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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 8 Nov 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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On Hijab: Acknowledge the Countless Adherents, Of All Ideologies, Who Observe Dress and Manners Pursuant To Their Beliefs

By Sufyan Sohel

November 6, 2019

Last week, I had the honour of attending and participating in the BMW Foundations 3rd Annual Global Forum.  The Forum brought together over 100 activists, government actors, academics, and social entrepreneurs from around the world to Berlin in an event themed “Breaking the Patterns – Responsible Leadership for Inclusive Societies”.  I was delighted to attend and reconnect with friends, to meet and learn from amazing practitioners, and to engage in conversations on a myriad of social and political issues.  I met a journalist from Israel who spoke of her fears and insecurities before meeting a Human Rights worker from Gaza.  What she found was compassion, commonality, and an incredible friendship.  I was also happy to see my rock star friend from Toronto who immigrated to Canada from Asia at a very young age and has committed her career to gender equity and inclusion.  I was inspired by the incredible people who came together to tackle issues of divisiveness, inequity, and lack of inclusion and hopefully gain some resources and knowledge to take back and apply in their respective communities.

I love my job:  I am at the forefront of fighting hate targeted at the Muslim American community and through my advocacy and legal efforts, I am able to not only provide aid for Muslims and other marginalized communities, but bring to light political and social disparities, religious misconceptions, and bias and prejudices that exist not only from those who actively choose to hate, but often also from allies and from those within affected communities.  I would display poor responsible leadership if I did not call out the bias towards Muslims, I have recently witnessed, by those who should be our allies.

Most often in my public engagements, I am speaking in echo chambers, to those who share many of the same values as I do, who are progressive in their political and social views, working in their own ways to build better, more inclusive communities.  Several times in the past few weeks – including at the Global Forum – I have been asked the same question “Why does Islam and Muslim men force women to cover?”   What bothers me is that these rooms are filled with educated, worldly individuals whom I thought were entering these spaces with open minds and open hearts, aware of the biases they may have and looking to overcome and understand them.  Instead their question simplified my faith into a patriarchal and oppressive practice.  I wanted to call out the failures in other religious communities where doctrine was misconstrued and misapplied and used to manipulate the most vulnerable.  I wanted to scream “Islamophobia” and call them bigots, but instead I took a deep breath and smiled.

I shared the story of how after performing the Hajj, or the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca, my mother chose to start covering her hair as a sign of devotion to God and to her faith.  She was proud to be Muslim and for her, the head covering was a daily reminder of her commitment.  I also shared how my father would have preferred her not cover, but respected her choice to do so, despite his fears that her outward portrayal of faith may make her a target of hate.  The concept of Hijab is truly beautiful; it is much more than just the headscarf or veil, it is a value of modesty commanded to all Muslims.  It applies to not only how one dresses, but in the manners one conducts him or herself in.  Each Muslim is empowered to identify for him or herself what that concept means and then to apply it to their own lives and the manner of observance has no correlation to how one practices the faith.

Surprising to most, both within and outside the Muslim community, is the onus that Islam gives to Muslim men.  The Quran commands men to not stare at women and not be promiscuous.  In chapter 24, line 31, the Quran commands men to observe modesty: “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts… Surely, Allah [God] is well aware of what they do.”  The Quran addresses men first, stating men need to focus on themselves and guarding their own modesty, through their dress and actions.

One can find article after article, story after story, of women who describe the empowerment, strength, and comfort in observing Hijab.  Each story is unique because Hijab takes its own form to each adherent as they each struggle to identify what modesty means to them and how they choose to embrace that value.  The real beauty of it though is that I, nor any man, has any religious authority to force a woman to observe Hijab.  The religion forbids it.  We may encourage it, discuss the religiosity behind it as it applies to both sexes, beyond that, the faith has set guidelines yet empowered each individual to make that decision on their own.

There are many who seek to demonize Islam and Muslims based on the perception of limited rights of women; the head covering is shown as an oppressive and antiquated construct.  But rather than ask a woman, or a man, what “Hijab means to them”, they minimize the conversation rather than acknowledge the countless adherents, of all ideologies, who observe dress and manners pursuant to their beliefs.  And it is often the most liberal, and most progressive, who see such observance as limiting rather than empowering.  So when I am asked why my faith oppresses our women; why do we force them to wear the veil, I ask almost rhetorically, “Shouldn’t we all be more responsible with our actions, with our mannerisms, and our gaze?  Shouldn’t we all observe a bit more modesty in our lives?”

