Political Scarves

Opinion | Nicholas Latimer | February 2007

While for some, wearing the veil may be a matter of choice, for many this is heartbreakingly not the case.

First pushed to prominence in the 1920s by the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, the veil is clearly a political statement, not a fashion or religious one.

Thus the converts’ views quoted in the article "Austrian Muslims Take the Veil" [Vienna Review, Nov. 2006] come across as naïve, reminiscent of the idealized reactions of western visitors to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, who came home full of admiration for what they saw as a utopian socialist state.

The origins of the veil are explained in the Hadiths of Bukhari, regarded along with the author Muslim as one of the two most reliable transmitters of Mohammad’s words and life. Mohammad’s wives and concubines, it seems, were accustomed to going into the open air to answer the call of nature and did so without much covering. They were observed by Muslim men who asked Mohammad what should be done.  Mohammad considered for a while, had a ‘revelation’ and informed them that Allah had decreed that women should cover themselves. (Bukhari, Vol 6, Book 60, Number 203, explaining the verse on the veil in the Koran 33:59)  There was no reference to the responsibilities or behaviour of the men.

In many parts of Europe and the US, Muslim organisations offer large financial bribes to families to enforce cooperation. According to journalist Olivier Guitta writing in the British Weekly Standard, "some French Muslim families are paid €500 euros per quarter by extremist Muslim organizations just to have their daughters wear the hijab."

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan reported being approached. "In 1991, when I was relatively new to [the United States] and struggling financially," she said, "I was offered $1,500 a month by the Saudis to cover my head and attend a mosque."

In Britain, imams in Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham instruct their male congregation to strike girls who resist wearing head scarves. In a documentary Dispatches: Undercover Mosques, aired on Channel 4 on Jan. 15, 2007, an imam was recorded on tape saying, "By the age of ten, it becomes an obligation on us to force her to wear hijab, and if she doesn’t wear hijab, we hit her."

The veil issue is, however, not only about male control over women, it is about the extension of empire – as it were, Sharia law by stealth. This already exists in Muslim ‘enclaves’ in Britain and Europe.  The French government has released a list of 751 ‘no-go’ areas, where French law no longer obtains.  In these Muslim ‘enclaves,’ according to Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, indigenous French women and girls, faced with threats and violence from Muslim men, have taken to clothing themselves in Muslim manner to avoid harassment.

Wearing the veil is in fact part of a pattern that symbolizes the degredation of women in Islam. This autumn, the Iranian Ministry of Education released figures that over 300,000 women and girls in Iran had fled their homes: The average age of the girls was 9, and 86% of them had been raped and then rejected by their families.

The degradations suffered by females in Islamic societies are directly due to Koranic injunctions and supporting Hadiths and the Sunnah (Islamic law) – not, therefore, matters of primitive cultural mores which have strayed from the "true" faith.  For example, one of the first acts of the Ayatollahs in usurping power in Iran was to enact legislation which permitted men to marry children as young as 9, in direct imitation of Mohammad. Considered the ‘perfect man’ and template for all Muslims, Mohammed married Ayesha when she was 6, consummating the marriage when she was 9 and he was 54.

In Turkey, 57% of all women in a recent Turkey-EU poll reported that they believed their husbands were entitled to beat them. They take this directly from the Koran, 4:34 "…As for those [wives] from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them."

As Professor  Iqbal al-Gharbi of Zaytouna University, Tunis has warned:  "The veil is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the veil, there is the regressive interpretation of the Sharia.  There are three essential inequalities which define this interpretation:  inequality between man and woman, between Muslim and non-Muslim, between free man and slave."

These fears were confirmed in October by Islamic clerics visiting the Vatican. "In Islam," they told Pope Benedict, "only Allah has free will."

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