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Sultana's Dream
August 2012


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Reflections of a 'Trouble Maker'    

On a recent Sunday program on Channel 7, there was a story on women in Australia wearing the niqab. The story itself wasn’t overly sensationalised as often happens when the media discusses Muslim women’s dress and other issues. Channel 7 did however, interview Mona Eltahawy, an outspoken American - Egyptian writer, who is overly critical of the niqab and was a vocal supporter of banning the burqa during the ongoing debates in Europe over the last few years.

Ms Eltahawy argues that women are encouraged to cover so that men can go about their day without being constantly ‘tempted’. She says that it’s men who should be blindfolded if they can’t control themselves. 

The idea that men can’t control themselves is of course a gross over generalisation and one that reflects badly on our husbands, fathers, brothers and sons and I don’t swallow this line of argument for a minute.

We have all read about horrific crimes against women who are covered, so the pro - niqab argument is all too ironical and falls apart. In recent times we have also seen a spate of honour killings in many Muslim majority countries, and sadly we all recently read about the poor, unnamed woman in Afghanistan who was brutally shot, whilst her alleged paramours went unpunished. I grieve for this unnamed woman who was someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. 

My issue about the Channel 7 program was not about whether or not women should wear niqab. I wanted to discuss the issue of whether discouraging women from wearing niqab (when it is not mandated in Islam) was the right thing to do. I mean, why encourage women to cover their faces in Australia?

So in order to ‘seek knowledge’, which we are urged to do in Islam, I put the question out on Facebook. Well, shock, horror! It seems impossible to have a rational debate or a normal conversation about women covering, or even ask questions about the topic, without being labelled ‘a troublemaker’ by some ultra conservatives. I found myself immediately pilloried by a small Brisbane group and became the target of a kind of hysteria that to me was unIslamic, made no allowance for rational discussion and was plain insulting to boot! Civility flew out the window! Many people tried to thrust down my throat clear misinterpretations of certain Qur’anic verses.

Nobody actually answered my original question; instead they attacked me personally as well as criticising women who don’t ‘cover’. And of course, poor Ms Eltawahy ‘copped’ her fair share as well.

So what did I learn from that experience? Well it showed me that some Muslims are not very tolerant of views that are different to theirs and that ‘sisterly love’ can disappear in the wink of an eye.

Muslims are taught that Islam is a religion for all time and all people; therefore we must insist on, and encourage thinking and debate without compromising on the fundamentals. However, we need everyone to feel their voice and opinions are being heard.

Siraat al-mustaqeem means ‘straight path’ – and they are words we read more than forty times a day in our prayers and in the first chapter of the Qur’an. The path is straight, but it isn’t narrow. As with any path we travel, we must ponder the route, take in our surroundings and make the best judgement on what we know and have learned to make our own decisions. 

Perhaps during Ramadan, the critics I encountered may reflect more deeply and come to understand that others opinions and decisions are just as legitimate as their own.

Yasmin Khan