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Friday, 2 April 2010

Muslim Women Aren't Forced to Wear the Hijab or Burka

Non-Muslims are often told, by Muslim women, that Muslim women are not forced to wear the veil or hijab. A Muslim woman called Aishah Azmi once said that no one 'forces' her to wear the veil. Perhaps, however, many non-Muslims are against the veil even if what she says is true.

Many Roman slaves were happy with their status as slaves. Did that somehow make slavery right? Many medieval serfs saw their lowly position, and often extreme poverty, as being preordained by God and therefore fully acceptable and morally right. Did that make serfdom OK? Finally, many middle class Germans, in the early 1930s, feared democracy and freedom so much that they voted for Hitler. They did so because the former notions, if brought into being, would have inevitably brought about, so they thought, financial insecurity and political chaos. Were they right to reject democracy and freedom (of whatever kind)? Consequently, whether slavery, serfdom and totalitarianism are right or wrong may not be fully dependent upon a body count of those who accept them. And Muslims, of all people, should accept this non-Utilitarian position on right and wrong.

So why should we even care if Azmi is not literally forced to wear the veil? We may still see it as both symbolising and contributing to the subjection and subordination of women. And even the ostensibly positive case for the hijab, also often heard, that Muslim men want their women to wear the veil because they 'see their wives and daughters as being precious jewels' that need to be protected, one presumes, from the lascivious hands and eyes of non-Muslim, and perhaps Muslim, men. But calling women 'jewels' is as demeaning to 21st century woman as is calling her a 'tart'. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin.

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