Woman, Burkha and Sarkozy

Last updated on Jun 26, 2009

Posted on Jun 26, 2009

A woman walks into a store and sees trousers and short skirts.  Decides to buy both.  One for office and another for her party.  She has a choice.  Some guys see her in the trousers and admire her figure while some guys see her in short skirt on the dance floor and admire at her dance moves.

Is the attitude of the beholder based on the dress of the object or the situation and the beholder’s response to it?

However, in another culture, a Prophet uses the pretext of divinity to enforce a dress code.  [Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: “The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who has reached puberty unless she wears a veil.” Book 2, Number 0641].  Now, this lady can no longer wander into a shop and buy the dress from the shelf she pleases.  She has been told by one “Messenger of God” whom somehow the God, formless and un-named that he insists, somehow keeps speaking to in his ears.  That this formless and un-named is somehow so bothered about the dress code of a special category of a special species in one of the tiniest specks of this entire Universe, is intriguing and probably a discussion for another time.

Why are we discussing this veil?  Because recently, Sarkozy, the French President, called the veil or burkha a “debasement of women”.   His argument was that it made women a “prisoner’.

There are several who have criticized him.  Like Barkha Dutt in this piece in HT, says:[2]

And that’s the main problem with Sarkozy’s remarks. He’s trying to homogenise culture. You can’t claim to stand for Freedom when you impose and force your views on those who think differently. Freedom, in the end, is the space to be yourself.

While, Dr. Deepak Chopra, someone I respect a lot, also criticizes Sarkozy saying:

Doesn’t it seem strange that women in France have the right to wear mini skirts but not burqas?  Both costumes are about sexuality, or if that seems too judgmental, both are about the issue of modesty.

His argument is that the Burkha may be a religious imposition in, say, Taliban or say in Saudi Arabia – where by law you need to do that and may be punished in absence of that; but not in France, where the women have a choice.

Interesting I read views of two people – women – who side with Sarkozy.  Interestingly, BOTH are Muslim!  First Taslima Nasreen, who wrote a very passionate article sometime back arguing her case.  Nasreen lists 3 views on why and how this practice started.  The first one is:

There are many views on why and how the Islamic purdah started. One view has it that The Prophet Muhammad became very poor after spending all the wealth of his first wife. At that time, in Arabia, the poor had to go to the open desert for relieving themselves, and even for their sexual needs. The Prophet’s wives, too, had to do the same; He had told his wives, “I give you permission to go out and carry out your natural work”. (Hadith Bukhari first volume book 4 No. 149). Accordingly, this is what his wives started doing. One day, The Prophet Mohammed’s disciple, Umar, complained to him that these women were very uncomfortable because they were instantly recognizable while relieving themselves. Umar proposed a cover but Prophet Muhammad ignored it. Then the Prophet asked Allah for advice and he laid down the verse (33:59) (Hadith Bukhari Book 026 No. 5397). Koran 33.59 “O Prophet! Tell they wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested.”
This is the history of the purdah, according to the Hadith. But the question is: as Arab men, too, relieved themselves in the open, why did not Allah start purdah for men? Clearly, Allah does not treat men and women as equals, else there would be purdah for both. To the Hadith, men are higher than women. So women have to be made walking prisons.

The other person who criticized Burkha was Saira Khan, runner up in the first series of The Apprentice in UK.  Her issue was both religious and medical:

Shockingly, the Dickensian bone disease rickets has reemerged in the British Muslim community because women are not getting enough vital vitamin D from sunlight because they are being consigned to life under a shroud.
Thanks to fundamentalist Muslims and ‘hate’ preachers working in Britain, the veiling of women is suddenly all-pervasive and promoted as a basic religious right. We are led to believe that we must live with this in the name of ‘tolerance’.

So, if you read, those who support the Burkha as a legitimate dress alternative say so because it is the “choice of the woman” and not to dictated “by the society”.  While those who oppose Burkha do so because it is a symbol of a woman’s subjugation.  While Nasreen insists the practice comes from Quran and Hadiths, Saira Khan doesn’t think so.

There is enough body of writings by many which confirm that Niqaab or Burkha come directly from Prophet Mohammad.  Not just Quran but specifically, the Hadiths insist on this practice using several instances from Mohammad’s life. [6]

Quran and Hadiths are VERY clear why covering – fully – for women is mandatory – because woman can entice men. So, one has to clearly identify the reason for Burkha.  It is more because a woman is considered as a “piece of meat”.  Woman, according to Mohammad, was a deficient species, both in religion and intelligence and he was very unambiguous about this.

Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301:
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.”

The parts of the body that are not to be exposed in public are known in Islam as “Awrah”.  Interestingly, the debate, of what constitutes “Awrah” or not has gone further than just body parts.  Many Islamic scholars sincerely believe that, in case of women, even their VOICE is “Awrah”.  Why?  Well, because “voice of a woman can in fact cause fitna and, if a corrupt man hears it, can cause evil desires in his heart to grow”

According to some Islamic scholars, “Women are a place for fulfillment of desire for men.”.[8].  Sahir Ludhianvi lamented this attitude in one of the most senstive songs he wrote “Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko”, as to why a woman is considered dwellers of hell and instruments of devil, by the very men whom she gives birth.[9]

Aurat Sansaar Ki Qismat Hai, Phir Bhi Taqdeer Ki HeTi Hai
Avtaar Payambar Janti Hai, Phir Bhi Shaitaan Ki BeTi Hai
(A woman is the destiny of the world, even then she is considered a bad luck;
GIves birth to Prophets and Saints, yet is considered a daughter of Devil)


If you are following someone and imitating or following his/her dictates, then it is not out of love.  It is a relationship of POWER.  And power does not know love.  It is inherently selfish and hypocritical.  So spake the politically incorrect and one with razor sharp spiritual intellect, J. Krishnamurti.

Some of us are not quite sure that we want to change, for we enjoy this violence. For some of us it is even profitable. And for others, all they desire is to remain in their entrenched positions. There are still others who through change seek some form of super excitement, over-rated emotional expression. Most of us want power in some form or another. The power over oneself, the power over another, the power which comes with new and brilliant ideas, the power of leadership, fame, and so on. Political power is as evil as religious power.  The power of the world and the power of an ideology do not change man. Nor does the volition to change, the will to transform oneself, bring about this change.

It is undeniable that state’s political power should not decide what one should wear or not, but then on the other side, is Burkha’s wearing not done BECAUSE of another power?  The religious power.  Just because someone claimed a few centuries back that some God spoke to him in a cave when he was alone.. and from then on continued to speak to him.. and him only.  A faceless, formless, nameless God kept talking endlessly about the most mundane of things and which he had the special duty to enforce?  Is Burkha wearing – the choice of it as a dress alternative – then really ABOUT it being an alternative?  Do the Hadiths or Quran lay it out as a CHOICE just as the apparel store lays it out for a Western woman?  I agree with Dr. Chopra that a Bikini is as much about sexuality as Burkha is… but it is NOT about just a dress.  It is about the mentality.  One mentality assumes a woman to be a piece of meat and DOES NOT give her any freedom to choose.  The other, which encourages her to wear Bikini, probably also looks at her like a sex object – but GIVES her the freedom to choose.

So, wearing a Burkha is NOT about a woman’s right to choose but how men have tried to unload the guilt of their own penis on a woman’s entire existence.  Just because the men cannot handle their libido, women have had to bear for their lack of control.  Nothing more than that.

Reference Links:

1. Burka makes women prisoners, says President Sarkozy
2. In my space
3. Mini Skirts, Yes. Burqas, No?
4. The Burqa
5. Why I, as a British Muslim woman, want the burkha banned from our streets
6. Niqaab in light of Holy Quran and Sahih Hadith
8. Islamic fatawa regarding women By Muhammad bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Musnid
9. Women and hell-fire:

Volume 1, Book 2, Number 28:
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas:
The Prophet said: “I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were ungrateful.” It was asked, “Do they disbelieve in Allah?” (or are they ungrateful to Allah?) He replied, “They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favors and the good (charitable deeds) done to them. If you have always been good (benevolent) to one of them and then she sees something in you (not of her liking), she will say, ‘I have never received any good from you.”
Volume 1, Book 3, Number 101:
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
Some women requested the Prophet to fix a day for them as the men were taking all his time. On that he promised them one day for religious lessons and commandments. Once during such a lesson the Prophet said, “A woman whose three children die will be shielded by them from the Hell fire.” On that a woman asked, “If only two die?” He replied, “Even two (will shield her from the Hell-fire).”

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