Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
September 2011


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Salaam alaikum

Caught between a rock and a hard place. …Fed up talking about the burqa, yet ending up on the same old treadmill talking about the burqa! A garment used in Australia by a miniscule minority becomes tabloid fodder in a nasty uninformed debate that often smacks of bullying.

But in our first issue we promised not to bury our heads in our burqas, and to look at headcovers: the burqa, the niqab, the chador, the hijab—in all their glory or infamy—depending on your point of view. The French legislation has come and gone, an anti-climax in most respects.  

Certainly the least interesting feature about Australian Muslim women is the headcover. The only thing good about the burqa ‘debate’ is that it turns the hijab into a chic fashion item like a beret or a cloche hat… at least during winter. But for most of the year nobody listens when Muslim women complain that the annual hijab-burqa debate is boring and irrelevant.  

‘Once more with feeling:’ most Australian Muslim women do not ‘cover’; they don’t see it as a religious requirement; other women, however, do see it as a religious or cultural obligation—their opinion—their choice. There are also times when a headscarf serves as an identity symbol, like a T-shirt with a message. However, when your hijab-wearing sisters are being targeted you keep such arguments to yourself in the name of solidarity.  

Let me make one thing clear.  I have little time for the burqa. I’ve seen it imposed on women in Pakistan and Afghanistan and I know it for what it is. But in Australia I classify the burqa somewhat paradoxically along with the bikini. There are ‘burqa babes’ and ‘bikini babes’—women who cherish an ‘über’ modesty and women who bare everything, except their souls. If a law were passed banning burqas in planes, banks and bowling alleys, I wouldn’t march on parliament. But I don’t swallow for one minute that all these male ‘pollies’, tabloid journalists and talk-back shock jocks have become feminists overnight.   

Anti-burqa tirades force burqa clad women to keep on wearing the garment even if they are toying with the notion of removing it … and I ask myself does it really matter? Just because it’s an issue in France and Belgium doesn’t mean it has to become an issue here. The recent NSW legislation requiring women who wear burqa or niqab to reveal their faces when their identity needs confirmation is not an unfair law; obeying the law of the land is a requirement for Muslims.  

And now, allow me to indulge a little nostalgia: Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and even the Queen were all ‘hijabis’ in their day. Chiffon scarves floated in the breeze as they drove around in their convertibles with Gregory Peck or William Holden—not Her Maj. of course! Dame Edna Everage, international celebrity now, but late of Moonee Ponds, is a woman some people might say should be forced to wear a burqa. 

But on to more serious matters…


Recently we’ve had a spate of overseas visitors assuring audiences that Islam is taking over Europe and the next stop is Australia. The new slogan is Islam v. The Enlightenment. Tabloid media and talk back radio assertions that Australian Muslims want Sharia Law are untrue but damnably effective. A handful of Muslims, with huge egos and small intellects, are courted by the tabloids to spout their nonsense. I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that all this ‘Sharia activity’ is happening at a time when the United Nations General Assembly may soon vote on whether to recognise a Palestinian state. Portraying all Muslims in general as inherently dangerous is such a useful distraction from real problems and legitimate grievances in specific countries.  

Media stereotyping is not confined to Australia. “When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become ‘Asian’”, a Muslim student explained to a UK journalist in the wake of the riots that spread to Birmingham in July when many Muslims defended local shops and community centres, Muslim properties and non-Muslim properties alike, as rioters ran amok.


The High Court’s recent decision in finding the Australian Government’s proposed ‘Malaysian Solution’ unlawful under the Migration Act, and off-shore processing invalid, is a sharp reminder of how far both major parties have strayed in their efforts to pander to cheap populism and vote chasing. The whole sorry business of off-shore processing with non-signatories to the UN Refugee Convention is in abeyance—at least for the moment. We need a rational asylum seeker policy that hasn’t been infected by irrational fear of the ‘Other’.

We hope you enjoy our second issue and thank you for your support. You may now subscribe directly to our magazine.

For anyone joining us for the first time who may have missed our inaugural May issue, please enter our Archives where the rationale for Sultana’s Dream, plus some wonderful articles are all there for you to read. 

A belated Eid Mubarak to everyone,

Hanifa Deen
September 2011