“In a Jan. 23 interview with ‘Avvenire’ (the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops” Conference) the influential Jesuit Islamicist, Khalil Samir, said that ‘the headscarf is just the tip of the iceberg of a radical proposal to refuse the integration (of citizens) and, in the face of crisis of secular and Christian Europe, reintroduces Islam as a global, religious and political alternative.'” This from Chiesa, with thanks to Nicolei:
ROMA — Starting Feb. 3 the French Parliament will examine and vote on a law proposed by the Jacques Chirac administration which aims at banning the wearing of religious symbols in public schools.
The law proposal states: “In public schools, colleges and high schools it is forbidden to wear symbols or dress by which students ostentatiously (“ostensiblement” in French) reveal their associations with religious groups or creeds.”
It is not only the Islamic headscarf (or “veil”) that is forbidden, but also Christians crosses of certain sizes, the Jewish kippah, sikh’s turbans, and even “a certain shagginess of hair”, which according to the minister of education, Luc Ferry, is equal to long beards grown as prescribed by Muslim law.
But the Islamic headscarf is at the heart of the controversy. It is the headscarf which inspired the law proposal. Among those against the French law is Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris.
Even John Paul II from Rome gave his indirect disapproval In his Jan. 12 speech to the Diplomatic Corps to the Holy See he condemned forms of secularity which act under the guise of “secularism”.
Cardinal Mario F. Pompedda, prefect of the Apostolic Signature and thus the highest legal authority in the Holy See, said in the Jan. 29 issue of the Italian daily, “il Giornale”, that the French prohibition of the headscarf is a patently clear example of wayward secularity, calling it “a principle of freedom converted in a refusal of liberty to individuals”; or worse still, that is has been transformed into ” life-dominating sort of divine rule.”
However, not all Catholics see things with the same eye. In a Jan. 23 interview with “Avvenire” (the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops” Conference) the influential Jesuit Islamicist, Khalil Samir, said that “the headscarf is just the tip of the iceberg of a radical proposal to refuse the integration (of citizens) and, in the face of crisis of secular and Christian Europe, reintroduces Islam as a global, religious and political alternative.”
Behind the headscarf’s symbolic nature –added Fr. Samir — “is a pretence to model society based on Islamic ideals, even using multiculturalism as a Trojan horse to permit the dissemination of political correctness.” The French government does well to “to put a check on Islam’s radical tendencies” and to defend “that form of secularity which the French believe to be an inalienable and well-established national heritage.”
Fr. Samir’s same concerns are growing also among Muslims who are adverse to extremist tendencies.
The president of Cairo’s University of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, said that Muslim women living in a non-Islamic state which bans the headscarf are free from the religious constraint of wearing it.
In France, while thousands of women protested against the law proposal, the Mufti of Marseilles, Soheib Bensheikh, accused them of acting like “those fake religious people who use secularity as a Trojan horse to favor obscurantist and political Islamism.”
Yet isn’t the woman’s headscarf an inherent obligation in Muslim religion? And if not so, why is it worn? It is first necessary to answer these questions before the topic can be further discussed. The following is a what an Algerian-born, Muslim professor of Islamic studies at the University of Trieste and Urbino, Khaled Fouad Allam, wrote in the Jan. 22 issue of the “la Repubblica”. The article comes from a professor who has a wide following among ecclesiastic circles.
This piece was appended to Magister’s article. It doesn’t take sufficient note of the fact that whatever the covering was called, the idea that a woman must not venture out publicly with head uncovered is rooted in the Hadith:
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin [Mother of the Believers]: Asma, daughter of AbuBakr, entered upon the Apostle of Allah [Muhammad] (peace_be_upon_him) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 32, Number 4092).
Nonetheless, this piece contains much that is of interest.
Koranic Law Does not Impose the Headscarf
by Khaled Fouad Allam
Historically speaking, the “hijab” (or Islamic headscarf) has never represented any form of Islamic dogma, legal obligation or religious symbol, even if today the impression is such.
Jurists during the classical period of Islam — who when Muslim law was first formulated for the four great legal schools of Islam — never presented any theories on the headscarf. The celebrated jurist and founder of the Theological University of Fez in Morocco, Qayrawin (died in 996), spoke about the headscarf only in reference to prayer rituals, when women enter mosques to pray on Fridays. And the word he used was “khimar”, a veil covering women from head to toe. He never used the term “hijab”. It is the same with other authors of the period.
