We read the Holly Qur’an in Chapter 24: 35 that:
’Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things’
This article’s aim is in twofold, first it is in response to an ongoing debate currently affecting our community following a controversial decision to ban the Hijab by a school in the London Borough of Newham, which was overturned due to a huge outcry and pressure from parents, residents and local elected councillorsSecond, it addresses a recent controversial piece written by Nimko Ali, featured in the Ed-op pages of the Evening Standard (24/01/18) titled:
‘Hijab is Sexualising Children and School Heads are Right to Ban Them’
My Name is Sagal Ashour, I am neither a scholar, nor trained in Islamic jurisprudence. However, I am a Muslim woman who adheres to her faith and follows its tenets.
I grew up in the Western hemisphere and left my country as a refugee at the age of six. My identity is a mixture of Muslim, Somali, African, English and Danish. My faith is fundamentally central to my identity and I wear it proudly. I am also recognised activist, known across the world for my work in human rights, youth empowerment and peace-building. Lastly, I also run and lead a counter terrorism international organisation, consisting of young Somalis like myself, who have made it their job to counter violent extremism and violence of all kind, both nationally and internationally, including Somalia/land.
By now, you might be forgiven for asking – as to why I have given the readers a first –hand introductory of my identity and summary of my occupation and activism before I put my argument forward. However, as young women, I am uniquely affected by these issues and I feel I am best placed to provide a context and analysis that does justice to the subject matter.In every text, it is important to understand who the writer is, what her /his agenda is and what motivates their arguments and whether there is any underlying reasons or agendas they want to bring to the surface. This should also be applied to any text regardless of their subject matter-whether it’s pro or anti Islam or hijab.
What is Hijab and why do Muslim women/girls love to wear it?
Hijab is a protection;
Hijab is religious clothing just like any other form of religious wear such as a cross, kippah or turban. Hijab also serves a higher purpose of protection and inner-feeling of being safe. When I wear my hijab I feel comfortable within myself. I feel protected. It’s also my right to wear it, it’s my body to decide whether to cover it or not. It’s my right who can see my body, or not. No society can force upon me or my children (if I had any) what they can wear, or what they can’t wear. What clothes they should feel comfortable in or what clothes is appropriate for them.
Hijab as an identity:
My hijab is part of my identity. It makes me who I am. We are in a society where we promote individualism, and the right of the person to identify themselves with their religion, culture or way of life. A true democracy, takes pride in the right of the person to live freely to practice their religion or culture freely under the law.
Under this context, it is therefore puzzling how can anyone advance the argument to take away our religion identity? Who gave anyone the right to dictate what I or my children should identify with religiously? This question is perfectly relevant in Britain, which provides the legal framework for religious freedoms and coexistence between societies. It is not only preached, but also practiced in Britain, but I believe Britain has been a vanguard for freedom of religion under the law.
Hijab is a Personal purity:
Hijab protects me from harassment by the opposite sex. When I put on my hijab, I have already made the statement that I want you to address me as an equal person, don’t address my body or my figure, but look at my face and address me directly. If any other clothes made me feel the same way, I would wear it and I would expect the same equalrespect, and to be addressed directly for my knowledge, opinion and what I have to say rather than judging me on my body, or whether you are able to see it.
Hijab is my right:
Islamically, democratically and universally the Hijab is a form of religion identity, which is widely accepted agreed upon by all prominent Muslim scholars and societies across the world. Anyone who makes the argument to undermine or suppress the rights of Muslim women/girls to express themselves freely and identity with their faith would not only be underminingdemocracy andindividual liberty.
The school in Newham, who went back on its decision and the article in the Evening Standard( London-based Daily Newspaper) comparing hijab to sexualisation, and other groups who are pushing the same narrative, will only succeed in undermining freedom of expression, religion and democracy and above all our British values- if they are not challenged.
You cannot advocate for the empowerment of girls or women whether Muslim or otherwise by taking away the rights of others. Of course, there are many issues within our Muslim communities, just like any other community, which we need to address urgently. We must also create open platforms where people are given a chance to express themselves.
Mainstream media should not only cater for those who they agree with, but also provide different voices to the same issue, so their viewers and readers are given the option of a variety of opinions in order to make a balanced and fair reporting on critical issues.
Lastly, but most importantly, attacking the Muslim Hijab only serves and helps the extremists in our midst, to use it as a blueprint to radicalise and brain-wash more youth to take up arms and join un-Islamic holy wars in abroad or inside this country. This sort of rhetoric where you alienate and marginalise people only serves to push them further away on to the fringes of society. It disengages them and confirms their pre-existing perceptions.
Attacking the hijab doesn’t serve any positive purposes other than to cause more divide and friction within our society. We live in an unstable time, where people have a lot of prejudice and misconceptions of each other’s’ faith or belief system.
We all have the responsibility to ensure we close the gap and bring our communities together to understand each other’s religion, way of life, in order to share love, respect and peaceful co-existence of diverse and vibrant communities.