The Next Great War… With the Burqa

The burqa is quickly becoming the greatest foe of the Western society. But this tussle with the ‘Muslim woman’s attire’ is not new.

Rudyard Kipling, who was born and raised in India amongst Muslims who were the last Mogul kings, describes a boorka in his short story Beyond the Pale as an ‘evil-smelling’ garment ‘which cloaks a man as well as a woman.’ The main character, Trejago, dresses in a burqa to meet his Indian lover and symbolically throws it away at the end of the story.

No matter how I personally feel about the burqa, I think it is not anyone’s right to ridicule the garment and its wearers.

Two articles against the burqa have left me speechless not because they are insensitive in tone but because of their writers’ innate lack of knowledge about the religion they seem to target with their vile words. One is by the Bangladeshi ex-Muslim Taslima Nasrin titled “Let’s Burn the Burqa” and the other is “Death Before Burkas” by Kyle-Anne Shiver.

There are two popular opinions on hijab by Muslims; one is that it is required in the Quran and the other opinion is that it is not required and only modesty is emphasized. Ms. Nasrin claims that Quran requires niqab because of “an individual’s personal reasons” and “since then millions of Muslim women all over the world have had to suffer it.” Nasrin suggests that women

    “should protest against this discrimination. They should proclaim a war against the wrongs and ill-treatment meted out to them for hundreds of years. They should snatch from the men their freedom and their rights. They should throw away this apparel of discrimination and burn their burqas.”

It was amusing to read Nasrin’s words because her knowledge about Islam, a religion she consciously abandoned, is extremely weak. A few examples:

    She calls Hadith, “Quran Hadith.”Then she quotes from Surah Al- Ahzab and calls it “Surah Al – Hijab”! There is no Surah in the Quran called Al-Hijab.Nasrin uses a South Asian translation of the Quran and even that version never once mentions that a woman must cover her face. The emphasis is always on hiding and covering the female parts like chest. I wonder how she bases her argument on the ayahs that never say that a woman must cover her face? In her argument she says, “Frankly, covering just the hair is not Islamic purdah in the strict sense.” That is exactly it. Face veil is “strict” and therefore a vast number of Muslim women do not cover their faces. What’s the premise then?Muslims are supposed to know how hijab was prescribed for the Prophet’s wives but Nasrin does not. She writes, “Prophet Mohammed’s wife Ayesha was very beautiful. His friends were often found staring at her with fascination.” The reason behind asking Prophet’s wives to speak to strange men from behind a curtain, as we know, was the rumour that had spread about Ayesha (pbuh) and not because men used to stare at her.

Then there is Shiver who begins her hate-filled rant with the following:

    ‘Anyone who thinks I’ve spent the last 40 years of my life learning how to properly apply makeup and avoid bad-hair days, only to end up donning that hideous black thing at the command of some foreign guy with a severe case of Male-Chauvinist-Pig syndrome, is in for a fight. Give me death before burkas!’

Fair enough! No non-Muslim woman who has spent 40 years of her life learning how to apply makeup should be asked to hide that face, but Shiver does not stop there:

    ‘And in my opinion, the ultimate oppression of our age, no matter how one cares to cut it, slice it, dice it, whatever, is hands-down the subjugation of females – from birth to the grave – in places ruled by this cockamamie Sharia law. Liberals may be scared to call a spade a spade, but I’m not. So, I’ll say it again, Give me death before burkas!’

Again some people may find her words tolerable. The infamous Saudi rape case has stirred Shiver so one can understand where she’s coming from until she writes:

    ‘In my book, a gang-rape victim deserves a whole heck of lot more peace and blessings than the Prophet, who continues to inspire such barbarism in the name of his religion.

    In 2002, again in Saudi Arabia, a mob of very “religious” followers of the Prophet surrounded a girls’ school that was engulfed in raging flames, and refused to permit firefighters to save the young girls, or even to permit the ones that could to flee the building.’

Many Muslims have already spoken out against the punishment awarded to the Saudi rape victim. The 2002 incidence disturbed not only me but many other Muslims. However, how does Muhammed (pbuh) fit in here? I never read one hadith awarding punishment to a rape victim. I cannot recall the Prophet asking any firefighter to let an uncovered woman burn to death.

Later Shiver goes on to talk about the Taliban, the Turkish Muslim immigrants in Germany, the mutawa (religious police) of Saudi Arabia, and cases of barbaric female genital mutilation. I have never liked or supported the Taliban or anyone else who abuses Muslim women in the name of Islam so I could be seen nodding, although Shivers information on the topic is flawed, once again:

    ‘The type of FGM specifically practiced and taught by the Prophet is the milder form, and limits mutilation to the removal of the clitoris. On the other hand, other forms practiced by Mohammed’s followers today are so grotesque and cause so much permanent damage, that only a truly monstrous God could possibly condone them.’

