05 November, 2010

The Niqab, Kenza Drider, the controversy.....

The Niqāb. It is a face veil - often two pieces - that covers the entire body, including the hair and face, except for the eyes. Very few outside the Arabian Peninsular wear it. In Hadhramaut, almost every woman puts it on. Only a few thousand wear it in Europe. And only about two thousand put it on in France. Now, the wearing of the Niqab has become big news. There is a best selling book about it. Kenza Drider, a 32 year-old mother of four, born in France to Moroccan immigrant parents - says she will not comply if the veil is banned; and she has become big news too.

Kenza Drider has been arrested, insulted and threatened in the streets and even received death threats - but she says she will never stop putting on the niqab. Referring to Britain with a very large Muslim Population, she says: "They don't want one and they don't need one.......France is meant to be the land of liberty, equality and fraternity yet it has adopted this ridiculous law......." As for the many foreigners who come or migrate to France, she says: "It's not that they don't want to integrate, it's that the state doesn't want to integrate them - there's a big difference".

Under this absurd law against the niqab, which does not reflect at all the three main principals of of the French republic: liberty, equality and fraternity -  any woman found wearing the full veil in public will face a fine of 150 Euros. If the woman repeats the offense, she will be sent on a "citizenship course" to try to persuade them not to re-offend. Like almost all the 2,000 or so French women wearing the niqab, no one is forcing Kenza to wear the veil; she does it voluntarily because, as a Muslim, she prefers so. And like almost all women who put on the niqab, Kenza is not in any way an extremist Muslim.

How should a Muslim woman dress?

The Noble Qur'an on the way Muslim women should dress:
O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. ~ Surat Al'Ahzab ~ 33:59
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty...... ~ Surat An Nur ~ 24:31
Some Hadith on how Muslim women should dress:
Narrated Safiya bint Shaiba: 'Aisha used to say: "When (the Verse): "They should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms," was revealed, (the ladies) cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces." Bukhari ~ Volume 6, Book 60, Number:282
Narrated 'Aisha: Allah's Apostle used to offer the Fajr prayer and some believing women covered with their veiling sheets used to attend the Fajr prayer with him and then they would return to their homes unrecognized." ~ Bukhari ~ Volume 1, Book 8, Number:368
Narrated 'Aisha: The wives of the Prophet used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place (near Baqia at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night. 'Umar used to say to the Prophet "Let your wives be veiled," but Allah's Apostle did not do so. One night Sauda bint Zam'a the wife of the Prophet went out at 'Isha' time and she was a tall lady. 'Umar addressed her and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda." He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab (the observing of veils by the Muslim women) may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of "Al-Hijab" (A complete body cover excluding the eyes). ~ Bukhari ~ Volume 1, Book 4, Number:148
Many Muslim scholars have commented on the way Muslim women should dress: Iban Abbas, Al Basri, Al Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Al Ghazali and many more. One view held by Muslim scholars is that the niqab, covering the face, is wajib الواجب or fardh الفرض - that is, compulsory or obigatory; the other view held by some Muslim scholars is that, the niqab is Mustahabb مستحبّ - literally means, "recommended" or favored or virtuous. Some of what today's most influential Muslim scholars say about the niqab:
Egypt's highest Muslim authority has said he will issue a religious edict against the growing trend for full women's veils, known as the niqab.

Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, dean of al-Azhar university, called full-face veiling a custom that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith.

Although most Muslim women in Egypt wear the Islamic headscarf, increasing numbers are adopting the niqab as well.

The practice is widely associated with more radical trends of Islam.

The niqab question reportedly arose when Sheikh Tantawi was visiting a girls' school in Cairo at the weekend and asked one of the students to remove her niqab.

The Egyptian newspaper al-Masri al-Yom quoted him expressing surprise at the girl's attire and telling her it was merely a tradition, with no connection to religion or the Koran.

