Part 3: Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah on hijabs and headscarves

In 2010, altM interviewed Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, then-Chairman of the Board & Scholar-in-Residence at the Nawawi Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation based in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Abd-Allah offered his insights into the growing phenomenon of Muslim women taking off their headscarves. The first part of the four-part interview can be read here and the second part of the four-part interview can be read here. The third part of the interview follows:

 

 
And if Muslim woman does find it too difficult to wear a scarf in public, can she still be modest? Can she be spiritual?

Yes, absolutely a woman can be modest without the scarf. Many American women – Jews, Christians, Muslims – are very proper and very modest. So, to label a sister who does not cover her hair as immodest, it’s like why? To say that you should wear the scarf because it’s an obligation and to say that it would be very dignified if you wore it, that’s another thing.

But to make a moral judgment against her because she does not wear the scarf, that’s not right. The only judgment you can make against her is a legal judgment and that is that it is an obligation to wear the scarf and you didn’t fulfill that obligation.

From the standpoint of the law, you cannot judge her interior. You cannot judge her heart. All you can say is that outwardly she has failed to fulfill her obligation. Then we have to ask legally, “Why didn’t you fulfill that obligation?”

Maybe she has a justification for that, maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she has the strength to do that, maybe she doesn’t. God says in the Qur’an “Obey God to the degree that you’re able.” So if she’s not able to fulfill that obligation because it is too much of a burden for her, the psychological burden for her is too great, then she’s justified in not fulfilling that obligation. She may still be a perfectly modest women who has the highest moral integrity and we cannot pass judgment on her. This is just as we cannot say that a woman who is covering her hair is a woman of integrity, because she may not be. That’s another question all together.

We can only say that [a woman wearing a scarf in public has] fulfilled an obligation. Is she an honest woman? Is she a chaste woman? We can’t tell that from her wearing a scarf. We can’t make that judgment. And many women who don’t wear scarves are very, very good Muslims and a number of Muslim scholars in the Muslim world have noted that, and they’ve even said, “Don’t make judgments against women who don’t cover their hair.” And it may be that they pray five times a day and fast during Ramadan and fulfill all of their obligations, but it may be too difficult for them to fulfill the obligation to cover.

The scarf must be nothing but an item of clothing. We cannot blow it up and conflate into the scarf issue all these other things. For instance, if we go back and talk about the way it was when there was slavery in the Muslim world, Muslim slave women were not required to wear scarves. Now, this is a difficult issue to talk about because slavery has been universally condemned in the modern age, but if we look just at the question of slave women not wearing scarves and covering their hair, this was in all the schools of law to my knowledge and yet these women were Muslims and they were extremely pious Muslims in many cases.

The whole issue of what it means to cover your hair, it should not involve any kind of moral judgment. In Islam we measure outward conformities in terms of whether or not you have fulfilled an obligation, whether or not you have fulfilled something that is recommended, or neutral, or if you have done something that is disliked or forbidden. Islamic law cannot go beyond that and this is one of its redeeming features – that the law is not making moral judgments on people. It is not saying who’s going to Heaven and who’s going to Hell. It is only saying that if you want to obey God, you should do such and such. And all of us ask the forgiveness of God because there is no one among us who fulfills all the obligations.

After all, we are all human beings and legal judgments in Islam are never moral judgments. To think that they are, this is misinformation. And this is what the people of the cognitive frame of hijab as identity have done. They have mixed the whole thing up. This cognitive frame that a woman who doesn’t cover her hair is immodest is an ideological weapon that has been used to give a woman no choice: if you don’t wear this you’re bad. But in Islamic law we can’t make that judgment.

This is what Dr. Sherman Jackson has talked about very eloquently when he talks about the misuse of the terms “Islamic” and “un-Islamic” because in Islamic law there is no such thing as “Islamic” and “un-Islamic”. There is obligatory, recommended, neutral, disliked, and forbidden. These are the legal categories and that’s all we can say about an act. When we use the word “Islamic” to describe someone’s actions, that becomes a very loaded term and that person is seen as a really good person and someone acting in a way that is “un-Islamic” is seen as a bad person. These terms are strategies to manipulate people’s behavior. [This] is why we need to set the cognitive frames and we need to deconstruct these false cognitive frames and we need to be very careful about making these moral judgments about other people. We say [an act] is obligatory, recommended, neutral, disliked or forbidden. That’s the way we speak.

Again we are people who are dignified and who are people of integrity.

