FaithWorld

GUESTVIEW: Out of our hair and away from our pants!

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Sarah Sayeed is a Program Associate at the Interfaith Center of New York and a board member of Women In Islam, Inc.burkiniBy Sarah SayeedAs an American Muslim woman who adheres to religious guidelines on modest dress, I find it ironic that such remarkably different nations as Sudan and France seem similarly preoccupied with legislating Muslim women’s dress.   The Sudanese government recently arrested and whipped women, including Christian women, for wearing trousers.  The French banned a woman wearing a head-to-toe Muslim bathing suit (a “burkini”) from entering a town pool.
(Photo: Australian lifeguard Mecca Laalaa in her burkini, 13 Jan 2007/Tim Wimborne)

Even if we were to give credence to an argument that pants are immodest for women, there is no injunction in the Quran or any example from Prophet Muhammad which demands corporeal punishment for “inappropriate” dress. Such a harsh practice completely contradicts the justice and compassion that Islam mandates.Likewise, the French ban on burkinis is outrageous.  Wearing the burkini has given me the freedom to enjoy water sports with my son; it has not limited me, but rather enhanced the quality of my life.  But now, I worry that other public pools will follow suit.  In recent years, France banned religious symbols in public schools, including the headscarf, and denied citizenship to a Muslim woman who wears a face veil.  Will this disturbing trend spread across other democratic nations?France and Sudan are miles apart geographically, politically, and culturally.   Yet both countries have imposed on the personal freedom of Muslim women to dress as they choose, and ultimately, to participate in the public sphere.  Sudan’s choice to impose corporeal punishment is far more egregious, relative to banning a woman from entering a pool.  For the average person, Sudan’s actions seem barbaric, but in a way, unsurprising because they conform to a prevailing stereotype about Islamic law as harsh and oppressive to women.But because French laws are enacted in a context which purports more openness, plurality and freedom, they could be more harmful to the cause of global freedom and democracy.  France perceives itself as a free country that allows its citizens to practice the religion of their choice.  France, like other Western European countries or the United States, would want Muslim nations to “look up to it,” to learn from its example how to separate religion and state.  However, the French ban on head covers, face covers, and now on pool attire suggests that religious freedom is bounded, even within a democratic context.volleyballIt is true that the ban on headscarves emerged out of a debate among French Muslims.  Specifically, one group of Muslims felt that their freedom of choice and conscience were imposed upon when other Muslims insulted and physically harassed girls who were not wearing a scarf.  The former turned to the government for assistance.  Out of its sense of responsibility to maintain public order, the government banned all religious symbols in public schools.  But preserving the freedom of conscience of one party need not come at the expense of freedom of religious practice of another.  There are other methods of resolving such conflicts, including prosecuting harassment and attacks as hate crimes, imposing strict penalties on perpetrators, and even community mediation.
(Photo: Palestinian girls play beach volleyball at Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, 20 \june 2009/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

French authorities also voiced a concern that loose fitting swim gear that “can be worn in public may carry molecules and viruses that can be transmitted to other bathers.”  Even though most Muslim women are unlikely to wear the burkini anywhere else, surely a shower before entering the water and the chlorine of a public pool can be counted upon to take care of these dangerous “molecules and viruses!”  A deeper mistrust of Muslims emerges in Mayor Kelyor’s statement that to permit the burkini is to “go back in civilization.”  Muslim women’s practice of modesty poses a threat to French notions of progress just as Sudanese Muslim women’s choice to wear pants was also deemed threatening.Ultimately, authorities in Sudan and France conveyed a parallel message.  To democracy’s nay-sayers in the Muslim world, France communicated that those who practice Islam will be marginalized.  To Islam’s nay-sayers Sudan confirmed the interpretation that Islamic law is an oppressive and restrictive.  Both have infringed upon the rights of minority groups within their respective contexts.Governments and political movements worldwide, from Turkey to Afghanistan, from France to the U.K, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia, all are inappropriately focused on controlling Muslim women’s dress. It is surprising that even within nations that uphold individual freedom, democracy and the separation of religion and state, governments seem to be anxious about Muslim women’s attire. Would governments ever legislate that men who wear beards may not become citizens and those who wear fitted pants should be whipped?  I say to these governments: get out of our hair, and stay away from our pants! Instead, what government must do is to protect the freedom of Muslim women to choose our dress.  Protecting choice guarantees human dignity and maintains fairness.  Ultimately, the preservation of democracy as well as the practice of Islam depends on it.———————The burkini (aka “burqini”), which first appeared in Australia, has also been banned in at least one Dutch swimming pool.Following is a Reuters video report on the recent “burkini ban” in France –

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

Religion, poverty and strife: what comes first?

An uprising by a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria may ostensibly have been about religion, but such bloodletting will recur unless underlying issues of poverty, unemployment and education are addressed.

West African Islam is overwhelmingly moderate and northern Nigeria is home to a powerful political elite, yet militant cleric Mohammed Yusuf was able to establish a cult-like following. Yusuf’s sect, Boko Haram, wanted sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation. Its name means “Western education is sinful”.

But the support Yusuf drummed up — from illiterate youths to professionals who quit jobs and families to join him — came as much from frustration with what is seen as a corrupt and self-serving political establishment as from pure religious fervour.

Muslims angry at German soccer club over song

German Muslims have inundated one of the country’s top soccer teams, Schalke 04, with complaints about a verse in the club’s anthem which, they say, is disparaging towards the Prophet Mohammad.

The club has its home in Gelsenkirchen in Germany’s industrial heartland and immigrants make up about a third of the town’s population. Most of them have a Turkish background. Germany’s biggest mosque was opened in nearby Duisburg last year and many Schalke supporters are Muslims, as chat rooms like this one point out.

