To Wail, or Not to Wail (Part II of II)

By B. R. Gowani

Muslim Women in the West

One cannot deny that discrimination is involved in many cases where Muslim women have been asked to shun the headdress, but there are cases where women have shown foolishness in rebelling for their so-called rights. They sometimes carry their cause too far:

1. In September 2007, Elections Canada, due to pressure from some veiled women, allowed them to vote with a photo ID and one other document, or in absence of the IDs, a registered voter in the same voting division could vouch for her under oath.

2. Five Lebanese girls between 8-13 years old were barred from the Longueuil tae kwon do tournament in the Canadian province of Quebec, because they refused to remove the hijab which could have endangered their safety. An 11-year-old Bissan Mansour said: “I won’t take it off for any reason.” “Even if I can’t go to tournaments, I can continue to practice until I become world champion.”

3. When a Muslim referee’s order to remove the hijab for safety reasons during a soccer match in Ontario, Canada, was ignored, a sixth grader was disallowed from playing. Her team members and four other teams refused to play in the tournament.

4. From 1994 to 2003, 100 Muslim girl students have been expelled from schools in France because of their refusal to discard their headdress, which the French say violates their secularism.

5. Sandra Keller became Muslim in January, 1997. Now Sultaana Freeman, she wore head scarf but by December she switched to niqab, which covers the whole face except the eyes. She got her Illinois driver’s license wearing niqab. In 2002, she sued the State of Florida which had asked her to show her face for the driver’s license picture.

Why the headscarf?

There is nothing wrong in dressing modestly and thus guarding oneself from provoking the male libido.

Nevertheless, one has to remember that the times have changed drastically. There was a time when women’s (and men’s) clothes were baggy and so the men could only gaze at the female face and hair—provided they were uncovered. But in today’s world, with different types of clothing, the female hair has to compete with other anatomical parts.

Often men are looking for an opportunity to check out the shape and size of body parts in jeans and tee shirts or other such garments. Therefore, women’s clothes must be loose in order to save them from male gaze.

And it’s not the fault of either men or women. Nature has played a cruel trick: it endowed one gender with oceans of paradise and the other gender with deserts of thirst.

In November 1976, Jimmy Carter, (a presidential candidate, later the US president), a practicing Christian, said this:
“Christ said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.’ I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do—and I have done it—and God forgives me for it.”

(Though the Bible has death and stoning to death punishments for adultery, there is no such fine for performing that act in one’s heart.)

So even after putting on the headdress, what are you going to do if male eyes gaze at you because you are endowed with Angelina Jolie’s lips, or Katrina Kaif’s or Beyonce Knowles’ facial charm, or Shakira’s gait? Or a different kind of beauty? You’ll always find some one attracted to you.

Doesn’t it mean that you have failed in your modesty endeavor? Now what? Putting on a head-to-toe burqa?

In England, as a matter of fact, there are teachers and lawyers who wear burqas at work.

Then there are a few young women who have started wearing burqas in England as a mark of protest against the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair for joining the “war on terror.”

A 24 year-old program scheduler working in London reasoned:
“For me it is not just a piece of clothing, it’s an act of faith, it’s solidarity.” “9/11 was a wake-up call for young Muslims.”

“People ask, ‘Why do you wear that?’ A lot of people assume I’m oppressed, that I don’t speak English. I don’t care, I’ve got a brain.”

But then, men could develop fondness for your voice. Does it mean that you are going to go on a voice sabbatical, like maun-vrat or a vow of silence, which some of the devout Hindus observe for days or weeks? (Sometimes it can be beneficial. A person who owed me money was on a “maun-vrat” whenever I would go to collect, until I gave up on it.)

Or maybe men will find beauty in your naked fingers. Are you going to cover them up with hand gloves?

(In West Jerusalem, the ultra-orthodox Jewish women have started covering themselves up in niqab and burqas. Let’s hope more Jewish women don’t follow suit. Traditional Orthodox Jewish married women cover their heads with wigs, hats, or scarves. Hadassah Lieberman does not always cover her head and this has some Orthodox Jews express their concern. Men are not supposed to shake hands with women, but Senator Joe Lieberman does shake hands.)


One has to remember that the mullahs or the religious clerics and the imams of the mosques play a dangerous role in scaring those who don’t wear hijab.

Last year, a mosque in Montreal, Canada, warned young girls on its website that discarding their hijabs can result in their being raped and having “illegitimate children.”

Also, “By removing your hijab, you have destroyed your faith. Islam means submission to Allah in all our actions.”
They add this also creates “stresses, insecurity and suspicion in the minds of husbands” and instigates “young people to deviate towards the path of lust.” Hence, Farzana Hassan and Tarek Fatah are not surprised “that Canadian girls walk away from sports tournaments rather than remove their hijabs”

Then there are women apologetics that defend the donning of hijab along these lines:

I never wore a hijab before. Then I saw my daughter (or sister, or mother, or cousin, or friend, or relative, or someone) wearing it and I started donning it myself. Now I feel so empowered or liberated.