And the rules of the law to me and to you and to us are blessed and sacred. I don’t take Islamic law lightly at all. But for me to break an obligation may be obligatory sometimes. There are some times when you have to draw exceptions because of circumstances. And even if that’s not the case, and I violate something I should not have violated, and all of us ask forgiveness thousands of times every year, then in that case in the end it is much better to break a rule than to break your psyche. A broken rule is easily repaired. We just say, “I ask your forgiveness God, what did I do? I am sorry, I am on my hands and knees crying. Forgive me!” God will forgive you a broken rule with such ease and such beauty.

But a broken psyche, how can you ever mend that? And I have seen that and no doubt you have seen that more than I. I have seen women who really their psyches are broken or almost broken because of the rigidity of a community that has no understanding of how it practices Islam. And it requires her to bear this sociological and cultural burden that the man never carries or rarely carries. So here she is under siege in society. She’s got enough problems as it is and she’s under siege and he’s happy go lucky. He can go where he wants to go, he can mix with whom he wants to mix with. That’s not right, that’s not fair.

 

 

 

33 Comments

  • edabdalghafur says:

    Dr. Faruq makes some very important points here.  Yes, there is a difference between whether or not you fulfill any particular obligation and a judgement of one’s overall character.  One must be extremely careful when jumping from one to the other because, for instance, their might be a valid excuse as to why a particular person fails to meet an obligation.  Also, we should be hesitant to make such judgments of character because often obligations can be extremely difficult to fulfill and we may underestimate what is entailed, and further because of our own sinfulness.  We don’t want to be guilty of hypocrisy.  So for those reasons compassion is called for. 

    However, to separate the fulfillment of obligations, legal and otherwise, from judgments of character altogether, this is a different matter.  Judgments of character cannot be reduced to the fulfillment of legal obligations, but they also are not independent of the fulfillment of legal obligations.  One cannot be negligent with respect to one’s legal obligations and expect a favorable judgement of character.  But of course one needs solid evidence of negligence before such a judgment can be made.   

    One question that might arise, is the following, if we say that wearing a headscarf is too difficult for many women because of the social alienation entailed (which seems entirely plausible), what level of dress can we expect from Muslim women, before a judgment of negligence is justified (with respect to hijab)?  If a woman wears sleeveless shirts, or tight pants, or a shirt with a low neckline, what prima facie reason do we have to assume something other than negligence?  Certainly, a woman has a choice to wear other more modest clothes that wouldn’t incur the social alienation of a headscarf. 

    My point in saying this isn’t to say we should all go out and rail on women who wear such items of clothing.  It’s to say that when we call for tolerance, we shouldn’t do it in the liberal way, which too often amounts to, “well it really doesn’t matter what you wear, its all up to you anyway, and its your choice.”  Such an attitude while it might creates a certain kind of tolerance, ultimately undermines hijab rather than supports it.  The bottom line is that you can be tolerant in a different ways.  Tolerance can stem from an attitude of indifference or an attitude that recognizes a particular ideal and obligation but recognizes human frailty or the other and oneself.  One is nihilistic, the other compassionate.

  • SofiaM. says:

    This whole article is very eloquent and very understanding. However, has several assumptions in its articulation of the argument. The main one is of course is that that there is such a thing as “Islamic dress”. Islam is not political ideology or nationalistic entity, it doesn’t have boundaries, does not operate on the assumption that only people … See Morefrom particular land/s can be adherents of Islam and most importantly does not have a particular “dress”. As a matter of fact Muslims in Eastern Europe and many other places simply wore their NATIONAL clothes which did not necessarily include hair covering for women. And note, that ‘ulama that came out of those areas had NO problem whatsoever with their “women’s struggle to cover up”, in fact the idea of “Muslim dress” seemed ridiculous to them. This idea that religion has a certain dress code in Islamic context occurred in the middle of 20th century with the raise of political version of Islam which started articulating the religion using widely used nationalistic framework. As a Muslim woman who chose not to cover anymore I affirm everyone that it was not because hijab was a “burden” for me that I discontinued covering my hair, but because I refuse to buy the new simplified and literal interpretation of scriptures. Religions main goal is get us in touch with spirituality and there is no political outwardly declaration of faith necessary to be Muslim, Christian or anybody else. So please be careful with this new term of “Islamic cress”.

  • Sobia says:

    @SofiaM.

    Could not have said it better myself. Fully agree!

  • Dina B. says:

    While I appreciate the Dr. Abd-Allah’s attempt to alleviate some of the unfair judgment placed on women, I respectfully and completely disagree with the main premise of his argument:

    “The only judgment you can make against her is a legal judgment and that is that it is an obligation to wear the scarf and you didn???t fulfill that obligation.”

