| ||Taj Hargey, of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford (MECO) wades into the burqa debate with a letter published in The Times today. |
‘Sir, While I oppose Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing and pro-American agenda, I commend the French leader for questioning the validity of full-face veiling for Muslim women.The Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford (Meco) has championed the unequivocal right of Muslim women not to wear either the hijab (headscarf) or face covering (niqab/burka) in the light of pristine Koranic teachings.’
And what of the ‘unequivocal right’ of Muslim women to wear the hijab (headscarf) or face covering (niqab/burka) if they choose to do so? Will MECO champion this too?
Oddly, Hargey writes that 'Muslim women should be at liberty to decide what to wear' while at the same time he applauds the French President who has said that the burqa should have no place in French society. Confused? Well Hargey certainly seems to be.
‘For too long a foreign-inspired Muslim clergy that defends female inferiority and gender discrimination has subjected Muslims in the West to virulent indoctrination. This brainwashing stems from the Middle East and South Asia but has no Koranic foundation. It is propagated by nefarious factions, including the hardline Wahhabi-Ikwani-Salafi- Deobandi sects.
‘These currently ascendant sexist groups in Europe peddle the myth that full body covering and face concealment for women is a religious requirement. On the contrary, it is nothing more than a cultural choice, a personal preference. The mullahs fail to tell their flocks that nowhere in Islam’s transcendent text is there any mention of the word burka or niqab. Since the Koran declares itself to be immutable and that nothing has been omitted from the scripture (vi, 38), why is there a need for latterday misogynists to impose a draconian dress code that is not specifically sanctioned by the holy book? Other than calling for public modesty of both sexes, Islam’s sacred scripture does not prescribe any specific sartorial code.’
It’s easy to stoke up critics of the burqa by claiming the practice is of ‘foreign origins’ and that British Muslim women, if freed of the control of 'foreign clergy', would adopt no such thing. The argument was similarly used during the hearings of the Stasi Commission by those who sought to argue on behalf of French Muslim women that they were forced into covering by scholars who were neither French nor cognizant of French cultural mores.
The argument is without foundation, particularly since those women who defend their right to determine ‘modest dress’ in ways that suit them, in Britain as well as in France, reject the very inference of an external, controlling, factor (scholar, father, brother, etc.). Many defended their choice of dress as just that, their choice. So, back to the primary question, will MECO champion the unequivocal right of women to wear either the hijab (headscarf) or face covering (niqab/burka)?
Hargey’s second line of attack is the Muslim clergy’s ‘reli[ance] on secondary sources, particularly the hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) to support their questionable theological views, including the need for women to hide their faces. But it is a historical fact that the hadith, many of which are suspect or spurious, were compiled about 250 years after the death of the Prophet. Clearly, where these human statements conflict with the divine text, they have no legitimacy.
‘While Muslim women should be at liberty to decide what to wear, they have to be truthful and say that they are upholding cultural mores and tribal traditions when they veil their faces. They cannot honestly claim that this trendy fad, which evokes understandable fear and negativity in European society, is a koranic imperative or a religious duty.’
Quite apart from the fact that sources of religion for Muslims include both the Qur’an and the hadith, Hargey contradicts himself in claiming that women cannot apply a religious defence to their choice of dress.
‘Islam’s sacred scripture does not prescribe any specific sartorial code’
If the scripture lays down no ‘specific code’ on what grounds does he then argue that ‘They cannot honestly claim that this trendy fad… is a koranic imperative or a religious duty’?
Surely, in the absence of a specific sartorial code the interpretation of verses exhorting modest dress are left open? It is why there are such variances in the ways that Muslim women dress, some in hijab, some in a burqa, some in neither.
Hargey claims that, ‘Only with the emergence of an indigenous British Islam that is faithful to the uplifting tenets of the faith in restoring the Koran’s total primacy will there be advances in the status of Muslim women in Britain. This naturalised Islam firmly rejects the fabrications and fallacies of a Saudi-funded clergy and will expedite effective Muslim integration into the British mainstream.’
Sadly for Hargey, the burqa is very much a part of ‘indigenous British Islam', as a Telegraph article today remarks.
He will also be disappointed to find that few Muslims will follow his advice and dispense with the Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet) as a source of religious authority. Hargey may well attempt to ground his reasoning on his presumption that ‘many hadiths are suspect or spurious’, but British Muslims are more interested in his engaging with the many thousands of hadith that are authentic.
Hargey’s ‘naturalised Islam’ appears more like a ‘nationalised Islam’, and while he carps on about ‘foreign clergy’, and their mistaken attitudes, he overlooks the unscholarly, disingenuous outpourings of ‘clergy’ closer to home.
Islamophobia Watch also has a piece on Muslims - the usual suspects - that have been rolled out to reinforce the notion that Sarkozy’s comments are ‘brave’.
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