Liberal Grace

Friday, October 20, 2006

Unveiling my feelings about veils

The Muslim veil is, once again, controversial. As a liberal Christian, I'm surprised at my own ambiguity about it.

Most recently because of statements by Jack Straw. 'Remove full veils' urges Straw

But it's not a strictly Muslim vs west conflict as this article shows;

Muslim preacher threatened with death in veil row

Cairo: A female Muslim preacher has been threatened with death for declaring that the niqab (a veil which covers the whole face except for the eyes) is not obligatory.

Suad Saleh, a famous TV preacher and a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at the University of Al Azhar, infuriated Islamists when she told a television programme that wearing the veil was a Bedouin tradition before the emergence of Islam in the seventh century.

"There is no unequivocal text in the Holy Quran that women must cover their faces," she told the private satellite channel TV Dream.

"Meanwhile, the Sunna [the Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) traditions] show it is legal for women to uncover the face."

An angry male preacher told a mosque congregation in Giza, south of Cairo, that he was ready to kill Saleh for her claim. The man was arrested and quizzed over his alleged threat.


As I thought about bogging this subject, I surprised myself with my own personal ambiguity about it.

As a liberal, I think people should be able to wear pretty much anything they want, within respect for common decency. So, I think a Muslim woman should be legally allowed to wear a veil and decent citizens should show her no prejudice for doing so.

However, I understand that garb and religious symbols do matter.

I'm not the only one who's divided about this A couple days ago, Gulf News ran a poll which showed that even in a country where veils are normal, the population is divided on what it means.

Is the veil covering the fce a 'mark of seperation'? Even in the Gulf, it's a 50/50 split!

Very often, garb and symbols do separate people from society. It can even be the main purpose. Take tattoos and body piercing - my sense is that people do this to differentiate themselves from mainstream society.

And, despite my liberal tolerance, I believe the veil is a symbol of separation. Wearing a veil puts one in "purda" which, by its very definition, is separation.

It strikes me as contradictory for a woman in purda to also demand full access to all aspects of society.

I believe that legally women should allowed to wear a veil pretty much anywhere that exposure of the face is not needed. I'm also for accommodation of veils in places such as air ports, since it would be a pretty minor thing to have some sort of screen where a female official could check a photo ID with a face.

However, I think it is totally reasonable for businesses to have dress codes that exclude religious or other highly distinctive garb. I think the compromise on this very complex subject is to write dress-code rules so that not just Islam is excluded. As an illustration, I've matched garb from various religions with specific professions.



I think it should be perfecty legal for people to dress according to their religious convictions even if it strikes others as strange or frightening. But it would be very unreasonable to require that businesses be forced to hire them if the garb conflicts with the position.

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