Monday, March 10, 2008

The Forgotten Hijab Ban

By Guest Blogger Muslema Purmul

I had the opportunity to meet some French sisters who are now here with me in Cairo, and we got to talking about the issue of Islam in Europe.

It was actually really sad, hard to hold the tears as one sister (from Holland, convert to Islam) told her own story of how she would remove her scarf everyday when she entered work, so she would be left to wear only an allowed small headband just covering the front of her hair, until one day she broke down crying, and kept it on. A few days later, her boss asked her to sign some papers. She asked why, and he said "Your fired." She replied, "Allahu Akbar" and signed the
papers. "Some scholars said it's ok, I can take it off if it's a neccessity, but I just couldn't take it off another time! I just couldn't!" she said. Another sister studied and finished law school before the ban happened. She wanted to be a lawyer and defend Muslim Liberties in France, but now after the hardship getting that degree she doesn't know if she will ever be able to practice law in France, she is now studying Islamic Law at Al-Azhar. I heard stories of sisters who would break down crying outside the gates of their schools. How a sister in a private Christian school was allowed to wear hijab until parents complained and forced her to remove it. Listening to their stories, I felt like they are experiencing a daily sexual harrassment in order to go to school, go to work, and pay bills. "I feel like someone is telling me to take off my clothes, my underwear, my head is also my private part. But if the girl wants to wear a mini-skirt to school and show everything, no one punishes her. I cannot return to France, I cannot support it." She told me about a housewife, who just went to the bank to withdraw money and she was asked to leave and remove her scarf. Now, since a month ago, the hijab ban has spread to some public schools in
Holland. As we know it is still a struggle in Tunisia, and Turkey. Are other countries in the world waiting to see how the world reacts so they too can implement hijab bans? As Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

I remember there was such an uproar BEFORE the hijab ban became law, and now afterwards, where are those same crowds, those same rallies, and talks? Essentially Muslim women are being deprived of one of their human rights. When does it become OK in the 21st century to require a woman to remove some of her clothes and reveal her body in order to participate in
public life? Where are the Muslim men who have gheera (chivalry) towards their women, and want to defend them from such physical harrassment, and psychological humiliation?! One sister compared the non-action with regards to the hijab-ban to the reaction people had toward the cartoons (which understandably upset a lot of people) and some countries excercised boycotts.
What about our sisters in France? How did we forget about this crime that occurs on a daily basis? Where is the body of the ummah that feels pain, when one part of it is hurt?

I'll be honest, all this time in America, I felt this hijab-ban was a crime, but I never truly felt the pain of these sisters until I heard them tell their stories. The voice that said, "I just couldn't take it off another time, I just couldn't." As a woman who wears hijab, I suddenly felt it- the depth of the crime that has been overlooked. I can't imagine being in the same situation, my impulses say, "I would rather die first than remove my hijab." So I wonder, do any of my French sisters walk around school and work feeling like they've been spiritually killed? Are they thinking about ways of "escaping France?" From my conversations with the French sisters, they are struggling to retain their sense of identity and Islamic practice. They had always faced discrimination with hijab before, but this Law has really broken the spirits of many. Some sisters just completely removed the hijab even outside of school because they couldn't cope with the feelings of living a double-life.

Again where is the heart that aches? Where is the body that rushes to reveal the pain of one of its limbs?

I bear witness as an American Muslim, we have an AMANA because of the freedom and resources that Allah has blessed us with in America, to do something for our sisters in France and elsewhere, where the hijab has been banned. May we not be of those who passed by a
people being oppressed, and we could have done something, but instead we just passed by in silence.

Can we do anything for them? Can it be taken to the United Nations? Can we hold a campaign for them? Can we access our media and political leaders? Can we do rallies or lectures? Can we engage this phenomena from an academic level? A civic level? Let's at least make a duaa, and make the intention to try and help if and when there is an organized effort to help our
forgotten sisters.

What are your ideas?


Huda Shaka` said...

Jazaki Allah khairan Sr. Muslema for the very much needed reminder.

I too recently got a wake up call when hearing stories of French Muslim women working at small Islamic Centers in France.

One of my 'teachers' here told us of her visit to the Islamic centers there and amount of effort those girls put in all day, teaching quran and Islam to kids as volunteers. Many are very well educated but have been disowned by their families upon wearing hijab or converting to Islam, and they cannot find a job because of their attire - so they depend on donations to survive. As you said, they would rather do that than take off their hijab.

One story I heard was of a sister who was asked by her teacher how she dealt with people verbally abusing her on the street. Her answer was, did you not read the closing verses of Surah Al-Mutaffifun?

Those sisters are literally in jihad every minute of their lives...while we complain about not finding long shirts at the mall.

Affad Shaikh said...


I actually, two years ago, got to meet with a group of middle school/ high school students from France. they were on a visit to the US.

What was interesting was how the girls said that the first thing they did when they landed in the United States was put on their hijabs.

That really got to me. I was never so humbled in my life. To know that I live in a country where i can fight for this right and not be imprisoned is something to reflect on. Its because of the framework that exists here in the US, legal and social that gives us the context to extend this right and keep the secular fascists at bay.

What we have in France is secular fascism. The hypocrisy of all of this is that they want their morality of mini-skirts and the so called expression of being "free" to rein supreme. Religion has no relevance in France or for that matter in many parts of Europe.

