Banning Liberty: A Reminder

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A reminder over our situation and role as Muslimahs in light of the niqab ban in France.

On Monday, the French ban on niqab (or the burka) took place. Any woman in a public area with her face covered can be arrested and charged or fined. France is considered a secular society which, by definition, would mean that it has religion separated from state. It may mean eliminating laws based on religion and ending religious discrimination.[1] For so many immigrants, the reason they left their country was to live in a free land, where they could practice their customs as they saw fit – not by being told by the government what to do and what not to. The US founders made sure they created a Constitution which would respect every person – explicitly mentioning Muslims in their writings.[2]

According to the laws of these countries, a person has the right to freedom of religion. This would entail that any person can practice his or her religion as they see fit – as long as it does not encroach the rights of others. People can walk around with their heads shaved, piercings and tattoos all over, and with the questionable fashion sense of today but it’s okay – we may not agree with every person’s every decision but they’re allowed to do what they see is in their best interest. One of the definitions of respect is to ‘to show regard or consideration for: to respect someone’s rights.’[3] It doesn’t mean one has to agree with a person’s point of view – but to respect their right to their own opinions and perspectives. With six billion of us on this planet, it is highly unlikely we’re all going to have the same likes and dislikes.

This ban on niqab is based on the premise that women need their voices heard. They believe there is no way this (extremely small) minority of women in France could have covered their faces on their own. They need the government to intervene in their religious expression and ensure they are not oppressed – as they believe Muslim women to be. On this topic, let me relate a fictitious story which may have all too real consequences in the lives of many women.

Suzie was born and raised in the West. She grew up wanting to look like the girls she saw on TV. Their hair always flowed so perfectly as sun-kissed waves against their flawless skin. They smiled and looked so happy, dressed in their designer outfits, always getting the best looking guys. Their lives seemed perfect. As she got older, gaining weight as part of normal development didn’t seem normal to her. So she starved herself. She became obsessed. Eating a meal meant having a slice of toast, a couple grapes and a sip of water for the whole day. She had to fit into a size 0 – nothing else was beautiful. If she didn’t look like those women on TV, no one would love her, appreciate her, be her friend…

Suzie was later hospitalized after passing out from exhaustion at school. Her gaunt face and a body mass index of 14 were red flags for the doctors treating her. Anorexia itself is a serious physical and psychological disease which seems to be all too common in our society. Though it cannot be associated with one blanket cause for each individual, it is a huge wake up call for how our society is progressing.

Suzie didn’t lose weight for a religious cause. She wanted to lose weight because the ideal woman, the example of who she wanted to be, looked nothing like her healthy self. She had to become like this air-brushed ideal woman, according to the standards of male fashion designers and TV producers, in order to please people and fit in. Her goal in life was to ultimately attain a man – and it quickly escalated into a serious psychological and physiological problem.

Women like this are under the grasp of an oppressive society – one can never lose enough weight, have perfect enough hair, the best curves, most seductive voice, sophisticated fashion sense, a post-graduate degree,all the while maintaining an executive position in a Fortune 500 company. The ideal is unattainable – because people will never be pleased with what you do. Every single thing could be done better.

Islam steps away from all of this. Your purpose in life becomes the pleasure of Allah alone. No one else is worthy of being the reason because He alone gives reward and He alone gives punishment. Hijab and niqab aren’t done to please the creation but for the pleasure of the Creator alone. That alone is a good enough reason. No, millions of Muslim women are not subservient slaves of men. My parents would be the first to tell you how stubborn I can be – I’m sure my Muslim sisters are similar. We do every single act of worship because we believe in Allah and know that only He has the right to be worshipped. Therefore, everything He asks of us is done for His sake alone.

That being said, with this attack on hijab, we should know where hijab stands. This article covers the commandment of hijab in our beautiful religion. What we as Muslims need to do is have a united front. Hijab is in our Deen – just as salah, giving zakah, being kind to parents, and Hajj are. Ali ibn Abi Talib wisely once said, ‘Put aside your pride, set down your arrogance, and remember your grave.’ Sometimes we may not understand the reasoning behind a command or see its benefit – but that’s not for us to argue and make our own rulings about. The majority of us are not scholars and don’t understand the classical Arabic of the Qur’an. How then can we pass judgments like saying ‘XYZ is not in the Qur’an?’ Islamic scholars spent years studying before they could pass a single ruling. Even then, they preferred asking someone else in case they said something contrary to the religion. They understood the greatness of saying something incorrect. We all too easily fall back to ‘Shaykh Google’ for something that makes our desires content. We do not want to become like those Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala describes as,

“And when it is said to him, ‘Fear Allah,’ pride in the sin takes hold of him. Sufficient for him is Hellfire, and how wretched is the resting place.” [ 2:206]

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in another place:

“…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not” [2:216]

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is our Creator sisters. We have to go back to Him to know what is best for us. It may be that some of us don’t wear niqab or even hijab – but that doesn’t give us the right to condemn it. Both are strong components of the religion. If you don’t wear hijab or niqab simply say, ‘I don’t wear it’ without attacking it or saying ‘I think it is wrong.’ The religion does not come from our thoughts, whims or desires! It is one of the saddest realities when Muslims are split against each other –some on the side of disbelievers attacking their fellow Muslims. May Allah guides us to the straight path.

Ultimately, we’re going to be judged based on our own deeds. Our Messenger sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was told to,

‘Say, [O Muhammad], “Do you argue with us about Allah while He is our Lord and your Lord? For us are our deeds, and for you are your deeds. And we are sincere [in deed and intention] to Him.’ [2:139]

We can argue until the Day of Judgment but people are always going to attack this Deen – they have been doing so since day one. But Allah Al ‘Azeez Himself has promised that victory will come. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala addressed our beloved Messenger in the following verses, giving him hope:

‘And be patient, [O Muhammad], and your patience is not but through Allah . And do not grieve over them and do not be in distress over what they conspire. Indeed, Allah is with those who fear Him and those who are doers of good.’[16:127-128]

You can only convey like RasulAllah sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam– after that, their guidance is in the hands of Allah. Worry about yourself –have taqwa, do good, then leave it up to Allah.

May Allah Al ‘Azeez, wal Fattah grant the oppressed all over the world justice and grant our sisters freedom to practice their Deen. May He Al Haadi guide us all to the straight path. May He Al ‘Afuw, At Tawwab forgive our shortcomings and allow us to fully return to His Deen. Ameen.

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