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The Great Withdrawal 

2005/01/03

Khalid Hasan

Over ten years ago, I saw Iranian women throw off their hijabs and jilbabs the moment the aircraft's wheels lifted from the tarmac of the Tehran international airport. It was a Swissair flight: they wouldn't have dared risk that act of 'blasphemy' had it been Hawa-paimai-e-Milli Iran

 

The general reaction of the Muslim community, its Pakistani segment especially, since the horrific events of 9/11 and thereafter, has been one of withdrawal from rather than engagement with the society in which its members have chosen to live.  

They have sought refuge in orthodoxy, reaching out to an austere, unsmiling version of Islam that they see as their best equipment for dealing with a world that has been turned topsy-turvy thanks to OBL and his diseased worldview. More Muslim women have taken the hijab which they mistakenly believe is their armour against the sinful West. Men have grown beards and/or taken to placing those depressing round skullcaps on their heads.  

A woman in Florida - or was it Texas - insisted that the photograph on her driving licence show only her eyes. A girl in a private Catholic school was told to leave after she refused to take off her newly-donned hijab that the school argued correctly could not be allowed as it was not part of the uniform. The various Islamic societies and associations that keep breeding all condemned the school, raising cries of discrimination, narrow-mindedness and anti-Islam sentiment. What is going on?  

America is a vast country and a good deal can go on here without attracting much notice, but Europe is different. The situation in England and France is especially worthy of attention. A recent article by Ghyassuddin Siddiqui, founder of the so-called Muslim Parliament in England, published in an Indian journal devoted to Islamic subjects puts it all together rather well.  

He writes, "If tomorrow all Muslim women don the jilbab and men grow beards, will the condition of Muslims improve? More likely they will still be despised and marginalised. Muslims must recognise that it is their closed mind-set that has put them on the slippery slope to insignificance. Sadly the pro-hijab conference recently held in London , supported by Ken Livingstone, missed the point."  

He writes about a young Muslim girl about to get married, being reminded that women who look after their husbands "properly" - which translates to getting beaten once or twice a week without complaint - will be able to enter heaven through any of its seven gates. "Muslim women are so used to listening to such garbage that they simply laugh, ignore it and move on", Siddiqui adds. Another girl was kept from going to school as according to her mother, that was the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Another one was withdrawn from school when she turned fourteen. Four years later the poor thing was asking people if they knew of a "Muslim college" she could go to.  

Siddiqui recalls that during debate on the hijab recently arranged by the Oxford Students' Islamic Society, his attempt to make the point that the Quran stresses modesty of apparel for both men and women received little sympathy. "More scary was the fact that these young people of above-average intelligence seemed more interested in securing a position in the afterlife than in improving their own and others' lot in this one", he observes. He is saddened to hear a number of Muslim girls say they would sooner leave school than abandon either hijab or jilbab, the barrel-like garment that is the Iranian (counter) revolution's gift to us, a gift the women of Iran are now dying to get out of.  

Over ten years ago, I saw Iranian women throw off their hijabs and jilbabs the moment the aircraft's wheels lifted from the tarmac of the Tehran international airport. It was a Swissair flight: they wouldn't have dared risk that act of "blasphemy" had it been Hawa-paimai-e-Milli Iran . According to Siddiqui, the parents of a Muslim girl at another English school, while denouncing democracy and human rights as "un-Islamic" wanted the school to have her dress as they - not the school - wanted. Double standards are alive and well among the faithful.  

Siddiqui argues that by "emphasising hijab as an obligation, not a choice, a faction is making the outward manifestation of dress, rather than modesty in one's heart, the measure of Muslimness. By making hijab or jilbab a criterion of Islamic identity our clerics are taking on the role of God by laying claim to infallibility. Muslims have to do a lot of soul searching. They shall have to begin by challenging the forces of obscurantism.

They must recognise that these forces have brought them nothing but defeat, humiliation and misery. Muslims need an internally-generated intellectual revolution. Small pockets of intellectuals already exist everywhere. What they need is a voice and a forum for their growth and recognition. This bridge-building may ensure that there is enough pressure on the rulers in the Muslim countries to grant basic freedoms to their own people."  

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times' US-based correspondent. His e-mail is

[email protected]  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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