In early September 2017, with all that was going on in the world, The Times newspaper ran a FRONT PAGE story about SOME primary schools allowing Muslim children to wear a headscarf as part of their school uniform. What a scandal….
A week later, The Times also published a letter supposedly from “Muslim female campaigners” titled ‘Hijab has no place in our primary schools’. The same newspaper, just three weeks earlier ran another story claiming that the hijab ‘sexualises’ young children. This came after a road safety campaign used a cartoon image of children, one of whom was wearing a headscarf.
(I’m sure this is all just a coincidence and not coordinated at all and there really isn’t much else going on in the world for The Times to write about apart from this really pressing issue three times in the space of a few weeks.)
Some of these “Muslim female campaigners” (who by the way have almost zero record of defending Islam and Muslims) are said to include Amina Lone, Gina Khan and Aisha Ali Khan. There was also a segment on BBC Asian Network and the main guest was Henna Rai. Another person who has been very vocal on the subject is LBC and Quilliam’s very own ex-feminist Maajid Nawaz, who covered not one but two radio phone-in shows on this subject in the space of a couple of weeks. On one of the show, Maajid openly said he did not agree with the hijab being worn by women at all (so let alone children).
Interestingly, in his second show Maajid took a call from “Iram Ramzan from Manchester”. Sounds like a regular caller, right? What Maajid failed to tell his listeners was that he knew full well who this person was. Iram Ramzan is the founder of an online magazine called Sedaa. Sedaa describes itself as “…a platform which will feature writers of Muslim heritage”. They are effectively a group of secular Muslims (an oxymoron) and ex-Muslims (people who leave Islam but can’t leave Islam alone). Maajid not only converses with Iram on Twitter, he follows Sedaa’s official Twitter account.
Again, I’m sure Maajid randomly taking Iram’s phone call on air was purely coincidental and not planned…
Much has been said in the last few weeks on this topic by this group of individuals and those on the other side of the argument who wear the hijab and/or defend the right for it to be worn. I wanted to go through some of the arguments put forward by the first group, most of which are hollow, shallow and contradictory. I will also speak from the other angle, as both a Muslim and a parent of young children.
What is a hijab and what does Islam say about it? Hijab is typically understood as the headscarf that Muslim women wear and which covers the hair, neck and chest area. Quranically, when the term Hijab is used, it is actually referring to a screen or a curtain. The wives of the Prophet (saw) were not permitted to be seen by men not related to them and if they needed to be approached, a screen or a type of veil needed to be between them. When the Quran talks about the headscarf (what we know as a Hijab), it uses the term Khimar. This is just change in language over time and therefore the terms Hijab and Khimar are typically understood in our times to be the same thing.
“And tell the believing women to reduce of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which appears thereof and to wrap their headcovers over their chests…” (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 abused.” (Quran 33:59)
It was narrated from Aisha (ra) that Asma bint Abi Bakr (ra) entered upon the Prophet (saw) while wearing thin clothing, so he turned away from her and said: “O Asma! Indeed when a woman reaches (the age of menstruation), it is not proper that anything should be shown except this and this” and he pointed to his face and hands. (Hadith, Abu Dawud)
The vast majority of Islamic scholars throughout history have stated that the hijab is an obligation upon females who have reached puberty. In Islamic jurisprudence, this is known as consensus on an issue (Ijma). There is a minority opinion, that say it is not mandatory but as per almost every issue where there is a consensus, a fringe and obscure opinion exists, which is heavily outweighed by the majority opinion and also in light of the many evidences, of which we have presented just three.
Hijab on children
Going back to what was discussed in the newspapers and on the radio, the focus was on hijab being worn by younger girls and those at primary school (from ages 5-11). The main arguments presented against these girls wearing a hijab are as follows and they will be addressed individually:
– It is not obligatory on girls that have not reached puberty.
– Girls as young as 5 are being forced to wear the hijab.
– The girls are not being given a choice by their parents.
– The hijab sexualises these young girls.
– It’s perverted to expect girls as young as this to protect modesty from others.
– It is torture and psychological abuse to tell these young girls that they will burn in hell if they don’t wear a hijab.
Image Credit: The Independant
“It is not obligatory on girls that have not reached puberty”
This is both a fair point and is it Islamically correct. Going back to the earlier point, the consensus of scholars state that the hijab is obligatory and this applies to females that have reached puberty, which typically starts between the ages 10-13. Therefore, no one is actually disputing or claiming it’s mandatory for girls at primary school age. It’s a strawman argument.
