The controversy of veiling of Muslim women has been a prevalent issue in the Eastern continents of the world for the last 30 years, if not more, and continues to prove a difficult one to resolve as we have seen in recent events. The reason this controversy proves so difficult to resolve is that it involves both politics – the Government’s authority to set laws concerning clothing attire – and religion – some Muslim women believe it is their religious obligation to wear the hijab and some believe it is not. With the explosion of social media over the last decade, it has also become much easier for Muslim women and their supporters to join together in protest of obligatory hijab wearing. Muslim women should be able to wear or not wear what they please. A woman’s religious beliefs should not be infringed upon at the cost of her personal well-being. Muslim women should not be forced to veil in public because nowhere in the Quran does it specifically state that women have to cover their faces. Wearing a veil can be dangerous for some women in public settings, and it can also interfere with communication resulting in negative consequences for a woman.
Verse 24:31 of the Quran has been one of the central themes in the debate over whether the hijab is necessary for a Muslim woman to wear in public. This passage has been interpreted differently by many Muslim scholars and religious educators over the years. There remain today contrasting explanations of the passage. Chris Moore, an author for Quran-Islam.org, writes that the Quran does not specifically mention the burqa or tell women to wear such extremely confining clothes. Instead, it instructs men and women to dress and behave modestly in society (24:31), a fact that the Ulama or “Scholars” do agree upon.
Another professional opinion from a professor at Columbia University in New York, Neguin Yavari, confirms that the Quran does not require women to wear veils. It teaches that both men and women should dress modestly, and in Iran, the state decides what constitutes a “woman’s modesty.” Because of this, Yavari left Iran herself in 1979. She makes the point that reasons vary for wearing a veil; some women say it is “liberating,” and others say it is a way to express their religious identity. I suggest that when the government makes laws prohibiting or mandating the wearing of the hijab in public, it takes away the freedom of the individual and challenges a main philosophy of Islam. In the words of Jordan’s Queen Rania:
The fact that Islam is very tolerant means that it doesn’t impose anything on other people. You are supposed to behave in a certain way or dress in a certain way out of convictions, not because somebody imposed their ideology on you. So I believe that one’s relationship with God and how one chooses to practice religion is an intensely personal choice.
The choice to wear a burqa, hijab, or any other type of veil should be left entirely up to the individual. By forcing Muslim women to wear veils, the state is taking away their freedom and personal identity.
Dan Hodges, columnist for The Daily Telegraph newspaper, put it best when he described what he and his family thought of a local Hasidic Jewish community in London. He notes how great it is that London is so rich culturally, but it is also noticeable how all the women (and usually the men) are dressed nearly identically. Although this reflects a strong sense of heritage and identity from the outside, it also reflects conformity…and he proposes that conformity is a bad thing. “It stifles personal identity, and by extension freedom.” I agree with Hodges and believe that if a group of Muslim women would like to veil themselves in their everyday lives they should first be made aware of the possible negative consequences and challenges of making such a decision, and then they should be allowed to. The same thing goes for a group of Muslim women who choose not to veil themselves. The government of a country should not control the societal view of Muslim women by implementing laws for their dress.
Apart from the fact that the Quran never officially mandates the wearing of a veil for Muslim women in public, wearing a veil in public can be detrimental to the physical health of a Muslim woman.
Last August a 16 year old girl in France was attacked for wearing a Muslim veil in public. This incident sheds light on the fact that some religious practices are not tolerated within certain societies and cultures. Today in Syria, more women are being forced to wear veils or else be prohibited from moving freely in public, working and even attending school. There is evidence (see 3rd paragraph in article) of women being beaten and/or killed simply because they were wearing a veil within a society that did not understand nor tolerate such a practice.
Governments of the world should not be able to make laws requiring Muslim women to wear veils in public when there is significant evidence regarding the correlation of “public veil wearing” and “violence/attacks towards Muslim women.” How can a government sacrifice the safety of its citizens? The President of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama, has made it clear that the United States will not force its citizens into any situation that would put them in harm’s way:
Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That’s why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.
I am not proposing that every country in the world should adopt democracy, but I am saying that every country in the world should value the safety of its citizens. They should not put Muslim women in danger by forcing them to wear a veil in public.
Recently, increasing numbers of women have taken to the internet to show their protest against the forced wearing of the hijab. Thousands of Iranian women are taking off their veils and publishing pictures of themselves online, igniting a debate about the freedom to wear or not wear the hijab.
Masih Alinejad, the journalist who set up the Facebook campaign, says she has no intention of encouraging people to defy the forced hijab. She just wants to give voice to thousands of Iranian women who think they have no platform to have their say heard. Even knowing the penalty of removing their veils in public – 70 lashes or 60 days in prison – these women still take the chance by posting their images on the internet.
There are many reasons women choose not to wear a veil in public, and some of them are summed up by French government lawyer Edwige Belliard when she says, “Wearing the full veil not only makes it difficult to identify a person, it makes her indistinguishable from other full-veil-wearers and effectively erases the woman who wears it.” When a veiled Muslim woman attends an interview or goes to work everyday, her ability to communicate non-verbally is challenged intensely. We see this exact scenario played out recently in a school in Germany. A German court upheld a school’s ban on wearing face-covering veils in class because they stated that teaching requires “open communication” that includes facial expressions and body language. It said that, if a student wears a face-covering veil, “nonverbal communication is essentially prevented.” This situation suggests yet another reason face veils should not be mandated in public settings.
In conclusion, Muslim women deserve the choice of whether or how they want to display their religious identity to the rest of the world. The government should not control how a woman practices her religion or how she represents herself. Nowhere in the Quran does it state that a Muslim woman must cover her face with a veil. Wearing the hijab in public, in certain circumstances, can result in Muslim women being berated or beat. A government should not mandate how its citizens dress when those decisions have the potential of putting those citizens in danger. In addition, communication is sometimes compromised when women must walk around with their faces covered. Communication consists of more than just speaking and listening. With the hijab covering a Muslim woman’s face, it is hard to enter those deeper levels of communication. Body language, useful in effective communication, is inhibited
The world should take a lesson from Britain in the debate over the veiling of Muslim women in public and adopt their motto according to Dan Hodges: “This is Britain. We wear what we damn well like. Debate over.”
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