The Independent on why mandated burqa-wearing “doesn’t represent Islam”

May 14, 2022 • 11:45 am

Here we have an article in The Independent whose contents I agree with completely (the message by Faiza Saquib, an “assistant audience editor” at the Independent, is that the way Muslim women dress should be completely their choice), but whose title I take issue with. Click to read:

This happens to coincide, as I mentioned yesterday, with the Taliban’s new dictate that all Afghan women outside must wear burqas, and remember that burqas are the full Monty of veiling:

The Taliban have reneged on their promise (when they took over as the U.S. was fleeing) to allow women and girls to go to school, a shameful lie:

And now they’ve ordered the segregation of men and women (even if they’re married) in restaurants and public parks in Herat, a formerly liberal town in western Afghanistan. I predicted the Taliban would lie to the world about their intentions, pretending a new liberalism, but hey, they’re the Taliban! Their religion dictates (or rather approves of) these practices, and they’re not giving them up to court the worldly West.

Author Saquib is a liberal Muslim, and abhors forced covering:

The women in Afghanistan are now facing stricter laws that take away their basic human rights. Children over the age of 12 can no longer attend school and Saheen’s response to this was: “We never said they are banned, they are under consideration. We want to work out a mechanism.” This is a laughable and degrading response as girls’ and women’s right to education has been taken away from them.

Since the Taliban gained power, they stopped issuing driving licenses to women and now, the burqa – or veil, as they like to call it – is being forced on women in a clear symbol of oppression and misogyny.

As I watched in complete dismay, I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust. In response to Morgan’s question on why the new law had been laid down, Saheen responded: “Women have been observing hijab for centuries, they’ve been doing it voluntarily.” There is a lot that is wrong about his statement.

Yes, some women may choose to wear the hijab voluntarily on the basis of their faith, however, the decree that has been introduced in Afghanistan clearly shows that there is no choice for women. It’s a forceful law that takes away the “voluntary” element.

With their twisted ideologies stemming from a cultural desire for male dominance, the Taliban’s ignorant attempts to oppress women is all too familiar a narrative for women and girls in Afghanistan. The Taliban takeover saw women’s rights slowly disintegrate – girls were told to go home and not attend schools, they were told to act and be a certain way, and forcefully silenced when protesting against such oppression.

The hijab, niqab and burqa should be a journey in which the woman chooses. It should never be forced on anyone. The same applies to women wanting to cover their hair or body in other faiths.

I agree, of course, though I’ve pointed out several times that the notion of “choice”, meaning “something not forced on anyone by their friends, relatives, or social pressure” is problematic when it comes to hijabs or other forms of covering. When putting hijabs on girls begins at the age of 5 or 6, as it often does, even in the U.S., and the veiling persists through life, in what way is it a choice? (I’m speaking as a determinist here, and have defined “choice” above, meaning “something somebody does not because they’re forced to by others”. )

And social pressure can be strong in Muslim communities. When I spoke at the secular Middle East Technical University in Ankara some years ago, a school where hijabs were banned, I got the rare chance to ask Muslim women undergraduates if they favored that ban. They uniformly replied that yes they did, for if hijabs were allowed, the hijab-wearers would begin to shame the Muslim non-wearers for being “bad Muslims.” I suspect that those who say they wear a hijab simply because they want to and are under no pressure constitute only a fraction of all veiled Muslim women.

But it’s the tile of the piece, which is echoed in the text, that bothers me: “The Taliban and their burqa decree don’t represent Islam.” Immediately you’ll ask yourself, “What does she mean by ‘representing Islam'”? The Taliban is one sect of fundamentalist Islam, and is certainly “Islam” in that sense. Yes, it’s more extremist than many other sects, but not at all way out on the tail of the distribution of repressing women. It can be compared to fundamentalist Christians, like Southern Baptists, who would certainly take umbrage if they were told “they don’t represent Christianity”.

And does “represent” Islam mean “represent what is in the sacred texts” (in this case the Qur’an and the hadith), or represent the behavior that people evince to follow religious custom or dictate? They differ. I don’t believe there’s anything in the Qur’an mandating female genital mutilation, but it’s a common practice in Africa, justified and approved by several sects of Muslims. An article in Slate in 2012 notes the intertwining of Islam and everyday behavior in many Arab states.  Its author, an anonymous user on Quora, stated this:

Answer by an Anonymous User on Quora:

As an Arab American woman raised in a conservative Muslim family, I would say that yes, Islam is a misogynistic religion.

