Historically, Muslim women have always been a topic of discussion by the media and countries around the world, with particular attention to dress code. It reached extremes when some countries started banning the Hijab and Niqab by law. Numerous incidents have caused outrage about the banning of religious head coverings.
Why? Because it directly infringes on a person’s right to practice their religion freely.
Why do Muslim Women observe Hijab?
In an article published by Striving for Modesty (Why do Muslim Women observe Hijab), it is explained that Hijab should be observed by both Muslim men and Muslim women as it is a commandment from Allah (SWT). It is a symbol of Modesty and represents ones Islamic identity. An aspect that forms part of Hijab is the observing of Niqab. Observing Niqab is a practice fulfilled by Muslim Women. While Islamic scholars have differences of opinion on whether it is obligatory or not, most agree that it is an Act of Piety.
Countries that have banned religious head covering including Hijab and Niqab
One of the most famous incidents involving the banning of Hijab took place in France, where it was the first European country to introduce a blanket ban on wearing burkas in public. This became law in 2011 and included the banning of Niqab. Since then other countries including, Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Netherlands, China, Sri Lanka, and Switzerland, have passed laws banning the wearing of face veils.
Last year, on January 1, 2022 at Government PU College in Udupi, an incident occurred where six female students claimed that they were not allowed to enter classrooms wearing hijab. This sparked outrage around the world, and many participated in Human Rights protests.
How do these bans and enforcements of Hijab written into these countries’ laws violate the rights of Muslim women?
Tolerance-Respecting the beliefs and opinions of others. Not judging. Being kind. Being sincere. These are the things that come to my mind when I think of tolerance. In the current world that we live in, we are constantly surrounded by people of different faiths and cultures than us and the best way to get along is through tolerance. I actually used to not like the world tolerance. I always felt that I didn’t need people to tolerate me because I’m different, just be respectful. Now though, I’ve come to the realization that the respect comes from them being tolerant. As Muslimeen, we are taught to be kind and respectful to all creatures, including those who do not share our faith. Unfortunately though, I think many people mix up tolerance and acceptance.
Acceptance indicates that you agree with the person’s opinions or beliefs. Tolerance means, yes I might not agree, but I will still treat you with respect and allow you to do as you please as long as you’re not inhibiting me. As Muslims, especially those who live among non-Muslims, it is not appropriate for us to ridicule the faith of others or treat them in an ill-mannered way simply because of their faith. We must remember that Allah(SWT) has told us
Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.” Q 109:1-6
Most Muslimeen probably have this sura memorized being that its one of the shortest, yet do we actually carry out it’s teaching? Yes we can and should be giving dawah to others but let’s try and remember that last line in the above surah-To you your religion, and to me mine.
Interestingly though, the concept of tolerance does not only apply to individuals of different faiths but those within the same faith as well. As Muslims, we’ve probably all encountered a fellow believer who is more observant than us or less observant or who doesn’t agree with everything that we do-there’s nothing wrong with realizing that. The question is how do we treat that person? Are we being tolerant? Are we being respectful of their opinions? There are some people who prefer not to deal with those who differ in opinion from them. My approach is different and mainly has a lot to do with my surroundings. I don’t expect people to agree with me on every religious thing, nor do I expect them to observe the way that I observe, though that would be ideal. I do not go out of my way to try to get people to accept the way I dress, to accept my decision to fully live by the Qur’an and Sunnah(and not by whims of society and the dunya), or to accept my opinions in general because at the end of the day, what I am doing only has an effect on them if they allow it to. I don’t have a problem explaining to people why I do the things I do but I do not and will not engage in a long conversation about about why I wear a jilbab or why I pray all the time if your only goal is to convince me as to why I’m wrong and not because you’re actually interested in my opinion.
Outside of close friends, I don’t discuss religious matters with people, especially when it comes to matters of differing opinion. In these times, many people are quick to claim that you’re judging them simply because you mention something that their actions may not be in accordance with. Usually though, its their inner self that’s reacting. By you mentioning something that they are in defiance of, there’s a guilt that they feel and instead of admitting it, it’s easier to attack and label you as being judgemental. I learned this about myself a while ago. When someone is teaching you something about the deen, reflect first before claiming that they are passing judgement on you. Also, there is a difference between having a different opinion from someone because the AUTHENTIC religious sources and scholars have presented that opinion and simply differing because it doesn't align with your ideals, your culture or what you want for yourself.