    There is no judgment to be made against her, period. For two main reasons: 1) there is no absolute legal authority on Islam, and therefore, no absolute legal ruling on hijab/scarf, and 2) stating that even ONE kind of judgment is allowed by a regular person, with a “legal” basis, is faulty and destructive.

    If his argument is to separate the types of judgment one can make, into personal and legal judgments:

    1) Where is the main authority to claim hijab/scarf is obligatory? What legitimate legal authority exists that we use to derive fiqh/Islamic jurisprudence? He has argued many times against taking scholarly majority opinion as the end all for fiqh/Islamic jurisprudence, so it seems strange to me that this is what’s even alluded to. (i.e.; he usually calls for embracing pluralism: the fact that niqab/face veil is seen as obligatory by a group of scholars does not negate the opinion by other scholars that it is not. In the same breath, a group of scholars that opine hijab/scarf to be obligatory does NOT negate the opinion by other scholars that it is not.) Surprisingly, he seems to imply very early on that there is no question or doubt that hijab/scarf is an obligation, because the rest of argument relies on that assumption.

    2) Even if a so-called legitimate legal authority existed to tell us what to wear, how is it liberating/useful/progressive for him to give the allowance of judgment to a regular person? “From the standpoint of law” (not sure what that means), of what use is the regular person’s judgment? You can’t sue the woman, imprison her, or do anything to her because as a regular person you’ve judged that she is not fulfilling her obligation. This is only inadvertently furthering the notion that we need to be concerned with OTHER Muslims to be fulfilling our own obligations. His argument takes an open doorway for discussion (with a very open-ended question posed) about complex Muslim womens issues and our community’s religious dogmatism, but closes it with an argument that continues to focus on ANALYZING a woman’s behavior.

    Some other issues also bugged me. What’s the purpose in judging each other, whether its personal or legal, and where is the call by our Creator to do so? It doesn’t exist. Fiqh/Islamic Jurisprudence was created to provide an easier structure for daily life and a framework for people to practice their faith, by taking abstract values mentioned in the Qur’an and making them more practical.

    Too many loopholes in his responses for me to regard this as progressive as his other pieces, like the “Cultural Imperative” article.

  • cancairo says:

    I think a lot of what Dr Umar has said is known already _ how many times have we heard from so many people and leaders in our communities that hijab doesn’t define how “good” a woman is and that we shouldn’t judge her. But then, if a Muslim woman who doesnt wear hijab applies to teach at the local Islamic school she is told she must adhere to hijab in class, or refused the job. A lot of it is lip service and theoretical. Muslims still have a long way to go before internalizing

    Also, differing opinions on hijab is not the same as differing opinions on halal meat. Muslims have made hijab a symbol of identity and resistance, not just religion. Muslim women, when learning about hijab before choosing to take it on, are not given options on what other scholars have said about hijab _ it’s only fard, period. Any other scholar who says otherwise, or even just opens the door that covering the hair may not be an obligation, is dismissed as a corrupt or western-backed scholar who is causing fitna, even if their educational backgrounds are sound.

    Many women who chose to take off their hijabs did so after careful study, because it’s not an easy thing to do. Not all of them have “broken psyches” and to dismiss their choice because they thought it was just a “burden” is insulting.

    I don’t feel bad for women in hijab; I just feel bad that we are not really given the background story, real reasons etc why we wear hijab.

  • SofiaM. says:

    Dear IsraN,
    I am not the one proposing that scarf is just a piece of clothing. In fact if you read carefully in the article Dr Umar states “The scarf must be nothing but an item of clothing. We cannot blow it up and conflate into the scarf issue all these other things.” If you got problems with that then maybe I am not the only one whose opinion you may find insulting. Generally, I think we should not have any hard feelings towards each other in this forum and give benefit of the doubt to others. Thanks, for understanding.
    @cancairo
    God, thank you… I can’t stand this “broken psyches” expression. It’s so rediculous.

  • SofiaM. says:

    @Dina B. I wish women in our community like you and Sobia were more vocal about this issue, although I understand if you feel similar to me that this whole “Islamic dress” thing is overblown and overrated. I have this feeling that as usual it’s Muslim men who blows this thing out of proportion and makes some unprecedented illogical statements, like Dina gracefully pointed out.
    To be honest I don’t believe that Dr. Abd-Allah is even trying to “alleviate” any unfair judgments. How does anyone “alleviate” judgments by feeling sorry for another indivudual’s informed and fully valid decisions? If he wanted alleviate anything he would be telling to leave this issue for women to deal with, hijab is just a dress that some females chose to wear and it does not represent anything except maybe a functionality (you can pray anywhere you want at any time given that you held your wudu’ long enough). Sorry for posting again, you obviously can probably tell I feel strongly about this issue. Thank you.

