Hargey attacks Islam along with the “burqa”

I don’t watch al-Jazeera English (although I can get it, part-time, on Freeview) but saw this clip of David Frost interviewing Taj Hargey and Salma Yaqoob over the recently-introduced ban on the niqaab in France on YouTube. The debate in this clip goes for the first 11-and-a-half minutes of the YouTube clip; I can’t guarantee that it’ll be kept up. Salma Yaqoob is a RESPECT party councillor from Birmingham (David Frost introduced her as the party’s leader, but there isn’t much left of the party nowadays), while Taj Hargey is a wannabe Muslim community leader whose ideas largely seem lifted from the anti-Islamic “Qur’an alone” school of thought.

Although he did not explicitly advocate banning the niqaab, he alleged that it was “un-Islamic” because it was based on pre-Islamic (Byzantine and Persian) customs in which men kept their “possessions” under wraps, and is “un-Qur’anic” because the terms burqa and niqaab do not appear in the Qur’an itself. This is, of course, a totally spurious argument, because even if the terms do not appear in the Qur’an, it does not mean that they were not present among the Muslims in the time of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), but narrations from that time demonstrate that face-covering was in fact common among the female Companions, and that some of them in fact remained in their homes most or all of the time.

He also persistently alleged that the custom as practised in the West is only due to Saudi, Wahhabi and Taliban influence, yet face-covering is common in many other parts of the Muslim world where Saudi influence is minimal, such as parts of Kenya, Zanzibar, Morocco, Hadramaut and eastern Indonesia (particularly Sumbawa). Hadramaut is a well-known centre of traditional Sunni scholarship which has always resisted Wahhabism. The Wahhabis or “salafis” are well-known for their opinion that there is no such thing as good innovation in religion, yet their women are to be found wearing the modern three-layer niqaab, rather than a cloth tied round their head and across their face as was the custom in the time of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and which is still to be found in some of the places I mentioned earlier; Hargey is thus applying a parody of their position by saying that the niqaab or burqa is un-Islamic because the female Companions did not wear it. As for the Taliban, they enforced a type of veiling that is not known anywhere else except Pakistan, i.e. places were Pashtuns are dominant.

He insisted that Muslim women who wear it in the West should “be honest” about the reason they wear it, and stop claiming that it is about religion when it is in fact a “tribal rag”. This disrespectful language echoes his friend Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s comparison of the rising popularity of hijab to swine flu, but it is also inaccurate. The niqaab is in no sense tribal to a woman of Jamaican heritage, is it? While the Arabian peninsula is indeed tribal, this simply means (in an Arabian context) that people know their ancestors going back generations; it’s not another word for a small national or ethnic group as it is sometimes used in Africa or the Americas. Much of the Arab world is tribal in the same sense as the Arabian peninsula is (Libya was recently described as such by the Gaddafi faction), but niqaab is not seen there. Calling it “tribal” also contradicts the claim of Byzantine or Persian origin, since those empires were not tribal.

He dismisses the religious argument by claiming that it is all made up by male scholars, based on hadeeth which were themselves, he said, written 300 years ago (also by male scholars) and contain an awful lot of hear-say and fabrication. The argument about male scholars is false, because a large proportion of the scholars and those who transmitted the hadeeth in the early generations of Islam were in fact female, including A’isha (radhi Allahu ‘anhaa), the wife of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), and one of the major teachers of Imam Shafi’i named Nafisa. The Qur’an itself is not, as Hargey would know if he bothered to read it, a modern feminist text in any case, but Muslims never have based their religion solely off it — it clearly states “obey Allah and His Messenger”, and without the hadeeth, that command becomes something of a dead letter. A further point against Hargey’s rejection of the hadeeth-based parts of Islamic law is that the major scholars of law were much closer to the time of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) than the major collectors of hadeeth, and took narrations from those they regarded as trustworthy, and they knew of the problem of people who fabricated hadeeth (they were mainly sectarians). It is not a case of modern scholars starting from scratch based on the Bukhari and Muslim collections.

The fact is that women who choose to wear the niqaab, regardless of any consideration of whether it is a socially wise choice, are do what Muslim women, particularly in cities, did for generations, from the first generation until colonial times, and are doing what is held to be compulsory by strong opinions in all four mainstream schools of Islamic thought — indeed, it is only not regarded as mandatory today because the majority of women do not wear it; that was not true in the great cities of the Islamic world until very recently. They are also not mostly “Wahhabis”, contrary to what some might imagine (and what some repeatedly claim). Anyone posing as an imam should be defending them, not slandering them to the media. Salma Yaqoob did defend the women who wear niqaab on the basis of free choice, but did not even begin to tackle his baseless claims about hadeeth, although it might have been too complicated an issue to get into.

