child is born with no religion
We should tear out all the romantic falsification surrounding the
The question of the veil has become a heated debate in the British
media. In this debate some fundamental principles seem to be at
stake: Individual freedom to practice one's religion, freedom of
choice, freedom of clothing and discrimination against a particular
community, that is, the so-called Moslem community. Islamists and
some human rights activists maintain that the so-called Moslem community
is being stigmatized and have been under racist attack since September
11th. They argue that the latest attempts to ban burke or the nighab
is a violation of individual freedom and another racist attack on
Moslems. Let's examine these issues closer.
Two events following
one another brought up the question of the Islamic veil in the British
media: Jack Straw's comment on the women wearing the nighab and
the case of Aishah Azmi, a 24 year old support teacher, who was
ordered to take off her full veil, including the nighab. She took
the school to court and the court decided in the school's favour,
and so she appealed against the court's decision.
In my opinion
defending the right to wear the veil in any form or shape and in
any circumstances as freedom of choice is fallacious. It overlooks
other, just as important, rights recognized by modern civil society.
In unconditionally defending the right to wear the veil, one comes,
at best, in collision with other set of rights, i.e. children's
rights, women's rights, societal rights, and the principle of secularism.
In debating about the freedom of wearing the veil, one must take
different circumstances into consideration. 1. The age of the person
wearing the veil. 2. The extent of the veil and 3. Where the veil
Why are these factors relevant in the discussion?
First and foremost
it is important to define what the veil is. Is it only a fashion
item, a mere clothing style? The argument that classifies the veil
as a style of clothing is totally misleading. The veil is a religious
ritual, a religious costume. Moreover, nowadays the veil has become
the political banner of a political movement, namely, political
Islam. The veil has become the symbol of Islamic power. Wherever,
Islamists gain power, they force the veil on women, as a sign of
their victory and supremacy.
Why is this
argument relevant to our discussion? It may be argued that irrespective
of its religious or political character and significance, one must
be free to wear any "political or religious symbol" one
chooses to wear. My response, and I believe many others', to this
is a categorical NO. It must be said that in most countries, including
Western democracies, there are certain dress codes at workplaces
and wearing different political symbols or religious ones are not
allowed in the workplace. Therefore, the veil must also be viewed
in this light. We should tear out all this romantic falsification
surrounding the veil. The veil is a religious and political symbol
of a religion and movement that degrades and deprives women.
The veil as a symbol of women's subjugation
The veil is
both the symbol and the tool for women's subjugation. Islam, as
in fact, all other religions, is a misogynist ideology. Islam is
a direct product of sheer patriarchy. Islam, particularly, due to
its earthly characteristics, penetrates every aspect of private
and social lives of men and women. A woman, according to Islam,
is an extension and subject of a man. She does not have an independent
identity and is defined by her master. The veil has been prescribed
to hide men's property from potential violators. A "free"
woman, according to Islam, is considered an open and free target,
a free ride.
It is absurd
to regard the veil as a fashion item, or a dress style. We should
define the veil as it really is, and as it really functions in the
lives of many women under the rule of Islam: a symbol of servitude
it may be argued that, if one chooses a life of servitude, one should
be free to do so. The modern civil society has a different answer
to this argument. In a free, modern civil society when safeguarding
human rights, children's rights or women's rights there are laws
limiting an individual's right to harm oneself or to deprive oneself
of certain rights and privileges. By the same token, there must
be some limitations imposed on the use of the veil. This is perhaps
where some disagreements arise. This is where those above-mentioned
circumstances come into the picture.
Veil must be banned for underage girls
One of the achievements
of the modern civil society is the recognition of society's responsibility
to safeguard children from any kind of abuse. The society must be
responsible for a child's safety, happiness, health and their normal
growth and development. Past decades have witnessed a great struggle
by decent, human-loving individuals to establish the concept of
children's rights, to recognize a child as an individual and not
the property of their parents. This is a landmark achievement, which
contradicts the essence of religion. According to Islam, the child
is the property of the father or grandfather and they even have
the right to take the child's life. Therefore, the modern children
rights charters are in basic contradictions with religious laws
and customs. They, in fact, nullify certain religious or "divine"
rights. This must extend to girls living in Islamic communities.
The veil is
a pure discrimination against girls. It hampers their physical and
mental development. It segregates them from the rest of the society.
It restricts their growth and future development. It assigns to
them a prescribed social role according to their gender and a division
of labour. Therefore it must be banned. Society is duty-bound to
safeguard free, healthy and normal development of these girls. It
is a crime to ignore this obligation. Freedom of choice is purely
nonsensical regarding the veil for underage girls. "A child
has no religion". It is the parents' religion that is imposed
on the child. The society must respect the child's right to a free
development. Just the same way that modern society recognizes the
undeniable right to education for all children, bans child labour
and regards physical abuse of children as a major crime, it must
also ban the veil for underage girls. This must be added to all
international children's rights charters. The veil is a physical,
mental and social abuse of girls and it must be recognized as such
by the international community.
