice and tolerant attitudes when it comes to Muslim women who don’t wear hijab?

I’m not even sure if the majority of Muslim women in the west even wear hijaab, although far more wear it than wear niqaab. The majority of those who don’t come from families where it’s not worn and never has been, so the condemnation cannot be coming from them. Still, it’s hard to pity the poor dears who keep getting told by other Muslims that they should wear hijaab because it’s compulsory and their practice is lacking if they don’t, which is all true, when Muslim women who do wear it face prejudice from others, difficulty finding work, and the risk of being kicked out of school or college — the last perhaps not in the USA but certainly in Europe and many Muslim countries.

Believe it or not, Muslim men who fail to grow their beards to a fist’s length get called faasiqs by the scholars of whole groups of Muslims in the UK (where Indo-Pak Hanafis are dominant), so it’s not just a female problem — scholars pass down that ruling as if it were the only valid one, and ordinary Muslims judge others on it. But as far as hijaab is concerned, we commonly hear the claim that the west is so tolerant towards Muslims while Muslim countries aren’t so tolerant the other way round (always the same few countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan), and why should Muslim women be allowed to wear niqaab here when you can’t wear a miniskirt in a Muslim country, etc. The fact of the matter is that life is difficult for observant Muslim women in many of the secular dictatorships of the Muslim world.

The miniskirt remark is plain untrue: while it may be inadvisable to walk around the Fez medina in a miniskirt, you can wear much less than that on the beaches at Agadir and a number of similar resorts in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. It’s well-known that hijaab is banned in universities in Turkey. The government attempted a few years ago to crack down on hijaab in general in Tunisia a few years ago, claiming among other things that it was a foreign import. Women who wear niqaab were banned from entering universities, including al-Azhar, in Egypt last year and have also been banned from entering some public parks. In other countries, women who wear hijaab find difficulty getting employment as many organisations favour a western style of dress, even though it’s a Muslim country (e.g. Morocco).

It’s easy to be a hijaabi in many of these countries if you are content to be a housewife. The most conservative women are usually not affected: it is those who want to work and study while maintaining their religious practice who suffer. The same goes for much of the western world. However, not only do people hold up the Muslim world as the place to go if you want to live and dress as a Muslim, but they also praise the same governments when they ban Muslim dress among their own citizens, as if they have “finally seen the light” and realised that the way things are done in the west is better. The fact is that none of these countries are democracies; they are quasi-dictatorships in which a ruling party, while it may tolerate (or appear to tolerate) a certain amount of dissent, hangs on to power by corrupt and violent means. They are not representative of their population, especially the government in Syria which is based in Baathism (like Saddam Hussein, remember?).

So, a government banning niqaab is not a sign of a population deciding it’s bad; it’s a sign of a particular government deciding that there is a popular movement which is a threat to their power. It’s noticeable that some of those who opposed the ban in Syria would not give their full names, because they feared for the consequences. Syria certainly isn’t following the west in a lot of other things, such as freedom of speech and the rule of law.

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