“A reasoned justification for not wearing the niqab in this society is needed-one that seeks to engage others in an intra-community discussion, not alienation”

thatshot.jpg Hijab image by Islam

The niqab furor in Canada has left Muslims in a dilemma.

One very vocal organization has called for its legal ban in Canada because, they argue, the niqab as well as the burka are “political symbols of Saudi-inspired Islamic extremism.”

Most other Muslim groups responded by saying that such a ban would contravene fundamental principles of our free and democratic society – ”the state has no business in the wardrobes of the nation.”

Meanwhile, a few religious leaders have spoken out on the religious basis of the niqab.

They have stated that since the niqab has justification in the various schools of law, women who don it are fulfilling their religious obligation by demonstrating a higher level of piety.

As these Imams are from the ultra-orthodox orientation (traditionalists and literalists), they offer no interpretation on the niqab’s relevance in Canadian society but simply state what is in legal books.

A vast majority of religious leaders have been silent but, in private, they would say that the niqab is not compulsory and some of them would go as far as saying that, based on their interpretation, it should not be encouraged in Canada.

Their reluctance to speak out has to do with not wanting to be seen as denying a right to a tiny minority within the community who choose to wear the niqab because of their sincerely held personal beliefs.

But also coming into play in this issue, as it was in the Sharia arbitration case, is the belligerence of the group calling for a legal ban on the niqab –contentiousness, both in their approach as well as their relationship, to the majority of the Muslim community.

Rather that presenting cogent arguments as to why the wearing of the niqab is not relevant or appropriate or desired in Canada and engaging the rest of the Muslim community, they have appealed to the law.

In a level-headed editorial on October 13, The Globe and Mail recommended engagement instead of resorting to legal means to resolve religious differences: “…the critics must not harm the people they aim to protect. Sartorial legislation would require invasive enforcement practices. Communities that value the veil would feel legitimately aggrieved and would close ranks. Rather than appealing to the law, communities need to engage each other.”

The Canadian Muslim community needs courageous religious leaders of the calibre of the late British scholar, Shaykh Syed Mutawalli Darsh, who can step forward and rise above the rancorous noise of a contentious religious issue that has implications for the entire community and provide reasoned positions.

Shaykh Syed Mutawalli Darsh who was a prominent UK scholar did not believe that the niqab was necessary, or even recommended by the Prophet for women to wear.

But if you were going to argue that niqab was a recommended act, he explained his opinion in the following way:

•Some people believe that niqab is recommended (sunnah)

•Everybody believes that inviting people to Islam (da’wah) is obligatory (fardh)

•The niqab is often a very significant barrier to da’wah in the West where the concept of face covering has never been known

•If a recommended act is a barrier to an obligatory act, one must not sacrifice the fardh for the sunnah

A reasoned justification for not wearing the niqab in this society but, also, one that seeks to engage others in an intra-community discussion and not alienate them.

 See talk aby Tariq Ramadan: Is the burqa compatible with a western society?


5 Responses to “November 5-”The Niqab Furor” by Muneeb Nasir”

  1. Nae Ismail on November 6th, 2009 3:15 am

    Western society, particularly in N. america, has made a conscientous effort to break down arbitrary barriers be it racial, ranks, gender, age, wealth, fame, etc. etc. in the name of true equality among peers. It is the reason why the first BLACK US President Obama is such a big deal. It was a milestone.
    It is also why we call each other here by first names instead of Mr. or Mrs. so and so in deference to some seniority like they do in Europe and Asia, still. It is seen as a barrier conferring unwarranted advantages to some. All inequality is a regressive gesture.

    Any type of untoward barrier is considered a stuck-up, offensive and unfriendly. If you have nothing to hide, why hide ?

    Personally, as a Sunni Muslim even I find the Wahabi custom of NOT shaking hand with a sister uncomfortable although I understand her reason. Why a big fuss for nothing ?

