Tuesday, 16 September 2008

It's just a piece of cloth

It's just a piece of cloth
Without your headscarf, you'll attract flies. The elusive Egyptian ad campaign has not only stirred up discussion, but interestingly laid another misdemeanor on the whole veil debate. The poster shows two pink lollipops, one wrapped and the other unwrapped and covered in flies. The caption reads, "You can't stop them, but you can protect yourself." Crazy I would say. How can a piece of cotton, chiffon or maybe even luxury authentic pashmina stop men from sexually harassing a woman? Headscarves are not woven with secret weapons or conceal personal rape alarms, but to the surprise I'm sure of everyone, really are just pieces of cloth.
I myself donned my headscarf and jilbab several years ago, not actually because I decided I needed a weapon to protect myself - Moreover I anticipated subjection to torrents of verbal and perhaps physical abuse at the time by donning it, as it was shortly after 9/11 in a very heated political climate.
It is of course true that the hijab is part of the social system of Islam, which seeks to create a society which is harmonious and void of lewdness and promiscuity. However the argument that covered women somehow have acquired an automatic man-repellent, is a well repeated one across the media. And it's high time that such a supposition is broken down, as it is no way as simplistic as this - A lollipop wrapper really can't just solve the acute problem of the continuing exploitation of women.

The Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights (ECWR) recently conducted a survey of hundred of Egyptian and foreign women of all backgrounds. Shockingly, 84.5% of them said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment, with most reporting that they were bothered by men every day. This seems shocking, and many may feel that a Muslim country would have lower levels of sexual harassment due to the Islamic viewpoint towards women. But this is where it is crucial to understand the importance of the implementation of Islam in society over, the practicing of Islam amongst families and within the home. The authors of the Egyptian ad campaign may have attempted to try to solve the harassment problem by urging women to cover up, but have failed to realise that even if women cover up in the society they live in, they will still be subject to harassment and sexual exploitation once they leave the home. This is because whether the women cover up or not, once they walk out their front doors they are subject to the free and secular ideas which are thrown around about women in society.
No Muslim nation today implements the Islamic Shariah and rules by Islam. Therefore all of the Muslim nations have a deadly concoction of many ideas in their societies, with a presumption that Western free and secular values must be withheld upmost to be able to progress. But what people fail to recognise is that it is these very values, coupled with traditional tribal values, which are growingly to blame for such degradation of women in our society.
The Prophet SAW said in a hadith: 'The world and all things in the world are precious but the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman'
Women instead of being treasured and protected as is laid out in Islam , are left to be savaged by the ravages of freedom and secular thought. It has allowed men, as well as various industries, to view women in whatever way they please, be it a sexual object and this has became reality in many of the Muslim countries. Ruby, the famous Egyptian singer, is a popular success of the Egyptian music industry and has pushed the path of liberation for women by dressing and singing as provocatively as possible. Such images and messages about women have given the all OK in society allowing people, all the more, to view women through their sexual appeal. It is irrelevant then whether a woman covers or not, as the way in which that woman should be seen in society has already been defined.
Additionally the Muslim societies have taken on board again the many backward, tribal and traditional ideas that exist about women within various cultures - That men have the right to exploit them and dominate them. In modern day Egypt, such ideas have manifested themselves in an extremely low reporting rate of sexual crime. Women, the ECWR further found, felt ashamed and embarrassed about the harassment they underwent and therefore did not want to report it. It's a devastating thought to see women feel so helpless and out on their own in a society, that they couldn't even feel they could report a crime carried out against them. Such subversion of women also existed before the advent of Islam in the time of the Prophet SAW - Women were exploited and routinely gang raped. However when the Islamic Shariah was implemented, it ensured that such practices were abolished - Adultery and fornification have strict punishments, as well as the crime of accusing a chaste woman in Islam. Hence the Islamic Shariah, ensures that the value and protection of the women, the mothers of the Ummah, in society, is paramount.
The Islamic social system are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They need to all fit together to work to create the harmonious society Islam envisages. And the essence of this harmonious society proposed in Islam, is ensuring that respect and dignity of both sexes in society is absolutely enshrined. Therefore the Islamic social code promotes and restricts whatever is needed to protect this. Women are not to be viewed as sexual commodities in society, through billboards, music or TV ads; and it is obligatory in Islam for both men and women to dress in a particular manner and lower their gaze so as to not even begin the process of the wolf whistles. The Prophet SAW maintained a general segregation of men and women in the society he governed, except for specific situations and needs. What all this did, was create a society where sex and the agitation for sex, was taken out of society. This is to guarantee, as much as possible that people are not urged to view each other sexually as and when they please, rather sex is something for stable marital relationships. But all this in itself means nothing, unless the actual society and state ensures that the mentality of chastity, respect towards the opposite sex and accountability to God is present in each and every individual.
Islam does in no way promote the idea that women are responsible for any sexual harassment they undergo, rather Islam promotes the idea that women are to be valued and respected, and not viewed as sexual commodities. The headscarf cannot therefore in itself fight it's own battle, it is merely part of a wider system which Muslims believe has been divinely constructed to attempt to deal with many of the social problems humankind has faced for time.

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