Islamic poet Adonis on the use of Veils by Muslim women abroad

According to Adonis, "there is no categorical text mandating the veil, as religious fundamentalists would have it. There are only interpretations of traditions or proverbs". Which still "count" in Islam, as we have seen in the previous posts from Ted Thornton's site. But not so fast: Adonis goes into an analisys of the issue in regards to the muslim faith and arrives to the conclusion that "Anyone studying this position objectively and accurately will see that its supporters must not be characterized as men of religion but as politicians". Bingo!!! Sounds like a party you know ? -- law

Ali Ahmad Said (penname “Adonis”) was born in Syria in 1930. He is one of the most renowned living poets in the Arabic speaking world.

Hijab for the Head or Hijab for the Mind?
Adonis June, 26, 2003

Translated by Ted Thornton

With respect to the ongoing issue of the veil in France specifically and in European countries generally,

1. No matter how many points of view there are on the veiling of Muslim women, it is possible to say that they are all mere interpretations. For there is no categorical text mandating the veil, as religious fundamentalists would have it. There are only interpretations of traditions or proverbs that have been handed down (ma’athurat). But, is it right religiously to raise interpretations of such traditions to the level of legislation (al-tashri) or law (al-qanoon)?

In any case, the question of the veil remains divisive. By what right or by what power do some presume to impose their personal interpretation upon the people as a whole, sometimes permitting themselves to use violence in the process not only against women, but against all who differ with them and against society as a whole?

Because the question of the veil is an old one inside Islamic societies, which on the whole are not secular (madaniyya) societies, it is possible to understand its difficulties and complexities. The stand of Islamic fundamentalists in Western, secular societies raises problems that harm Muslims living in them as individuals and harms Islam itself as a vision for humanity and the world, for oneself and for the other. It is among the simplest of principles that immigrant Muslims, especially those who have gained citizenship in the countries where they live, recognize how to draw a strict boundary between the private and the public, between personal belief and common social values. In fact, all should submit to the latter, especially to civil and educational institutions. Muslims who cling to the veil should recognize that their clinging means they lack respect for the feelings of the people with whom they live in one nation, that they do not believe in their values, that they are desecrating the principles their hosts live by, that they are mocking the laws the original inhabitants struggled so long to set in place, and that they reject the democratic, republican principles in the country which harbors them and provides work and freedom for them.

They should realize that this adherence to the veil, more than a desecration, is seen by many Westerners as a kind of “invasion” (ghazw).

2. There is a claim that Muslim women in the West choose to wear the veil of their own free will. This is a claim many would dispute, although this is not the place for discussing this aspect of the issue. But, when we see in Paris, by way of example, young girls, some of them not yet four years old, wearing the veil, can it be said that they do so of their own free will? What freedom does a child of this age have?

How is it that fundamentalist immigrant Muslims don’t see in the context of the openness (infitah) of the countries they have migrated to how they are using that same openness to close themselves off, to isolate themselves, to create a migration (hijra) within a migration? They are in the those countries in the first place only because of that same openness. Therefore, when they express their beliefs or practice them by wearing the veil or the beard or both, they are waging an assault upon Islam first in that they are belittling (qazm) it with these superficial formalities and presenting Islam to the world as a symbol of mere ritualism. Is this how Muslims should introduce Islam in this century, the same Islam that was for a number of centuries the symbol of creativity and radiance? Don’t they realize that through behavior of this kind they are “putting a veil” over Islam itself and “covering its face,” and that they are therefore “deforming” it and “strangling” it?

Those who cry out for the imposition of the veil represent a minority of Muslims in the West as well as in the Arab world. If wearing the veil were a matter of democratic choice, it would have failed outright. This Muslim minority in the West, instead of showing respect for democracy and its principles, on the contrary is trying to deny them (tatanakara laha) and impose their view by force not upon Muslims alone but upon democracy itself. I do not know how it is possible to ignore [lit. “put off” - tasweef] or defend this position. I do not know how Islam can be served by it or how it can be a true expression of Islam.

Anyone studying this position objectively and accurately will see that its supporters must not be characterized as men of religion but as politicians. Truth is, all the facts indicate that this minority is merely a political minority. Muslims and Westerners should deal with them not as representatives of religion, but merely as a political party.

3. The mosque is the (only) place in the West where the Muslim’s preferences outweigh those of others (yatamayaza), where there is complete clarity about his religious “identity” (this is the way it ought to be in Arab countries, too). This is the only place where he may exercise his religious rights totally. All religious practices outside the mosque, social or public, constitute an attack upon common values. An institution, especially an educational institution such as a school or university, is a secular, public, and common place, a meeting place, a place that is open to all people, a place where signs of private, distinctive religious practices, no matter what they are, should disappear. The same goes for the street, the coffee shop, clubs, movie theaters, and public lecture and conference centers. The presence of distinctive religious signs and symbols in places such as these constitutes a violation (kharq) of their meanings and purposes, a violation against the unique religious membership (al-intima ‘a) as well as an offense against unique common “identity.” It is a symbol of the wish to separate, the wish to refuse assimilation (al-indimaj). It represents the assertion of a particular and different identity within the singular public identity. Thus, it represents a challenge to public sentiments, public tastes, public culture, and public morality.

Hence, conduct that makes a show of asserting private interests above public ones is just a kind of theater or exhibitionism unbefitting religion. Religious experience is fundamentally based on intimacy, a kind of secrecy, simplicity, diffidence (khafar), silence, and seclusion (al-inziwa’a), quite remote from “showy behavior” of all forms.

While some may protest against the Muslim woman putting on the veil in the name of religious freedom, this right is protected and respected as long as it is private and is practiced in private. But, anything exceeding that limit [i.e. veiling in open society] becomes a transgression against the other, representing a lack of respect for his views, thoughts, and feelings in addition to becoming a reckless flaunting of public, secular principles and laws and the great struggles and sacrifices it took to bring them into reality.

4. When some of the caliphs in the Abbasid era ordered non-Muslims to wear distinctive symbols to tell them apart from Muslims, the practice met with disapproval. It was seen as a sign of regression and rigidity. After society evolved, the practice was quickly abolished. Therefore, it is strange and difficult to understand how Muslims living in the West can, describing themselves as Muslims, insist on donning distinctive symbols to set themselves apart from the inhabitants of the society in which they are living. This insistence is an insult (ihana) against and a condemnation of their history and culture and their presence in the world to the extent that, to one who contemplates it, it appears that the veil is not only a violation of the laws of the other and his culture, but also, prior to that, an expression of contempt (imtihan) for them and for another way of life. However, this is in its death throes.

5. In summary, I am saying that the religious interpretation which calls for imposing the veil upon Muslim women living in a secular country which separates religion and politics and in which men and women are equal in rights and obligations shows a mentality that doesn’t only veil women, but seeks to veil humanity, society, and life, too. It seeks to veil the mind. It is an interpretation that grants many in the West the right to see in it the tearing down of the foundations that the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality in the West set in place, and to see in it a demand to nullify the role of women in public, social, cultural, and political life along with destroying totally the principles of secular life in Europe and the West.

Therefore, the interpretation, in the final analysis, works to turn both humanity and religion into mere tools in the service of an authoritarian machine run by blind tyranny.

Adonis on the Veil


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