“Hijab is not a ticket to heaven”

February 2, 2010

I have already talked, in CFI Blogs, of three courageous Kuwaiti intellectuals who called for a separation of religion and state. Now the matter of religious freedom has been taken up by the Members of the Kuwaiti Parliament, with a special reference to the wearing of veils by women. On January 29, the Kuwait Times interviewed several young women on the subject- the women agreed to talk frankly as long as their identity were concealed. What follows is from the Kuwait Times.

‘Fatma' feels it is a incumbent religious duty, and dresses accordingly, while ‘Sarah' argues that wearing the hijab is an outdated mode of living, asserting, "I don't think God will put me in hell for not wearing a niqab, hijab or burqa. What matters most is how clean and sincere your heart is, not how much you cover your body. History told us that some people in this part of the world wore hijab during the pre-Islamic era and moreover it is not even in the Holy Quran. We should not continue to dwell so much on custom and tradition in this computer age. The fact that our forefathers lived in mud houses with thatched roofs back then doesn't mean we should follow suit." ‘Sarah' is supported by ‘May', who says, "During the time of the Prophet (PBUH), there were no cars, no computers etcetera, and people travelled on donkeys and horses, but today we have cars, airplanes, hummer jeeps and other luxuries. We are in another kind of civilization and this is the reality. I don't have a problem with the hijab but let it be just optional. Many of these veiled women are wearing them not because they like it, but rather, they were forced to wear it by either their parents or their husbands, and that is where the problem lies. There are so many untold truths about this issue. Hijab is not a ticket to heaven".

Last year four women were elected to the Kuwaiti parliament for the first time, and two of them - Dr Aseel Al-Awadhi and Dr Rola Dashti - chose not to wear the hijab. However, since their election, the Islamists have been demanding that they be forced to do so. One male MP Mohammad Al-Kandari argued that this "is not a matter of extremism; according to Islam and according to Kuwait's traditions, women must wear the hijab". Other MPs responded that "In a democracy such as Kuwait, the hijab cannot be imposed.It is a matter between women and God". While the National Assembly speaker called for calm, and pointed out that the parliamentary regulations do not explicitly mention any obligation to wear hijab.

In my view what is of great consequence and certainly a positive and hopeful development is the extraordinary decision handed down by the Kuwait Constitutional Court, which rejected a lawsuit demanding that the MPs Dr Aseel Al-Awadhi and Dr Rola Dashti be expulsed from parliament for violating Sharia Law by not wearing the Islamic hijab, and ruled that, "The laws of Islamic Sharia do not have a binding force like the basic laws of the state...The Kuwaiti constitution does not stipulate that Sharia is the sole source of legislation, nor does it preclude the legislator from utilizing other sources of legislation, out of consideration for the people's needs."

The women MPs concerned, Al-Awadhi and Dashti, hailed the decision as a victory for Kuwait's constitution which guarantees religious freedom; Dashti is hoping that this decision will put an end to the attempts of "those who wish to bring Kuwait back to an earlier era."