First, the hadith on female circumcision is a weak one and second even in that weak hadith the Prophet (pbuh) is said to have supported trimming of the clitoris and not its removal. Majority of Muslims do not accept the hadith as genuine which is why female circumcision (which has its roots in Pharaonic times) remains today a culture-specific practice.

Also, just for record, there is no Muslim God. The God of the Jews is the God of the Christians who is the God of the Muslims. And no “the God” is not monstrous, thank you very much. I am a Muslim woman and I am not “mutilated.”

Somehow somewhere down the line Shiver loses it again and begins lashing out at Islam:

    ‘Whenever I see a woman wearing one of those hideous symbols of oppression — the burka — I just wonder how many beating scars or bruises or disfigurements she is covering. I don’t blame her for being brainwashed into submission, or even for identifying with her oppressors. She is, in my view, to be pitied, not scorned.’

Let’s be honest, I am no fan of the burqa, and I am a Muslim living in a Muslim country so I know exactly what all can happen to a woman (unlike Shiver who reports gossip) but I would never be stupid enough to claim that Muslim women who choose to wear the burka do so to hide a black eye. Save yourself further disgrace, Shiver, majority of Muslim women who wear the burka are not “brainwashed into submission.”

After another crazy story of domestic abuse in a Muslim family (as if domestic abuse only takes place in Muslim households!) Shiver issues some truly classic statements:

    If a Jewish or Christian man beats his wife, or otherwise abuses her, he does so against his religion, and his worship community. When a Muslim man does likewise, he does so in full obedience to the Prophet himself. It’s in the Koran. (There is enough woman-bashing fodder in the Koran for many future columns, but one of the specific admonitions to men to beat their wives is 4:34) … As an American woman, blessed by God and the Constitution, that is all I need to know about Islam. [Emphasis mine]

This just tells any reader that Shiver is just as poor at Christian and Judaist theology as she is at Islamic theology. For the interpretation of the Quranic verse 4:34, read this. As for the Bible – one may be interested in reading Deuteronomy 25:11 or Numbers: 511-21.

To conclude, I’m not arguing here whether or not hijab or niqaab is required by the Quran. This is not my place to argue that. My argument and criticism is that if a person decides to write on a topic and worse argue on a topic on a public forum then s/he should do their homework.

I am also not trying to prove Islam’s superiority over the other two Abrahamic religions. I have deep respect for all religions and special love for Abrahamic religions. All I am trying to say is that in essence many religions are not different from each other. Several years of interpretations and filtering has given rise to modern Christianity and Judaism. While Muslims cannot dare to re-write the Quran, we are trying to reinterpret it, do ijtihad, and fit traditional theological concepts in the modern world.

Give Muslims a chance. One can wish death before the burka for all I care, but please leave Islamic theology out of your rants because you clearly do not know what you are talking about.

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  1. Waqar
    Posted February 3, 2008 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Sister Suroor, It is not befitting of believing women like you or any Muslim to take an apologetic tone towards the Muslim haters. The two writers you quoted seems to have a tone of women’s lib in their articles. To see the truth about women’s lib search for “historic interview with Aaron Russo” on google videos. As for Shiver, she should read 1 Corinthians 11: 4 to 16.
    And yes Quran does prescribe Hijab for believing women. But first asks men to lower their gaze. I would suggest that you find and listen to the lectures of Imam Anwar Al Awlaki. there is a lot of Islamic knowledge there.



  2. Sarmma
    Posted February 4, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I am a very liberal and open minded man, muslim, and it pisses me off to see that hijab is taking the west and ill minded people such big efforts to fight a simple habit that muslim ladies in recent days, except in certain areas, where it is still strict social habit, can do without it and it is more or less a personal choice of the woamn using it.

    Any one ever asked the christians why their nuns and sisters in priesthood are having their heads covered ever since the christianity exists, and no one muslim ever objected nor ever discussed that, muslims proved to be wider in thinking about leaving the nons out of their discussions and even comments, but those ladies specially, claimed as liberated muslim freedom fighters are taking things too much and making big fuss for something that does not hurt any one, as who cares who covers or uncovers some ones head, it is his or her problem to care fore and not for some one to comment and fight and make a social issue out of it for really no reason,

    Leave things and the world will be much more simpler and more at ease

  3. jollyroger
    Posted February 11, 2008 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I think it important not to conflate Shiver (who from a cursory glance at her website is a certified forced pregnancy, crusading (and I use the term advisedly, in all its historical and non-historical senses) nut) with Nasrin.