If we want to discuss what can be done, really on a individual level, there is nothing that can be done. What I was thinking during this whole fiasco was to set up private schools for French Muslims here in the US, educate them and empower them with American understanding of rights and liberties so that they can go back and advocate and change the dynamics in France.

In France getting jobs within government is not an easy thing, but by setting up businesses and non-profits that function outside of the entrenched French secularism will allow first Muslims to climb up the social and economic ladder, which they are prevented from doing, and then also begin to change the culture internally.

Look I think we can all agree that wearing Hijab in any form when imposed is not good for society- Iran and Saudi. However, the complete opposite is also true, banning hijab is a ridiculous idea. Especially for a country that claims that its "democratic" and has "freedoms" its down right hypocritical.

However, look at Turkey, after ten years of a ban, Muslims were able to shift that ban, this happened recently, and it came about first by Muslims climbing the social and economic ladder and placing themselves with in the society. Then the framework created a political and ideological party that brought together the good from secular society and the good from the Islamic ethics. They took on the moral high ground and are now working to change the way Turkey approaches freedoms of religion, heck, religion in the public sphere itself.

If we want to talk about other changes, Muslim countries, I doubt they would, have the absolute right to express their disappointment to French legislation on this issue. However, unfortunately no Muslim government has the moral authority to do jack about this. Really, what we have now is a long term plan, action, which I believe requires two elements- 1. some one with vision, insight and patience, 2. some one with capital to make it happen.


Yesi King said...

muslema! i'm so happy to see you blogging on here. long time no see i miss you.

so about the blog though, thank you for posting something on this. i often find myself wondering what happened to all these hijab bans we were hearing about. in response to your question, what could be done?

well i think the french system has always since its days of revolution looked to be the epitome of the phrase "separation of church and state." the types of revolutions and changes the state went through were prime for this sort of value. hence that is why working to change this law or working within the system would be pointless (and bc i think workin within the system is pointless in general but that' another story).

in my opinion if all the muslims, people of other religions whose rights are also being curtailed, and those who sympathise with them said no we are not abiding by your rules and your laws, it would force the system to have to reconsider it. so many of these people work for the government or in some facility that is somehow connected. thus it would cripple the state.

its easier said than done but its about damn time the people put their foot down. ALL POWER THROUGH THE PEOPLE.

btw i'm totally simplifying this but you get the jist of what i'm trying to say.

G said...

Anger is an understatement. An affective method is to I hurt them economically. This is how apartheid ended, and this is also a means to end the oppression against sisters. I believe that we should boycott French goods as consumers and also encourage other Muslim countries to reduce/end trade with such countries. The only way this will be affective is if we are organized and united. The message of Islam grew from the obscure oasis of Arabia to the fastest growing religion in the world. We need to put our money where our mouth is. Our religion did not teach us to take injustice laying down. Remember, two people will be questioned on the day of judgement- the oppressor and the one who accepted oppression.

Muslema said...

Assalamu Alaikum,

I was recently emailed as a result of this article by a law professor at AUC who hopes to get the testimonies of these sisters in an affidavit and hook up with some of his colleages in the human rights community to see if this is something that can be pursued through the pressure of international human rights agencies.

This is encouraging to me as a Muslim because sometimes you experience or hear something but you feel powerless, and you want to do something. Many times, blogs and emails that only express concern for the muslim ummah are belittled. "It's only an email, or it's only a blog, or its a waste of time." Subhan Allah, sometimes you may not know what to do with your ilm, but the one you pass it on to does, and is capable of doing something that you by yourself are unable to. This really was a practical lesson for me in Cairo where students are often encourage to "focus and study and don't get distracted in things that waste your time." While ultimately I agree with this, I don't feel it is mutually exclusive to still "doing your part" with whatever reach you may have. You never know when, where and how Allah (swt) may open up a situation, and yet, we are not asked about the results-- we are asked about the effort. I was discouraged by some to write about this issue, and I want others to know, never be discouraged by such voices. Try your best, use hikma in discerning what can take your time, and then we need to trust Allah (swt).

Insha Allah, I hope to meet the professor this summer, and help him get the testimonies if possible. I don't know if it will do anything in the end. But at least on Youmil Qiyama, we can say, "Ya Allah, I tried."

May Allah accept from you all as well for putting it on the blog, it helps to bring awareness and spread the word.

Your sister,

G said...

Wa Alaikum as Salaam wa Rahmatu la,
Alhamdullilah! Maybe a documentary could be done? I know someone who might be able to film it (she is in Southern California).

Huda Shaka` said...

Jazaki Allah khairan Sr. Muslema for posting the encouraging comment, and ameen to your dua`. I get the same "focus on ilm" message here sometimes, and your comment is a great reminder.

I can probably get you more names, contacts and stories of sisters in France, if needed, inshaAllah.

M Junaid Khan said...

AOA Everyone,
A very positive forum which truly discuss all the relevant issues. I have also placed this blog on my site with the reference to suhaib webb blog from where i got it.
I think we should spread such positive messages to others and am sure it will raise the awareness and make some difference. In case you people decide on any thing else, please let me know and i would be glad to participate both financially and with my time.
May Allah bless us all. Ameen
M Junaid Khan