The BBC - (Sunni Forum)on the late Shaykh Muhammad Tantawi

“I hope that France, Belgium and all of Europe will show respect to Islamic values and creed. Banning a Muslim woman from wearing the niqab would only place her in a dilemma about whether to comply with the law or obey what she believes is a religious order,” Sheikh Qaradawi told a congregation at the Omar bin Al-Khattab mosque at Khalifa South town.

However, the scholar, who is the chairman of the Dublin-based International Muslim Scholars Union, said the face-covering veil was not obligatory in Islam and that a woman should cover the head and neck but leave the face open.

“Although I think that wearing niqab is not obligatory and that women should only wear the hijab (covering the head and neck, but leaving the face visible), I am totally against banning a Muslim from wearing niqab if she is convinced of it as a religious obligation,” he explained.

“I do not represent all Muslim scholars. There are scholars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries who consider niqab as obligatory and there are millions of women who wear it by their own free choice. If I asked them to stop wearing it, I would be violating their personal and religious freedom,” he maintained. Yusuf al-Qaradawi from the Muslim Observer

A leading Saudi cleric hit out at France for moving to ban face-veils, but approved Muslim women foregoing veils when visiting a country which outlaws them, a Saudi paper reported on Saturday.

The cleric's ruling was in response to a question from a Saudi woman in France about how to respond to a movement there to ban full-face veils. Governments in Spain and Belgium are also considering bans.

"It is illogical and unreasonable that the French government undertakes such a thing, which is condemned by neutral people, not just Muslims, because the secular state assures freedom of religion," Shaikh Aed Al Qarni told Al Hayat.

"The state has to respect religious rituals and beliefs, including those of Muslims," he said in an interview.

However, he added, if Muslim women are in a country that has banned the niqab, or full-face veil, or if they face harassment in such a place, "it is better that the Muslim woman uncovers her face." Shaikh Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni in the Gulf News
Of the 2,000 or so women in France who wear the niqab, is Kenza Drider; who believes that: "it's not that they (the foreigners) don't want to integrate, it's that the state doesn't want to integrate them - there's a big difference". And she has a message for the members of parliament who want to stop her wearing her veil in certain public places. She will not comply. "The MPs who talk about liberty, equality and fraternity don't really understand the French Republic......Liberty means freedom of conscience, of expression," she says. "Equality means not judging the foreigner and fraternity means the support of French people for a French citizen."

Unfortunately for Kenza and for those other veiled women living in Western countries, it is not only France, but many more European governments are intending to ban the niqab. They believe that Muslim women are 'oppressed', 'repressed' and 'subjugated' and that, it is they who can lead the 'liberation' of Muslim women. And yet, it is rather strange (or revealing?) that - most of those in France putting on the niqab are actually French women who have converted to Islam. Do they do so because they, by putting on the niqab, feel more liberated than what they have always been made to believe?

Even more strange: Naomi Wolf, a leading American advocate of feminist causes, observed: The West interprets veiling as repression of women and suppression of their sexuality. But when I travelled in Muslim countries and was invited to join a discussion in women-only settings within Muslim homes, I learned that Muslim attitudes toward women's appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression, but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one's husband. It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality, but that it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channelling - toward marriage, the bonds that sustain family life, and the attachment that secures a home.......

She continued: Indeed, many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. On the contrary, they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive, commodifying, basely sexualising Western gaze. Many women said something like this: "When I wear Western clothes, men stare at me, objectify me, or I am always measuring myself against the standards of models in magazines, which are hard to live up to - and even harder as you get older, not to mention how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected." This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images, but it is a recognisably Western feminist set of feelings.

But, well, Western 'democracies' - when it comes to 'rights' and 'wrongs' - are known for their double standards and duplicity. As for Kenza Drider, she says she will never stop wearing the niqab: "I will be going about my business in my full veil as I have for the last 12 years and nothing and nobody is going to stop me.......I'll be getting on with my life and if they want to send me to prison for wearing the niqab then so be it. One thing's for sure: I'm not taking it off."

+ Related post: Sarkozy, Hyperactivity and the Burqah

Photo from AOL News: Muslim World at Odds Over French Burqa Ban