One of the things that Halima and I have both discussed numerous times is in regards to whether or not the religious opinions of others matter to us. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that the only individual whose opinions and observance need to be in alliance with ours are essentially our spouses because ultimately, they will be the one that we will be spending the most time with, their beliefs and actions will have an influence on our kids, and they will also have an influence on us. Some people often wonder about immediate family and dealing with their tolerance and acceptance-this is actually a subject that we recently received in an email about from a reader. Halima and I have repeatedly stressed the importance of family and kinship ties in Islam and how essential they are. With that being said, your approach with dealing with family members who observe differently from you is very important. Both Halimah and I have a similar approach though hers is slightly different being that her family are non-Muslims while mine are Muslimeen.
CONSIDERATIONS WHEN DEALING WITH TOLERANCE OF RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES...
THE ESSENCE OF YOUR OBSERVATION
I have been going back and forth on whether or I not I wanted to write on this subject because based on social media posts these last few weeks, it is a contentious subject. I am not giving any fatwas here but asking you to think clearly for yourself.
Living in a non-Muslim society, the holiday season is all around us. Stores hold Christmas sales, ABC Family runs their 25 days till Christmas special and every TV show has a Christmas episode before going on their Winter hiatus. Does being surrounded by Christmas mean you have to celebrate it though? Personally, I do not think that Muslims should celebrate the Christmas holiday or observe it in any way. I am not referring to simply wishing your neighbour Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays but going to the extent of putting up lights, decorating your household, having a tree and exchanging gifts.
When you observe Christmas, examine what it is you are celebrating. You are either celebrating the birth of Isa(AS) whom Christians believe is the Son of God or you are celebrating the pagan tradition of the Winter Solstice(which is actually what Christmas is derived from). Yes there are some people who argue that Isa (AS) is a prophet in Islam as well so there is nothing wrong with celebrating his birthday. While this claim might sound accurate you must remember that first, Isa(AS) was not born in December and that Christmas is not observed because he is recognized as a prophet or else Christians would observe the birth of other prophets. The birth of Isa(AS) is observed because of the beliefe that he is the Son of God, a belief that does not align with Islam and is seen as an example of shirk. Therefore when you are celebrating Christmas, regardless of how secular you consider it to be, you are commemorating the observance of shirk. Besides, surely if it was ok to celebrate the birth of Isa(AS), prophet Muhammad(SAW) would have endorsed the practice and made it a part of his Sunnah. Also, if Muslims are not supposed to celebrate the birth of any other prophets, including Muhammad(SAW), why would the commemoration of Isa(AS) be permissible.
Growing up in the US, my immigrant family did celebrate the Christmas holiday. As a child, I really did not understand why and one day decided to ask. I was told it was because it was an American thing and my parents did not want us to feel left out from all of the other kids in school. This is an argument that I have heard from mainly immigrant Muslims as to why they choose to observe Christmas with their families, for them it is seen as a method of assimilation. While the idea of not wanting your child to feel left out can be commendable, why is it that this is the one aspect of American culture that is chosen to be observed. My parents did not have us celebrate Halloween, Valentine’s Day, or Easter yet those are also ‘American’. Instead of observing Christmas so that your child does not feel ‘left out’, why not just teach them about why Muslims don’t observe the holiday. I am sure that teaching your kids the reasoning behind not engaging in haram will be better for them than engaging in it simply for social purposes.
As Muslim women, we are often (InshaAllah) concerned with maintaining our modesty. The first form of modesty people often think of is how a person dresses. Indeed, we strive to wear loose clothing that does not accentuate the shape of our body and we wear the headscarf. Yet, there is also modesty in our interactions and our behavior. Particularly in regards to our interactions with men—both Muslim and non-Muslim. In this blog, I (Halimah) will share some valuable advice I adhere by and an experience from which I learned a valuable lesson,.
