Hjiab Issues in Australia
"Salim Shamid" (Australia)
Subject: Hijab issues
Date: Wed, 31 Aug 2005 23:27:11 +1000
Attached are some letters to an article about hijab issues raised in Australia recently. It is interesting to note that a non Muslim wrote in to correct errors about wearing of hijab.
31 August 2005
These are the responses to an article that appeared yesterday. That article is also attached at the end of these letters.
Muslim women and girls who wish to wear the headscarf should be supported — but Iktimal Hage-Ali (Opinion 30/08) is quite wrong to say that God has commanded them to do so. There is no verse of the Koran commanding this.
Islamic authority for the mandatory headscarf is based on a "hadith" or tradition concerning Muhammad (Hadith 4092 of the Sunan Abu Dawud collection, to be precise). Hadith are not divine commandments. They simply record how Muhammad, who accepted that he was a fallible human, settled various questions back in sixth-century Arabia.
Furthermore, Islamic scholarship has always recognised that some hadith are more reliable than others and this hadith happens to be one of the less reliable ones — a "weak hadith", as is said. So unfortunately, Ms Hage-Ali is contributing to intolerance herself by implying that uncovered Muslim women are violating their faith.
Nevertheless, many Muslims regard covering the hair as an essential part of modest dress for a woman, as for that matter did early Christians (see St Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16) and some modern Christians as well. For a woman who feels this way asking her to uncover her hair in public is equivalent to asking Ms Panopoulos to uncover her breasts in public.
Jeremy Dixon, Carlton North
Not in Malaysia
I was astonished to read Iktimal Hage-Ali's claim that the wearing of the headscarf "is a religious obligation that all Muslim women must follow". Between 1970 and 1990 I spent over seven years in Malaysia and Indonesia, including two years in the Malaysian state of Terengganu, whose population was 92 per cent Muslim. The vast majority of Muslim women in both countries appear to have been unaware of the religious obligation referred to by Ms Hage-Ali, as they frequently went bare-headed both in public and in private.
Bob Morrow, Oakleigh South
Act of defiance
I am a sixth-generation Ango-Celtic Australian on both sides of my family. I'm also a Muslim woman who wears hijab. I've never had any problem reconciling my identity as an Australian and as a Muslim, but now I'm told that wearing a hijab is "an iconic act of defiance".
Until recently, I wore the hijab as a sign of my commitment to my religious faith, telling the world I am proud of being a Muslim Australian. Now I'm wearing it as an iconic act of defiance — against the ill-informed prejudice of Government MPs who should know better.
Rachel Woodlock, Doncaster East
Intolerance on display in headscarf row
August 30, 2005
Ignorant MPs calling for a ban on headscarves are inciting hatred, writes Iktimal Hage-ali.
AUSTRALIA prides itself on being a democratic but, more importantly, multicultural society that promotes tolerance, peace and "mateship". But the "Australian" values that have become the light of recent political debate seem non-existent in some parts of today's society.
As a young Muslim woman, born and bred in this great country, I find it ironic that on one side of the debate you have political leaders calling for harmony and integration of the Muslim community into mainstream Australia, and on the other there are ignorant politicians working hard to oppress Muslim women and take away their basic freedom of practising their religion.
There are many uncertainties within the non-Muslim community on the importance of the headscarf and the symbolic value it has to Muslim women. Each religion follows a set of principles and commandments that it believes God gave them. In the Islamic religion, God has commanded us to pray five times a day, fast during the holy month of Ramadan, participate in charity to those people less fortunate, complete the Haj (if your health allows you to), believe that there is no God but God himself and for women to wear the headscarf or hijab once they reach puberty.
It is not an element of culture, it is not an act of defiance nor is it a fashion statement to clash with the broader Australian community — it is a religious obligation that all Muslim women must follow.
The call to ban the headscarf from state schools is ludicrous, ill-informed and illustrates the ignorance of those people within the Australian community who have no idea about Australian values of tolerance, peace and mateship.
Women who wear the hijab are just as Australian as anyone else. They participate in employment, education, training and all other aspects of society. They are proud to be Australian yet exercise their right as Australian citizens to practise the religion of their choice, in this case Islam. Despite the stereotype and ignorance surrounding the wearing of the hijab, women who wear it do not feel oppressed or depict themselves as "slaves". They feel liberated, at peace within themselves for adhering to their religious duties and feel closer to God. It is a freedom that they have exercised for decades in this country and one they shall continue to exercise.
As a delegate at the Prime Minister's summit with Islamic leaders last week, I stressed the need for young people of Muslim background to feel valued and part of the mainstream community. At the moment, due to atrocities overseas, young people of Islamic faith feel isolated, rejected and unfairly targeted by the media and some members of the broader community because of their affiliation with Islam.
The recent comments by federal Liberals Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos have helped to further disenfranchise young people of the Islamic faith and further reject them with the aim of making them feel "unwanted". As political leaders, both Bishop and Panopoulos should be exercising greater responsibility, diplomacy and tolerance — not intolerance, ignorance and racism. These women should be ashamed of themselves.
Calling for the banning of the headscarves of one religion, yet ignoring the observances of other religions, such as the Sikh turban or Jewish yarmulka further instigates the feelings within the Islamic community, particularly among young people, that they are being targeted and seen as "different" from the rest of the community.
Young people have borne the brunt of media attacks and great scrutiny from some members of the broader non-Muslim community. While the overwhelming majority of non-Muslims practise tolerance, respect for others and peace, there are some members who insist on verbally and physically abusing those members, particularly young people, of the Islamic faith. Religious vilification has become the "norm" for young Muslim people who have been constantly attacked. As an Australian I find this trend alarming.
I was told of a story by a mother of two children under the age of six that was terrifying. I am still struggling to understand that an act of hatred and violence like this can take place in a country such as ours.
This mother was attacked by two men while she was walking along a street in Sydney with her children and was verbally abused before one of the men thought it would be amusing to rip off her headscarf and spit on her. This assault was conducted with little thought of the two children who witnessed their attack and who cried and bellowed for help.
The question remains how we, as a nation, can allow anybody, regardless of the religious or cultural beliefs, to continue to attack innocent women who follow the commandments of their religion.
How irresponsible of people such as Bishop and Panopoulos to further incite hatred and whip up hysteria relating to a piece of clothing.
We need to work together to continuously promote harmony and tolerance and stop incidents such as this attack. Since the white invasion of Australia, this country has been built on multiculturalism with each ethnic community adding tremendous value to help Australia to become what it is today.
We must all appreciate the enormous contribution each part of the Australian community has made and continue to allow them to practise their religion freely, regardless of what religion it is.
Iktimal Hage-Ali is the deputy chairwoman of the NSW Youth Advisory Council, and was the youngest Muslim representative at the Muslim summit in Canberra last week.
Thank you. Hope to hear from you again, soon.
1 Sept 2005
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