    More to the point, would you not agree that all of the Yahwist Cults share a sex negative vision? And, further, that the veiling of women is, however extreme or merely symbolic, a manifestation of that sex negativity. (I believe FGM speaks for itself on this point…

    Other examples:

    Eg, the obsession with the covering of hair, both in women AND men, in all three of the branches of the Abrahamic faiths (from the yarmulke to the wimple to the shawl to the Pope’s skullcap)

    Eg, the pathological *modesty displayed by both sexes in Islamic culture, mirrored among the Hasidim (shall we discuss copulation through a sheet?) and only perhaps slightly less neurotic among New Testament Yahwists.

    *whence Abu Ghraib use of forced nudity as a pillar of psychological torture.

  4. jollyroger
    Posted February 11, 2008 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I ought not leave the topic of genital mutilation without reference the often ignored topic of MALE genital mutilation (and, yes, Suroor, I AM mutilated, and if I ever get my hands on the sonofabitch moil who did me he will need more than a few drops of wine to straighten his hand).

    The idea that a seven day old infant should find himself surrounded (and held down by) the very individuals he is just learning to love and trust, and then they are going to cut him WHERE??

    If it were his earlobe, the tip of his pinky, the end of his nose, it would be clear child abuse.

    But it’s ok if it’s just his foreskin? By God, he will learn that pain proceeds from sex, even if (as it does in the inevitable (if rare) “accidental overcut” he is left permanent sexual incapacity, or disease (how about a few cases of herpes from the truly bizarre Hasidic tradition involving the oral-genital “cleansing” of the bloodly stump…)

    It’s bad enough to mutilate an infant, sans anaesthetic, but to make a PARTY out of the event?

    Give me a break…

    Like I said, the Yahwist cults fear and loathe sexuality.

    Not a pretty picture, nor one deserving of respect or emulation.

  5. Natalia Antonova
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    Damn… What more can I say?

  6. jollyroger
    Posted February 13, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink


    Well I do get worked up about it…I mean, it can’t be an accident that they picked the dick to cut on for their little ceremonial initiation thingee.

  7. Michael
    Posted February 19, 2008 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Hi Sarmma you write something interesting in relation to the Islamic hijab debate, something i see often repeated by different Muslims.

    You state:
    “Any one ever asked the christians why their nuns and sisters in priesthood are having their heads covered ever since the christianity exists,”

    No Muslim ever asked, because what nuns wear differs widely depending on what branch of Christianity they follow and what particular convent they belong too.
    Unlike in Islam in Christianity there is no mandated form of dress for men or woman.
    When Muslims would encounter nuns they would not debate over what type of dress they wore, but rather why they practiced celibacy a concept which Islam forbids.
    Muslims would also refer to them not as nuns but as maidens or virgins.
    Who then would be divided among the Muslim soldiers who would capture such an convent.
    A Muslim traveler to the city of Constantinople describes the “nuns” he saw there as all having braided hair with white flowing gowns.

  8. Sue
    Posted February 6, 2009 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    What I find interesting about the writers is that they seem to totally ignore the fact that women may have a choice in covering themselves. I had a young woman here in the US, who covered everything but her eyes, say “In my mind, this gives me power, because I choose who sees my body and who does not.”

    In other cases, covering could be seen as an outward sign of an inner commitment to a religious life, or as a comforting symbol of belonging to a cultural and religious tradition. Very religious people often see fit to choose an attire that broadcasts their belief to the world – why is it only in this case that it is seen as insidious and discriminatory?

    I think it is assuming too much to decide that women have no voice in the matter.

  9. suha
    Posted November 3, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Islam does NOT, NOT prohibit celibacy. Please read.

  10. Florine Marzook
    Posted November 5, 2009 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    I cannot understand why ANYONE bothers to quote Taslima Nazrin. What is the justification for even recognizing her existence – she has no credibility other than that given her by anti-islamic elements.
    Sadly this is the state of our world today – the same platform is shared by intellects/people of learning & exhibitionists like Taslima Nazrin. And we allow this to happen by giving these exhibitionists space in our lives.

  11. Posted March 3, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    congrats n i wish u n people like u All the best,for trying to reinterpret Islam and The Quran.It is the need of the hour to save islam and the world from the terrorists and fundamentalists who spread terror in the name of Islam and jihad and spoil the name of Islam.They believe in interpretetions that have no respect for human rights.These people are just overeacting to another extreme -the extremes of western society’s consumerism and liberal thinking- which again is not the solution ,the way out is
    moderation.Islam preaches universal brotherhood and tolerance of other
    religions and beliefs ,when the Prophet fought a war not a single person was killed because of his different religion.These are the things that need to be highlighted.

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