Part 1 of this article discussed how Muslims should not argue against niqab bans or for the right to practice any part of our deen on the basis of ‘personal freedom’ or ‘human rights’ which contradict the Islamic texts. This is because such values have their origins from the secular way of life and liberal ideals that believe that God and religion should have no say in the organization of life’s affairs and that individuals should be permitted to perform actions, legislate, and live their lives according to their own whims and desires. Islam however states that Allah (swt) is the sole Legislator in all spheres of life and that the believers should perform actions and fulfil their desires according to His Commands alone. In addition, secular governments and institutions have repeatedly demonstrated the erratic, unpredictable, and hypocritical manner by which they implement such values and that they will guarantee them only for those who tow the secular line. Therefore Muslims should reject such non-Islamic ideas and not use them as the basis to formulate their arguments against attacks on their deen or to protect the right to practice their Islamic beliefs.
Part 2 of this article now addresses how Muslims should respond to this attack on the niqab.
As Muslims, our response to the attack on the niqab or any part of our deen must be to dispel the fears and misconceptions that lead to the negative views towards our deen amongst the public. For example, false accusations such as large swathes of Muslim girls and women being forced to wear the Islamic dress, or that the niqab divides communities, poses a security threat, makes the woman inferior to the man, or prevents women from playing an active part within the society must be challenged and shown to be untrue. In doing this, we should not be fearful of explaining that Islam is fundamentally different in its belief, values and laws from the Western secular liberal way of life and system, but to then go on to explain the outcomes that the whole body of Islamic laws achieve for society. For example, when talking about the Islamic dress, it should not be viewed in isolation but as part of a comprehensive Islamic social system that regulates the relationship between men and women within society in a manner to safeguard the status of women, strong family units, the rights of children, and healthy cooperation between the genders that is not cheapened by sexual distractions.
Alongside this, as Muslims we must remember that our duty is not simply to secure our rights in the society we live but to take the message of Islam to those around us, for in the Qur’an, Allah (swt) has labelled the believers, “Shuhada An-Naas”, “Witnesses to mankind”. This requires us to challenge and expose the falsehood of the non-Islamic values and laws in our environment as well as present Islam as the alternative way of life that can effectively and justly organise the affairs of mankind. This is demonstrated in the Seerah of our beloved Prophet (saw) whose actions in Makkah were not aimed simply at securing the right of the Muslims to practice their faith, but to challenge the non-Islamic beliefs, traditions, and laws of the Quraysh such as idol-worship, their fraudulent economic transactions, the burying of daughters, the oppressive actions of the rulers, the treatment of orphans, and the like, alongside calling the people to the noble beliefs, values, and laws of Islam. So our approach in responding to the attack on the niqab or any attack on our deen, must keep these points in mind.
So how should Muslims respond to the attack on the niqab?
Firstly, we must explain that the only reason that Muslim women wear the Islamic dress is as a worship to their Creator. It is not to make a political statement or to isolate themselves from the rest of the society. Furthermore, we must make it clear that although there is difference of opinion amongst Muslims with regards to the wearing of the niqab, it is a valid Islamic opinion based upon specific verses from the Qur’an and hadiths of the Prophet (saw). Therefore, even if we adopt the view that covering the face for a woman is not an obligation or a recommended act in Islam, we CANNOT state that it is not from Islam. Furthermore, we definitely cannot join our voices with those who deride and attack our Muslim sisters who wear it, nor replicate the same false accusations against the dress with our own tongues, which simply provides more ammunition to those who are demonising the niqab to demonise Islam. Moreover, Allah (swt) says,
((إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ))
“The believers are nothing else than brothers. So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy.” [Al-Hujjurat:10]
Secondly, this demonization of the niqab is simply a continuation of the age-old Western secular narrative that Islam is oppressive, backward, and uncivilised, while the secular liberal system is modern, progressive, civilised, and liberates women from oppression. We need to therefore turn this debate on its head by explaining that through this constant attack on the Muslim woman’s dress, it is the secular system (under which human beings rather than God make the laws) that has exposed its inherent flaws, contradictions, and oppressive, backward nature. It has shown itself to be founded upon an irrational and unpredictable ideology that denies human beings the basic desire to practice their deeply held religious beliefs, and where there is no permanency in rights – that can be discarded based upon the irrational fears and prejudice of the public or those who govern. It has shown that it is incapable of accommodating fully the religious faiths of different communities to create harmony within society and respect for all, and that it is an intellectually weak ideology that coerces individuals to accept its beliefs through force of law, rather than force of argument. Furthermore, it has shown that it is full of contradictions and corrupt ideals – where dressing modestly is vilified and under some secular states criminalised, while sexualisation of the woman, promiscuity, and lewdness are celebrated. And it has shown itself to be an unjust and dangerous system where women can be stigmatised, discriminated against, and excluded from society simply for adopting a religious dress, and where politicians are allowed to engage in the dirty secular politics of inciting hatred and fear towards the culture of minorities to gain a few cheap votes, despite fuelling racism and sowing the seeds of division between communities while all the while shamelessly blaming a six inch piece of cloth for creating barriers and tensions within society.
