If headscarves were a hindrance in the progress of women, Bahrain’s golden girl Ruqaya Al Ghasara, who competes in a body-covering suit and a scarf, would not have won a historic gold medal at the Doha Asian Games. Hijab never held back the 24-year-old sprinter. In fact, she says it makes her even quicker, encourages her and is not an obstacle.
There is no question of headscarves hampering women’s growth. Women who cover up are progressing in every walk of life. In Bahrain, doctors, professors, bankers, journalists and even driving instructors go about their jobs with heads covered.
It is hardly understandable why the powerful Turkish army is so touchy about the issue. Turkey, where one sees a seamless amalgamation of the East and the West, has 98 per cent Muslim population and it is ridiculous to note that the country’s prime minister had to make an appeal to remove the draconian ban on headscarves in educational institutions.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who wants a constitutional change to remove the bar, has recently scored a major triumph over her secular critics. The election of his close ally Abdullah Gul as Turkey’s president has strengthened his hands. It was a tempest over the headscarf worn by Gul’s wife that galvanised opposition to the former foreign minister’s presidential bid.
Supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party would like the government to lift the ban, but they dare not defy the Islamophobic military – the most powerful institution in the country.
That the Turks have democratically elected a devout prime minister and a religious president is a clear indication that the nation wants to practise its religion and hijab is part of it. The die-hard fans of Kemal Ataturk must realise that times are changing. Lifting the ban is merely a question of individual liberty. Cultural and religious freedoms cannot be suppressed.
It is difficult to comprehend that when the US invaded Iraq to “free” its people, noted world democracies rallied behind Washington, but their rules prevent minorities in their countries from exercising freedom of religious rights. Famous for his stiff opposition to the US aggression, Jacques Chirac lost respect in the Muslim world after he decided to go ahead with the headscarf ban in government offices. In the UK, there is a strong demand to lift the unthoughtful ban on headscarves.
It is all the more important to do away with the unfortunate ban in Turkey as it bars thousands of women in hijab from getting higher education. It is appalling to note that hundreds of others have been suspended or discharged from teaching posts as a result.
In the name of secularism, the Turkish military imposes the ban as a barrier to the misconceived threat from Islam. Accommodating different forms of religious headgear does not suggest that state authorities endorse any particular religion.
Restrictions on women’s attire violate international human rights standards, and have repeatedly been criticised by Human Rights Watch. In the field of education, this ban undercuts individual autonomy and choice, a fundamental aspect of women’s rights. It is time for diplomatic pressure to be put on Ankara to rid Turkish women of this idiosyncrasy. HRW’s repeated appeals to the Turkish government to ensure that women are permitted to attend university wearing the headscarf have fallen on deaf ears.
Secularism also thrives in India, the largest democracy in the world. And no one dares to stop a head-covering woman from taking any office there. Former premier Indira Gandhi used to cover her head with her saree. So does the UPA chief Sonia Gandhi. Former governor of Tamil Nadu, Justice Fatima Biwi, kept her head covered with her pallu. Even the controversial BJP stalwart, Mata Vijayaraje Scindia, who advocated sati system, was never seen with head uncovered.
Almost all religions encourage women to cover heads in one way or another.
Sikhs believe that the head of every person is god. It is a must for men and women in gurudwaras to keep heads covered as a token of respect to their holy book Guru Granth Sahib and the gurus. Catholic nuns dress like they’re wearing hijab. Mary, the mother of Jesus, (peace be upon them both) is always depicted in Christian art with her hair covered. Until the 1960s, it was obligatory for Catholic women to cover their heads in church. Some Christians cover only in church or while praying; others cover their heads all the time. They refer to 1 Corinthians 11 (or custom) as the basis for their practice. When Pope Benedict held an audience with Laura Bush recently, the head of America’s first lady was covered.
Principally, the Jewish religion requires married women to cover their hair – they could uncover it only before their husbands – and it is not important what the covering is. Talmud and Midrash created rules for Jewish women to cover their hair as part of religious observation. By the Middle Ages Jewish women largely conformed to the custom of hair covering.
Traditional Hindu women cover their heads and at least partly obscure their faces in the company of unrelated adult males. Sometimes veiling is accomplished with a loose end of the saree
, and sometimes it is done with dupatta
(scarf). (Women should cover their head with their sarees
and only then do Namaskar – Apastamb Dharmasutra 184.108.40.206
) It is not for nothing that a large number of African women and almost all Russian and Central Asian women wear headscarves. Women with covered heads discourage street Romeos. Hijab
automatically sends out the message that the woman is not “available.” It also helps a woman hide her physical attributes (or the lack of them).
Do headscarves pose a threat to public safety, health, order, or morals? No! Do they impinge on the rights of others? No! Are they inherently dangerous or disruptive of order and undermine the educational function? No! Headscarves only add to the grace and gravity of women. Covering brains is highly dangerous, while covering heads is completely harmless.