Ramadan Veiled in Hostility
Shaykh Riyad Nadwi, PhD
18th October 2006
month of Ramadan is revered universally by Muslims who
spend it in prayer, fasting, giving charity and seeking
forgiveness and spiritual growth. As usual in Britain,
Muslims have been allowed to fast and pray the lengthy
night prayer in mosques around the country, and some
local authorities have decorated small portions of their
cities with fairy lights in preparation for the festival
of Eid. However, this year's Ramadan will also be remembered
for events that are more solemn. Sadly, Ramadan 2006
will be etched into the minds of Muslims for its extraordinary
politics and the daily headlines that have targeted
the Muslim community with a sustained barrage of psychological
hostility. This insensitive and sustained campaign reminds
one of quotes from the book that had inspired the strategy
of "Shock and Awe" during the initial campaign
on Iraq: "Imposing shock and awe through a
show of force and indeed through deception, misinformation
and disinformation... through the adversary's perception
and fear of his vulnerability and our own invincibility"
(Ullmam, H., and Wade, J. Shock and Awe: Achieving
Rapid Dominance 1996).
constant flow of depreciatory statements by officials
and the daily sensational reportage from a hostile press
have created a storm that has caught everyone off-guard,
including those who have been working with the government
on tackling issues of extremism in the community. As
one interlocutor puts it, "This is completely new.
We have no idea where it has come from... it was never
raised before in our meetings with the government."
Another noted that "we are witnessing a significant
shift in attitudes towards Muslims. High profile politicians
are queuing up to talk about issues that were previously
considered third-rail issues" i.e. issues beyond
the limits of free-speech with the potential to end
a political career or even land someone with a prison
sentence (e.g. British historian, David Irving sentenced
for three years for denying the Holocaust, 20.02.06).
Muslims the timing could not have been worse. In a month
when one is trying to achieve spiritual growth through
faith, goodwill to others, charity and forgiveness,
to be confronted with a daily barrage of depressing
headlines vilifying one's faith or practice of it, creates
within one a sense of alienation more intense and long
lasting than any amount of "veil-wearing"
could possibly have managed. For those coordinating
this strategy the timing could not have been better.
The "nothing-but-evil" debate in the aftermath
of the Pope's lecture (12.09.06) had created enough
ambivalence to sustain a concerted campaign of vilification
and hence the assumption of an "open-season"
for hunting out vulnerabilities among Muslims.
The Veil and Communication
women are an easy target. Their vulnerabilities are
compounded by having to fight backward cultural practices
on the one hand, whilst being stigmatised for the conspicuousness
of their religious choices on the other. When at home
they are told "you must liberate yourselves and
seek an education" but once they make an effort
in that direction, they are warned that "you cannot
fully enter our institutions unless you replace your
subjective notions of modesty with our superior definitions".
So the question poses itself: is there an agreed consensus
on modesty? I would suggest not. If modesty is to be
determined by reference to communication, as suggested
by some, then we need to take a closer look at non-verbal
communication and more specifically body-language in
veil is not as alien to Western society or to conceptions
of modesty as some would have us believe. For thousands
of years it has remained intrinsic to the perception
of perfect femininity. Even in today's modern Britain,
whilst the colour and texture of the fabric may differ,
most women still choose to wear a veil with their wedding
dresses on what they perceive to be the happiest day
of their life. Had veiling of the face been purely a
misogynistic and unnatural degrading tool, as it is
being portrayed globally by the Neocons today, veils
would not have survived the Western feminists' revolutions
and, more remarkably, it would not have survived in
the most auspicious of social ceremonies - weddings.
For the Muslim woman who wears the veil, in addition
to what she considers obedience to God, the veil also
plays a role in the perception and perfection of her
own sense of femininity i.e. the ability to reveal her
beauty, once it has been concealed, to eyes of her choice.
To deny her this is not only wrong but borders on cruelty.
If only the media were objective in their coverage for
a moment, they would find many highly educated female
lawyers, doctors, accountants and businesswomen in this
country who wear the veil without allowing it to impede
their careers, all of which require very good communication
course, within Islam there is an age-old and on-going
debate about the legal position on veiling of the face
among doctors of the religion ('ulama). Most
of the prominent jurists have ruled it to be necessary,
except in Hajj, on the basis of textual interpretation
while others have rendered it optional though variant
readings of the text. However, in recent times many
so-called "Muslim intellectuals" and "experts
on Islam" have sought to dismiss this colossal
body of historic jurisprudence either in ignorance of
it or in wilful deception. They have claimed, in typical
Neocon brazen fashion, that "the veil has nothing
to do with Islam", "it is alien to the faith"
and that "it is solely an instrument of oppression."