The messages about gender that I received from my parents, extended family, family friends, religious teachers, and so on ranged from subtle to extreme. I was told, among other things, that:

  • Women can’t speak during prayer to correct an Imam (men can) because their voices are too “distracting.” (This is based on the hadith, see “From Hadith – Regarding Concealment Of Voice During Prayer“)
  • Women should lower their eyes in the presence of men. (To be fair the stuff about lowering one’s gaze is also directed toward men, not the other stuff though. This surah is significant in that it is often cited as evidence that hijab is a requirement of Islam, which is a subject of debate within the religion.)
  • Women shouldn’t wear tampons, to preserve their “purity.” (No quotes from the Quran on this as tampons weren’t around in those days, this is another topic of debate and from my understanding, people outside of Islam also debate the issue. So I have only anecdotal comments here in that every Muslim woman I’ve known has been told something to this effect, and on a personal level, when my mom discovered I was using tampons, she completely freaked out, started screaming, and threatened to take me to the doctor and have them check to see if my hymen was still intact, which seems to be not infrequent behavior—a Muslim friend of mine who was caught skipping class had her parents ask the doctor to check her hymen. But again, this is anecdotal, and I’m just mentioning this as a qualitative “data point,” as it were.)
  • There are passages in the Quran that advocate beating disobedient wives (see this paragraph“In fact, the word in the Quran in 4:34 used for “beat” is “idreb.” It is a conjugate of the word “daraba” which primarily means “to beat, strike, to hit” – Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, page 538”).
  • Polygamy is legal and practiced in many Muslim countries and permitted by the Quran

. . . I’d like to reassert my argument that Muslim countries heralded as being more liberal are not following Islam as strictly. Any Muslim country that affords, for example, a woman’s testimony in court the same worth as a man’s testimony, is not actually following the Quran (one male witness equals two female witnesses). The same holds true for countries where polygamy is illegal, and in most cases for any Muslim who affords a female heir the same inheritance as a male heir.

All monotheisms are misogynistic to some extent, but of these Islam and perhaps Orthodox Judaism have codified the misogyny most strongly. Frankly, I don’t care whether it’s from the Bible or Qur’an, an interpretation of that scripture, or customs that have become connected with religion. Covering the body, like genital mutilation, is part of Islam, just as are the customs of inheritance and testimony in court mentioned just above.

Does the author agree with the title about the burqa “not representing Islam”? Apparently so, at least judging from her opening paragraphs:

Islam, a religion of peace, has been tainted by individuals that choose to label their cruelty as “Jihad” and justify the violence they cause in the world. It’s wrong and revolting and absolutely misleading.

Women have the highest status and respect in Islam, something that many men, due to their chosen ignorance, ignore.

The Quran says: “O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness.” In fact, in many verses of the Quran, women and men are addressed as  “believing men and women” to highlight the equality of both in regard to their duties, rights and virtues.

This is whitewashing, pure and simple. Yes, as the anonymous Quora author notes, there are liberal Muslim countries where women can go unveiled and have more equality, but I suspect these are the exception.  Women do not have “the highest status and respect in Islam”, save as their value as breeders or as fragile and tempting vessels that must be covered to quench the ardor of men.  And I don’t want to hear “Islam is a religion of peace” any longer. It isn’t, though there were times that it was.

UPDATE:  Sarah Haider informs me that her organization, the Ex-Muslims of North America, have taken over the WikiIslam site and have been revamping its articles.  Here are two sites of interest for this post:

Article on women, with citations:

There are tons of articles and references on how Islam treats women. Religion may not be the cause of misogyny, but it can certainly codify and perpetuate misogyny. Here Haider discusses the relationship between hijab and Islam, and takes up the issue of “choice”:

24 thoughts on “The Independent on why mandated burqa-wearing “doesn’t represent Islam”

  1. Cue the deafening silence from all those who complained about the West’s “neo-colonial” intervention in Afghanistan …

  2. Let us hope that legal activists of the transgender movement head for Afghanistan to bring civil suits.
    They will need to struggle to insure that the burqa decree is applied to transgender women, and it will
    be fun to watch how their activities in Taliban courts work out.

  3. I find it surprising that Muslims on college campuses encourage other women who are not Muslim to wear it. It seems to be one fashion Muslim students tolerate on nonMuslims. I would assume it would get called out as cultural appropriation. Maybe college campuses are more tolerant of that now?

    Or, maybe because Islam is a missionary religion participants have no problem allowing and encouraging this exploration of their religion in hopes of converting someone.

    1. No, all the women concerned are Muslims. It’s just that Muslims who would wear the hijab would also harass Muslims who didn’t want to wear it as “not good Muslims.” I will check to see that I said this clearly.

    2. What I am saying is that in the video, there is a part where Muslim women have Hijab Day on a college campus and they are showing nonMuslim women how to put on the hijab. One nonMuslim woman is thrilled to have put it on. I’m just surprised cultural appropriation is okay when it comes to hijab wearing.

      But with a missionary religion, hijab wearing for nonMuslims wouldn’t be cultural appropriation.
      They want you to sign up.

      1. They want you to sign up.

        With, of course, the death penalty for trying to unsign afterwards.
        Also, in some interpretations, the apostasy of being from a nominally Christian society and not actually being a Christian gets the death penalty too. It’s bad enough being a different religion, but denying religion at all is totally unacceptable.

  4. Welcome to the dark ages of 2022. 2022!!! I guess I’ll say the same thing about America once this current SCOTUS does what it was primed to do.