Secular society verses the veil
In a secular
society, religion must be a private affair of any individual. The
state must be separated from religion and stay away from promoting
any religion. A secular society can better defend individual rights
and civil liberties. Contrary to the commonly held belief, religious
hatred or communal stigmatization can better be avoided in a secular
society. In a secular society wearing or carrying any religious
symbol at state institutions and in the place of education must
be prohibited. By doing this, the state and the educational system
do not promote any particular religion. Religion remains in the
private sphere and clashes between followers of different religions
is somewhat avoided. Therefore, I believe that the recent legislation
in France regarding the banning of wearing any religious symbols
in state institutions and schools is an appropriate step in the
However, I believe
that its main shortcoming is to still allow private religious schools
to operate. This leaves the girl's fate in the hands of religiously-fanatic
parents to send her to private religious school and ghettoize her
life completely. This is not respecting individual freedom and civil
liberties; this is discrimination against a group of girls who are
isolated from the society at large and their lives are ghettoized
by their parents and so-called leaders of their communities. The
society must defend the right of children; girls living in Islamic
communities are no exception. The society and the state have responsibility
for their normal, healthy and happy development.
Burke or the nighab, an individual right
or a societal right?
The veil comes
in different forms and shapes, from a scarf, to a robe-like loose
garment that covers the woman's whole body (it looks some what different
in different countries, or according to different Islamic sect's
rules) and finally the burke or the nighab. Burke has become known
as the symbol of Taliban, the most severe restriction imposed on
Must a woman
be allowed to cover herself under this most severe form of the veil?
In my opinion: NO. The banning of burke or the nighab can be argued
from two angles, 1) the societal right and 2) the women's right.
my opinion, when dealing with burke or the nighab, we surpass the
sphere of individual rights. Here, we enter the sphere of what I
call societal rights. The person under this kind of veil has no
identity in the face of fellow citizens. The society cannot work
with faceless humans. At a workplace, and I mean any workplace,
it is the right of the fellow workers and customers to see the face
of their colleagues or the personnel. There is also the issue of
trust at stake. You can not trust the person who has covered their
face. Eyes and facial expressions are the key to communication,
if you hide these, there can be no real communication. Therefore,
wearing burke or the nighab must be banned at the workplace.
I believe that
the question of trust and identity goes further than the workplace.
It is just as important on the bus, in the park, in the recreation
ground, etc, that you can see the face of the person in your immediate
surroundings. Here it is the question of individual rights verses
the societal rights. There are instances where the society rightfully
decides to deprive certain individuals of certain rights for the
benefit of society as a whole. For example, banning smoking in public
places and imposing severe restrictions on smokers, limits the individual
rights of smokers, but it is defended on the basis of health benefit
for the whole society. Burke or the nighab must be banned for the
benefit of society.
argued above, that the veil is a symbol and a tool for women's subjugation
and degradation. This is one of the main reasons for demanding that
it be banned for underage girls. Nevertheless, we agreed that in
a free society an individual has the right to choose servitude,
if he/she chooses to do so. However, we also argued that there are
certain limitations imposed on self-harming practices by individuals.
Female circumcision, which after a long and hard battle became known
as what the practice really is, being female genital mutilation,
is now banned by many Western governments. Women rights activists
had to fight vigorously in order to bring consciousness about this
brutal religious practice and succeeded to ban it in these countries.
There are many different religious sects and not all their practices
are permitted by the law. Therefore, religious freedom does not
mean freedom to practice just any religious command or custom.
I believe that
burke or the nighab should also be categorized as those religious
practices prohibited by the law. Burke or the nighab deprives a
woman of any identity. By allowing its use, we recognize the existence
of some identity-less women who walk around in a ghost-like shape.
This is a real insult to human dignity. Society should not permit
such degree of degradation and humiliation of humans. This is outrageous.
This must fall under the category of the limitations society imposes
on self-harming practices. I add in passing that I doubt deeply
the nature of voluntary and free choice regarding the veil, particularly
in this severe shape. But we will not get into this debate here.
We should redefine
the veil. We should debate this question widely and openly. Hopefully,
we come to the agreement that certain limitations must be imposed
on the veil: banning of all shapes of the veil for underage girls.
The use of the veil at public workplaces and educational institutions
and total ban on burke and the nighab.
Republished: March 30, 2007
Azar Majedi Site
Women's Liberation Iran (Azadi