After the France/Burkini controversy a few months ago, Muslims and their non-Muslim “allies” across the West reacted in righteous anger, calls of Islamophobia, and most surprisingly of all, accused France of sexism for banning the burkini. Cartoons like the one above were widely shared throughout the Internet, and the message was made clear: Only “extremists” care about what a woman has on her body, and no one has the right to tell a woman what to wear.
From an Islamic perspective, this kind of irreligious argument is extremely troubling.
If believing in a societal dress code is “extremist” is the Quran an extremist text for mandating one? For that matter does that make God Himself an “extremist”? It is this fascination with vague, hazy secular ideals that is leading to the erosion of Islamic thought in the Western world, as well as the disengagement of younger Muslims from Islam. Unable to explain the logical reasoning of Quranic principles, Muslims instead use secular reasoning to defend Quranic concepts. Regardless of what happens, the “reformist” voice is victorious, having achieved its goal of advancing its secular creed over the divine furqan of the Quran.
It would be one thing if the Muslims espousing this line of thought didn’t really believe in it, and we’re just using whatever argument it would take to get ahead– an extremely duplicitous and disingenuous approach nonetheless– but the truth appears to be even more disturbing, that these people actually firmly believe in these un-Islamic concepts and have incorporated them in their own deen, which, of course, they are enthusiastically promoting to others, particularly the youth. But young people are not stupid, and the train of thought that will inevitably occur is obvious: If the hijab is simply just another item of clothing, why should I wear/support it? What if I want to wear a miniskirt or short-shorts? Who the hell is to tell me that that is morally wrong?
The fact is, every community, no matter what principles it is based on, must have measures against public lewdness to ensure basic societal cohesion. This includes dress codes. And if this line of thinking is ‘zealotry’, then why should countries have clothing itself be mandatory? After all, don’t we all have the right to do anything we want to ourselves? No, because this kind of reckless individualism sows havoc in civil society. There must be limits to what people can do to themselves or anarchy will reign. Frighteningly, many Western countries have actually followed this viewpoint to its logical conclusion, and have made toplessness and nudity legal. And yet, it says something about human nature that despite its apparent legality, the vast majority of people, regardless of religion, would be extremely uncomfortable is this began to happen near them, would immediately try to leave the area, and possibly even call the cops. (What do you know, perhaps morality cannot be legislated by people). Now since a woman’s hair is considered to be one of the most beautiful and alluring parts of her body, wouldn’t it be just to legislate covering it, just like a woman having to cover her chest, or a man not being allowed to wear tight-fitting jeans? And, if a society of Muslims (both men and women) together implemented their own dress code based off this legislation, wouldn’t this be their natural right as Muslims and servants of God?
But there is a much bigger problem at stake here than just the wisdom behind the hijab, and that is the devolution of the Islamic intellectual tradition to the point where Muslims cannot even properly explain the wisdom behind the Quran’s commands and way of life it envisions, and are thus forced to argue from the secularists’ turf. We could pit the blame for this lack of academic knowledge amongst the Muslim world entirely on the West, and while the tragedy of imperialism does have something to do with it, it would be morally disingenuous to pretend that Muslims do not deserve part of the blame for having couched themselves in a deliberate ignorance for a good part of the last century. A revival of the Islamic scholarly tradition is not only desirable, but has become a downright necessity in the present day to combat the meteoric rise in popularity of atheism and agnosticism. To do this, I suggest a two-pronged strategy: Both attacking modernist philosophies for their incoherence and inability to provide a sound basis to structure society on, and displaying how Islam provides detailed solutions to the above’s problems.
“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” (Quran 24:31)
“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran 33:59)
“Say, ‘My Lord has only forbidden immoralities – what is apparent of them and what is concealed – and sin, and oppression without right, and that you associate with Allah that for which He has not sent down authority, and that you say about Allah that which you do not know.’ ” (Quran 7:33)