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« inna lillah wa inna 'ilayhi raji'un | Main | A small note on nuclear weapons and "Islamic norms" »

December 30, 2004


Yusuf Smith

As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

I'm not entirely sure why anyone thinks a woman wearing a headscarf is "illiberal" anyway, other than that it's not associated with liberalism as they know it. For a lot of Muslim women it's the liberal choice (the other valid choice is to cover the face also), and it also gives the message to men that they are not "available" or open to any kind of sexual approach, or willing to make any. I don't see what's so liberal, or liberating, about having most of one's body on display, or wearing clothes you have to struggle against when you walk.

Feminists don't all agree that tarty dresses are liberating, anyway. There is a song by a singer-songwriter from Northampton, Massachusetts (a well-known feminist hotbed) named Dar Williams called When I Was A Boy, about how she (or some girls) enjoyed "boyish" activities when she was a girl:

And now I'm in a clothing store And the sign says, "Less is More" More that's tight means more to see More for them, not more for me

In other words, these clothes don't help her in any way, just those who want to gawp at her. We see this sort of rubbish pushed down young girls' throats nowadays, and there is the odd murmur of complaint about sexualising girls at an ever younger age, but nothing like the "controversy" that the hijab causes.

About the Aslef issue: there is also the factor that unions don't want to be infiltrated by the BNP and other racist / fascist groups. Labourers have in the past been easy marks for anti-immigrant stirrers, because they can be persuaded that these newcomers are "stealing their jobs". While the rank-and-file may sometimes still hold these views, the leadership realises that this ruins their credibility. So they keep the racists out.


"I'm not entirely sure why anyone thinks a woman wearing a headscarf is "illiberal" anyway, other than that it's not associated with liberalism as they know it."

The last few words ("it's not associated with liberalism as they know it") is an interesting comment I will have to think about a bit more. To be a "liberal" (dictionary definition) is, properly, to not recognise authority as a limiting factor. From a Muslim perspective is, for example not wearing a veil a "liberal" act; or is it, in fact, a different approach altogether?

"I'm not entirely sure why anyone thinks a woman wearing a headscarf is "illiberal""

The resons become clearer when we look at Europe's history (how it sees itself). Opposing all the ideals and narratives of secular progress is the female Muslim who has _willingly_ adopted this "retrograde" cloth -- to cause more offence she tells us that her wearing this cloth is "emancipatory" (from unneccassary "cultural" and "social" restraints. A prime example of the former is Pakistani girls wearing the headscarf, unlike their mothers, and then making assertions that "Islam gives them rights too", like education etc).

assalaamu `alaykum

Randy McDonald

Certainly there are some people who will always have problems with the _hijab_ regardless of the motivation of the wearer.

What about Muslim women and girls who are forced to wear the _hijab_, though? Shouldn't their choices to abstain be considered as equally legitimate as the choices of others to partake?


This is an interesting post Thabet, and I by and large agree with the point that you’re making. It should certainly be viewed as contrary to liberal values to enforce certain standards of dress on others who may view them as immodest, and too often it is not. However, when the argument is extended to face coverings as well, as Yusuf implied in his response, I think that the argument that there is a conflict between their acceptance and liberal values emphasizing the freedom of personal choice becomes more legitimate.

There is nothing about a hijab that prevents a woman from living as full and free a life as a woman in turtleneck or a tanktop, it’s simply a more modest form of dress. But burqas are not just modest but incredibly restrictive. They make it very difficult for a woman to interact with society, and thus it should not be surprising that liberal minded people would view this as a way of restraining women and preventing them from engaging the world around them in a manner that would allow them to make their own choices freely. I think that it would be beneficial to protecting a woman’s right to wear the hijab if a clearer line was drawn between the two in public debate, because right now most people seem to confuse them.

With regard to Randy’s comment, for adult women, cases in which husbands brow-beat their wives into doing certain things exist well beyond the realm of the hijab. I am not clear on what the argument is that the hijab should be singled out here. We should just make sure that women are protected against aggressive enforcement of any of their husband’s preferences. I suspect that there are just as many women out there compelled to wear clothes that are more sexual than their personal tastes would dictate in response to their boyfriends’ preferences than more modest.

When the person in question is a minor, I also see this as being no different than other parent-child conflicts that every community deals with. Parents have a right to exercise a great deal of control over their children’s appearances. My best friend in middle school’s mother used to make her wear pig-tails every day. Pig-tails were not exactly fashionable for 12 year olds in the 90s and she usually took them out when we got off the bus, but there was never any doubt about her parents’ legally protected right to make her wear them. And frankly, it seems like a far more pressing issue nowadays to protect children from the overly sexual clothing endorsed by society and the media than overly modest clothing sometimes endorsed by their parents.



I cant have enough of your blog. Alhamdulillah.

I try to summarize your whole article,jus' to make sure i got it right.

You are trying to prove how liberals are not being true to their own liberal view of world?!

How they are prejudiced when it comes to islam or muslim women,irrespective of similar things happen in other societies.

You use their own concept of liberalism, to show they are hypocrites. Correct me,if i am wrong.

Is it goal that matters or process also very important. Let me put it in more clear words. Can i do wrong to justfy right?! Or to obtain right one has to go thro' right ways?!

Islam is the light,truth,salvation,peace, absolute,perfect and thousand other adjectives.
If we have to say,how islam is all that said
above, we have to use methods of islam and nothing else.

Liberalism as a ideology is completely against islam.Acknowledging such ideologies even to push our point home,gives unwanted accredition that it is right,when it is not.

Question from Randy was jus the example of it. if we acknowledge wrong,jus to tell right things it mostly pull us deep into the quagmire.

If there had been anyhting right,it is from Allah and had been wrong,it would be mine. Pls pray for you and me.



Munthasir, as long as Muslims live in countries in which Islam is practiced by the minority it is certainly necessary for them to present arguments for things they percieve as being in their own interests in a way that is compelling to the majority, whether or not they buy into the popular logic themselves. Otherwise their voices will not be heard at all, and you will likely end up with things like, say, headscarves being banned in schools...


Assalamu alaikum jilian,

Your reply only get us back to the place where we started.

Can we use wrong ways to tell the right ways ?!

I am sorry, Hope you be patient with me.


p.s: in different note, i also assume(correct me again,if i am wrong) your point of view that liberalism as a stop gap,until we(muslims) are quite enough number to overthrow the concept itself. But that's your vision,we cant take that as a conlusive proof. can we?!

tony tone

Maybe if you people tried to stop threatening others and tried living in peace with people different then you, others may embrace you a li more openly. Why don’t you try to stop living in the 16th century saudi desert and welcome yourself in to the present day.


Who says we have to use the language of the intellengentsia that procliams liberty, equality and freedom for minorities (western liberal ideals) to further our Islamic causes which are neccessarily against this? It would be a flattery on liberal societies to suggest they have a monopoly on the best of liberal tradition.

I agree with Jillian in that we have to present arguments in a way that is compelling to the majority. But remember that often we use the same arguments for the majority western population that we oursleves use to convince ourselves of Islam...

we don't need to 'pretend' or use a ends justify the means excuse (that kind of reeks of falsity) because muslims in the west, at least me, have pretty much internalised many of the basic western standing points of arguments- taking for granted human rights, feminism, civil liberties etc.

We can fuse different elements together. For example Ali Shariati and his focus on religion and third world anti-imperialism which is pretty attractive.

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