Although human beings share the same basic needs and desires, the planet is nonetheless filled with diverse customs, traditions, and religious beliefs. When so many differences exist in any given society, it will surely create disunity, confusion, and injustice for many people. Recently, an issue has been raised in a country that claims to be ‘tolerant’; however, its citizens, specifically its muslim citizens, are not being granted their constitutional rights. Since 1994, muslim school girls were banned from attending school because they were wearing the hijab (head scarf). Does it not seem ironic that while women are allowed to go out in public wearing G-string bikinis to wash cars for money and to eat in public restaurants wearing a bikini top, muslim girls are prevented from attending school because they want to cover their hair with a scarf? The subliminal message is that women who are provocatively undressed have more rights than women who are dressed. What kind of a society is this blatant discrimination promoting?
Due to their own intolerance, the French government has targeted and retracted their citizen’s constitutional right – freedom of religion. More specifically, they oppress a religious community that upholds modest dress for women. How can one from a western prospective explain this strange phenomenon to his/her child?
On one hand, prostitution is legal and public nudity tolerated; yet, people who want to be fully clothed are harassed and discriminated against. Professor Lamand explains that the decision by the French ministry of education to ban the wearing of a scarf is not necessarily because it is a sign of religious conviction but rather because the scarf is seen as being “ostentatious”. This leads one to believe that it sounds more like a personal opinion, and as such, would be difficult to legislate. Wearing a cross might be comparable, yet it is allowed. What if scarves were to become fashionable, i.e. a new Paris trend, would muslim girls then be allowed to go back to the school dressed in their hijab? Lamand disclosed that “French public opinion has a tendency to see the wearing of head scarves as a symbol of extremism” but he recalls that “a lot of French Women used to cover their heads up to a few decades ago”.
Why would anyone be offended by someone by someone who wants to dress modestly and conservatively? Furthermore, in what way could the headscarf be considered provocative? It is certainly no more provocative than any other article of clothing that is allowed in public schools. How about if the situation was turned around and muslim women were allowed to speak up about how they are offended by women who expose all parts of their bodies in public and in front of their husbands? Who is legislating this behaviour as provocative?
It seems obvious that governmental policy for the private sector is doing all it can to curb its citizens from following anything other than whatever government policy promotes. So it can be gathered that when an individual becomes religious, he can expect most of the society to stand in his way. The fact is that muslims are neither being tolerated nor allowed to fulfil their religious obligations. The French banning of the head scarves is an outright stripping of the right to practice one’s religion as stated by the Declaration of Human Rights and the French constitution. Only in 1992 did the state council in France rule that head scarves would be allowed and that the students have the right to “express” their faiths even at school. It further implied that “the hijab is declared to be compatible with secularism”. Furthermore the state council maintained that public schools forbid “any kind of discrimination in the access to education on the basis of the pupils religious faith and that pupils have the right to express or show their faiths at school…”. However, the ruling conveniently excluded and banned the wearing of any religious sign if it is “provocative in the manner of wearing it”. While the ministry knew it could not bluntly come out and tell these girls they were not allowed to dress modestly, it had to rely on curbing the modest dress by attempting to diminish the impact of the Hijab by prohibiting the scarf. While France and other western countries proudly boast that they are countries of tolerance and diversity, it is clear that the muslims who live in these countries are not being tolerated and are even being legally bound from demonstrating their convictions of morality
Professor Lamand describes France as experiencing a wave of “Islamophobia”. He reminds us that there are 1.2 million Algerians residing in France and that since France and Algeria are neighbours, there is a fear in France due to the “rise of extremism, which they think can be exported to their country.” There have been incidences of militant extremists who used violence, whereupon some Western French citizens as well as Algerian “intellectuals” were killed. Thus, a fear, a prejudice and misinterpretation of Islam in general was perpetuated.
At this point it is essential to address a vital issue. It is very unfortunate that there are groups who carry out violent acts under the banner of religion for self-centred reasons. People or groups doing this cannot be considered religious while they are taking innocent human life, a sacred gift from God. In Islam, if a person takes a single human life, it is as if he killed the whole human race:
On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.[Quran 5:32]
Due to isolated violent acts and the media’s quickness to exploit them to negatively project Islam, there is indeed a heightened intolerance of muslims world-wide, especially in western cultures where there is already little understanding about Islam. The journalist, Jean Francois Revel, once wrote about “Islamo-terrorism”, but why not call the so-called Christians in Ireland who have killed under the banner of their religion “Christiano-terrorism”, Lamand inquires.
Although the headcover (sometimes referred to by the westerners as the ‘the veil’) is a part of the muslim woman’s hijab. The true definition of hijab is the covering of woman’s entire body. Specifically this means that she covers everything except her face and hands. Her hair and neck must be covered. The veil is actually a separate article of clothing used to cover the woman’s face. The believers are directed in the Quran:
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss. [Quran 24:31]
O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Quran 33:59]
Hopefully, one can begin to understand more fully the significance of the Hijab and realize that it is more than just a clothing. It is not, as some mistakenly assume, merely a costume or emblem of Islam. Its purpose is a barrier from the opposite sex. Modest behaviour is the complement to modest garments.
The hijab is simply a means of protection for the woman when she is out in public. Western women boast about how free and liberated they are, but they are actually driven to wear what men want to see: flesh, legs, arms and breasts. This appears truly to be a form of sexual slavery – submission and servitude to men and their desires.
If Camille Paglia’s description of how the male seeks out a female with his “roving eyes” is called, it helps to better understand the function of the hijab in terms of how it corresponds with the basic feminine nature and how it preserves a society from becoming degenerated. Beneath the hijab is a woman’s body and its main purpose is to keep her figure and beauty hidden. Whether she is married or not makes no difference. The Muslim Woman dresses in a way distinctive from non-muslim women. In fact, in order for her clothing to be considered hijab, it must be purposely different from what unbelieving women wear. The muslim woman’s clothing should be loose and cover all her body except the face and hands. A woman is not wearing hijab if she has a pair of tight-fitting jeans, leggings or only stockings on her legs. Included in the limitations and guidelines for clothing to be considered Islamic dress is that the fabric must not be sheer or transparent. It should be understood that the muslim woman dresses this way when she goes out in public or when in front of men who would not be prohibited to her in marriage because of a blood or nursing relationship. When she is in the company of her immediate family members, she may basically wear what she likes.
For those with any honest knowledge of history, hijab is not a new concept. The way religious women dressed in most ancient civilization was in a pious, modest fashion, and the veiled catholic nuns still wear their habit. Women during the Victorian era wore long dresses with high collars. In the Americas much the same continued as the pioneer women wore the same type of long dresses and bonnets. Women during the Victorian age were more respected than women of today. They were esteemed for being chaste and modest and they were certainly not publically ostracised for being such. How the society’s norms have changed for the worse is more than clear.