If a small piece of cloth empowers and liberates them, one wonders how would they feel if they start wearing burqas – would they feel like super-girls and super-women?

The Winners

The winners in this situation appear to be Muslim men living in the Western countries that cannot impose too many restrictions or dress codes on their female family members but would like to see their women under some kind of subservience. And when the women themselves choose the veil, it makes the men feel more in control.

… and the Losers

In the final analysis it is the Muslim women who are the ultimate losers. Some of them who stand up against the authorities for what they perceive is their right, that is, to be allowed to cover their head, may feel victorious in the short run, but one wonders what their long term feelings will be. Yes, it is their right and few can deny that if people are going half naked in Western countries then there should be room for hijab, too. But they must remember: this same hijab or headscarf for which they are so valiantly fighting, will enable the religious nuts (when they come to power) to use it to strangle all their rights.

This is not a far fetched thought.

Shariah in Canada

The efforts by the Muslim clerics to introduce some of the Shariah laws in Canada ended when the provincial governments in Quebec and Ontario were forced to reject it in the face of vehement opposition. The Muslim Canadian Congress and many others played important roles in its prevention.

It was prevented this time but that’s not a guarantee that it will not succeed in the future. The “democracy” in Western countries and especially, the US, operates through the “interest” groups or “lobbies” who contribute money to the politicians to fight elections. So when they win, they work for those constituents who gave them the money. (Look at the recent trillion dollar bailout of the thieves by the US government.)

And as the Muslim lobbies grow stronger they will have more hold on the politicians and will be able to get more things done that suit their political and religious ideology.

What If the Prophet Muhammad Were Around

Lets say Prophet Muhammad were living with us and was visiting the Muslims living in the European countries, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (the way Pope visits the Catholic Christians). How would he guide the Muslims living in the west regarding the veil?

The reading of the Qur’an gives an impression that there are verses which are circumstantial, that is, according to the prevalent situation. Also, during Muhammad’s time Islam was just an Arabian religion; now it’s a global one.

Either he would say that these are different times and so you don’t need to wear any kind of veil, or he would say that the niqab is not serving the purpose. In niqab, you’re a perfect example of “modesty,” however; your eyes are observing everything around you: in the parks, on the buses, and on the subway you watch PDA (public display of affection) between people of same or opposite sex and that is a sin.

Also, in the grocery stores, you pass through liquor, pork, and non-halal meat sections. Then in the cashier’s line, you see bikini clad photos of celebrities and headlines on how to satisfy each other.

In summer, you see men without shirts and women in bikinis or with skimpy skirts and tiny tank tops.

In convenience stores, sometimes you come across adult magazines.

At other times, you see the butt cleavage and the undergarments of men and women wearing low-rise jeans.

In order to keep yourself totally pure in this atmosphere, it would be better to stay at home. If you want to work, then work from home on the internet without surfing onto undesirable sites.

A Plea to Muslim Girls and Women

Please invest your valuable energy defending your sisters in other countries.

Just forget —to veil or not to veil— and instead think:

Somewhere your sister:

• is being killed in the name of “honor;”

• is going through genital mutilation called circumcision;

• is not allowed to be treated by a male doctor,

• is beaten because she was not wearing a burqa;

• is enduring acid thrown at her face because it was not covered;

• is raped and put in prison because she couldn’t produce four witnesses and so is charged with “zina” or adultery;

• is lashed because she didn’t measure up to the morality of the clerics or the elders;

• is stoned to death due to her extra-marital relation;

Also, donate the amount you are spending on veils to organizations that are fighting to save women or you can send it to your family members, friends, or relatives whom you trust to give to the charities helping these women. Even a little amount translates to a big sum in poor countries. Tell your other Muslim sisters to do the same.
are some of those organizations.

Practicing your faith, Islam, is allowed in the Western countries and you can pray by going to the mosque. Many Muslims (Hindus, Buddhists, and others) when they move to Western countries find no places of worship in their areas and so they turn within and religion survives in their hearts. Look at Judaism, in spite of so much persecution through out history, the Jewish people and their religion has survived.

Why pronounce your religion through colorful and stylish scarves and niqabs when Islam is not in danger. Or is it intentional, to draw people’s, especially men’s, attentions?

We all crave for attention and want to be different and we try to be so through clothes, hair, specs, caps, or make-up. Occasionally, a head scarf as a fashion statement is fine but don’t turn it into a permanent fixture which strengthens the hands of fanatics.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

<1> Many communities have practiced polyandry (two or more husbands), usually brothers. Until recently, the Toda people in South India and groups in Tibet and Nepal followed this custom. In the South Asian epic, Mahabharata, Draupadi married five Pandava brothers.

Qur’an permits polygamy under certain conditions:

“And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice.” Qur’an 4:3 <16>

No such provision exists for women.

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