The fact is that Hargey has no claim to be an imam, and Yaqoob should have said so — he’s the leader of a small group which conducts anti-Islamic publicity stunts for the media, some of which contradict things which are necessarily known of Islam. His status is not dissimilar to that of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown — someone with no claim to Islam due to the extremity of his beliefs, but who uses a Muslim name and a similar cultural background to pretend to be one in front of non-Muslims, peddling an “Islam” which bears no resemblance to the real thing, to the detriment of people who practise the real thing. One can understand the BBC making this mistake (at least once — even John Ware did not wheel him out a second time), but there is no excuse for al-Jazeera.

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  • Abul Kalam

    Why don’t you call for him to to be executed in a “shari’a” court? It would be in character with your views, wouldn’t it.

  • I’ve never called for anyone’s execution. What I want to see is men like him not being allowed to represent their tiny sects as “real Islam” and pose as community leaders when they don’t have a community to lead.

  • AJE is free to watch online via the web or (better yet) via Livestation. And you’ve linked to AJE’s official YouTube video, so it is unlikely t disappear.

  • Well, it may not, but broadcasters often put a video online for a short time then remove it (this is normal for the BBC, which keeps TV material up on iPlayer usually only for a week).

  • still water

    Alas, a good giggle at the expense of a self-proclaimed ‘scholar’. Thanks for the effort you went to, a fair attempt to clarify his waffle. Thankfully most people with half a brain won’t need it.

  • H

    Firstly, he says that the hadith has all been made up, then at 08:40 he says “The Prophet himself said…..”. ???

  • 100% agree about the imam thingy. Nothing wrong with heterodoxy, IMHO, but if a Jehovah’s Witness called himself “Father” to make a point about Papal teachings on contraception, on the basis of having a PhD in Religious Studies, he’d be shot down in flames within 30 seconds of any competent journalist meeting him.

  • DrM

    Salam Aliakum,

    Excellent post. Is it true that Hargey is an Ahmedi? Looks like another Tarek “t-fat” Fatah.

  • No, some of his family back home in Cape Town may be, but his beliefs are not the same as theirs; he’s a hadith rejector or very close to it. He has actually sued a London Muslim newspaper for calling him a Qadiani. But not being a Qadiani doesn’t make someone a Muslim.

  • A.

    I’m tired of hearing this Byzantine/persian argument, this is always gets mention by nonmuslims and even muslims who want to “prove” that the veil/hijab is something ‘borrowed’ rather than islamic.

  • FedUpWithPakistan

    Interesting point about the style of niqab. The one you described used to be seen a lot in Morocco. I cannot help but suspect it would cause less controversy as it has less of a look of deliberate anonymity about it and has a certain charm. BTW I am not arguing these are Islamic virtues - just an observation about how Westerners tend to react to things. I don’t get the “borrowed” argument - it is either fard, sunnah or cultural. If female sahaba did not wear it it surely is not fard. At the end of the day why are so many of us trying to emphasize difference ? At this time, with the issues we have, with the Muslim baiters climbing up every greasy pole in the neo liberal media complex? The sahaba lived amongst the worst of the kuffar - those who rejected a message delivered by Muhammad (SAW) himself, right in front of them - and they knew the quality of his character. Yet they spoke the same language, and more or less wore the same clothes - apart from modifications to adapt to requirements of modesty. The distance between them was, as far as I can make out, overwhelmingly moral and spiritual - not quite the same as cultural. Forgive me for imagining that perhaps we ought to concentrate just a tad more showing some qualities of actual character. Qualities that are self evident to all. Ones that might make others value us and wonder where we get it from. Like greeting people: 12. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “A man asked the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, ‘Which aspect of Islam is best?’ He said, ‘Feeding people and greeting those you know and those you do not know.’” We just need to learn some manners.

  • I stopped watching this video (several days ago) when I heard the “pre-Islamic” argument. What nonsense.

