Those liberals of Muslim or non-Muslim heritage who are supporting the enforcement of hijab in Muslim culture as freedom of choice, and a tool of empowerment need to understand the moment when, girls, just about to step into puberty or years away from it are told to cover up. For the girls, it is a sudden transition from the carefree life where they were not aware of themselves as women to being self-conscious females who were now told they were a distraction to the males around them, family members or strangers. What part of sexualisation or objectification of girls, children or young adults don’t the liberals understand?
Well-meaning liberals don’t even bother to think what it means for the boys around, suddenly seeing their cousins, sisters, playmates covering their hair, or in full cover and learning the religious injunction behind it — that they are males and their relatives or friends now have the ability to exploit their weak wills. No liberal ever asks young males what shame they feel when they are made conscious of their sexuality and taught to see the women, which includes their sisters, aunts, mothers, female relatives in a different light. Boys/men struggle with this new imposition on their worldview while growing up and how they are gradually made to learn to control the women or associate piety with covering up. It is child abuse of a different sort, one which the misleading and increasing misnomer Islamophobia (used to shut down debate or criticism) will never allow to explore, survey or study.
Hijab and burqa are not Quranic terms, the khimar and jilbab are. Over the centuries, the expansion of Islam increased, enabling migrations, merging of cultures, the invention of flight and the advent of technology meant the world shrinking to a global village which changed the reality of the desert conditions in which Islam was born, compiled, and interpreted. Those desert and Middle Eastern interpretations no longer applied to societies as is evident from before and after pictures of Tehran, Afghanistan 1979 and 90s Kashmir. What had been shed as conservative, backward, regressive, a relic of the past made a comeback because of the export of petro-dollar funded Wahhabism and Salafism — a digging down of Muslims post-1979 or 9/11, identity politics and reaction to changes in the Muslim world. The growing strength of Islamist movements today needs to be understood which urge the reinstitution of the laws and practices set forth in the core Islamic discourses and what their agendas are.
That there are various fights of jurisprudence in Islam is also not understood by liberals not of Muslim heritage explaining our culture to us, while gaslighting the horrendous experiences of enforcement of the hijab, and coercion of the burqa by Islamists. This struggle by Muslims themselves with the interpretation of the Quran (text), the centuries later compiled and often dubious Hadiths (traditions), the Sira (biography) and Sunnah (practices) of the Prophet; the dominance of mullahs (all males) and their religious authority on all things civil, legal, political and cultural has existed since the death of the Prophet starting with the Ridda (Apostasy) Wars which the “First Rightly Guided Caliphs” brutally squashed to maintain the fledgling numbers of the first Muslim communities. Blasphemy laws added centuries later, an effort by the gatekeepers of morality, piety, spirituality trying to keep the Ummah (community) in line and hence obedient and subservient, never questioning, criticising, or critically thinking made the struggle of dissenters, rationalists, critical thinkers and sceptics an uphill and perilous one.
Liberals, well-meaning or otherwise, never understand how Muslims are the victims of Islam itself, never having been exposed to the heretic traditions of Islam when scholars, intellectuals, patronised by Caliphs even, actually questioned the Prophet’s life, the Quranic text, the centuries later compiled Hadiths, etc. This culture of omerta (silence) encouraged through ostracism, threats, Orwellian kind of thought-police, morality policing was perfected and hence even scholarship into heresy or critical thinking whether by non-Muslims or Muslims was trod carefully. The advent of the Internet, social media, publishing apps broke that Muslim “omerta” and millions of Muslims are now educating themselves about the Quranic history, its classical Arabic language, its verses, its authorship and compilation, the later developed biographies (based on mentioned books that do not exist at all) and unquestioned traditions and practices. The hijab, burqa, niqab, abaya, chador are the latest being added to the long list of hitherto taboo subjects among Muslims that were adopted unquestioningly since the 7th century.
Liberals need to learn to differentiate between Islam and Muslims. Islam is an ideology, a theology which, like all ideologies, will be used to make people, especially women fall in line with preconceived attitudes of patriarchy, misogyny, tribal conformity, even as Muslims keep evolving, and adapting to changes, modern times, progress, geopolitical upheavals, etc. If liberals defending the hijab or veiling still don’t get it, follow the “My Stealthy Freedom” and “White Wednesdays” movements conceived by Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist, journalist, writer, broadcaster who is a pain in the neck of the Iranian regime, which imprisons and executes women, some of them young breastfeeding mothers with toddler children, who protest the enforcement of the chador, the veil or the niqab/hijab by the “mutaween” (morality brigade). What a disservice these liberals do to women in Afghanistan huddled not just in shuttlecock burqas but also banned from workplaces, colleges, schools, universities and leaving the home without male escorts! The video of Gamel Nasser, President in 1966 telling the Egyptian people that the Muslim Brotherhood wanted their women to wear headscarves and the laughter accompanying it never gets old; it is proof of how people can be insidiously conditioned into believing propaganda if it is tied up with identity politics and the Muslim Oppression Olympics and eventually end up defending an idea, once laughed out by the very same people.
Indians need to listen to those blowing the whistle on the growing Islamisation of their country otherwise like Egypt it will be imprisoning its dissenters and heretics for frivolous blasphemy charges. The new awake Hind or Bharat does not want that and it needs to support the reformers of Muslim heritage every which way, not the “Inquilabi Left” or the Liberal Jamaat hell-bent on glamorising morality or thought policing. Like I keep saying, the State needs to grow a spine, stop the appeasement of Muslims (which are basically elite, upper-class Lutyens or Khan Market gang, progeny leftover of the very same families who supported the construct of Pakistan yet stayed behind after realising what path it was going to take) — the Ayyubs, Naqvis, Syeds, Ansaris, etc and start standing behind its nationalist, patriotic and truly secular citizens.
(Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based writer, blogger, and social commentator.)
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