Henna Rai who appeared to BBC Asian Network and described herself on air as a “religious theologian”, made some comments around this and the presenter who was fair and balanced actually pulled Henna up a few times regarding some of her statements. Henna was asked if she wanted the hijab banned from primary school and she categorically said “no”. However, she repeated a phrase several times which was “the hijab has no place in our primary schools”. (Perhaps we should have an impromptu game of spot the difference?) Henna also repeatedly pushed the argument that girls who haven’t reached puberty are not obliged to wear the hijab but also later said the hijab is not mandatory for women in general. If that is your position, then the first argument doesn’t quite make sense. It seems very odd to stress that the hijab is not obligatory on girls who haven’t reached puberty if your real view is that it’s not obligatory for anyone.
“Girls as young as 5 are being forced to wear the hijab”
Where is the data and proof for this claim? Have surveys been done? Records of phone calls to Childline?
As with the niqab/burka and general hijab debate, this for some reason is the default starting point yet no evidence is presented. It is a typical Orientalist argument and narrative that Muslim women are oppressed and forced to wear such items as they have no say, voice, opinion and no mind of their own. It is of course the burden of the heroic Orientalist’s to liberate and free women from such tyranny by de-veiling them.
If you make a claim, the burden of proof is on you to substantiate it. Presenting Islamophobic-style slogans and soundbites are not a form of evidence or science.
As parents or those with younger siblings, cousins etc will know, children typically copy and emulate those around them. Whether it’s a headscarf, dressing up or what type of TV programmes to watch. It’s not unimaginable that if a young girl sees her mother, sisters or cousins wearing a scarf, that one day she might want to wear it or at the very least she sees it as something that Muslim women wear.
Interestingly, one of the callers on the BBC show was a mother of a young girl. The mother did not wear hijab, but said her daughter through her own choice had been wearing it since the age of 5 and is now 10 years old. (This has the makings of an Orientalist’s worst nightmare.)
“The girls are not being given a choice by their parents”
This overlaps with the previous argument and works off the same false assumptions where no actual evidence is given for this claim. Without repeating the same refutation, let’s delve into the parental aspect of all of this.
Even if a parent chooses or encourages their child to wear a hijab. So what?! Parents choose and encourage lots of things for their children:
– What they eat.
– How they dress.
– What school they go to.
– What they are allowed to watch on TV.
– What time they have to be home.
Are these things not the role of a regular parent? Do we ever write letters to The Times and complain about children not being given a choice in these matters? This is part and parcel of the parent-child relationship.
We often even choose what hobbies our children should take up. What 5-year- old wakes up one morning and says: “I want to learn to play the violin”? Yet, how many children take violin, ballet or piano lessons? Some parents even choose what football team their children should support or the household is already full of supporters of a particular team and naturally the child ends up being a supporter. Choosing and encouraging are regular parental duties.
Even when it comes to religion, of course parents are going to bring their children up with the same religious values and beliefs. Muslim parents will involve their children in Ramadhan and Eid, just like Christian parents will involve their children when it comes to Easter and Christmas. It makes no sense for Muslim parents to eat halal food and avoid alcohol, yet feed their children Pork and wine. It would be absurd.
It is your role as a parent to set a moral compass from a young age for our children. It’s part of bringing them up with values and principles and also building their character and identity. What is wrong with parents wanting to bring up their children with an Islamic identity? Despite the constant headlines, Islamophobia, hatred, negativity and everything else you throw at us, we are proud of our Muslim identity. We are proud and unapologetic about being Muslim and visibly Muslim.
Image Credit: Alamy.com
“The hijab sexualises these young girls”
My first reaction to this is if that’s the first thought that comes to you, then perhaps it is you that has become perverted and it’s your mind that sexualises and fetishizes these things. What Muslim girl at 5, 7, or 10 has become sexualised as a result of her wearing a scarf? How are they any more sexualised than their classmates who don’t wear a hijab? It makes no sense.
If a headscarf, a piece of fabric that covers your hair, is responsible for sexualising children, where does that leave crop tops, tight jeans and short skirts that are sold for young girls to wear? What about the slogans that appear on clothing aimed at girls?
What about sex education that is taught to girls of these age. Is that not in essence and by definition, sexualising them? Or is it this mysterious headgear that is doing the damage here?
People say the hijab ‘sexualises women’ because unfortunately society has found a way to sexualise almost everything. Take any standard popular box-set or Netflix series. You will struggle to find one that doesn’t contain nudity and sex scenes. Pick up any newspaper, not just The Sun or The Star, but even the ‘mild’ ones such as The Metro or Evening Standard that they give away for free. 99 times out of 100, there will be page that has someone wearing revealing clothes or who is practically naked.
So, is the problem here really a young girl wearing a headscarf or is it the inability of society not to sexualise absolutely everything around you?