  • Dina B. says:

    @cancairo, thank you for your post. You captured my thoughts exactly.

    And I agree with you and SofiaM that the “broken psyche” talk is played out… but some women in our community really are under siege. Not because of hijab, but marital abuse, inequities, and other injustices our community turns a blind eye to.

  • IsraN says:

    First of all, I do not think that Dr. AbdAllahs argument was that you canNOT legally judge a woman. His main argument was that outward conformities are either adhered to or they aren’t. When a women wears hijab, she either is or she isn’t -Its something very visible. She is either adhering to that ruling or she is not. He reiterated quite a few times that there are no judgments to be made, period. I think he would agree that one person cannot “judge” another as Allah swt is the only One to judge.

    Dina, in regards to your comment- I’ll reply in number form to make it simpler.

    1) If you truly feel that it is not an obligation under Islam to wear hijab, then that is your opinion which you’re of course, entitled to. However, for you to “negate” the opinions of not just a group of scholars but generations and generations of scholars is not appropriate. There will always be a difference of opinion in any matter. For example, “halal/zabiha” meat- If you don’t eat zabiha meat and believe that the meat in the US is “halal” because it is from “people of the book” then by all means, it is halal for YOU. But if I am of the other opinion that all meat in the US is not from people of the book and is not “halal” then we would have a difference in opinion. You can’t try to shove meat that I don’t believe is halal down my throat, the same way I wouldn’t throw your meat in the trash to prevent you from eating it since YOU truly believe its halal. But our intentions have alot of worth. Our TRUE intentions matter a great deal in Islam. I have read alot of what you have written about hijab and sometimes it leaves me offended because the tone in which you write almost makes the women that wear hijab look like they must be backward, male-controlled zombies that lack the intellect to delve into their own faiths. Millions of women wear hijab across the globe and we also wear it for prayer for a reason. When we pray we are in our most pure state, wudoo, covered, etc-

    @Sofia M – To state that hijab is a “functionality” only for prayer and does not represent anything is highly insulting and confusing. If it does not represent anything, then why bother to wear it during prayer either?

    2) There is no universal “hijab police” that sits around judging people (although charlotte might be an exception Dina =D). Everyone has bad habits and Muslims are no exception to this. Its none of our business to be sitting around judging people.

    I agree that there is no purpose to judge one another but some things are quite evident. If I see someone drink alcohol – It is an observation/fact-not a judgment. If I attempted to judge that person, its meaningless as I cannot “sue,imprison” or do anything to them.

    I have always been of the opinion that hijab is an aspect of Islam. A small aspect. Its one of a thousand facets of our faith and probably does not fall high on the list. I agree that people put WAY too much emphasis on hijab when our practice of our basic pillars of islam are falling short- 5 daily prayers, zakat, hajj. We can ignore our brothers and sisters for days/weeks/years out of pride over disagreements but have a heart attack if a single strand of hair escapes our hijab – Islam is not just about our outward appearance.

    You can paint a broken car ten different times with ten different colors but in the end it will still be broken.

    Allah knows best.

  • Dina B. says:

    @SofiaM.
    Thanks for your thoughts, and I agree with your posts. Believe me, I am vocal about these issues… but only to the extent that it womens rights are much more than we focus on.

    @IsraN
    No offense was intended in my article. And nowhere do I put down women who used to wear hijab/scarf, so I’m not sure where you’re coming from. I commend women who fight for their right for liberty. Freedom to make the choices they want, not in response to judgment but in service and love to their Creator.

    The Most High knows best.

  • Dina B. says:

    excuse me…  love *for* their Creator.

  • Dina B. says:

    Although my earlier post notes a lot of the issues I had with his response, there was a gem that I love in this. My favorite part of his response:

    “…But a broken psyche, how can you ever mend that? And I have seen that and no doubt you have seen that more than I. I have seen women who really their psyches are broken or almost broken because of the rigidity of a community that has no understanding of how it practices Islam. And it requires her to bear this sociological and cultural burden that the man never carries or rarely carries. So here she is under siege in society. She???s got enough problems as it is and she???s under siege and he???s happy go lucky. He can go where he wants to go, he can mix with whom he wants to mix with. That???s not right, that???s not fair.”

  • OmarG says:

    @SafiaM. Thank you! you already said it well.

  • OmarG says:

    @Dina: I think Umar is trying hard to walk a fine line between what he sees happening to every-day Muslims and the dictates of “Traditional” Islam. He wants to find a way to help American Muslims, but without challenging orthodox prescriptions for behavior that were originally formulated, IMHO, in Islam’s empire phase, a deviation, again IMHO from what it was supposed to be.