This is totally inaccurate and misleading, and it adds
to the sense of alienation for people who are trying
desperately to find a balance between commitments to
their faith and fulfilling their roles in society, which
is becoming an increasingly hostile environment. I do
not say that anyone should be forced to wear the veil
but if they choose to do so voluntarily, their choice
cannot be considered invalid in Islam.
for the question of body-language, I have witnessed
a greater degree of literalism in attitudes to this
term than that found in some interpretations of sacred
texts. Facial expressions excepted, body language does
not necessarily require actual visual contact with the
body within a person's clothes. It is communication
gleaned from a composite of signals, which are observable
in a variety of ways. These include hand gestures, body
posture, tilting of the head, shrugging of the shoulders,
finger pointing, fist clenching, and so on. By comparison,
verbal communication is infinitely more informative.
We are designed for verbal communication. For instance,
our auditory system has a total frequency range of 15Hz
to 16kHz (Romer, 1971) which allows us to pick up all
sorts of sounds but it is most sensitive between 1kHz
and 4kHz. This fits perfectly with voice communication
because most articulated speech is within the 600Hz
to 4kHz range. Normally we are unable to distinguish
ten separate sounds in one second yet we are able to
recognise speech at a rate of 20 phonemes per second.
We are also able to recognise most words in less than
125 milliseconds after their onset (Marslem-Wilson and
Welsh, 1978) which is before the word is fully pronounced.
In addition to this, we are able to derive vast amounts
of information from a wide variety of complex linguistic
cues that are not available through body language. For
instance, a facial expression may reveal a person to
be upset but to know what has caused them to be upset
we need language. In order to know if the person to
whom you are speaking is stung by a wasp or upset by
your comments you need language rather than a microscope
on their face.
communication were dependent upon seeing people's faces
to the extent that some are suggesting at the moment
then the use of video phones would have swamped the
market. However, recent history has proved this to be
a fallacy and phone companies that invested heavily
in 3G have lost billions owing to this false assumption.
for the "merely being able to see you" argument,
one can suggest that there is an equal need for debate
on the reverse of this concern, i.e. the overload of
information men may receive from, for instance, protruding
cleavages and legs clad in thin silk stockings dangling
from beneath short skirts. Can this overload of information
also not influence communication in an adverse manner?
If we can theorise that a veil impedes communication
might we not also explore the implications to unveiling
the female body layer by layer in relation to accuracy
of male receptive capabilities? Of course, this is flippant
speculation, but were I to propose seriously such a
debate I would be branded promptly as an extremist mullah
trying talibanise Britain. Yet, the word "debate"
seems to have become a magic wand for justifying unbridled
rhetoric against Muslims and their practices. In order
to justify almost any kind of ridicule, all one need
do is present it in the guise of "calling for a
debate". This technique has been employed successfully
by the Neocons in the USA to attack the Quran. To add
insult to the Ramadan injury, in a few days time, by
way of an Eid present from Channel Four, the nation
will be treated to a yet another "debate",
this time on whether "Muslims are a threat to free-speech".
I doubt we will ever be treated to a similar debate
on whether Jewish sensitivity to the Holocaust is also
a threat to free-speech.
Racism and Apartheid
into question the veil (by Jack Straw) and multiculturalism
(by Trevor Phillips) are not in themselves a primary
concern. People have been wearing the veil for decades
and multiculturalism has been a force for community
building and social development in this country for
many years. We all share the same economic space and
cross fertilise each other's cultures though the natural
process of voluntary and gradual integration.
Taking the example of the British acquired taste for
spicy dishes, if members of the host community had been
forced to swallow mouthfuls of hot curry in an attempt
to foster community cohesion, curry would not have become
the national dish.
about 'parallel lives' should be focused where they
are truly deserved. The lines of division based on religion
are insignificant compared to the gulf between rich
and poor communities. The rich, irrespective of religion,
are increasingly locking themselves away in gated communities
while the poor are left behind in deprived and crime-ridden
ghettoes where drugs and prostitution are rife. Might
we consider programmes of social class interaction where
the rich visit homes of the poor and the poor are allowed
to dine at the tables of the rich? This is what Islam
teaches us in regards to neighbourly conduct. Religious
exhortations for a Muslim include the advice not
to go to bed on a full stomach while your neighbour
is hungry, irrespective of their faith. Rights of the
neighbour were emphasised to the Prophet (on whom be
peace) by the Angel Gabriel to such an extent that he
anticipated neighbours being included even in the laws
of inheritance. We are not allowed to neglect the rights
and needs of the people among whom we live, be they
Muslim or not.
seeking facilities to pray regularly, Muslim dwellings
may congregate around mosques in geographical clusters
but the racism intrinsic to apartheid alluded to by
the Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, is anathema
to the very core of our worldview. For Muslims, every
human being is a creature of God and there is no superiority
of an Arab over a non-Arab nor of red over black and
vice versa except in piety (Prophet Muhammad
- on whom be peace - Musnad Ahmad). As for
piety, only God knows who is truly pious. This is not
only in theory but is supported even by the findings
of the recent study, funded by the Home Office, which
involved four hundred 15-year-olds in this country.
The study found that one third of non-Muslim pupils
thought that one race was superior to another compared
to a tenth of teenagers in a mainly Muslim school (Muslim
Students 'more tolerant' - BBC Online, 11.10.06,
Dr Andrew Holden, Lancaster University Project). Incidentally,
these results did not find their way into any of the
evening news programmes.
behind the smoke screens of rhetoric against the veil
and multiculturalism and the repeated calls for 'sharing
British values', I can see something much more concerning.