    Why is this man clean-shaven? The word “razor” isn’t in the Qur’an. Shaving is a pre-Islamic custom! :)

  • Hamza

    TJ Winter/Abdul Hakim Murad said on radio a couple of years ago - “The face veil is not mentioned at all in the Quran, and references from other early Muslim sources are distinctly patchy and for that reason even the sternest of schools of medieval Islamic law really do not regard it as any kind of obligation in fact there are some scholars ermh usually non-Muslim scholars who take the view that is something not of Islamic origin at all it seems that high class women in the Byzantine empire used to walk around with their veils covered so that they wouldn’t be importuned in the streets. And that when the Muslims conquered Syria, Egypt and the other former Byzantine places they took this on a kind of fashion statement. Ermh, that’s might be it’s certainly not an obligation in classic Islamic law, although many scholars would consider it to be something honorable distinguished and rcommended but it is not a duty.”

    I disagree with him, but how can we criticise Hargey when our own leading sheikhs make comments like this? This is a regurgitation of what Hargey says but in a subtle language. Are early references really patchy? Is there no mention of niqab in the Quran even though some mufassirs and fuqaha have interpreted jalabibihinn to refer to covering one’s face.

  • ali khan

    good points matthew.

    Just to reiterate, this whole incessant chat about islam started with 9/11 right? And it has been proved without doubt that the muslims did it.ROTFLMAO!

    If you take that as your starting position then the muslim bashers will always have the upper hand and your arguments will always seem defensive and apologetic. How many debates have you seen where the muslim starts his argument with a big ‘But’ which makes you want to hide behind the sofa. I mean is their any doubt remaining in the whole world that the muslims didnt do it. People please, grow up. 9/11 was a mossad job. Period.

    Slightly off tangent but did you see the bbc/itv edl documentary where guramit singh was recieving quranic translations from tel aviv. I mean how obvious does it have to be where the stench is coming from before some people get it.

    And why oh why was Salma Yakub staring at that fat trolls face.Its bad enough sitting next to the ugly *****#g t#*t. does she have to look at him as well.

  • There’s quite an enlightening chapter about veiling in Robert J C Young’s ‘Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction’, which would seem to support the view that there is no single historical/cultural reason for niqab. There is nothing forbidding it in Islam, as far as I’m aware. Mind you, by the same argument (of training/study), if Hargay is not imam, neither is T J Winter. Tim has got a double first in Arabic and has ?studied in Egypt, but as far as I’m aware, he doesn’t have a Dars-i-Nizami (and thus cannot issue fatawah). He said as much on Shariah TV. Academically, his reputation rests on his ability as a gifted translator. He still gets called imam, though.

  • Hamza

    You are right Yakoub. This distinction however is lost to the majority of the “traditionalists” in the UK. TJ Winter to them is an icon and his words are sacrosanct. How can we criticise Hargey when our own are peddling similar views?

  • ali khan

    anybody care to defend Shaykh abdal hakim murad? Although i dont have any facts to hand at this moment, I am 99.999% sure he is a bona fide alim/scholar with proper ijaza.

  • I’ve just read T J Winter’s entry on Wikipedia. He taught at al-Azhar, but there is little in the way of specifics of what he studied or the extent to which that qualifies him to be called “imam”. I recall him saying on Shariah TV that he was not qualified to issue fatawah. Is he an imam or isn’t he? I’m going to email him and ask him!

  • Pingback: A letter to Tim | The Muslim Anarchist Handbook()

  • Hamza

    To be honest, I have no issue with whether TJ Winter has ijazah. I want to see clarifcation on his comments on Radio 4 that I pasted above. I’m also interested in knowing what other traditionalist Muslims feel about this, particularly Yusuf Smith. I find Sh Murad’s comments problematic and a diversion from traditionalist Islam.

  • Sajeda

    Assalaamu alaykum,

    Thank you for defending the niqab in a simple and straight forward way.

    As someone who wears niqab in the UK, I find it quite humourous that people, and in particular men, feel the need to “rescue” me from the way I choose to dress. I love the many presumptions that people vomit out about me!

    May Allah keep me and all those who observe niqaab, wherever they may be, firm upon following the best of women (may Allah be pleased with them all) - ameen.

    From your (non wahabi) sister.


  • As a coda to this debate, I’ve just come across a list of the commom titles (along with their meanings) used with reference to Muslim leaders in the UK today, such as Imam and Shaykh. See Sophie Gilliat-Ray’s ‘Muslims in Britain: An Introduction’ (Cambridge University Press, 2010), pg. 158-162.

  • Online Surah Yasin Translation in English : Surah Yasin