When a Belgium parliamentary committee backed a law that would criminalize wearing veils in public this week, the move kicked up the usual furor about the West’s relentless assault on Islam—and double standards over religious freedom.
But the bill’s sponsor, Daniel Bacquelaine, fired back at crtics: "Nothing in Islam, in the Quran, in the Sunnah (sayings and practices of the Prophet Mohammad) imposes this form of dress. It seems to me it's more a political or ideological sign."
He’s absolutely right. The Burqa, which has become a symbol of Talibanized al Qaeda Islam—is in much greater spotlight today than ever before thanks to the resurgence of puritanism in the name of Islam and in reaction to the creeping Islamophobia in the West. Like beards for men, it has become the badge of an assertive identity among a determined minority of Muslim women. It has become a declaration of defiance and rejection of all things Western and the West’s criticism of Islamic imagery and symbolism.
The burqa, like beards for men, has become a declaration of defiance and rejection of all things Western.
Eminent scholars from Egypt to India find no mention of the face-covering burqa in the Quran. Nor has anybody claimed it to be part of Hadith. As Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, member of India’s Planning Commission, points out in her article in a newspaper: “In the Quran, there are three references to dress code and none of them refers to the naqab, or veil.”
Quoting Surah and verse, she points to the 24th Surah Al Nur (The Light) which reminds both men and women equally to dress modestly: “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest (Ayat 30). Tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest (Ayat 32).”
• Sheema Kahn: Women Fight Back—Don’t Ban the Veil!Most importantly it does not find any direct mention, except by way of references to preserving one’s modesty, as an edict of the prophet. How could it? How could the prophet, who married a businesswoman, Khadijah, his first wife, have even thought of a face-covering burqa as part of a woman’s dress? Clearly she could not have carried on a successful business by hiding behind a veil. By all accounts, she was an eminently successful merchant who struck deals with other traders, hired assistants like the prophet himself, and discussed the finer details of purchase, transport, marketing, and sale of her merchandise. If the prophet’s wife herself wore no burqa, how could it become part of essential Islam as the Taliban and al Qaeda ideologues arrogate to themselves in the name of Allah, Islam, and the Ummah, or the global Islamic nation?
The face-covering veil is certainly an accretion of later ages, scores if not hundreds of years after the prophet’s times. Coming to our modern times, year after year we see the solemn spectacle of thousands of women performing the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca without any veil covering their faces. Saudi Arabia’s opening of the co-educational institute, The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, last September was rightly hailed as a step reaffirming the same principle. Mullahs from Saudi Arabia to India who issued fatwas against the university and the king were roundly condemned by a wide cross-section of people in the Islamic world.
The notion of burqa, naqab, or hijab, especially the face-covering veil, belongs to pure fiction authored by self-appointed protectors of modesty and opportunist rulers who had nothing better to show for their credentials than raising the cry of Islam in decline and danger—much like the doings of late lamented General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan and his Taliban inheritors. Yet the small minority—and it is a microscopic minority—who still want to wear the burqa as their badge of separatist identity are free to do so as long as they don’t proclaim it in the name of Islam. The more enlightened families throughout the Islamic world, as in Pakistan and India, don’t foist it on their sisters, daughters, and wives. It’s time they openly come out against the mullahs and liberate the rest of their women folk from the seclusion and restrictions imposed by the false interpreters of Islam.
Whatever the definition of modesty, the face-covering burqa has no sanction of Quran. Nor can it be honestly invoked in the name of the prophet and Allah.