    Stuckup conveys aloofness however unintended.
    Perhaps it was derived from kings or princes of the desrt culture who really believe that they are above the common nomads. Regrettable

  2. Shahla Khan on November 6th, 2009 9:48 am

    This is interesting and true – the fact that one cannot engage with the non Muslim community while wearing the Niqab. Every year at my sons’ school I talk to the various classes about Ramadan. Everyone at the school knows we are Muslim and everyday after school I see the teachers and talk to them about all kinds of matters and have a friendly relationship with them and with the other parents. Occasionally they ask me questions about Islam and Muslims which I feel priviledged to answer to the best of my ability. There is another mother of some students at the school who wears the niqab. She spends little time at the school and I have never seen her volunteer or engage the non Muslim community. It is as though the niqab, in her case, represents a barrier that says – “don’t talk to me”. I have heard she teaches children Quranic recitation from her apartment and I wonder if she realizes how all the knowledge she holds is not being spread to the rest of the local community and the good it could do for spreading understanding and tolerance. But perhaps when you wear the niqab understanding and tolerance are not always on your agenda.

  3. Asif Rehman on November 13th, 2009 12:47 pm

    I love Shaykh Syed Mutawalli Darsh logic and pragmatism in the article.

  4. Nae Ismail on November 14th, 2009 4:10 am

    The Muslim Hajj ritual is over 4000 years old going back to Abraham time. Its origin was mainly commercial and aceademic in an open exchange of ideas, goods and knowledge. It is the true origin of seminars and conference of today. Cross fertilization is the root of new discovery and high learning.

    There are two aspects to each Muslim. First is a very private and personal 1-to-1 relationship with Allah on judgment day in the after life. Second is our position in the Ummah (community), in which we all have an obligation to participate and contribute to our best ability. A solitary Muslim is a second rate Muslim in the sense that he/she has nothing to give towards the Ummah through either knowledge or gesture. Closeting oneself entirely to prayers in seclusion does not make a good Muslim in Earth life. We earn points by participation.

    Barriers are self-imposed ONLY if you allow it. Non-Muslims see burqa, niqab and other restrictive clothing on women ONLY as a repression by man who himself is NOT subject to ANY such restriction at all. It is deemed as hypocrisy and inequality. They have a point in the context of a free liberal equal society that they believe to be fair for us.

  5. Aicha on April 13th, 2010 1:17 pm

    I have to chime in. I am an observant Muslim woman that wears hijab with western clothes. I don’t wear abaya’s or anything like them as I don’t find them practical. The issue around niqab has always bothered me even as a child. During trips to my parents country I had relatives who at the time worn the niqab and have since stopped. I thought it was bizarre then and I still do now. They wore it because that is what pious women would wear, but that quickly fell out of style. My perspective is that outside of the fact that as Canadians we have the right to wear what we like we as Muslim Canadian’s and I am all for our rights and freedoms. But I argue why should I or any other Muslim support one that insists on wearing something that they claim is an Islamic requirement where the majority of Muslims around the world don’t. Where is the unity as an ummah? Where is common sense? If the niqab creates a hostile environment for those that wear it and others that don’t because they identify with Islam and are presumed to be supporters of the niqab and subsequently ostracized just the same. I can’t help but wonder if these women have other motives for insisting on wearing the niqab. Are they planted to incite drama around this “controversy” to justify implementing laws against the niqab? Only to set the platform for other laws that in the future may ban the hijab in whatever form one chooses to wear it. The prophet Mohamed advised us to always take the middle path and the niqab/burqa is the other extreme of walking around naked and you won’t find me supporting either. Muslims in Canada should be focusing our efforts around more fruitful matters that can positively impact us and society as a whole. It is amazing how such a small piece of fabric that I understand to not be a requirement for Muslim woman has yet again brought Muslims/Islam into the unflattering spotlight and left the community divided on a mute point. I would love to ask these niqab wearing women if their reasons for wearing a niqab outweigh the potential negative impact it can have on an entire community of Muslims by their doing so?

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