Sufyan Sohel is CAIR-Chicago’s Deputy Director & Counsel. Sufyan is a trained mediator and speaks frequently on social justice, civil rights and Islamophobia. Before CAIR-Chicago, he worked with DePaul University‘s International Human Rights Law Institute where he researched and collaborated extensively on women’s rights issues and rule of law projects in the Middle East and Asia.

Original Headline:  On Hijab: Veiling the Gaze

Source: Chicago Monitor


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  1. Madhubanti Bhattacharya, Let is no reason to condemn God to be mysogynistic despite He demands women to cover their middle parts to prevent sexual desires from men.  Why?  If Quran or the gospel or the Bible or hindu surah promotes women to expose their middle parts of their bodies publicly, most of the men will lust after their bodies and there will be more crimes in this world.  Why?  You might worry that your wives or your daughters or your sisters get rape easily when they all, one by one, expose their middle parts publicly without shame.  Sexual crimes and adulteries will increase.  If God does not set this rule, he is not a good God, since many women keep on exposing their bodies in full nude and cause themselves in danger every day and they can be raped and be attacked by men at any time.  
    If you are hindu, does your Hindu surah promotes women to expose their bodies in nude?  If yes, show us the verse to enlighten us.  If no, we too can comment the same as you that your religion is mysogynistic.  If it is not mysogynistic, why does your religion not promote women to expose the middle part of their bodies publicly without shame?
    By zuma 11/11/2019 13:22:34
  2. How does it matter in the 21st century what instructions are given in a religious book about the rules of dressing for a woman. The point is not how justified is Islam in deciding a dress code for women, The point is why in the first place it will be assumed that women will be dressed in a certain way so as to avoid male sexual advances. Why women are defined only by their male relatives? Why men are assumed to be always susceptible to fall for a woman's physicality? These are outdated, mysogynistic ideas meant to hold on to the idea that women are existing only to serve the mankind and their only purpose in life is to reproduce and pleasure men. 
    By Madhubanti Bhattacharya 11/11/2019 02:42:25
  3. Read Quran 24:31 carefully, it demands Muslims to cover 

    Al-Nour (The Light) - 24:31 
    وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاء بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاء بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُوْلِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاء وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ (24:31)

    Basit -   Hussari -   Minshawi -  f

    Waqul lilmuminati yaghdudna min absarihinna wayahfathna furoojahunna wala yubdeena zeenatahunna illa ma thahara minha walyadribna bikhumurihinna AAala juyoobihinna wala yubdeena zeenatahunna illa libuAAoolatihinna aw abaihinna aw abai buAAoolatihinna aw abnaihinna aw abnai buAAoolatihinna aw ikhwanihinna aw banee ikhwanihinna aw banee akhawatihinna aw nisaihinna aw ma malakat aymanuhunna awi alttabiAAeena ghayri olee alirbati mina alrrijali awi alttifli allatheena lam yathharoo AAalaAAawrati alnnisai wala yadribna biarjulihinna liyuAAlama ma yukhfeena min zeenatihinna watooboo ila Allahi jameeAAan ayyuha almuminoona laAAallakum tuflihoona

    Topics discussed in this Verse: 
    [Children] [Clothing] [Handmaidens (those whom right hands possess)] [Marriage:prohibited degrees in] [Sons] [Women:modesty of][Women]

    24:31 (Asad) And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms [in public] beyond what may [decently] be apparent thereof; [37] hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. [38]And let them not display [more of] their charms to any but their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ Sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or those whom they rightfully possess, or such male attendants as are beyond all sexual desire, [39] or children that are as yet unaware of women’s nakedness; and let them not swing their legs [in walking] so as to draw attention to their hidden charms [40] And [always], O you believers - all of you - turn unto God in repentance, so that you might attain to a happy state! [41] -   

