Am I the only person tired of seeing sensationalist story after story in the papers about ?Muslim? this and ?Islam? that? I understand that the topics of multiculturalism, ?integration? of Muslim communities and other related topics are of utmost important to society nowadays, but to see so much rubbish in tabloids and newspapers day after day spreading misinformation is quite depressing.
The recent Muslim Veil issue got way out of hand with minister after minister jumping on the bandwagon to bash the Muslims and get some easy votes as they saw the popularity of Jack Straw increasing. I thought it my duty to do something to clarify some important issues and promote understanding. Especially so as in our location on campus diversity and multiculturalism is very evident in day to day life.
For those not aware of the background, Jack Straw mentioned in a part of his regular column for his local paper that he would rather that veiled Muslim women remove their veils when attending his surgeries so he can communicate with them better. How about the last time you had a conversation over the phone though? Or sent an e-mail? The right honourable gentleman should have had more understanding especially where his constituency has a significant Muslim population.
He also commented that the Veil is a ?sign of separation?, I would have to say that various sections of society have unique identifying features and there have been no qualms about them. For example the unique hair style of Rastafarians and Orthodox Jews, Goths and others who dress outside the norm, bikers etc all of whom dress and act in their own unique ways. Part and parcel of a diverse community is the unique traits that do in fact separate people. Blindingly obvious I would think. The issue very much is that people should have the freedom to dress how and say what they want, without transgressing extreme boundaries (e.g. inciting murder).
However, before I would be accused of being unreasonable, I do appreciate the importance of face to face contact in British society as illustrated by common sayings such as "face to face". This brings me onto the second story of the Muslim teaching assistant in Dewsbury who was dismissed for refusing to abandon the Veil in the class when male teachers were present. It may seem surprising that I, as a Muslim, actually support this decision because apparently there was no prejudice involved. I do believe that the Veil would have affected her teaching in that there would have been a lack of non-verbal communication; especially when teaching a language. In this case, it might have been a considerate thing for the assistant to have discussed the issue with her employers before taking the job.
Moreover, it is important to stand back and understand some fundamental issues in the context of all this media hype. Politicians and community leaders bang on nowadays about ghettoisation and integration in their ignorance and profound lack of understanding. In a recent debate on campus regarding the ?voluntary apartheid? of the Muslim community and integration, it was eventually agreed that integration is a two-way process. Give and take. Live and let live.
Both sides must tolerate, appreciate and respect the position of the other and be willing to compromise for the greater good without necessarily abandoning their principles. They do not have to, and probably won?t, agree with the beliefs of each other but peaceful co-existence can be a reality. We find many examples in recent history in the UK where different ethnicities and backgrounds have come to the country as immigrants and now generations on with the integration process evolving through time; their descendants are all British, involved politically, socially and in all facets of life. And the Muslim community is going through that process and it isn?t the end of the world and a clash of civilisation of there are problems along the way. It is importance that both sides understand that and take the other into consideration.
The other important subject which I wanted to briefly elaborate upon is the much misunderstood code of behaviour and dress of Muslims. This stems from the principle of modesty so that people will treat other with full and appropriate respect. The philosophy behind what is commonly called hijab ? Islamic modest dress ? is rooted in the concept of guarding a person?s senses from anything that may lessen their innocence. The larger philosophy behind hijab is one of maintaining dignity and purity and applies to all facets of life and not exclusively to dress.
It is said to not look at the opposite sex in a lustful way, and to dress in such a way that a person is regarded with respect. The requirements for modest dress differ between the sexes due to fundamental biological distinctions and causes of attraction.
Hijab does not prevent men and women from interacting for the purpose of study, work, and so on. Rather, when hijab is mutually observed, these interactions will take place with a sincerity of purpose and without any impropriety. These guidelines form only part of an overall Islamic social framework that helps us in our daily lives, and certainly does not promote the oppression of women.
These topics are huge and very important, yet this article is very brief. I hope I have provided some insight and provoked some thought. Catch me any time around the department or drop me an e-mail if you would like to discuss things further.