It is a fear of Islam that transcends the concerns about
terrorism. It is a deep-rooted and historical fear that
is now being exploited by a small group of influential
people who are well-known in the Neocon arena. If these
people are allowed to manipulate political agendas and
swamp the headlines with anti-Muslim rhetoric day after
day, hard-earned progress in community cohesion will
be damaged considerably. Having spent £2.2 billion
on consultants, the Labour government must question
whether it is any longer receiving value for money.
Could it be that some of their right wing PR firms have
already concluded that the Neocon agenda might be better
served by the other party? Could this be the reason
behind this sudden and strange advice to embrace third-rail
issues? Why is a politician who has a constituency in
which one in four people are Muslim being advised to
take such a leap?
this level of daily negative coverage is allowed to
continue without any serious challenge from the upright
and decent individuals in our society, I fear that suspicion
and frustration in the host community, together with
a growing sense of alienation among Muslims, will increase
to levels reminiscent of the build up to the Kristallnacht.
Attacks on our women have already begun. Who will shoulder
the responsibility for it if it escalates into a pogrom?
Multiculturalism v Neo-imperialism
live in an ever shrinking global village with diverse
communities and multiple cultures, where the old distinctions
of East and West are becoming increasingly blurred.
To deny a multiplicity of cultures at home while we
demand it in countries abroad, and in some cases impose
it by force, does not only smack of gross hypocrisy
but it also goes against the grain of modern global
realities. To deny multiculturalism space in a diverse,
globalised world is to adopt a neo-imperialist posture.
only people would realise how much those who seek to
stigmatise multiculturalism have in common with the
fanatical Neocon agenda to dominate the world through
religion and coercion. They should reflect on the words
of one of the chief architects of the Neocon ideology,
Irving Kristol, who wrote: "There is no doubt that
today, multiculturalism... is an American tragedy"
(Kristol, I., (1995) Neoconservatism: The Autobiography
of an Idea, p.53). This is the same person who
wrote in the same book that, as a young man, he did
not feel the urge to rebel when the teacher (Rabbi)
in his Yeshiva (Jewish madrasa) "taught us to hate
the goyin and spit whenever we passed a church"
(p.4). In the chapter titled " The Coming Conservative
Century" he declares that, "The three pillars
of modern conservatism are religion, nationalism and
economic growth. Of these, religion is easily the most
important..." (p.365) and that, " The U.S.
will surely want to, and will need to, remain an active
world power, but this activity will not be within the
confines prescribed by the United Nations or NATO or
whatever" (p.367). In other words, a religious
empire not subject to international rules.
anyone is wondering what Britain has to do with the
American Neoconservative movement, then they should
know that a contingent of Irving Kristol's disciples
in the UK are presently conducting a concerted campaign
to implement the Neoconservative ideology in this country.
As one of them (Douglas Murray of The Social Affairs
Unit) puts it in his 2005 book entitled Neoconservatism:
Why we need it, "Multiculturalism and the
rule of 'rights' are... demonstrations of our weakness,
not our sophistication" (p.191). For him "Neoconservatism
is a political viewpoint for dealing with the world"
(p.17), it is a "particular creed", a "broad
church". He despises politicians who refuse to
accept Neocon ideology and laws that prevent from coercive
action. The Mayor of London is portrayed in the following
words "[Ken] Livingstone, like so many socialists,
has throughout his career sided with the terrorists
and their masterminds because of his own political persuasions"
(p.195). As for the rule of law, he declares "it
is time for Britain to withdraw from the European Convention
on account of its interference in our laws" (p.195).
pertinent to recent events in Britain is his call that
"nothing should be incapable of being said: the
scandal in a society as educated as Britain's, is that
so little is even being asked" (p.15) and that
"our fight should be prosecuted not only by the
army and police forces, but by the general public,
intellectuals, politicians and all those
with any sense of civic responsibilities" (p.197).
Most interesting of all are the similarities between
his demands for education in Britain and the current
approach to Muslims schools. He writes that "Government-funded
state schools should, with the exception of a small
number of Jewish schools, be Christian, and of
those the great majority should be Anglican" (p.158).
Concerning Muslim schools, he is "Kristol"
clear: "The attitude towards Muslim schools should
be exceptional....if any Muslim academies are allowed
to exist, they should be funded entirely privately,
with no taxpayer assistance and should be subject to
uniquely strict regulation and inspection.
If such conditions are considered unbearable, then Muslims
will have to try their luck in other countries"
(p.106) [my emphasis].
In order for Britain to be a "good
place for Muslims to practice their faith", and
to celebrate Ramadan and Eid through a genuine sense
of integrated solidarity with the host community, Muslims
need more than a few fairy lights to convince them that,
contrary to the designs of the British Neocons, a pogrom
is not a distinct future possibility - especially in
the aftermath of Ramadan 2006. Eid Mubarak and may God
guide us to his mercy and forgiveness.