  • I think Dr. Umar has eloquently addressed an on-going issue in our community – women who either chose not to cover or who chose to take off their scarves are judged by their outward actions.  Thus, their adherence or non-adherence to legal obligations (as determined by the four imams) are used to measure their worth in a community.  I think he establishes an important distinction that can begin to influence what I believe is a huge problems in our community.  It could be the community that I come from, but I think that his comments are spot on.  There is a collective narrative that begins to label people as pious and not pious simply by measuring outward conformity.  I have experienced this first-hand and no doubt others have experienced it as well. 

    I am also confused as to why so many people are offended by Dr. Umar giving voice to the struggles of so many women.  If women have come to Dr. Umar with these struggles and he’s addressing their narratives and making it easy for them, why does this offend those who may not have experienced the same struggles?

  • Sobia says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the points made my SofiaM, DinaB, cancairo and OmarG. You’ve all said exactly what I wanted to say.

    @Rabea:

    “I am also confused as to why so many people are offended by Dr. Umar giving voice to the struggles of so many women.  If women have come to Dr. Umar with these struggles and he???s addressing their narratives and making it easy for them, why does this offend those who may not have experienced the same struggles?”

    This is because in the process of supporting one group he is alienating another. It’s similar to when some feminists will fight sexism by employing racism. In this case, Dr.Umar seems to be alienating one (large) group of Muslim women to defend another. And that too on a questionable premise – that the hijab is an obligation. I think it is high time that Muslims acknowledge that there are a variety of views on the hijab. Those of us who believe hijab is not mandatory are always forced to recognize the interpretation which states hijab is compulsory, but the reverse respect is not required in our community. And Dr.Umar does nothing to give us that respect, and I would argue works to erode any respect we may have.

  • edabdalghafur says:

    Sobia, please tell us which scholars say hijab is not obligatory.  If possible, provide their fatwas and associated justification. 

    Or is this your own personal ijtihad?  In which case please inform us of your qualifications and relevant credentials. 

    Thanks

  • mohammed husain says:

    I’m not familiar with all the names you’ve mentioned.  But putting Reza Aslan on your list kind of discredits it.

  • Dina B. says:

    Credit, discredit. That’s cool. Your (or anyone’s) decisions and preferences regarding faith are none of my business.

  • Sobia says:

    Having Reza Aslan on the list makes the argument more relevant to our times and recognizes that Islam is not a static religion in which followers are doomed to follow the teachings of a bunch of men from centuries ago. The Taliban implemented that and look where it got them. As scholars like Tariq Ramadan state, we need to re-engage with and re-interpret the text(s). Otherwise, Islam will become obsolete and irrelevant.

  • Dina B. says:

    Fatwas have no real presence in Muslim history, and currently are many times used for political manipulation. In addition to both of these reasons, I don’t personally seek fatwas because I believe our reliance on these statements has led our (Muslim)family to spiritual paralysis. Leaving us incapable of thinking about the complex social issues we face since we normally rely on spiritual leaders (who are experts on texts) to fix our real world problems when that is not their expertise.

    As for the scholars who claim hijab is not obligatory… contemporary scholars, like Sherman Jackson and Tariq Ramadan, won’t normally issue a formal opinion about it (as I have asked several scholars in recent years) or some will tell you that a mandate for wearing hijab is a popular opinion. Scholars traditionally, over the past 1,000 years, didn’t focus on hijab as it is lacking in their writings. The word “hijab” is not found in the Quran with relation to modesty, and there is only one verse that is taken to allude to hijab in the context we talk about it today. Several scholars have noted that all of the above reasons reflect a weaker significance that traditional scholars may have found modesty to play in contrast to our Muslim world today.

    Also, I don’t know if you’re asking for contemporary, western, nationalist, academic, or legal scholars, etc. I personally appreciate looking through the spectrum. There are many differences between scholars, and each one has a unique methodology. But here is a mixed compilation of scholars who have stated their opinion that hijab is not an obligation or provide the support, either through an interview, statement, legal ruling, etc:

    Muhammed Sa’id Ashmawi
    [“Al hijab laysa furida” (“The Veil Is Not Obligatory”)]
    Gamal Al-Banna
    Leila Ahmed
    Reza Aslam
    Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
    Mustafa Ghalayini
    Nazira Zin ed-Din
    Zaki Badawi