Alongside exposing the flaws of the man-made secular, liberal system, we should also explain how the ideology and system of Islam, the Khilafah State carries the correct view and laws to protect the rights of religious minorities to establish harmony and good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. In Islam, all citizens enjoy the same right to the protection of their life, property, honour, and religion, and it is not permissible for the State to discriminate between the people, rather it must view everyone with the same view regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, or colour and treat all with equal fairness and justice. Under the Islamic rule of the Khilafah, non-Muslims are allowed to practice their religious worships without harassment, fear, coercion to change their beliefs, or state intervention or interference in their religious practices. Furthermore any insults, mockery, or demonization of their faith is prohibited. In addition, the rights of all citizens are fixed and not fluid, for legislation is not derived from the fickle, changeable minds of human beings but rather the Islamic texts which prohibit laws to be altered based on the whims of those who govern. Surely all this exemplifies the principles of a truly civilised, just, modern, and progressive system? This fair treatment by the Khilafah State towards non-Muslims is why historically, the Jews who fled Christian Spain in the 15th century due to persecution in the Spanish inquisition sought refuge within the Khilafah due to the rights they knew would be afforded to them under Islamic rule. They were permitted to settle in the richest parts of the state, benefitting from its great wealth, including in Istanbul, Sarajevo, Bursa, and Izmir, and hence prospered, leading to many Jews labelling this period under the Khilafah, their Golden Age.
So, we should take the debate away from the niqab and raise a discussion as to the type of system that can effectively secure the rights and good treatment of minorities, create harmony between different faith communities within a society, and organise the affairs of mankind effectively and with justice.
Thirdly, we need to confront the lies, dispel the fears, dismantle the misconceptions and challenge the false accusations and erroneous assumptions that lead to negative views amongst many non-Muslims towards the niqab and the Muslim woman’s dress generally. For example, it is not the niqab that makes women invisible within society, as suggested by various feminists, but rather the demonization and bans of the Islamic dress under secular systems that either make Muslim women too scared to leave their homes, excludes them from schools and employment, or even deprives them of the right to move freely within their societies. In addition, it is not women covering their faces which is a threat and cause of community division within Western states, its hysteria and attacks by secular politicians and media that carry racist undertones against the culture of minorities. It is this that marginalizes individuals and creates suspicion between people, sometimes leading to conflict, as seen in the recent riots in France over its niqab ban.
Also, while some secularists promote the lie that Islam orders the woman to cover up because it views her as a temptress and a cause of corruption for society – an allegation that has NO basis in Islamic texts – in reality it is the Western capitalist system that actually markets the woman as a temptress, allowing businesses to exploit her feminine charms and sexualize her body for the sake of profit. Furthermore, how can dressing modestly to preserve one’s dignity be labelled backward, while exposing women’s bodies for male gratification be viewed as modern and progressive? And how can a simple religious dress be labelled oppressive, while the restrictive, unrealistic templates of beauty relentlessly promoted by the beauty, fashion, and entertainment industries within capitalist liberal states be described as liberating? These are images that fuel eating disorders, pressure women to go under the knife in life-threatening cosmetic procedures to fit the so-called ‘perfect body’, and cripple the self-esteem and confidence of young girls who are not able to meet these irrational standards of the ‘body-beautiful’. All this is psychological oppression of women.
And fourthly and importantly, we need to take this debate away from its focus on the Islamic dress and explain as mentioned above that this dress is part of a comprehensive set of rules that form the Islamic social system which regulates the relationship between men and women and achieves certain tangible, positive outcomes for society. This social system also includes the prohibition of the beautification of women in public life, and the prohibition of the objectification and sexualisation of women and society. It also does not permit an unrelated man and woman to be alone together, the free-mixing of unrelated men and women, and intimate relationships outside marriage, with harsh punishments prescribed for fornication or adultery. These laws direct the triggering and fulfilment of the sexual instinct away from public life and to marriage alone. All this protects the unity of the family unit and the rights of children who are born under the contract of marriage, knowing who their parents and hence who are responsible for their provision, care and upbringing. This Islamic social system also enables men and women to cooperate in education and in economic and political life, as well as for other important purposes within society in a manner that is productive and not cheapened or hindered through the sexualisation of this interaction. The Islamic dress code itself facilitates the ideal that women should be judged according to their thinking and skills rather than the scale of their beauty. In addition, the prohibition of the objectification of women and the sexualisation of society prevents the creation of a dangerous environment that degrades women and exacerbates crimes such as violence, rape, or sexual harassment, and hence secures a safe society for them to study, work, and travel. However, all these laws will only materialise comprehensively under the rule of the Islamic Khilafah system that implements the entire Shariah laws upon the state.
It is therefore not Islam that should be on trial, nor the Muslim woman’s dress, but the capitalist secular liberal system that rejects the idea that the relationship between men and women needs regulation, and consequently governs over an epidemic of broken families, child neglect, teenage pregnancies, single mothers, and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as grappling with high levels of rape, sexual harassment, and abuse of girls and women.
In conclusion, as Muslims we must have confidence in our deen. This means refusing to accept any aspect of Islam to be insulted, vilified, or placed on trial without giving a robust response. It means not arguing our points on ideals that contradict our belief such as liberal freedoms, human rights, or the Western concept of gender equality. It means raising for discussing the flaws of the man-made values and systems that dominate the world today and that have led to social chaos and widespread oppression upon women and the rest of humanity. And it means presenting the sublime Islamic values, laws and system of the Khilafah in a frank, comprehensive, and non-diluted manner, as the alternative to organise the affairs of mankind and secure the status and rights of women in a sound and just way. So rather than allowing others to argue over a six inch piece of cloth, let us as Muslims raise the bar on this debate on the niqab.
((وَمَنۡ أَحۡسَنُ قَوۡلاً۬ مِّمَّن دَعَآ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ وَعَمِلَ صَـٰلِحً۬ا وَقَالَ إِنَّنِى مِنَ ٱلۡمُسۡلِمِينَ))
“Who is better in speech than the one who calls (men) to Allah, works righteousness and says I am one of the Muslims.” [Fussilat: 33]
Written for the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz
Member of the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir