SPECIAL SERIE – Hijab : “In the Eye of the Beholder” [Part 1 – in France]

Added by Mahrukh Arif on 16 juin 2014. · 2 Comments · Share this Post

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*By Mahrukh Arif, Head of the English Editorial Board 

There is a famous saying in English that “Beauty lies in the Eye of the Beholder” (FN2) which means that beauty is defined by the one who sees it as beautiful. Thus, instead of being a universal concept, beauty remains a matter of individual perception.

But what is the importance of the Beholder for a woman who wears the Hijab? Apparently none, because the veil is worn as a symbol of modesty with the very purpose of not attracting the eye of the beholder. Yet, we see in our everyday life how this religious practice is judged and misunderstood by so many people. For some beholders, as soon as a woman is veiled, she is dependent, oppressed, anti-social, and willingly chooses to mark her inferiority over men. For others, the veil is a mark of some women’s choice, freedom of religion and conscience and therefore her independence. But the ones who can actually have a say in the matter are the veiled women themselves who are seldom given the opportunity to speak, to share their experiences, to tell how the eye of the Beholder have constantly perceived them and judged their choice, what they have been through for claiming the freedom to practice their faith and individual choice.

 Mahrukh Arif – 20, is a french student born in Paris :

« I chose to wear the Hijab »

“ I chose to wear the Hijab two years ago after a long moment of reflexion. As a practicing Muslim I knew that God has prescribed it to men and women in the Quran but I also knew that no body could impose it to me as “there is no compulsion in religion”(footnote). My mother had several times touched the subject with me but never forced me to wear it. I remember once saying that

“I will wear it when I will fully understand its purpose”.

The problem with the Hijab today is that I have seen many girls wearing it but very less understanding it. Hijab is actually a stage that you reach after bettering your moral standards. The prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – says “A true believer is he from whose tongue and hand other believers remain safe”. I have seen many veiled woman shouting out loud, abusing other girls, slapping each other, gossiping and mocking others in public transports and I have been really shocked. If your moral standards aren’t high, your veil will not fulfil its purpose and people will often misjudge it. Because these girls do not understand it themselves, others misunderstand it too.

Ever since I have chosen to wear it, criticism has always come my way. Some people told me “If Hijab is a symbol of modesty, why do they needmake-up like cover-girls?”, “Why do they need to wear eye-catching colours?”, “I have a Hijabi neighbour who keeps abusing everyone in the building, smokes and goes to parties but pretends to be religious”, “This girl right there was a s*** before, now she wears the Hijab and uses religion to redeem herself”, “This girl wears it because her father has forced her, he beats her up when she doesn’t, she cannot go out, she is completely dependent”. Every time such criticism of the practice of some, becomes a criticism of Islam. After having such conversations, so many questions came into my mind

“What does it have to do with my practice? I don’t wear much make-up? And so what if some chose to wear different colours? Isn’t that good? Aren’t they free? I don’t abuse people? I don’t wear it to redeem myself? I wear it because I understand its philosophy that’s why I chose it. But most importantly I thought “What the world does it have to do with Islam?”.

One must take some distance. The bad practice of some cannot be input on the account of the teaching itself. A bad student does not necessarily have a bad teacher.

If I had to share all my experiences within one year it could take a lifetime, so I will just focus on the ones who have marked me.

I am currently 20, soon turning 21 and getting into Masters. The past three years, I have been studying in Classes Préparatoires aux Grandes Ecoles Littéraires which prepares one to get into selective Schools of France. I always took the same bus to get there and come back from there. On my journeys, there was one French old man who always used to talk to me about politics, current affairs and issues related to our beloved country. I always told him how I was attached to this country because I was born there and grew up there. This country gave me everything but most importantly opportunities and education. It welcomed my hard-working and self-made parents from Pakistan where such opportunities are reducing every passing year.

Once, as I was getting in the bus with my Hijab I went sitting beside him to notice he didn’t give any answer to my “Bonjour”. I understood that he had a problem with my practice and returned home heartbroken. I never talked about it as it broke something in me. I thought “Does wearing something on my head changes me as a human being? Does it make me an anti-patriot? Does it make me unable to discuss, to have an opinion on current affairs? Does it make me ignorant?”. Anti-patriot yes, this is another criticism I have been through because as soon as you wear the Hijab you become an Arab for some people and anti-patriot.

Understanding the Hijab

Some Arab women themselves think that and to say the least, it embarrassed me more than anything. Some Arab women and even men in the bus randomly started to talk in Arabic with me and I replied “I am not Arab, I don’t understand” to which they would turn off their head. Such shocking assimilations were made that I sometimes got confused and shocked how people assimilate religion – a matter of individual and personal choice – politics, geopolitics and nationalities. I didn’t want to be part of any group, I didn’t want to be assimilated to anything. I am a French woman and a practicing Muslim, and I love everyone equally regardless of their faith, colour or nationality, that’s it.

Another criticism I am constantly confronted to is that the veil is a retrospective practice. It makes you an ignorant, non-educated,oppressed woman who cannot think by herself and constantly need a man to be defined. This is utterly wrong. On this specific matter, Tawakkul Karman, the first Arab and youngest nobel peace laureate set a beautiful example: when she was asked how her hijab is not proportionate with her level of intellect and education, she replied,

“Man in The early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilisation that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient TIMES.” (FN1)

As long as I am concerned, I know that Islam is the first ever religion who has not only provided women with so many rights but also the freedom to practice them. I wear the Hijab and I chose it, no one imposed it to me. My father has never raised a finger on me, let alone beat me up. My mother who is also a practicing Muslim is a working woman who has always taught us to be independent and rely on God instead of human beings. One of my brother is soon becoming a barrister and the other one has gone abroad. In fact, far from being oppressive, my father and my brothers tend to favour women and show indignation when their rights are violated. I belong to a practicing Ahmadi Muslim family which does NOT prevent me from loving my country, the people here and be integrated.

Of course, there are women who are forced to wear it and as a practicing, veiled woman I stand completely against it and fight against through the pen. I feel concerned by these women rights violations too and cannot tolerate it. Is it even on this basis that a law in France was voted to ban the veil. But is it fair for those who peacefully practice their faith? Extremists or as we wrongly call them today “Islamists” are a minority in Islam but unfortunately prominent due to the large media coverage they get. They have nothing to do with religion but rather mix up everything – religion, politics and financial interests. In France, as a response to this law, more and more women are wearing the veil as a symbol of protest, again not by understanding it but rather by rebelling against the system. The purpose of the law has not been successful at all and we, the ones who understand and practice it by respecting the law of the country are constantly targeted, misjudged and looked down upon. Some people have called me a hypocrite because according to the law of this country, I have to take out my veil before going into my school. Many girls who rebel against this have told me that I adopt the position of the hypocrite merely because I believe, as our prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has taught us that “loyalty to the country is part of the faith”.

I will never go against the laws of my country but I have the right to give my point of viewand my point of view is that this law is not conforming to our historical patrimony. France has always been recognised as the country that fought for individual rights, equal rights, women’s rights and most importantly individual freedom. Making a law banning the veil reduces the right and freedom of women who wear the veil by choice. It oppresses us, it makes us inferior as citizens insofar as it deprives us from individual freedoms and rights, the right to wear and dress however we want, to have our own beliefs. France defined freedom in such terms “The freedom of one ends where another’s begin”: how would a veil be harmful to someone’s freedom? How does it hurt them? How does it make them vulnerable? Thus, as much as I love my country and I am a law abiding citizen, I think that making a law on the basis of a piece of cloth is absurd, it excludes people instead of creating a sense of harmony in the society. We are all different, with different beliefs and different thoughts but in order to create harmony and a sense of unity in the society, we must make inclusive laws rather than excluding laws. It is sad that such a country with such noble principle chose to make a law banning the veil instead of teaching the society to live in harmony by accepting and enabling everyone to be free.

* After three years of Classes Preparatoires Litteraires and having graduated in English, Mahrukh Arif is now getting into Masters covering Religious Sciences. She is a regular contributor in other online medias, such as MENA Post or Youth ki Awaaz. She is one on the founding members of Cultures & Croyances and the Head of the English Editorial Board

Mahrukh can be contacted by email : mahrukh.arif@cultures-et-croyances.com | Twitter : @AMahrukh

Quotation :

Mahrukh Arif, « Hijab : “In the Eye of the Beholder” », in : www.cultures-et-croyances.com, Folder : English Side – Special Series

For further reading :

FN1: http://www.themuslimtimes.org/2012/04/countries/yemen/noble-laureate-from-yemen-tawakul-karman-responds-to-hijab#ixzz34eHvDOWK

FN2 :  Plato

2 Responses to SPECIAL SERIE – Hijab : “In the Eye of the Beholder” [Part 1 – in France]

  1. Pingback: SPECIAL SERIE – Hijab : “The Veil-Hidden Wonders” [Part 2 - in United Kingdom] | Cultures & Croyances

  2. Pingback: OPINION - The Veil and its Hidden Identity | Cultures & Croyances

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