    The Hijab that Quan 24:31 mentions is like an overall to cover from head to bossom since it mentions let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms.  The reason why it demands to put on hijab to cover the head to bossom is mentioned in this verse as, 'to be mindful of their chastity and not to display their charms in public beyond what may decently be apparent.  The phrase, display their charms, here refers to the middle part of the bodies instead the head or the legs, since the middle parts attracts more attention to men to sin, if women would expose them in nude to the public.
    The phrase, beyond all sexual desire..or children that are as yet unaware of women's nakedness, here implies implies this verse draws attention for women not to show the part of their bodies that can attract sexual desires and to expose them in nakedness to people.  The only place that women can expose to men to attract their sexual attention is the middle parts of their bodies instead of their faces or heads or their legs.  Instead, none of the men can have attracted with sexual desires by mainly seeing their heads and it serves no purpose to wear headscarves to cover the heads or not.  Thus, the place that women can cause them to be unchastity is to have their middle part of their bodies to expose in nakedness.  The phrase, all sexual desire...women's nakedness, here implies the purpose of this verse to demand women to put on the overall one stretch from head to bossoms is to cover merely that more sexual parts of the bodies that can attract unchastity from men to lust after them.
    Quran 5:69 does not demand a must for women to put on hijabs in order to proceed to paradise:
    Al-Ma'idah (The Table Spread) - 5:69  [read in context] 
    إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَالَّذِينَ هَادُواْ وَالصَّابِؤُونَ وَالنَّصَارَى مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلاَ خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ (5:69)

    Basit -   Hussari -   Minshawi -  f

    Inna allatheena amanoo waallatheena hadoo waalssabioona waalnnasara man amana biAllahi waalyawmi alakhiri waAAamila salihan fala khawfun AAalayhim wala hum yahzanoona

    Topics discussed in this Verse: 
    [Believers:on them is no fear nor shall they grieve] [Christians:believers rewarded] [Day of judgment:belief in] [Fear ( none for the Righteous ):or who believe and do good] [Jews:among them some believe] [Kabah] [Qur'an:belief in] [Sabians]

    for, verily, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Sabians, [86] and the Christians - all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds - no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. - 5:69 (Asad) -

    As Quran 5:69 does not prohibit Christians, Jews and other faith who do not put on hijabs to paradise except they must believe in God and do righteous deeds, it implies that this verse does not emphasize a must to put on hijabs.  Besides, the word, hijab, is not vividly mentioned in Quran 24:31 or even the word, headscarf.  As Quran does not mention it is a must to put on hijabs or headscarf and yet the phrase, sexual desire..women's nakedness, in Quran 24:31 refers to the middle parts of women who can draw men's sexual attention, it implies that no doubt Quran does not mention a must to put on hijabs or headscarves, since all these terms cannot be found be Quran, it demands women to cover their middle parts of their women to attract sexual attention from men.  If they can cover their middle parts of the bodies to attract sexual attention from men, they have met the requirement in Quran 24:31.  As they who have covered their middle parts of their bodies have fulfilled the requirement of Quran 24:31, it cause Quran 5:69 to mention it does not purposely set rule that it is a must to put on hijabs or headscarves in order to go paradise, as long as they can cover their middle part of their bodies and not to expose them publicly to attract sexual desires from men.  If you would insist Quran 24:31 support women must put on hijabs or headscaves, why does Quran 5:69 not to block Jews, Christians, and the Sabians to paradise especially all of them do not put on hijabs to cover heads to bossom.  Obviously Quran 24:31 demands women to cover the most sexual part of their bodies, i.e. the middle parts.  Besides, the phrase, sexual desire..women's nakedness, in Quran 24:31 refers inevitably to the middle parts of the bodies, since their heads do not attract sexual desires to men.
    Why should Quran 24;31 demand women to cover their middle parts of bodies that can attract sexual desires from men?

    Nuh (Noah) - 71:25  [read in context] 
    مِمَّا خَطِيئَاتِهِمْ أُغْرِقُوا فَأُدْخِلُوا نَارًا فَلَمْ يَجِدُوا لَهُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَنصَارًا (71:25)

    Basit -   Hussari -   Minshawi -  f

    Mimma khateeatihim oghriqoo faodkhiloo naran falam yajidoo lahum min dooni Allahi ansaran

    Topics discussed in this Verse: 
    [Noah] [Noah:people of]

    And so, because of their sins, they were drowned [in the great flood], and were doomed to suffer the fire [of the hereafter]; [16] and they found none who could succour them against God. - 71:25 (Asad) -

    The phrase, because of their suffer the fire of the hereafter, here means the reason why Quran 24:31 mention women must not to expose their middle parts is to cause men not to fall into sins, to lust after women's nakedness for their middle parts of their bodies, since these parts of their bodies can easily attract sexual desires by their exposure.
    Hadith does not demand women must put on hijab:
    It was narrated from 'Aishah that her paternal uncle through breast-feeding, whose name was Aflah, asked permission to meet her, and she observed Hijab before him. The Messenger of Allah was told about that and he said:
    "Do not observe Hijab before him, for what becomes unlawful (for marriage) through breast-feeding is that which becomes unlawful through lineage."
    أَخْبَرَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا اللَّيْثُ، عَنْ يَزِيدَ بْنِ أَبِي حَبِيبٍ، عَنْ عِرَاكٍ، عَنْ عُرْوَةَ، عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، أَنَّهَا أَخْبَرَتْهُ أَنَّ عَمَّهَا مِنَ الرَّضَاعَةِ يُسَمَّى أَفْلَحَ اسْتَأْذَنَ عَلَيْهَا فَحَجَبَتْهُ فَأُخْبِرَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ ‏ "‏ لاَ تَحْتَجِبِي مِنْهُ فَإِنَّهُ يَحْرُمُ مِنَ الرَّضَاعِ مَا يَحْرُمُ مِنَ النَّسَبِ ‏"‏ ‏.‏
    The extract verse is from Sunan an-Nasa'i 3301, in-book reference: book 26, hadith 106, English translation: vol 4, book 26, hadith 3303.
    If hadith demands women to put on hijabs or headscaves or whatever, why should the phrase, Do not observe Hijab before him, be mentioned here?  The word, him, here refers to a guy not her husband or her son.  Certainly!  when he mentioned with the phrase, Do not observe Hijab before him, it implies that woman should have some covering on the middle part of her body to attract sexual desire to him.  As this woman should have some covering from her middle part of the body if she does not put on hijab, it made no compulsion for her a must to put on hijab or headscarf, since her middle part of her body has something to cover to prevent this man to lust after her.  As that was so, whether she put on or not put on hijab or headscarf had fulfilled Quran 24:31, since the purpose of Quran 24:31 is to prevent showing the most sexual part, i.e. the middle part of the body, to cause man to sin.
    As Quran 24:31 does not mention the word, hijab, or headscarf, or whatever, this verse does not impose it is a must to put on hijab or headscarf of whatever upon a woman.  However, women have to be minded in this verse that their middle parts of the bodies have to cover with bras to attract sexual desires from men.  None should persecute believing women who do not put on hijabs or headscarves since Quran 85:10 warns them as follows:
    Al-Buruj (The Big Stars) - 85:10  [read in context] 
    إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَتَنُوا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ثُمَّ لَمْ يَتُوبُوا فَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ جَهَنَّمَ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابُ الْحَرِيقِ (85:10)

    Basit -   Hussari -   Minshawi -  f

    Inna allatheena fatanoo almumineena waalmuminati thumma lam yatooboo falahum AAathabu jahannama walahum AAathabu alhareeqi

    Topics discussed in this Verse: 
    [Repentance] [Unbelievers:persecuting the Believers]

    Verily, as for those who persecute believing men and believing women, and thereafter do not repent, hell's suffering awaits them: yea, suffering through fire awaits them! [6] - 85:10 (Asad) -   

    This verse warns Muslims to be in hellfire if they keep on persecuting believing women who do not put on hijabs or headscarves.
    Bear in mind the purpose of Quran 24:31 is to prevent women to expose the most sexual parts of their bodies in nakedness to draw sexual desires from men.
    As long as women can behave themselves to cover their most sexual parts of their bodies, they have fulfilled Quran 24:31, since nothing is mentioned in this verse that one must put on hijabs or headscarves or whatever, since the verse itself does not mention it.  As it does not restrict women must put on  hijabs or headscarves, none should be against believing women who do not wish themselves to put on.  Respect their decision.
    By zuma 09/11/2019 15:24:23