Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The veil controversy

Shouldn’t it be a matter of choice? Or is it?

Image Courtsey: bbc.com

The veil controversy has been simmering in Europe for some time now following France’s ban on religious symbols and Jack Straw’s comment of how he treats females who meet him while waering veils (He asks them to remove their veil before talking to him). The controversy more than anything reflects the west’s trepidation over anything Islamic. Though I must admit that the radical members of Islam has done nothing to allay these fears.

After 9/11 and other such terrorist activities the image of a Moslem the world over is that of bearded, hyper charged mullahs and imams. It is this very prejudice that has forced man,y the world over to take an apprehensive stand when dealing with members of the Islamic community and their issues. The most liberal of the community never have their voices heard and hence the radical’s voice becomes the only voice of the community. If you listen to these people speeches you hear that they repeat the phrase “for all of Islam” quite often which is not true.

Coming back to the veil controversy there are many in the west who welcome this. They say that they are intimidated or feel uncomfortable when they see a person in veil or a headscarf. The Islamic community on their part is absolutely against the banning of the veil citing religious reasons.

Image Courtsey: islamonline.com

There are other pertinent social issues in play too. While the women in the community are supposed to conceal her identity and feminity, the men of the same community are free to wear anything they want. The subjugation of women to the extent of obliterating their identity is scary.

I personally am of the opinion that it should be a matter of choice. It is a matter of individual freedom. Governments should have more important things on their minds than what their citizens should and shouldn’t wear. Any individual, as long as it doesn’t affect the freedom and rights of others, has the right to exercise his freedom. Hence other than in matters like security checks and personal identification, people should be allowed to wear veil if they chose to do so.

But then again to put forth another point of view, women in most cases are forced to wear the veil in some countries because of religious pressures. Here again I would stick to my view that it should be a matter of choice. It is equally wrong to force someone to wear something as it is to force someone not to wear something. Women should have the freedom to wear what they want to wear.

Image Courtsey: themuslimwoman.org

But it is debatable whether Islamic women have that choice in the real world. Peer pressure and societal norms force them to wear the veil even if they do not want to. This is something that the community has to sort out for itself and that would happen only when the more liberal of them takes a stand and let their voices be heard against the radicals. They would do well to remember that female leaders in Islamic countries like Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Begam Khalida Zia of Bangladesh and Megawati of Indonesia all go unveiled. That itself show that the religious interpretations of the veil is not uniform.

As for the notion of feeling uncomfortable when seeing someone in a veil, it is not just a veil that can make you uncomfortable. During a trip to the local mall yesterday I saw guy whose jeans were so low I could see his butt cheeks. I saw another young girl wearing tops that were so short and so tight that one wondered why she bothered to wear anything at all. But I tolerate it. For all I know the girl could be a model student and the guy might be an executive out to have a good time for a night. Who knows?

And isn’t that the basic principle of them all? Tolerance? Tolerance of someone else’s faith. Tolerance of someone else’s expression of that faith. We do not fear or get intimidated by a nun’s habit so why should we be intimidated by the veil. A few radicals do not represent the whole community and that is what we should keep in mind when dealing with any individual from that community.


Anonymous said...

It should always be a matter of choice as evidenced by the fact that God didn't "force" any of His children to love Him. God gave us "free will" to choose the battles we fight and the paths we walk wisely.

We as humans beings have used Religions and Traditions to complicate what God intended to be so plain and simple. I respect another person's personal preferences and their right to worship God as they so choose.

Anonymous said...

If I go to most arab islamic countries I have no choice. if they have a choice in our country to wear what they want , then I want a choice in their country to wear what I want. they can wear full burka in iran or S.A. but if I go there I want the freedom to wear western clothes and to go to a church or synogago\e.