Sunday, 3 October 2010

When A Choice Is Not A Choice

The burkha: a choice - except when it's not

Advocates and apologists for the Islamic veil and headscarf often defend these misogynistic, oppressive garments by claiming that Muslim women "choose" to wear them. Two stories published today by the Daily Mail - both, troublingly, relating to British Muslim communities - give the lie to these claims.


A Muslim woman has been awarded more than £13,500 after she was sacked for refusing to wear a headscarf at the estate agency where she worked.

Ghazala Khan - a 31-year-old non-practising Muslim - was fired less than two weeks into her job at a company run by traditional Muslim businessman Masood Ghafoor simply because she refused to cover her hair.

Mr Ghafoor told Miss Khan, who had nine years experience in the trade, that his wife and female relatives all wore full veils or burkas, telling her that her parents had given her 'far too much freedom'.


At least three Muslim faith schools are forcing girls as young as 11 to wear face-covering veils with the blessing of Ofsted inspectors, it emerged yesterday...

They insist that when girls are travelling to and from school they wear the niqab, a face veil leaving the eyes exposed, or the head-to-toe burka, which covers the eyes with a mesh screen.

School uniform rules listed on Madani's website have been removed but an earlier version, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, said: 'The present uniform conforms to the Islamic Code of dressing. Outside the school, this comprises of the black Burka and Niqab.'

The admission application form warns that girls will be 'appropriately punished' for failing to wear the correct uniform.

Those who would dismiss these incidents as private institutions simply enforcing their dress codes - no different, for example, to insisting that a tie be worn - must consider that Islam is supposed to be a religion (I say "supposed to be" because it is in fact a political ideology in the trappings of spirituality); any encroachment upon matters of politics is morally reprehensible because it leads to theocracy. No one has the right to force people to dress in a certain way in the name of religion.

As I have written before, even in cases where it appears to be a Muslim woman's choice to wear "Islamic dress", it's not really her choice. All Islamic societies cultivate an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Women who do not wear these garments fear that even if they are not physically harmed, they will face stigmatisation and social awkwardness as a result. Hence, their community makes their "choice" for them.

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