Mia’s Misconceptions

Saturday, 14 May 2011 07:19 Cassandra Women - Hijab etc.

Mia Freedman writes a regular column for Al Age’s Sunday Life. In the May 8th edition, she muses about a woman travelling on the same flight as her who was wearing a niqab:

She quickly establishes her PC credentials –

“in my local Best & Less, two women walked in wearing niqab. After they left, I overheard the woman in front of me say to the sales assistant, “Goodness, I was worried they were going to blow us up!” I cringed at this, appalled.”

Yet Mia admits she too has moments of misconceptions: 

 Still, like many, I’ve always suspected that women who wear niqab are oppressed, downtrodden and mind-controlled by extremist husbands, fathers and other male relatives.
Now on the plane, I had eight hours to consider the plight of one such woman
Here are some of the things I thought:
1. Poor thing. Her husband must be a scary man.
2. How sad for her children to not see their mother’s face in public. What must that little girl think about her own future?
3. I wish I could talk to her and liberate her from this oppression.
4. I wonder what she thinks of me sitting here in my singlet and cardi with my fluoro purple bra strap showing.
5. Her husband must think I am a disgrace and disappointment to my own husband. I bet he wishes I’d cover up.
When I glanced back shortly after take off, I was shocked to notice she’d taken off her face veil…She had a pretty, open face, warm and expressive and…normal. A normal face. And suddenly, she was demystified to me.

Why was I so surprised?
I was also confused. Didn’t women wearing niqab believe it was wrong to have strangers see their face?
A bit before we landed, I fell into conversation with her husband who offered me some of his daughter’s chocolate when my son began to cry.
I asked Emad about his wife, who was sleeping. “I noticed she took off her niqab after she got on the plane,” I began. “How come?” He smiled. “Because I asked her to.” I looked at him quizzically and he rolled his eyes in that affectionately resigned way spouses often do. “I hate it! She wants to wear it all the time and I wish she wouldn’t!”
Emad met his wife Houda in Beirut when she was 18. Soon after, she migrated to Australia and they married…After their first child was born, Houda put on Niqab. Her husband was not happy with her decision but Houda was insistent.
He shrugged and laughed, “We went on holidays to the Gold Coast once. To the beach. Even then she wore it. Can you imagine?”
Houda had woken up and joined the conversation, laughing and teasing her husband as we chatted.
The couple explained there is division in the Muslim community over the niqab. Some of their own family were horrified when Houda chose to wear it. “What can I do?” shrugged Emad. “It’s her decision.”
“So you don’t force her to wear it?” I pushed. Nobody forces her?
“Are you kidding? My wife is very strong. Her father is not around. She has no brother. There are no men who factor into it at all.”
I turn to Houda. Why do you want to wear it? “I just feel naked without it. Not right. I like it! Even though it would be so much easier to take it off. People give you bad looks always. Swear at you. I’ve had it pulled off my face before.”
I feel my preconceptions about her float away as we chat.
A week later, boarding our flight home from Borneo, I noticed another woman beside me, also wearing niqab. This time I didn’t stare. I didn’t need to. I knew there was no great threat or mystery underneath her veil.

POSTSCRIPT: As many commenters have pointed out, not all women who wear the niqab do so out of choice and this was never meant to suggest anything other than my personal experience with one woman and her family. To generalise that all women wearing the niqab are doing so of their own free will, like Houda, would be as incorrect as the belief that they’re all wearing it AGAINST their will.
I guess my point was that there are a million shades of grey under the veil and that’s something that I had not truly understood previously…

Clever Mia has managed to have it both ways. She has added a disclaimer that some women are not free to choose, while at the same time giving the impression that Muslim women who wear niqab generally do so of their own free will.

This isn’t Mia’s first rumination on the topic. In “Why is France so determined to ban the burqa?” she writes:

When I was in Paris, I was surprised at the number of women wearing head coverings…With many tourists from the Middle East, I went into GAP one day and a group of about six women with full face veils got out of some limousines with about two dozen body guards. Naturally, I became obsessed and followed them around the store. Well, as much as I could with the large ARMED guards positioned all over the floor surrounding them.
The women laughed and giggled under their veils, grabbing maternity jeans and t-shirts, handing piles off stuff to one of their body guards who schlepped it all to the counter. Such sights are not uncommon in Paris.
But the French government would like them to be.
This opens up a plethora of perspectives on the nature of true freedom of religious expression and human rights. Should one have the freedom TO wear a head covering or the freedom FROM wearing it?
… I must say I’m left a little bit confused by what the French government are trying to achieve. The women who do choose to wear full face veils….must they stay indoors? Is that progress? Is that even fair?
I do understand the idea of a secular and sexual equal society but I fail to understand how one person’s expression of their faith (be it a crucifix or a burqua or a Jewish head covering) can jeopordise the French way of life.

