Monday, October 13, 2008

A Fatwa on Purdah: Unveiling Niqab, Burqa, Chador and Hijab

Afghani girl sheltering in a one-eyed niqab

Above is the link to a full article I have just prepared, as a fatwa (opinion of a religious scholar) to unveil the veil and liberate the world from violent and lethal punishments for adultery. It is designed to be explanatory, for Muslims, and non-Muslims alike, on the status of the veil, and its more oppressive forms, such as the one-eyed niqab. If you are a Muslim, it is set out as a valid religious opinion. If you are not a Muslim, its grounds are human common sense and compassion. It includes scientific and biological arguments, which are valid for all human beings, traversing all human cultures, and have implications for the practices of other religions as well as Islam. In religious terms, this is a fatwa rejecting the claim that, under Muslim teachings, women are required to wear the veil, or that it is desirable to do so.

It has come about now, because a conservative Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia has called on women to wear a full veil, or niqab, that reveals only one eye. Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan, an influential ultra-conservative cleric, who was answering questions on the Muslim satellite channel al-Majd, said showing both eyes encouraged women to use eye make-up to look seductive. Although the one-eyed niqab is part of an older tradition, noted in the hadith, when a religion gets to the point of issuing a command that half the people on the planet are to be allowed to see only through one eye, whenever they go out in the world, it brings that religion into disrepute.

To cut out one eye from being able to perceive the world at large, is an assault on the most basic integrity and autonomy of the human being. The need to cover the woman entirely comes from a mistaken notion that because women are beautiful and attractive, they are entirely awrah (sexual parts), and thus must be entirely concealed, even to covering one eye, or they will pose a shameful threat to themselves and to their family, through being uncontrollably attractive to strange men.

This is an assault, not only on women, the sex who bear the living generations of humanity, but on men, social trust, the natural world, and our access to it. It stands alongside dire punishments, such as stoning women for adultery, which are an affront to the basm-allah بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم “Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate”. Neither niqab, nor stoning, are in the Qur’an, so it is a time to take stock and make the way clear, so women will not continue to be oppressed.

Having two eyes is a fundamental adaption of all living organisms. There is not one animal that has only one eye, from vertebrates, through insects to molluscs. Having two eyes when going out in the world is pivotal for survival, because it enables binocular depth perception. If God made all the animals in this way, it was for good reason, it is inconceivable that He would deny it to the females of the human race, who bear the live young of the next generation, simply because they are, and must needs be, attractive to men, for the generations to prosper and survive. To deny this to a woman in the world at large because she may be attractive to men is a diabolical punishment invented by male jealousy, not God.

Although women wearing niqab can cut a fearsomely unwelcoming image as a political statement, the niqab cannot entirely conceal the beauty of a woman, no matter whether two eyes or one show.

A fatwa is a religious opinion on the law by an Islamic scholar. The clarity and authority of this argument stems from our broad scholarly experience of Islamic, Christian, Jewish and pre-Islamic cultural and religious traditions, without being bound to the restrictions, or beliefs, imposed by one sect, or tradition, such as Shia or Sunni. The argument is also clear, in terms of natural biology and female reproductive choice, as a foundation for the emergence and evolution of human intelligence and the passage of the generations to come. In Qur’anic terms, this fatwa is a ‘clear argument’, in terms of Sura 43:61-63 concerning Isa (Esau=Jesus), to “make clear to you part of what you differ in”.

The dehumanization of personal identity. God did not ordain that women, who are the bearers of the generations of humanity, should be reduced to depersonalized ghosts.

Despite the assertions of some conservative Islamic scholars that niqab is waajib (fard) or mustahaab (obligatory or highly recommended) there is no basis in the Qur’an for this claim. While conservative scholars try to finesse the Qur’an and Hadith together (see later) into a tortuous justification for imposing these assaults of women’s sovereignty, all independent authorities confirm there is no basis
for these restrictive claims. Moreover the idea that God, or al-Llah, prefers women veiled, or that a woman’s entire body, or that everything except face and hands, is awrah (pudenda) to be ashamed of, or that women need to be veiled to protect themselves from the ravages of men, and society from immorality, is a false teaching, used by men to control female reproductive choice, and to limit women’s access to educational, social and political independence.