Dignity of Muslim women and Islamophobia

Belgium’s move to ban the burqa (the face-veil worn by some Muslim women), is yet another indication of the growing Islamophobia in many parts of Europe. The action comes in the wake of the on-going burqa debate in France, Switzerland, Italy and many other European countries. The issue has already escaped the realm of debate; this week, a Muslim woman in northern Italy was fined €500 (about $1000) under anti-terrorism laws for wearing a face-covering burqa in public.
The anti-veil campaign – launched with the claims of ensuring the dignity of women – is in fact infringing upon Muslim women’s dignity and liberty as they are being deprived of their right to choose the dress in line with the teachings of their religion.
Indeed, Muslim women’s dignity is ensured under the teachings of Islam. Islam calls upon people to display modesty and humility, in both dress and manner.
Islam does not approve the treatment of women as a commodity and Muslim women are not judged on the basis of their physical appearance. They are respected for their virtues, skills and character as a person. They dress modestly to perform their duties more easily as respectable members of society.
The modest choice of dress is not exclusive to women as Muslim men are also directed to dress with modesty. Moreover Islam teaches men to respect women and lower their gaze. These instructions are aimed at further ensuring women’s dignity and respect. Allah (SWT) states in Al-Quran:
“And O Prophet, enjoin the Believing men to restrain their gaze and guard their private parts. This is a more righteous way for them: Allah has knowledge of what they do. O Prophet (PBUH), enjoin the Believing women to restrain their gaze and guard their private parts and not to display their adornment except that which is displayed of itself, and to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to display their adornment except before their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons and the sons of their husbands (from other wives), their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their female associates and those in their possession and male attendants incapable of sex desire and those boys who have not yet attained knowledge of sex matters concerning women.” (QS An-Noor/24:30, 31)
It is worth mentioning that while Al-Quran is very clear about the rules of modesty for women, it makes it the responsibility of both men and women. This should serve as reminder for those who unfairly misrepresent Islam as unfair to women.
One of the reasons why Islam instruct women to wear Hijab is ensure their respect by men. As Allah (SWT) states:
“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them [when they go abroad]. That will be better, that so they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah (SWT) is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” (QS Al-Ahzaab/33:59)
While many Muslim scholars believe that face-veil is not obligatory, some argue that it is mandatory. That said there is no difference of opinion over the obligation of Hijab, (the head scarf) and the choice of modest dress. The truth is, however, the campaign against veil in West has nothing to do with this debate. The unfair and seemingly arbitrary move is a part of the recent wave of anti-Muslim legislations introduced by various countries in Europe. The campaign appears to aim at ultimately banning Muslim customs, their clothing and their places of worship in Europe as a part of an overall agenda to quash a collective Muslim identity in the continent.
The anti-burqa campaigners’ enthusiasm to ‘protect’ the dignity of Muslim women vanishes completely when it comes to the rights of Muslim men and women detained by the western forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. A recent example is the silence over the detention and brutal torture of Dr Aafia Siddiqui- a Pakistani-born US scientist- at the hands of US forces in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison. The torture of Muslim men and women in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison hardly attracted the attention of these supposed activists.
The real target of the anti-veil campaign appears to be Muslim communities and Islam in Europe. The notion of protecting the dignity of Muslim women is ludicrous but a mere excuse for introducing harsh anti-Islamic laws. If these European countries really want to ensure the dignity of Muslims, they should respect the choices made by Muslims vis-a vis there dress, places of worship and even food. This would ensure the real integration as opposed to imposed integration of Muslim minorities in European societies.

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