Mia, by implying that a burqa, like a crucifix or a Jewish head covering, is merely an expression of faith, is endorsing the deception that Islam is just another religion like Christianity or Judaism. It is not: Islam has no separation of religion and politics, and the burqa is a visible symbol of sharia, which mandates segregation of Muslims from kuffars, who must be subjugated under Islam.

For those lacking Mia’s PC perspicacity, a campaign in Sydney helps the unenlightened dispel their misconceptions about Islam:

The "What do you see?" campaign is a non-profit initiative that serves to paint a clear and unequivocal image of Islam. This involves clarifying our beliefs and addressing many of the incorrect stereotypes that exist today. Our project involved a creative marketing-style campaign that saw 500 000 flyers distributed Sydney-wide as well as the launch of this website.
The campaign is focused on answering all legitimate questions about Islam, in a factual manner, rather than relying on the view portrayed by the media. As such we encourage you to contact us via the links provided ('Want to know more', or 'Contact us') and ask about Islam. We have Australian experts standing by to assist you in obtaining knowledge of the truth of Islam.

Sounds good to me. Let’s see what they say about Women's Rights:

A Muslim woman has just come into view. You see that she is young; that she wears the traditional “hejab” or cover. All you can see of her is her face and hands as she pushes a pram in which sits a small child smiling up at you. Her face is pleasant and you wonder about the lifestyle of this young woman and why she appears to be so serene in view of the fact that the voices of those around you are speaking scathingly of her in tones which surely she must hear.
What is it about Islam that causes these women to live so contrary to modern Western fashion? Are they being forced into this situation by their fathers or husbands? You think about the woman you have just seen and somehow you know in your heart that this is not so …It is apparent by her demeanour that she is confident and at peace within herself.
The words, “oppressed”, “degraded”, “mere chattels” are some which spring to the minds of many who have been steadily fed negative morsels of information from anti-Islamic sources. We invite you to look and evaluate for yourself. It is only when all facts of the matter are fully revealed to you that it will be possible for you to make an informed judgement. 

How about “Islam and the Salvation of Women”?

From being downtrodden and devoid of human value, the messages regarding the position of women, given from God to Prophet Muhammad, proceeded to bring light and mercy…specifically in the case of women, who began to be regarded as valuable members of that community.

What is Now Apparent
You will again see a Muslim woman as she goes about her duties – shopping, going to university or work, perhaps to a mosque. You will recognise her by her hejab, that covering which she so proudly wears because it is part of her religious belief. Perhaps now you will understand why she is so composed, so serene, so confident. Her heritage is a proud one in the annals of feminine history and her practice is not under duress, for she knows only too well her Lord’s command: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Q.2:256)

So nothing to worry about. But for readers still harbouring doubts, please read about the ‘creature called Worry’:

Terrorism: Non-Islamic Non-Negotiable
As Australian Muslims our loyalties to Australia and the Australian people have, over recent years, misguidedly been called into question. As your neighbours and fellow-citizens we ask you to look closely at the facts we present.
In this day and age the “stop-press” word is Terrorism…It is a word which can be used effectively at any time and by any one party against another, for what it loses in reality it can make up for in prejudice and imagination.

This brings to mind the story about the lion that happened to meet up with a donkey. He was just going to pounce when he realised that the donkey did not seem afraid. “Why are you just standing there?” said the lion. “Aren’t you afraid of me?” The donkey looked forlornly at the lion, “You may think you are strong, but you can only eat me. Wait until you meet Worry. That is much stronger and fiercer than you.” So shocked was the lion that he forgot to eat the donkey, running off instead to find out about this creature called Worry. After a year the donkey came across the lion. This time the lion was so thin and weak he could barely walk. “Ah!” said the donkey, “I see you have found Worry!” Fear weakens and destroys. It is the most potent form of terrorism.


There you have it: “Fear is the most potent form of terrorism,” which means that if you fear Islam, YOU are the terrorist!

What a wise fable. Now you realize just how ridiculous all your ‘Worries’ are!