“It’s perverted to expect girls as young as this to protect modesty from others”
Islam places emphasis on the idea of modesty and the hijab itself is a form of modesty. As Muslims, our modesty comes from Islam and we are not afraid to say that we are proud and fully aware that the Islamic concept and standard of modesty is far higher than what you see in your favourite TV series or falling out of a nightclub on a Saturday.
The hijab is not just modesty in front of men. It is also a reminder that you are a Muslim. It is an act of worship pleasing to Allah. It is also modesty and humility for your own sake as well.
The argument is then given that why should children have to be modest? Another caller to the BBC show recalled a story of when her brother (or another male relative) saw a young Muslim girl coming out of a mosque wearing a long Muslim-style dress and it horrified him. (Not exactly Stephen King material but let’s roll with the story). She quoted him and said: “What does that say about me as a man?” Perversion is often brought up with this line of argument and people ask: “What kind of person would look at a child like that?” (The simple answer would be is that there is this thing called a ‘paedophile’ and you are seriously asking that question and pretending they don’t exist?!)
Another challenge I would put forward for this is to ask why put any clothes on a child at all? If they have no modesty to preserve and do not need to hide or protect anything, why not send your children out on the streets completely naked? When you send your son or daughter swimming, why put those trunks or bikinis on them? What exactly are you hiding or being modest about and whom are you hiding this from? I would love a serious answer to this question.
“It is torture and psychological abuse to tell these young girls that they will burn in hell if they don’t wear a hijab”
I only heard ‘non-practicing’ and ‘non-religious’ (both are his own claims) Maajid Nawaz come up with this line and anyone that is familiar with him would not be surprised to hear such a crazy and ridiculous statement. It’s pure scare-mongering that has helped him build a career.
Firstly, no parent in their right mind tells a four or five-year-old that if they don’t wear a scarf or if they eat a Percy Pig sweet that they will burn in hell forever. There is a concept of ‘age appropriate information’. Just like we don’t tell kids of that age about the gory details of where babies come from, likewise we filter information about religion accordingly. This is clearly ‘fake news’ from Maajid.
Is it torture and psychological abuse to tell kids about the bogeyman and monsters? Is it abuse to tell a child if they don’t do something then there might be a consequence? Perhaps, they won’t get that toy for their birthday or they have to go straight to bed for being naughty. Yet again, perfectly normal and typical parent behaviour but because the story relates to Muslims, Maajid needs exaggerate the whole thing and turn a non-story into a scandal.
(If anything is torture and abuse, it was me listening to him on LBC radio discussing this topic.)
Parents should teach their kids the difference between right and wrong, but also why something is right or wrong. Too often, some Muslim parents are guilty to telling their children to pray or fast, but not always why we should do these things. What does Islam say about these things? What did the Prophet (saw) do and how did he do it? This applies to the concept of wearing a hijab, any other Islamic practice we encourage our children to adopt and also our belief in Islam in general. Again, we need age appropriate information and filters in place but we should provide an environment not only for our children to nurture and develop their Islamic identity, but where they are comfortable
asking questions about the religion.
It is true to an extent that if something is forced, then you could have the opposite effect and turn people away from something. But if they are taught why something is done, for what purpose/benefit, how Islam governs and takes care of all of our affairs, then this is surely better than the Nike ‘Just Do It’ approach. Likewise, we should take this approach when we want our kids to study hard at school or revise when their exams are approaching. Help them to understand what opportunities will arise if they do well, how much easier it will make applying for university and jobs. How much better it will be for their careers and future income. Rather than locking them in a cupboard and enforcing hours of studying on them, or threatening them if they don’t do well in exams. There should be a wisdom behind our approach.
Finally, I would advise Schools, Ofsted and anyone else that is sincerely (that rules out all the names above) concerned or has questions around the hijab and children adopting this practice, to actually speak to actual practicing Muslim parents who understand and wear the hijab and who may or may not send their children to school wearing it. That would be the starting point rather than giving platforms to hijab-less women trying to pressurize not only schools but Muslim parents and trying to take away their parental rights.
As with all these trojan horse fake-story telling, Prevent-strategy pushing, ‘Reform’ calling individuals, they are almost always secular and so-called ‘liberal Muslims’. Once again, it is ‘Muslims’ who don’t practice Islam calling for a change to Muslim practices.
These supposed ‘Champions’ of liberalism are almost always illiberal when it comes to Muslims wanting to hold firm to their own beliefs and practices. Are you really ‘liberal’ if you are only liberal towards fellow liberals?
Perhaps if they are honest they should rebrand as an ‘illiberal liberal’ when it comes to Islam and Muslims.
Featured Image: Shutterstock/Zurijeta