  • Sobia, Sofia, Dina B. and Cancairo,

    If Dr. Umar hadn’t established the cognitive frame in which he was operating, which he did in Part I, I think it would be easier for me to understand your point of view and criticisms of Dr. Umar’s responses.  However, he was very clear and very honest in establishing the parameters of his discussion.  The first thing that he insisted on doing, in fact, was to deconstruct the cognitive frame of hijab as politicized and nationalized identity and to speak about the head covering only as 1) an item of clothing that was 2) found to obligatory by the four imams (all of whom pre-date the 19th century).  By doing this, Dr. Umar made it very clear that he was not speaking about a woman’s head covering as community identity, or referencing any of the politicization of dress that has made its way into the discourse since the colonization of Muslim lands.  He also made it very clear that he did not intend to undermine the findings of the four imams that the head covering was mandatory.  In fact, I don’t think I know of any traditionally trained scholar who has come on record as saying that the head covering was not found to be obligatory by scholars of the past, including the four imams.  Even Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, who is one of the most outspoken advocates of women’s rights, appealed to the same distinction that Dr. Umar has here – between freed and slave women – in his own argument that women in America should be given some space when it comes to deciding to cover or not to cover in his book: Speaking in God’s Name.
    Additionally, what Dr. Umar has done, and I find this quite remarkable really, is to create workable space within the tradition for women here in America.  If anything, I think Dr. Umar has been one of the biggest advocates for the promulgation of a distinctly American Islam that holds fast to the tenants of Islam but also to the cultural nuances and values of American society.  More about this can be found in the fourth installment of his interview. 
    Just because he has not come on record saying that he does not think that the head covering is obligatory does not mean that there is nothing progressive or forward-thinking about his responses.  If anything, I think that his ability to work within the tradition to create space and mercy is evidence of his sophisticated understanding of the tradition as a living entity.

  • cancairo says:

    @ Rabea _ thanks so much for this great series. it’s about time we have a real discussion about hijab like this. thanks for facilitating this.
    I think the “offense” that some are taking isn’t that he is giving voice to them, it’s more that, in the articles at least they way they are written, it sounds like he calling for sympathy for women who feel that hijab is a “burden” to them, and that taking it off is a result of this “broken psyche.” It’s SUPER that he is calling for people to treat women equally, but it’s not enough. We need to realize that women are beginning to ask WHY is my hair a awra??

    His comments do not address the women who have chosen to take off hijab after study and who asked the questions: ok so if the female slaves didn’t wear hijab and were still pious, why are we still wearing it today? is the HAIR really is awra? What them constitutes awra for women then? I think the topic of the OBLIGATION of hijab is a worthwhile discussion too, and it would have been good to hear Dr Umar’s opinion on it _ esp after he confusingly says headscarf is fard according to the 4 imams, is NOT about sexuality.. ok, so WHY are we covering!?

    We don’t all know Dr Umar personally so we are just taking his comments as they are written here so we can’t really say, Oh I know where Dr Umar is coming from. We don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us. We want someone to speak to our minds.

    And as for mohammed hussain’s comment at Dina B _ proof that halal meat vs hijab is not the same argument.

  • Sobia says:

    @Rabea:

    “By doing this, Dr. Umar made it very clear that he was not speaking about a woman???s head covering as community identity, or referencing any of the politicization of dress that has made its way into the discourse since the colonization of Muslim lands.  He also made it very clear that he did not intend to undermine the findings of the four imams that the head covering was mandatory.”

    But in the process he patronized those who do not believe it is mandatory.

    “In fact, I don???t think I know of any traditionally trained scholar who has come on record as saying that the head covering was not found to be obligatory by scholars of the past, including the four imams.”

    Amina Wadud studied Islam at Al-Azhar. Not sure if that is considered “traditional” or not. Regardless, why can contemporary scholars not re-analyze and re-engage with the texts in ways that are relevant to our times. Islam does not forbid re-interpretation? Why insist on following only rulings from centuries ago? Also, DinaB provided a list of scholars.

    “Additionally, what Dr. Umar has done, and I find this quite remarkable really, is to create workable space within the tradition for women here in America.”

    No, not all Muslim women. Those of us who believe that the hijab is not mandatory were purposely left out of this space. If that is done on purpose then it needs to be clarified that only certain women are welcomed/included in this space, not all Muslim women.

    “If anything, I think Dr. Umar has been one of the biggest advocates for the promulgation of a distinctly American Islam that holds fast to the tenants of Islam but also to the cultural nuances and values of American society. “

    So those who believe otherwise, (hijab is not obligatory) are not a part of that American Islam then? That is exclusionary and marginalizing. Of course, if the purpose is to exclude that segment of the American Muslim population then it should be made explicit that those who believe the hijab is not obligatory are not a part of this discussion. There will be criticism for it, but at least those excluded would know they are being excluded as opposed to being fed “ummah” fairy tales.