The lines in question are: “Mohammad was a Prophet who doesn’t understand football” although the words that follow seem positive: “But from all the beautiful colours he came up with blue and white.” Schalke’s colours are blue and white.

Could gagged Mumbai confession do more good than harm?

hindux1A crucial part of gunman Mohammad Ajmal Kasab’s hindu-articleconfession at the Mumbai attack trial has been censored by the judge on the grounds that it could inflame religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India. After stunning the court on Monday by admitting guilt in the the three-day rampage that killed 166 people, Kasab gave further testimony on Tuesday that included details about his training by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group on U.S. and Indian terrorist lists.

The front-page report in today’s The Hindu, which noted the judge’s gag order in its sub-header, put it this way:

Ajmal made some crucial statements on Tuesday as part of his confession. They pertained to the purpose of the attack as indicated by the perpetrators and masterminds and the message they wanted to send to the government of India. Ajmal also wanted to convey a message to his handlers. However, this part of his confession faces a court ban on publication.

Saudi film festival cancelled in setback for reformers

saudi-film-festival1Saudi Arabia’s only film festival has been cancelled, dealing a blow to reformist hopes of an easing of clerical control over culture that had been raised by the low-key return of cinemas in December.  In a country where movie theatres had been banned for almost three decades, the annual Jeddah Film Festival — started in 2006 — presents aspiring Saudi film makers and actors with a rare opportunity to mingle with more experienced peers from other countries. (Photo: Jeddah Mayor Adel Fakieh speaks at Jeddah film festival, 18 July 2007/Susan Baaghil)

But the Jeddah governorate informed festival organisers late on Friday, just before its planned opening on Saturday,  that this year’s festival was cancelled “after it received instructions from official parties. We were not told why,” said Mamdouh Salem, one of its organisers.

Many religious conservatives in the kingdom believe films from more liberal Arab countries such as Egypt could violate religious taboos. Some also view cinema and acting, as a form of dissembling, as inconsistent with Islam.

Russia’s Medvedev calls on muftis to combat extremism

medvedevRussian President Dmitry Medvedev, battling a low-level Muslim insurgency in Russia’s south, has met Muslim leaders and asked them to spread a message of tolerance to combat Islamist extremism.

Medvedev met 12 muftis, Muslim spiritual leaders, from across the country on Wednesday in the pre-revolutionary Congregational Mosque in central Moscow, said by Muslims to be one of the oldest in European Russia. (Photo: President Medvedev (L) and Chief Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin in Moscow, 15 July 2009/RIA Novosti)

Although the Kremlin has calmed the province of Chechnya by installing a strong local leader, violence has flared in other areas of the volatile, poverty-ridden North Caucasus. Killings of police and local officials are on the rise.

from Global News Journal:

Sex education again in Malaysia, thanks to the courts

By Niluksi Koswanage

Gay Austrian fashionista Bruno will not be making an appearance on Malaysia's screens this summer for fear of corrupting this mostly-Muslim nation's youth.

But Malaysia's parents will still not have it easy as the country's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim  is again on trial for sodomy in a re-run of a 14-month case that in 1998 generated endless sexually explicit headlines and questions from curious children.

Photo: Anwar enters Kuala Lumpur courtoom with wife Wan Aziza Wasn Ismail for his sodomy trial on July 15/ Reuters (Zainal Abd Halim)

Islamophobia in Germany? Berlin wakes up after outcry over killing

German politicians have woken up to the potential fallout from the bloody killing in a Dresden courtroom of a 31-year-old Egyptian mother which has unleashed anger in the Islamic world.

It took Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has talked much about boosting the integration of Germany’s roughly 3.5 million Muslims, several days to condemn the killing, perpetrated by a German of Russian origin suspected of being a neo-Nazi.

dresdenSuddenly, the government is trying to soothe tensions to avert a potential storm similar to the violence which erupted over Denmark’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. And less than three-months before an election, politicians are also worried about security — intelligence services say Germany is already a target due to its deployment of troops in Afghanistan.

Debating a burqa ban with a French MP — in English

f24-bothFrance 24, the French international television channel, invited me to debate the proposed ban on burqas and niqabs today with one of the parliamentary deputies leading the campaign. That’s me on the left. On the right is Jacques Myard, deputy for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party and a spirited defender of French interests. Myard wanted to ban full facial veils in France two years ago but could not muster enough support at the time. The mood in the National Assembly has changed since then and another deputy, the Communist André Gerin, got together 58 deputies from different parties to launch the inquiry that began work yesterday.

Here’s the video on the France 24 website. It’s about 20 minutes long. Myard presents the French case for banning burqas and niqabs very clearly. If you’ve read about this debate and can’t understand it, he is worth hearing to get a good feel for how many French people state the case for a ban.

Myard puts the debate squarely in the context of laïcité, the quintessentially French way of separating church and state. That separation is such an important principle in Western countries that even the Vatican — history’s big loser in this debate — now supports it. However, this principle is interpreted in different ways in different countries.

Rabat bets on better imams to counter extremist Islam

marrakech-mosqueMorocco has shifted from mass arrests to tight surveillance in its fight against Islamic militants and hopes a new campaign to reinforce the authority of state-appointed imams will cut off support for jihadism.

As militants reach a growing audience through DVDs and the Internet, the government has tried to seize back the initiative, revising laws governing mosques and adding new theological councils to tighten control of religious life in the regions. (Photo: Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech at sunset, 7 Jan 2005/Tom Heneghan)

Now it is preparing to send 1,500 supervisors into the north African country’s towns and villages to make sure that imams are preaching the moderate local version of Islam and respect for King Mohammed in his role as leader of Morocco’s Muslims.