PPL: Public, Purposeful & Limited
Quite some time ago, Mufti Hussain Kamani, a Islamic scholar, gave a lecture about gender interactions where he encouraged Muslims to always abide by PPL when interacting with the opposite gender. First, always be in a public space surrounded by other people. This means avoiding small closed-off rooms or being alone anywhere with the opposite gender. Second, only interact for a purposeful reason. After a simple short “Hello. How are you?” we should not drag out conversations any longer unless we have a specific and necessary reason to talk. Third, interactions, if necessary, should be kept as short as politely possible. Since Muslimahs are advised to abstain from male companionship outside of marriage and immediate male relatives, there is really no reason for us to have repeated or extensive interactions with men. Now, I know that some young Muslimahs are of the personal opinion that it is okay to have male friends (Non-Muslim and Muslim), but I think it can be enlightening to for a person to step back and honestly analyze the nature and effects of such relationships. Occasionally, when I find myself trying to excuse or rationalize an opposite gender interaction, I ask “What would the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) do?” For truly, these women are our best examples of strong pious Muslim women. May Allah(SWT) make it easy for all Muslim sisters to maintain modesty.
For Muslimahs living, studying, and working in non-Muslim environments, we are surrounded by men, non-Muslim and Muslim. Our social gender values are often in direct contrast to what is permissible and “normal” for current Western society. Just think of shaking hands and hugs--a very common way of greeting others (strangers, acquaintances, and close friends). But, let’s save the “I am Muslim. I don’t hug boys so please refrain from touching me” bit for later.
Until my recent transition to an Islamic workplace, I studied and worked in American non-Muslim environments. This past summer, I was at a career training program where all the participants lived in university housing. We all were pushing ourselves almost 24/7 to make sure we produced high quality work. Almost immediately, everyone found their desired places in the campus residence hall that they preferred to work (or just socialize). There was a particular non-Muslim co-participant, let’s call him Henry, who I saw almost everyday because we had a similar summer job location placement and had similar evening work preferences. Over the first few weeks, due to structured training discussions and random chatting during work breaks, we got to know each other quite well. By the third week of the program, Henry would tell me things like “Halimah, I love our conversations. You get me. I don’t really let people get to know me this quickly, but our conversations are deep! We are both so real, you know? I know we are going to be friends for a while.” Then, Henry started asking to be my Facebook friend. Indeed, Henry was a great person. He was dedicated to his work and we had intense conversations about immigration, racism, and education/health disparities.
To be honest, our work schedules were so busy and everyone was so sleep deprived that I barely had time to stop and think about the nature and consequences of my actions. It was not until Henry asked me for my number so we could better coordinate late night work sessions in the university lounges that I started to think about the consequences. This was an obvious "red flag” for me. This same day, Henry told me “Halimah, I love hugging my friends and I don’t think I have ever hugged you so I am going to give you a hug.” STOP! STOP! OMG WHAT did I get myself into?!---this was the state of my internal panicking.
Immediately, I said “Henry, I am Muslim so I don’t hug or touch men who are not directly related to me. So don’t ever mention hugging me again please.” Now, as totally awkward as this could have become, Henry was rather cool about it and responded “Oh, okay. I respect that. Got it. I won’t try to hug you.” Now, with 'crisis averted' (yes, I consider males trying to hug me a crisis), I returned to my room early that day and began reflecting. I realized that I had broken so many of my usual strict gender interaction values. Of course even someone who generally adheres to PPL (Public, Purposeful, & Limited) could argue that there was always a ‘purpose’ to our interactions: sharing and giving feedback on each others program work. Yes, I suppose that is true, but this is where I had to ask myself if that these interactions and their purpose were absolutely necessary. After reflecting that day, I knew that I had to change my interactions with Henry. I stopped going to our common work lounges and instead opted to work in my room or another female friend’s room. I did not seek out Henry for any information/conversations. If Henry tried to engage me in conversations, I would politely but quickly exit the conversation after a few exchanges. This is what I call “shutting down a situation”: put an immediate halt to situations that impede on your Muslim modesty.
Some Muslimahs may agree with my drastic “shut down” of the situation while others may think I was overreacting. While each person is indeed entitled to his/her opinion, I think the truth of the matter is that Western expectations/norms for friendship between opposite genders do not align in anyway with the Islamic expectations for opposite gender interactions. For me, it always boils down to “Am I honestly handling myself in a way that would please Allah(SWT)?” If there is any uncertainty about being in the favor of Allah, then that action must cease.
May Allah(SWT) guide us all in our actions.
While there are many Muslims who live in Muslim countries, a large portion of the ummah live in environments that do not align with Islamic principles. The "Navigating Non-Muslim Society" section of SFC is geared towards discussing the challenges that occur in these situations.