Veil and the theory of ‘Clash of Civilisations’

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A few thinkers in the world feel that there is a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ between the West and the Muslim world. This conception was bolstered after the aggressive actions by the Bush administration post 9/11. But President Obama is continuously making attempts so that the mouths of the supporters of this misconception can be shut. Despite this, from time to time, such a row is caused by some western countries, which compels the Muslim world to rethink if this is really a part of the ‘Clash of Civilisations.’

For instance, recently, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in a speech in the Palace of Versailles that the veil (Islamic burqa) will not be welcome in the territory of the French republic. To support his declaration, he said “the *burqa* is not a sign of religion; it is a sign of subservience”. He called it a violation of women’s “dignity and freedom”. To legitimize this declaration, Sarkozy has constituted a Burqa committee. This 32-member committee is to submit its report to the French government within six months, advising ways to stop Muslim women from wearing the veil.

Opposition to the burqa or veil is not new. Even many Muslim rulers in history strongly opposed it. But when the same opposition comes from the West or a Christian country, the Islamic world starts looking it another way. Three years ago, the former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw raised objections to the burqa. Later, the Netherlands government objected to it and made a law to ban the burqa. Now, Sarkozy, by giving air to the issue, has created a furore in the Islamic world.

In fact, the Islamic world has to face more internal objections than the external opposition regarding the burqa. The holy Qur’an says “tell your wives, daughters and women that they cover themselves with the veil so that they can’t be recognized and thus saved from oppression”. A technical thing to be noted here is that the holy Qur’an was conceived in Saudi Arabia, so a certain veil is in practice in the Arabian Peninsula. The speciality of this Arabian veil is that in this the Muslim woman is covered from top to bottom in a circular cover. There is a small net near her eyes through which she can look outside. This design of burqa became controversial since its conception. Though some Arab countries adopted this design of veil, the women in Iran, Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Egypt etc. adopted the design according to their facility. It can be said that the whole Muslim world has not adopted that burqa as, according the clerics, issued by God.

Arabic Muslim women in covering Burqa

Veil controversy is not limited to its design. In today’s world if we notice the burqa has remained ‘necessary’ just for the poor and lower middle class Muslims. No cleric dared to ask Benazir Bhutto why and how she was the Prime Minister of an Islamic Republic despite disdaining the burqa decree of Islam. No Islamic cleric dared to issue a fatwa against her or rusticate her from Islam for this ‘contempt’. Same is the case with the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh – Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajid. Nobody was there to ask General Parvez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif why they roam around the world with their wives unveiled rather than in the Arabian burqa. Similar is the case of the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi and ace tennis player Sania Mirza.

The question here is that which women, in today’s progressive world, present the ideal among the young Muslim women? The above women who don’t wear burqa or those veiled women who end their identity by veiling themselves for the whole of life?

This is the issue of worldwide debate that the main reason behind the backwardness of the Muslim world is illiteracy. The roots of this illiteracy lie in the illiteracy in the mother of the child. If the Muslim society has to move forward with time and progress, then the education of the Muslim women is essential. Now it is for the Muslim clerics and the Islamic ‘policymakers’ to decide either they feel that the prosperity of the Muslim world lies in the veiling of women or they feel to do away with these shackles so as to move forward.

This debate is definitely on within the Islamic world. And it can be surely said that most of the liberal and progressive Muslims see these shackles as orthodox or as a need for that very period when it was applied. Today’s progressive Muslim society doesn’t feel any need for this burqa tradition. A modern Muslim, of any country, wants to make his or her children educated, aware and self dependent. For this, it is necessary that first he free himself and his family from the radical bonds.

All internal opposition regarding the burqa notwithstanding, the statement of Sarkozy can’t be rendered legitimate because his anti-burqa order seems to be directly interfering in Islamic affairs. If any Muslim woman wants to wear a burqa of her own free will, then even her parents don’t have the right to stop her, forget Sarkozy. Only modern education can free a man or a woman from radical thinking.

Time will tell whether Sarkozy’s order will stop Muslim women living in France, from wearing the burqa. It is also to be seen what steps the parliamentary committee will suggest within six months, to ban the burqa. But, as a quick reaction to this statement, it is a boost for the powers that believe in and support the theory of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ between the Islamic world and the West, particular between Islam and Christianity.