The Burkha or the Hijab: Mark of Identity or Subjugation?
Islam is the world's fastest growing religion and hundreds are converting every day to this faith all over the world. Islam is supposed to be a monotheist religion that talks of one god. It is also supposed to be a classless religion, though Islam also has a number of sects, who are in perpetual war with each other. One of the distinctive symbols of Islam is the Burkha, which is worn by Islamic women. It is not mandatory to wear the Burkha, but generally Muslim clergy and true believers will exhort their women to wear the Burkha.
I will now write on a personal experience before writing further. When I was posted in Mumbai as a YO( Young Officer), I once while riding on my Enfield felt an excruciating pain in my tooth. I parked the bike on Mohemadali Road and looked around. By luck, I saw a small board of a dentist. I decided to go inside and was surprised that the dentist was a young girl. The board outside conveyed that she was Muslim. She treated me and called me again for another session. She charged Rs 40 for her labor.
This was the begining and I once asked her if you would like a date for a lunch at the US Club in Colaba. After a moments hesitation she consented. She was a modern girl and her mind was uncluttered with dogma. I often took her to the US Club and she also expressed a desire to learn to swim. I got her enrolled in the swimming group for beginners on my name. She looked wonderful in a swim suit, which I picked as a gift for her from me from Warden Road, the elite shopping area of Bombay.
Our relationship blossemed, but there was always a nagging fear of the future as the girl was Muslim and the exhortions of my mother always rang in my ears. She used to say to me no BMW,which reality meant " No Black, No Muslim and no Working Nurse". One day after a swim, we proceeded to Leopold Cafe in Colaba for a Biryani. She excused and went away and came back with a burkha. I was surprised and I asked her why she had worn a burkha, as she was a liberated woman who often donned the swim suit? She repolied that sometimes she wanted to wear it as a mark of identity. This surprised me that an educated and modern girl wanted wear a Burkha as a mark of identity. We drifted apart as she mentioned in one of our private chats that God is one and what harm is there if I also follow Islam. I was not ready to follow Islam and now all that is left are memories of some sweet kisses on the ramparts of the sea wall at the annexe of the US club.
The fact is many Muslim girls and Women wear the Burkha out of conviction. But in many nations it is enforced like in Saudi Arabia. Over many centuries nobody paid attention to the Burkha and it was accepted as something integral to Islam. But times changed and a resurgent Islam emerged in the 20th century. The leadership of this religion went into the hands of the Wahhabi group, who believed in a pristine Islam and return back to the days of the Caliphate, when Islam was the centre of knowledge and arts. This has sown the seeds of conflict with non Muslim nations. Suddenly nations and people have started taking note of the Burkha. This black dress like a cape covers a woman's body and is usually black in color..
Europe and in particular France saw it as a mark of subjugation of the Muslim woman and set the ball rolling by banning it. The French president supported the ban and Muslim women were banned from wearing it in public places. It is important to note that Muslim clergy in France supported the ban. There is no doubt that the Islamic religious scriptures do not mention anything about the Burkha. I am not aware that even the Hadiths mention anthing about the Burkha. All the scriptures say is that a woman must dress soberly. The Burkha is a much later development, but now the Wahhabi leadership enforces it. There have been cases even in India where woman are forced to wear this dress. I do recollect reading that a woman was killed by her lover in Bhopal for not wearing the Burkha.
The situation has now become volatile and for non-Muslims a Burkha is the negation of human values. Talking of me personally, i am indifferent to it. Yet i will be telling a lie if I don't state that a Burkha on a woman of beauty is a great allure. It creates a mystery and for a man of imagination sitting with a lovely woman can bring forth lewd thoughts of what could she be wearing under her cloak. This mystery is alluded to in some lovely poems as well.
The Burkha has now become a political tool. Not many are bothered about emancipation of the Muslim woman. In case this was the aim Muslim personal law would be refined. Yet the Sharia is followed in all Muslim nations. The one non Muslim nation allowing the Sharia to flourish in personal law is India. The Indian social and political leadership must explain this, as no non Muslim nation from China to America allows Muslims to practice and follow Sharia. Many non Muslim nations have banned wearing of Burkha. Among them are China and Europe. China has gone a step forward and also banned fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, on the grounds that it is detrimental to health of Muslims, particularly children.
The Burkha has now become a symbol of Islam. A simple dress has become a tool of identity as well as supression. There can be no doubt that many do not want to wear it, yet many wear it as a mark of identity. It cannot be wished away
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