  • edabdalghafur says:

    “No, not all Muslim women. Those of us who believe that the hijab is not mandatory were purposely left out of this space.”

    Sobia, news to you.  You can’t always include everyone.  Thinking otherwise is a liberal fantasy.

    Exclusion is inevitable.  Especially if you seek to preserve something of substance.

  • @Cancairo:

    You say: “I think the topic of the OBLIGATION of hijab is a worthwhile discussion too, and it would have been good to hear Dr Umar???s opinion on it _ esp after he confusingly says headscarf is fard according to the 4 imams, is NOT about sexuality.. ok, so WHY are we covering!?”

    I think it’s of utmost importance to read Dr. Umar’s responses exactly as he has stated them.  In part one of his interview Dr. Umar states: “And to say that a woman???s wearing of the scarf is just an issue of women???s sexuality and so forth, that???s not what this is about at all.”  When I read this statement, I think he’s saying that women wearing a scarf is NOT JUST about a woman’s sexuality (versus your interpretation which is “women wearing a scarf is NOT AT ALL about a woman’s sexuality.”).  Because of the way that I am reading it, I think that Dr. Umar has quite brilliantly and purposefully given himself room to maneuver as he builds his argument.  So, if a woman’s head covering is NOT JUST about sexuality, then what else is it about?  From his response I understand that a woman’s covering is also about enabling her social mobility and preserving her privacy.  And, from the rest of his response I also understand that, although sexuality is PART of the discussion of a woman’s head scarf, because there is other reasons why a woman covers, when these reasons are not served, then regardless of if a woman’s covering is ALSO about sexuality, the head covering needs to be critically engaged within a rational framework. And, given his statements, I think it’s quite clear that to him, preserving a woman’s privacy and social mobility are more important than the sexuality question which, although still a part of the question of covering, is not at all the sole focus or purpose of a woman’s covering. This is extremely important because there are scholars out there for whom the sexuality question is the only rationale behind the head covering and, therefore, despite the public scrutiny and impediments to mobility that a woman in a headscarf faces in America, they are not able to critically engage the issue of a woman’s covering.

  • Sobia says:

    “Sobia, news to you.  You can???t always include everyone.  Thinking otherwise is a liberal fantasy.”

    And that’s fine. I’m not asking to be included as I know that is not going to happen. Plus, I don’t feel like, nor need to feel like, a part of the “Muslim community.” But what I do ask then is that Muslims clarify their terminology and recognize the diversity of the community, instead of assuming that, or trying to make, all Muslims the same. Accept that there are differing views and those views are also based on research. Instead, most Muslims will just denigrate or dismiss alternate views as people acting on their own selfish whims. And the hijab issue is a part of that discussion.

    To be honest, I’m not even sure why a man is talking about the hijab in the first place. What business is it of his how women dress?

  • SofiaM. says:

    Ok @edabdalghafur how about we don’t include you then? Who are you to decide or pass judgments of who is included and who is not? After the death of the Prophet (A.S) almost 80% of Arabic peninsula’s population abandoned Islam and went back to their old practices. Eventually they stuck to Prophet’s message many of whom did so for many different reasons such as clan and family affiliations, politics, influence etc. I have some news for you buddy, ANYONE who says they are Muslim ARE IN FACT MUSLIM. There is no such a thing as a “liberal fantasy” you can be POLITICALLY liberal and Islam is a RELIGION, so ANYONE who wants to be included is included (at least in the eyes of God it’s so). I guess the criteria that is good for God is obviously not good enough for you.

    @Sobia Women like you need to be part of this community. Muslims need intellectual FEMALES, because we have too many individuals who like to exclude everyone who dears to disagree with them.
    @Rabea
    your point about “preserving a woman???s privacy and social mobility” is can be easily tied to “covering due to sexuality” issue. Why would you NOT have a “social mobility” if you are not covered? And what do you even mean by “preserving a woman’s privacy”? Like if I would like to have private life,my private thoughts, my private identity I actually maintain it better without hijab. When you wear it you put your identity, life, views, even your spirituality for discussion out there on the open. So ANYBODY feels entitled to make any type of judgments about you. I feel like hijab is very public statement and has politics written all over it.

  • @SofiaM:
    You ask: “What do you even mean by ‘preserving a woman’s privacy?’”
    I mean preserving a woman’s privacy as in preserving a woman’s right to be private, in reference to the correct definition of hijab that Dr. Umar gives in Part I.  And your points about wearing a headscarf making you more public are exactly Dr. Umar’s points in Part II of the interview, hence his reasons that it may be okay for a woman to take it off.  Not sure what exactly you’re asking here, but again Dr. Umar makes a distinction between hijab and head scarf precisely because of the “very public statement [that] has politics written all over it” that you mention.

