The Quran for one, does not exhort Muslim women to cover their hair, nor does it prescribe a punishment for those who resist it. Islam therefore does not enjoin the hijab, though Sharia, which is largely man-made promotes it.
A cultural clash? A domestic violence issue? A distraught and enraged parent exercising extreme disciplinary control over a rebellious daughter? Or was young Aqsa Pervez’s murder a manifestation of brutal religious fundamentalism? These are some of the questions that have sprung up over the killing of the Mississauga teen in December, 07 as the public tries to make sense out of a senseless tragedy.
But what is worrisome is that tragedies such as these are likely to occur again if a proper diagnosis, which entails pinpointing their causes is not undertaken in a candid manner, for once setting aside political correctness that has thus far allowed for atrocities, injustices and inequities to proliferate in society.
The recent statements by a group of imams at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) mosque in Mississauga, while denouncing Aqsa’s murder and expressing a grudging acceptance of the notion that Muslim women must have a choice to wear or not wear the hijab, promptly distanced themselves from the overriding factor in Aqsa’ Pervez murder-- that the dispute between father and daughter occurred over a religious issue (the hijab) and that its enforcement was important enough for the father to slaughter his young daughter in a fit of religious fury.
Also blatant is the contradiction evident in the position taken by the imams. It is unquestionably their insistence on the hijab as a religious requirement for Muslim women that has turned this piece of cloth into such a thorny issue for Muslim families. After the tragedy however, they are downplaying its significance as a factor in the Aqsa Pervez murder, suggesting the outburst of the father and brother may have had more to do with cultural practices rather than a fundamentalist religious outlook. The imam of the ISNA mosque said: "Women who wear hijabs occupy higher positions in Islam, according to religious teachings."
Guilt-ridden sermons labelling Muslim women who refuse the hijab as “bad Muslims” or “less than complete in their faith” have led to a culture of censure and intolerance. When a theology of fear that invokes God’s retribution, coupled with societal pressures that equate piety with the observance or non observance of the hijab is a constant in sermons, the oppression and tyranny of such dictums is undeniable. Muslim women are often helpless in the face of such pontifical admonishing.
Some Muslim women choose to wear the hijab because they have been led to believe it is somehow liberating. This carrot approach promoting the hijab advances the argument that salvation is more easily attainable for Muslim women who adopt the practice.
The social rewards are also immense as wearing the hijab eases the way to social acceptance in a population that is turning increasingly to more conservative applications of the Islamic faith. But that's only part of the story.
The Quran for one, does not exhort Muslim women to cover their hair, nor does it prescribe a punishment for those who resist it. Islam therefore does not enjoin the hijab, though Sharia, which is largely man-made promotes it. Imams, religious preachers and scholars need to take a closer look at Quranic verses on modesty as these only enunciate a general principle thereof rather than spelling out details about specific attires. They must abandon their obsession of the hijab as the defining measure of a woman's piety. Muslim women must be allowed to make genuine choices about how they wish to express their modesty, rather than one that results from social pressures, fear of hell fire or disingenuous theological arguments.
Neither does it behove religious leaders to downplay the religious factor in Aqsa’s death. It is only through honest discourse and dialogue that social ills are eradicated from communities and societies. Calling a spade a spade in this case is crucial or else another young life stands at risk of being lost. Imams and scholars need to emphasize compassion and forgiveness in their religious sermons and Friday khutbahs rather than shout sin and retribution at a credulous Muslim audience.
The example of the holy prophet of Islam should be kept paramount in these sermons, keeping in view his own treatment of his four daughters who never once suffered abuse at his hands.
[Farzana Hassan-Shahid is President of the Muslim Canadian Congress, Freelance writer, public speaker and author of "Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest" and host of the radio program Islam: Faith and Culture.]