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|Topic: How I Came to Love the Veil|
Joined: 23 January 2014
Location: South Africa
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| Topic: How I Came to Love the Veil
Posted: 25 January 2014 at 10:43pm
As Salaamu Alaikum
Its abit of an old article but still very relevent.
Was salaamu Alaikum
How I Came to Love the Veil
By Yvonne Ridley
Sunday, October 22, 2006; Page B01
I used to look at veiled women as quiet, oppressed creatures -- until I was captured by the Taliban
In September 2001, just 15 days after the terrorist attacks on the United States, I snuck into
Afghanistan, clad in a head-to-toe blue burqa, intending to write a newspaper account of life under
the repressive regime. Instead, I was discovered, arrested and detained for 10 days. I spat and
swore at my captors; they called me a "bad" woman but let me go after I promised to read the
Koran and study Islam. (Frankly, I'm not sure who was happier when I was freed -- they or I.)
Back home in London, I kept my word about studying Islam -- and was amazed by what I
discovered. I'd been expecting Koran chapters on how to beat your wife and oppress your
daughters; instead, I found passages promoting the liberation of women. Two-and-a-half years
after my capture, I converted to Islam, provoking a mixture of astonishment, disappointment and
encouragement among friends and relatives.
Now, it is with disgust and dismay that I watch here in Britain as former foreign secretary Jack
Straw describes the Muslim nikab -- a face veil that reveals only the eyes -- as an unwelcome
barrier to integration, with Prime Minister Tony Blair, writer Salman Rushdie and even Italian Prime
Minister Romano Prodi leaping to his defense.
Having been on both sides of the veil, I can tell you that most Western male politicians and
journalists who lament the oppression of women in the Islamic world have no idea what they are
talking about. They go on about veils, child brides, female circumcision, honor killings and forced
marriages, and they wrongly blame Islam for all this -- their arrogance surpassed only by their
These cultural issues and customs have nothing to do with Islam. A careful reading of the Koran
shows that just about everything that Western feminists fought for in the 1970s was available to
Muslim women 1,400 years ago. Women in Islam are considered equal to men in spirituality,
education and worth, and a woman's gift for childbirth and child-rearing is regarded as a positive
When Islam offers women so much, why are Western men so obsessed with Muslim women's
attire? Even British government ministers Gordon Brown and John Reid have made disparaging
remarks about the nikab -- and they hail from across the Scottish border, where men wear skirts.
When I converted to Islam and began wearing a headscarf, the repercussions were enormous. All I
did was cover my head and hair -- but I instantly became a second-class citizen. I knew I'd hear
from the odd Islamophobe, but I didn't expect so much open hostility from strangers. Cabs passed
me by at night, their "for hire" lights glowing. One cabbie, after dropping off a white passenger right
in front of me, glared at me when I rapped on his window, then drove off. Another said, "Don't leave
a bomb in the back seat" and asked, "Where's bin Laden hiding?"
Yes, it is a religious obligation for Muslim women to dress modestly, but the majority of Muslim
women I know like wearing the hijab, which leaves the face uncovered, though a few prefer the
nikab. It is a personal statement: My dress tells you that I am a Muslim and that I expect to be
treated respectfully, much as a Wall Street banker would say that a business suit defines him as an
executive to be taken seriously. And, especially among converts to the faith like me, the attention of
men who confront women with inappropriate, leering behavior is not tolerable.
I was a Western feminist for many years, but I've discovered that Muslim feminists are more radical
than their secular counterparts. We hate those ghastly beauty pageants, and tried to stop laughing
in 2003 when judges of the Miss Earth competition hailed the emergence of a bikini-clad Miss
Afghanistan, Vida Samadzai, as a giant leap for women's liberation. They even gave Samadzai a
special award for "representing the victory of women's rights."
Some young Muslim feminists consider the hijab and the nikab political symbols, too, a way of
rejecting Western excesses such as binge drinking, casual sex and drug use. What is more
liberating: being judged on the length of your skirt and the size of your surgically enhanced breasts,
or being judged on your character and intelligence? In Islam, superiority is achieved through piety
-- not beauty, wealth, power, position or sex.
I didn't know whether to scream or laugh when Italy's Prodi joined the debate last week by
declaring that it is "common sense" not to wear the nikab because it makes social relations "more
difficult." Nonsense. If this is the case, then why are cellphones, landlines, e-mail, text messaging
and fax machines in daily use? And no one switches off the radio because they can't see the
Under Islam, I am respected. It tells me that I have a right to an education and that it is my duty to
seek out knowledge, regardless of whether I am single or married. Nowhere in the framework of
Islam are we told that women must wash, clean or cook for men. As for how Muslim men are
allowed to beat their wives -- it's simply not true. Critics of Islam will quote random Koranic verses
or hadith, but usually out of context. If a man does raise a finger against his wife, he is not allowed
to leave a mark on her body, which is the Koran's way of saying, "Don't beat your wife, st**id."
It is not just Muslim men who must reevaluate the place and treatment of women. According to a
recent National Domestic Violence Hotline survey, 4 million American women experience a serious
assault by a partner during an average 12-month period. More than three women are killed by their
husbands and boyfriends every day -- that is nearly 5,500 since 9/11.
Violent men don't come from any particular religious or cultural category; one in three women
around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according
to the hotline survey. This is a global problem that transcends religion, wealth, class, race and
But it is also true that in the West, men still believe that they are superior to women, despite
protests to the contrary. They still receive better pay for equal work -- whether in the mailroom or
the boardroom -- and women are still treated as sexualized commodities whose power and
influence flow directly from their appearance.
And for those who are still trying to claim that Islam oppresses women, recall this 1992 statement
from the Rev. Pat Robertson, offering his views on empowered women: Feminism is a "socialist,
anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children,
practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
Now you tell me who is civilized and who is not.
Yvonne Ridley is political editor of Islam Channel TV in London and coauthor
of "In the Hands of the Taliban: Her Extraordinary Story" (Robson Books).
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