Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Headscarf Strikes Back: Again!

Published in The Herald (Scotland) on Saturday 7th June 2008
Headscarf issue has been hijacked by politics

I READ with interest the Turkish Constitutional Court's decision against the wearing of the headscarf in universities (Headscarf ban in Turkish universities, June 6).

Why has the headscarf become such a big issue? Why is the way we dress the cause of a divide between "east" and "west"? Through my reading of Islamic traditions, I personally believe that the headscarf is not essential for Muslim piety but I would never prevent Muslim women from wearing one. Would a Catholic nun lose her spiritual sanctity if she removed her habit? Absolutely not.

I believe that at times the head covering has a more political meaning and message. It is the very fact that Islamic states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia force Muslim women to "cover" that the veil has lost its personal spiritual significance and become one that reeks of Muslim male domination. Is it any surprise that progressive secularists in Turkey seek an outright ban? Or maybe the real issue is the lamenting by my fellow Muslims of their lost Islamic state at the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which was followed by the secularist regime of Kemal Ataturk? Is this maybe a battle between the unveiled Turkish women, seen as westernised and un-Islamic, and the veiled Turkish women, seen as Islamic and pious?

Kemal Ataturk's own wife, Latife Ussaki, was seen in a headscarf by his side and at times seen without. The abuse of the headscarf for the glorification of the religious, usually enforced by the Muslim male, mocks the Islamic tenets of piety and belief. I would hope that in among all these political agendas there is a desire by covered Muslim women to better their relationship with God. But maybe these are initial hurdles that Muslims globally need to overcome for progressive Islam to spread.

Would it not be wonderful in our current international climate to have faith that goes beyond what we wear and is more about actions of the heart?

Amanullah De Sondy, School of Divinity, University of Glasgow.

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