London: It is not an easy subject to write on- the matter of burqa worn by Muslim women and the skull cap worn by many Muslim men on Fridays. In a secular society like that of India you tend to ignore such subjects and say "let it be". I felt like that and ignored the subject after the President of France Mr. Sarkozy called for a ban on the wearing of the burqa in France.
Then came this article by the noted columnist of Pakistan, Mr. Irfan Hussain, in the Dawn of Karachi. Young Indian readers need to be told that Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, founded the Dawn, a respectable daily newspaper published from Karachi. The paper used to be published from Delhi. It shifted to Karachi in the wake of the partition of India.
The headline of the article by Mr. Irfan Hussain was "A Veiled Threat to Secularism or Oppression". I do not consider it to be an easy article to be written by a Muslim columnist. In India, we tend to bury such issues, the net result of which has been exploitation of the world's second largest Muslim population as a mere vote bank.
The questions above led me to do some research and discussions with my Muslim friends. I would rather rely more on my research, because most of my Muslim friends are perhaps more secular than any other Indian. Taj Hargey, Chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, opines that "the mullahs fail to tell their flocks that nowhere in Islam's transcendent text is there any mention of burqa or niqab". She is supported in this by Diana Nammi, another Muslim fighting for Iranian and Kurdish women's rights.
If the conclusion of Taj Hargey is right, then it clearly emerges that the veil is a form of oppression of women in the Muslim society not sanctioned by the Koran. We have all seen the manner in which highly educated and liberated women of Iran are not able to play the kind of constructive and positive role that they are capable of. It must be nevertheless admired that they have managed to ensure that they continue to get education and employment.
In a Talibanised version of Islam we have seen what happened to some in Afghanistan. We saw them being stoned in public. They also had to beg in a burqa just because they were not allowed to work. In Swat and other areas of Pakistan, overrun by Taliban, girls schools were torched by the self- proclaimed guardians of Islam.
As in France, the imposition of the burqa on Muslim women in India could well be construed as a "veiled threat to secularism". It was not very long ago that a mullah had issued an edict against Indian tennis star Sania Mirza for the dress she wore to be able to play tennis. Thank God that she is still playing and representing the country on the global scene bringing recognition to the women of India and not just Muslim women.
A fall- out of America's war in Iraq has been the unfortunate radicalisation of many a Muslim nation around the world. Even secular Islamic nations such as Turkey, Indonesia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, among others have been impacted by this phenomenon even as they fight it out. In our neighbourhood Pakistan and Afghanistan are two clear examples. Pakistan today is in the throes of terrorism.
It is not just the war in Iraq that has led to the radicalisation of large Muslim communities, but also an unchecked spread of Wahabi Islam. In our country the sub- continent never knew the kind of nikab or burqa that many Muslim women wear today. As also with the skull cap which Muslim men wear on Fridays and many otherwise. Have these become silent symbols of assertion of their identity?
The rise of Islamophobia in many countries notably among the Christian nations of the West and France which have large Muslim migrant communities living among them are something that worries the large numbers of Muslims living in those countries.
Ms. Fadela Amara, a Muslim member of the President Sarkozy's cabinet in France describes the burqa as "a coffin that kills individual liberties".
In our own country the political exploitation of Islam resulted in the partition of India. Several political parties have used India's large Muslim community as a vote bank. Burqa and skull cap apart, the rise of communal hatred, particularly in South India, can be easily traced to the spread of Wahabi Islam.
It is perhaps important that the higher institutions of Islam like the Deoband seminary let the world know as to what exactly is the position of the burqa and the skull cap in Islam.
Each country has a right to expect people living within its boundaries to honour and respect its culture and laws.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru always used to impress upon Indian communities living abroad to "to do as Romans do in Rome" i.e. live by the cultural values of the nations of their adoption.
France has been insisting that expatriate communities living there accept certain basic values of French culture. Earlier, France had imposed a ban on head scarves and other religious symbols being worn in the schools. This brought even the Sikh community living there into conflict with the government.
It may be pertinent here to point out that as against the views of President Sarkozy, Barak Obamma in his speech to the Muslims of the world from Cairo in May said " it was important for the Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit, for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim should wear".
There is no doubt that such symbols that appear to be an affront to the established system of any nation need to be looked into by the group of people making a show of it. Similarly, if there is a foreign element involved such as the spread of Wahabism, it too needs to be checked. This can best be done by the high religious seminaries like the one we have in India at Deoband. By Prem Prakash (ANI)