Burn Your Burqas Part Two

October 20, 2009


Islam does not have a Pope who can clarify and define with precision and authority the dogmas. But over the years certain individuals and institutions in the Islamic Countries have acquired a kind of authority to which the believers turn for moral guidance, and interpretation as to the proper conduct for a Muslim in the modern world. One such individual and one such such institution are Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi and the Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt respectively. Tantawi has been Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, considered one of the most important Sunni Muslim institutions, and Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University since 27 March 1996 when he was appointed by the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak.
In December, 2003, Tantawi, speaking in front of President Sarkozy of France, said the wearing of headscarves was a religious obligation for Muslim women, but added, clearly not wishing to upset relations with a friendly nation, that non-Muslim countries were free to pass any legislation they thought fit, and that Muslim women in non-Muslim countries had to obey the law of the host country.
In October 2009, Sheikh Tantawi said that the full face veil, the niqab, had nothing to do with Islam, and was an out-dated tradition. An increasing number of Muslim women in Egypt are adopting the niqab, and as this practice is associated with more radical trends of Islam, it is a source of worry to the government in power, that is President Mubarak. While visiting a girls' school in Cairo, Tantawi asked one of the students to remove her niqab, telling her it was merely a tradition, with no justification in Islam and the Koran.
Egypt's minister of Higher Education is now planning to ban female undergraduates from wearing the niqab in the country's public universities.
While Sheikh Tantawi's attitude will encourage the reformists, his call for a ban on the niqab is hardly likely to mean much to the human rights activists in the country. It is in many ways more of a political statement, a subtle way of endorsing President Mubarak's government which is fearful of the increasing influence of the Islamists. Following Sheikh Tantawi, Tarek Fateh once the head of the Muslim Council of Canada [MCC], has called for "an end to this insult to the female gender. The MCC... has asked Ottawa to introduce legislation that will "ban the wearing of masks, burkas and niqabs in public." Fateh continued, "Defenders of the burka contend that the wearing of a face-mask by Muslim women is protected by our Charter's right to religious freedom. But such arguments are premised on the myth that a face-mask for women is a necessary part of religiously prescribed Islamic attire.There is no requirement in Islam for Muslim women to cover their face. Rather, the practice reflects a mode of male control over women. Its association with Islam originates in Saudi Arabia, which seeks to export the practice of veiling - along with other elements of its extremist Wahhabist brand of Islam. The Canada I came to with my wife and daughters should not be a haven for a medieval, misogynist doctrine that traps women under the guise of liberalism and choice.
It is sad that while the rest of the world moves toward the goal of gender equality, right here in Europe and North America, under our very noses, Islamists are pushing back the clock, convincing educated Muslim women they are mere corrupting sexual objects and a source of sin".


#1 ttch (Guest) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 at 9:10am

I’m confused:  Is Wahhabist Islam not protected in the Charter’s right to religious freedom?  Should the government be making decisions about what constitutes the essentials of any religion or sect?

Secular law should promote secular purposes, period.  If a religious sect or cult is “enslaving” its members it should be banned and its leaders prosecuted.

#2 wrock (Guest) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 at 10:33am

The fact that Tantawi was appointed by Mubarak is enough a disclaimer that Tantawi is guided by politics/power than by edicts of faith.

#3 MrEmbiggen on Sunday October 25, 2009 at 8:58pm

The growth of various ‘belief’ enclaves is not surprising given the paucity of coherent and consistent ethical systems that is rife in the West. I live in a area of Australia where hundreds of new age style believers disengage from ethical thought behind the easy answers of various self help gurus. I suspect this creates an easy matrix for organised faiths to grow in – due to the heavy weight cultural relativism they employ in their opinions.

In recent times the region has seen a growth in organised religious grabs for property and influence in schools and community events. There aren’t many Muslims living here at present though there has been a small rise. I’ll be interested to see the community response once the growth accelerates. Most people I speak to tend to feel that it’s the Muslim’s right to believe what they want and leave it at that. I want the debate to get past this so called conversation stopper. In an effort to help this along I had our book club take on both Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel and Ibn Warraq’s Why I am not a Muslim. It was a truly wonderful exercise and virtually all people came away from it wanting to learn more and do something.

#2"The fact that Tantawi was appointed by Mubarak is enough a disclaimer that Tantawi is guided by politics/power than by edicts of faith.”

I’ve always wondered where the dividing line between faith, religion and politics and power lay. It seems to me that a high proportion of faith based beliefs and behaviors are expressed socially and culturally which puts them fair square in the political realm. Especially when it’s to do with group behaviors.

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