Thursday, July 24, 2008

COMMENT: Dudes and Hijabs …

I’ve just received a report about the Ayn Academy in Adelaide holding a conference to launch a book by Afroz Ali, a Sydney architect who claims to be a qualified imam with ijaza certificates kept at the Zaytuna Institute. Mr Ali's book is entitled UnVeiling Hijab.

Mr Ali’s biography on the Ayn Academy website includes a claim that he is “on the Board of Advisors at Markaz Aleem in Cairo, Egypt”. So what is this “Markaz Aleem”? What is its role in Islamic studies or in the accreditation of imams in Egypt? No details are given.

My concern isn’t so much with Afroz Ali’s claims about himself. At least, not in this post. Rather, I have another concern.

The issue of hijab is an extremely sensitive one. There are differing views on the subject. I have read various interpretations and rulings on the issue of women’s dress and the extent of their covering as required under the sharia or sacred law of Islam.

I have read views that state that women are required to cover their faces in the presence of non-mahram men (i.e. men whom they can marry) at all times except at the Haj. I have read views that state that women are required to cover everything except their face and hands in the presence of non-mahram men. I have read opinions that state that it is permissible for women to show the front part of their hair (as is common in South Asia, Central Asia and Iran). I have also read opinions that state that women need not cover their hair all the time in the presence of non-mahram men.

Each of these opinions has some scholarly basis. I have a preference for one of these views. However, I am not qualified to give any authoritative expression as to which view is correct.

And neither is Afroz Ali.

But there is another reason. Adelaide’s Muslim community, like that of Sydney and Melbourne, is going through a slight adjustment. A number of prominent Muslim women have chosen to cease wearing the hijab in public on a full time basis.

The choice of these women needs to be respected, whether we agree with their choice or not. Further, it is not for unqualified men with only rudimentary knowledge of Islamic sacred law to be writing on this issue.

I have every respect for Muslim sisters who choose to wear hijab, whether full-time or part-time. I also have every respect for sisters who choose not to.

Men have absolutely no idea how difficult it is walking out their front doors and being ambassadors of their faith in an environment when so much hatred is invested in that faith. We are living in a time when many people who claim to follow Jesus actively degrade and despise women who choose to dress like his mother just as much as (if not more than) they despise people who look like they might have been born in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

Muslim women need to be free to make their own choices. We may not agree with their choices, just as much as they may not agree with ours.

I’m no hadith scholar, but I do recall reading a hadith in which the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) remarked:

There will come a time when holding onto Islam will be harder than holding onto hot coals.

Are we in that time right now? I’m not sure.

I do know that making a commitment to wear the hijab is an enormous one. Many of our sisters last the distance. Some stop for a break before continuing. Some choose to walk on leaving the issue by the wayside.

The confusion in the metaphors I have used in the paragraph immediately preceding this one is but a partial indication of just how difficult this issue is. I think it is a matter that should be left to our sisters to decide among themselves. If they need our advice and opinion, we should offer it honestly and with respect. We should keep in mind just how difficult this issue is.

It might also make it easier if our men decided to wear some openly Muslim symbol or dress. Perhaps our lectures to women on hijab should be accompanied by lectures to men about wearing caps and/or kufiyyeh's and/or sporting beards. In the present environment, what’s good for the gander should be just as good for the goose.

I myself used to lecture sisters on wearing hijab. I even considered sisters who didn’t wear hijab to be inferior Muslims or not worth talking to. At one stage, I even stopped returning their salams. We all make mistakes. We live and we learn.

There are Muslim women making enormous sacrifices in the cause of human rights and civil liberties in their countries. They are women like Irene Khan and Shirin Ebadi. In Australia, Muslim women with or without hijab are making enormous contributions to Muslim communities and the broader Australian community.

Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, whether on a full or part time basis, must be respected. Muslim women who choose not to must also be respected. Whether hijab is compulsory or not under Islamic sacred law should be left to qualified scholars prepared to outline the full extent of their qualifications and provide clear proof of same. Everyone else should just shut their mouths.

That includes both Irfan Yusuf and Afroz Ali.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Pepe said...

and you don't think that Afroz has more right to 'lecture' about hijabs then you?

Irfan Yusuf said...

When Afroz and I can show we have the requesite qualifications in the releant disciplines, we'll have established our right to talk and write definitively on the sacred law aspects of this topic.

dawood said...

Markaz Aleem is a school in Cairo that teaches Arabic and some Islamic Studies stuff to Westerners wanting to visit Egypt and learn the language etc. One of many there but not as well known as others such as Al-Diwan, Sibawayh and so on.

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