    1. It’s those sexy little feet under those burkas that will arouse men. I recommend gumboots.

      1. There is a whole industry of burka pornography.
        (I don’t want to embed this ‘soft’ example so you’ll have to add https://)

  5. Women we are told are covered in Muslim countries by choice, not because Islam says so. Yet a woman who chooses not to wear a covering in a Muslim country is shamed by her associates or punished for sluttiness by the authorities (who can be claimed, if necessary to bother for sake of appearances, to be acting in the name of the state, not Islam itself.) This refutes both statements:
    1) The coverings do not represent Islam, and
    2). The coverings are a personal choice.

    Or more succinctly, if burqa, then Muslim. That the converse is not always true does not invalidate the premise that a burqa is uniquely Muslim and is not worn in countries where there are no Muslims.

    So the headline is worse than whitewashing. It is outright disinformation (which is what we call a lie when we’re worried about Human Rights Commissions.)

    It is rational to be fearful and mistrustful of people who we know are lying to us.

    1. “It is rational to be fearful and mistrustful of people who we know are lying to us.”
      Yes, it is.
      (And Haider is outstanding).

  6. Bagging females in cloth bags seems a robust way for the pious, like a external lust and penis restrainer for the self-control of the feeble.
    Misogyny and lies a faith base existence for pious males.

  7. Well, Ms Saquib has her opinion, but it does not seem to be shared universally in the Islamic world. Certainly, the countries and regions which enforce the wearing of similar clothing tend to so because they believe it is required by Islamic law. Indonesia is often mentioned as an example of a moderate Islamic majority country, but the one province where such clothing is required happens to be the one that is governed by Sharia law.

    To my understanding having spent a lot of time in Islamic countries, there is not really a large moderate Muslim sect. There are places where Islamic law is not rigidly enforced, which is not really the same thing.

    I sympathize with people like Ms. Saquib who seems to be proud of her heritage and traditions, but wishes that some of the harsher aspects of it were not part of the package. That is not generally how it works. If a reasonable number of Muslims want a version of their religion without the harsh bits, they don’t get to claim those parts are not Islamic, and that all those scholars are doing it wrong. They need to establish a new sect, but Islam has tended to be harder on such people than on infidels.

    The reality is that if you see someone beating women with a stick for not covering their head and arms, it is likely that Islam is involved. Likewise, if you see someone taking a selfie with a recently severed human head, you are probably not going to start with the assumption that trainspotting, archery, or stoicism are involved.

  8. When I first worked in Saudi Arabia, in the early 80’s, there was an article in the local newspaper saying that women were not required to wear the veil. I asked some of my Saudi colleagues their opinion on this article. The next day one of the Shia adherents brought in a holy book, I don’t know if a copy of the quoran or the hadiths. I was given strict instructions to place my hands behind my back and under no circumstances to touch it. The left hand page was in english and the right hand page in arabic. I do not remember the exact words shown but they stated something like the hand maidens of god should not be seen by anyone not members of their family. It did not mention veils but was pretty specific that the women could not be viewed. The real thing I learned that day was that the book was in two languages because the person who owned it could not read the arabic that the quoran was written in, it was like me trying to read anglosaxon the arabic of the quoran being an old form of the language, which is why the book was also in english.

    1. The (implied) Saudi who showed you that thing was probably in possession of a dangerously illegal document, by Saudi/ Wahabbist measures. Many sects of Islam take a dim view of translating the “Holy Word of God” into any other language – including modern forms of Arabic. “Good enough for Mo, good enough for me”.
      We got warned to have nothing to do with such things in the Emirates, and they’re a lot less prone to the chopping off of heads and other such conversation-terminating strategies.
      There are less strict sects in other parts of the world. But the extremists (sense: lunatic fringe) want them dead almost as much as they want infidels and apostates dead. Maybe worse – smaller differences are more threatening than larger differences when it comes to maintaining purity.

      1. Sorry I totally disagree with you. In Saudi Arabia you can buy copies of the quoran in english all over and the person I was talking to was a long bearded Saudi, probably, Wahabist Shia muslim who was dedicated enough to try to convince me that he was right and the Saudi newspaper was wrong. I met many fundamentalist muslims in Saudi and was regularly given english language copies of the quoran and pamphlets by them. Being able to quote to them, from the quoran, that only allah was able to convert me and until that time he would stopper my ears and blind my eyes was the quickest way of shutting them up.

  9. There is lots of Afghan state money frozen in Western accounts, and lots of Afghans are in dire material straits/malnourishment/lack of medical treatment options because of that. Maybe it’s too late now, with the Taliban having given up on their tactic of showing a “moderate” face to make Western governments cooperate. But I think one should try let them have the money in instalments as long es they keep up secondary education for women + stop the burka requirement.

    1. Why not invest that money into helping the Ukrainians rebuild after they finish the pressing business of driving the Russians out of their country? Then, if the Ukrainians are so disposed, they can consider sharing the dividends with Afghans, who put so little effort into keeping the Taliban out of theirs.

      1. Because the money withheld, 3-4 billion, a very small sum in comparison what Ukraine will get for reconstruction, officially belongs to Afghanistan? I think it’s preferable to live in a rule based world where accounts don’t normally get expropriated. It’s not good if trust in international trade and banking is eroded, as is massively happening now in the wake of the Russian attack on Ukraine. I am probably naive to think that one can exert some influence on the Taliban, though.

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