There is indeed an explanation for all this. Classical Islam jurists warned of the need to formulate legal theory concerning the headscarf or veil, simply because a woman’s medieval world was that of a cloister, where she didn’t leave home, leading her life within the borders of private property. And when she did venture out, which was rare, she had to do so with the authorization of a male figure — whether it be her father, husband or brother –and only under exceptional circumstances, as for some formal ceremony or pilgrimage.
The hijab in an invention of the 14th century, and it has not real basis in the Koran. In the Koran, “hijab” comes from the root “hjb”, which refers not to an object, but an action: wearing a headscarf, pulling down a curtain or screen or reducing light so as to prevent others from prying or looking in.
The change to the word “hijab”, from signifying an action to meaning an object, comes in the 14th century. The jurist, Ibn Taymiyya, was the first to use the word “hijab” to mean “headscarf”. It was a headscarf that distinguished Muslim from non-Muslim women. It came to distinguish a woman’s identity and religious association.
Ibn Taymiyya stated that a free woman has the obligation to cover herself with a headscarf, while a slave is not obliged as such He justified this based on a maximalist interpretation (cf. Koran, verse 21, sura 24), transforming the words of a generic statement into a principle, by giving it a binding or legal sense. Yet all this — and we do well to point it out — was still an interpretation, an interpretation which gave rise to a rule.
This change in language and social interpretation is a sign of crisis within the 14th century Muslim world: the end of the great Islamic empires and the invasion of Baghdad by a foreign power — the Mongols of Genghis Khan. The “ummah” (the community of believers) had to therefore face and struggle with what nowadays we call the principle of “otherness”. This posed the same problem then as it does nowadays: today”s Muslims now must cope with how to be themselves in a society dominated by non-Muslims. The headscarf is a sign of the Muslim community”s defensive reactions and focuses on legal norms not to create leeway for freedom of expression, but rather to establish a form of control — on Islam itself.
Therefore it is no coincidence that Ibn Taymiyya (died 1328) is a daily point of reference in neo-fundamentalist language.
However the decisive change for the “hijab” in terms of meaning and law occurs in the 20th century, especially in its last fifty years. In Muslim countries, following the period of decolonization, the processes of modernization create great difficulties for traditional societal structures and institutions. Two unprecedented phenomena occur: literacy of the masses and women going to school, work and out from their homes. The outside world is added to their main world of reference.
In the face of such social changes, many exegetes in Islam have reacted in neo-conservative ways, creating a legal system legitimizing and prescribing the use of the hijab The headscarf thus becomes a distinct symbol of Islamic identity and separation between sexes. The headscarf’s introduction and use into public areas indeed favors the creation of a gender barrier, which today is not limited to the headscarf itself, but in some other countries has given rise to an actual division of space, even in public transport vehicles (e.g. some neo-fundamentalist-minded architects have drawn up ideas for separate elevators for men and women). Thus public space, instead of sanctioning a principle of equality, focuses on sexual discrimination.
However, all these changes in the headscarf’s use and practice is joined to that which is a constant in the customs and norms of Muslim society: the dichotomy between the pure and impure, and prohibition as a basis for Islamic law.
The frequent emphasis in sacred texts — that women mustn’t do anything to look at other men and draw attention to themselves, hence covering up their figures — has indeed led the collective Muslim unconscious to associate femininity with lust. In this way women have become synonymous with the chaos and disorder attributed to vice. Hence with women there is always the imminent risk of committing acts of impurity. Due to their reproductive role, women are invested with a certain sacred nature. Therefore, breaking the rule — that is say, showing themselves off — means contaminating their original purity.
This taboo spells for a puritan society and articulates a legal system of control. Muslim societies are obsessed by issues of impurity; and the headscarf tends to symbolically preserve the bounds between the pure and impure.
Today the headscarf takes on the meaning of an identity crisis. In addition to expressing the widespread malaise found in Islamic society, the headscarf conceals its changes and exacerbates people’s fears. Whoever wears it, especially in the West, does so because they are coerced or conditioned to do so or are claiming their rights and asserting free choices. There are many opinions, but they all defer to a series of unsolved conflicts: between Islam and the West, with Islam itself and between law and culture.