  • edabdalghafur says:

    “edabdalghafur how about we don???t include you then? I guess the criteria that is good for God is obviously not good enough for you.”

    So, thats precisely the response I was looking for.  Don’t include me, because the views that you take on the issue exclude me, just as mine exclude you.  Our positions are incompatible and incommensurate.  It’s important to see that there is no neutral position that could accommodate both of us, as liberals often imagine there to be. Either you take on one position and exclude some people or another position and exclude others. 

    About your last comment, I interpret this as a judgment against me.  And again thats precisely what I wanted.  The views I hold entail a range of judgments against those who hold opposing views.(e.g. I think those who hold the view that hijab is not obligatory to be in some way wrong or misguided (on this issue), even if very well intentioned)  And clearly, your views entail a range of judgments against people who have views like my own.  (e.g. you view me as wrong, obstinate, perhaps also narrow minded, women hating or whatever).  Now of course the judgments made against those one disagrees with can vary.  One might make harsh judgments against those one disagrees with or soft judgments, but if one seeks to uphold rational debate, judgments are inescapable.

    the bottom line….liberals think that the positions they take are neutral, inclusive and non-judgmental, but clearly from our exchange we can see that that is not the case.  There are no neutral positions, one cannot be inclusive of everyone, and finally judgments, if you are a rational human being, are inevitable.

  • Sobia says:

    @edabalghafur:

    “as liberals often imagine there to be”

    Not sure why you keep going on about liberals. It seems your real problem is with the idea of inclusiveness. Inclusivity is not a negative thing. After all, is not because of inclusivity that Muslims can live and practice Islam in the US? So I’m not sure why inclusivity is such a problem for you. If you live in the US then you have benefited a great deal from it yourself.

    However, this inclusivity is not a “liberal myth.” It is something the Muslim community always either explicitly speaks of or implies with talks of the “ummah” and such and always expecting all Muslims to behave and believe the same. Forceful assimilation is never a good thing.

    But should we not get back to the topic at hand?

  • edabdalghafur says:

    Yes you are right inclusivity is not a bad thing, per se.  This isn’t a black and white discussion about whether inclusivity is good or bad.  That’s too simplistic of a discussion.  Inclusivity is often good and sometimes bad and it often depends on context. 

    For instance, do you think we should tolerate Imams who believe women are inferior, should stay in their homes and are mostly just sources of fitna? Would you really put such views on par with your own on the subject and then tell people well, this is the diversity that exists within our community.  The choice is really yours about how to decide which is right, and I won’t judge you however you choose. Thats ridiculous.

    The point is that inclusivity/exclusivity is on a spectrum.  We need not excommunicate those whome we disagree with, yet to equate contradictory positions in the name of inclusvity is to fall into inchorence.  And yes, though our community often suffers from excessive exclusivity, much of our discussion here is incoherent, and the solution isn’t just to include everything and say anything goes, its all personal.  Thats a recipe for further disaster.

  • Sobia says:

    “For instance, do you think we should tolerate Imams who believe women are inferior, should stay in their homes and are mostly just sources of fitna? Would you really put such views on par with your own on the subject and then tell people well, this is the diversity that exists within our community.  The choice is really yours about how to decide which is right, and I won???t judge you however you choose. Thats ridiculous.”

    First, the Muslim community already tolerates such imams, as there are quite a few of them.

    Second, I actually would not claim that they are outside the fold of Islam or community. I have no problem recognizing that they are following an interpretation of Islam. I do not agree with it, but I cannot deny that what they follow is indeed an (unfortunate) interpretation of Islam. Therefore, even if I don’t like it, I will include them in the global Muslim community.

    Third, when it comes to judgement you have to look at the beliefs. Comparing beliefs that women are inferior to the belief that hijab is not mandatory is completely erroneous. The first set of beliefs states that women must be oppressed and thus works to oppress and control women, whereas the second set is a personal, non-oppressive, choice. Oppressive beliefs SHOULD and MUST be judged and challenged, because oppression in not acceptable, in Islam or elsewhere. Non-oppressive beliefs, on the other hand, need to be understood. And believing that the hijab is not mandatory is definitely a non-oppressive belief.

    And before you mention that there are where hijab is outlawed, I will state that any belief forced on people can be oppressive. However, the belief itself is not oppressive. Whereas, the belief that women are inferior is itself an oppressive belief.

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