February 7, 2016

  Hidden in Plain Sight: The Obsession Over Muslim Women 

by Atif Rashid, UK

Once again there appears to be an endless pursuit of issues regarding Muslim women by our leaders. Considering how our society strongly stands for freedom of expression, justice and plurality, it’s ironic that the very thing which Muslim women use to express their identity and liberty – the hijab – is the exact reason they are highlighted so much more.

It’s almost as if they say, ‘these Muslim women aren’t conforming to our ways of freedom and liberty and they must be stopped and brought under our idea of freedom!’. Of course, this xenophobic assault on Muslim women is done under the pretext of security and liberty.

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who I wish all politicians would emulate expounded the folly of Western animosity against the Hijab saying, ‘It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.’ If only Cameron and the many other European countries opposing the Hijab would pay attention. It’s little surprise. If we’d go to war on the pretext of freedom, liberty and democracy, using that as an excuse for anything else is fair game.

Perhaps Muslim women should themselves be asked, whether they choose to wear the Hijab or whether someone else forces them to. I’ve not known many women who have their dress sense dictated to them and it certainly shouldn’t be by the state or anyone else.
Now, if there is a legitimate security concern or situation which requires women remove their covering, then that is permitted by Islam. In fact Islam teaches that one must always act according to the exigencies of the occasion. So while courts or airport authorities can request women (or anyone) to reveal their face, enshrining oppressive laws preventing women from wearing the veil is an attack on freedom and plurality.
As for classrooms, Muslim women aren’t required to cover up in front of children anyway. And while schools already make their own policies regarding dress codes, Muslim women have for many decades been effectively teaching in classrooms, caring as nurses in hospitals and being productive members of society – with the Hijab! And Nadiya Hussain, 2015 Great British Bake-Off winner is proof of that.

Which brings me onto to Cameron’s plan to teach women English. We’re all for education and one must learn the language of the country one lives in to contribute to it effectively. However, the Prime Minister’s shortsightedness overshadows what could potentially be an effective programme to teach people the language. The ESOL course already exists and perhaps Cameron should think about investing more into existing programmes which essentially do the same thing rather than singling out Muslim women for such announcements and measures.

Women have faced their fair share of oppression and it wasn’t long ago women in the West were refused the right to work, divorce, inherit and even vote – rights Islam gave women centuries ago. Many Muslim women will tell you that the Hijab gives them dignity, it allows them to live without unsolicited looks from men and it reminds men to guard their own modesty and afford greater respect to the opposite sex. Far from being oppressive, for women,  the Hijab is a major liberating factor and rarely if ever limits them from the work they wish to do.

In 2016, isn’t it about time we leave Muslim women alone and let them continue the great, productive and essential work they do in society?

Atif is a UK-based freelance writer, community events organiser and an aspiring journalist. He has written on many topics including religion, politics, health and current affairs.