Transcript of the Talk
The question is. Is it really that important?
If all the Niqaabs in UK, let's say, were to be removed and banned completely:
- Would any of our problems be solved?
- Would it reduce youth crime?
- Would it reduce the poverty that we find in our inner cities?
- Would it make people happier?
- Would it stop any wars?
So why, one piece of cloth seems to dominate people's minds and arouse passions so much?
Let's for arguments sake say we removed all the Niqaabs from the whole of the UK, not a single one of our major challenges and problems would be solved. We'd be exactly in the same place we were. So it is my strong belief, that there are interests within this society, people of influence, who wish us to be polarised. Who wish us to be arguing about these things, who wish us to be looking inwards. Pointing the finger at each other instead of questioning.
What is the reasons behind some of the deeper social issues which are facing our society? Unemployment, the gap between the rich and the poor, the behaviour of the city and the banks. It is my strong belief that there are powers at be that want us to be preoccupied with these issues - rather than focus on the major challenges which face our society.
Because you can be sure, if there are non-Muslim critics, who are pre-occupied with attacking the face-veil, there will be Muslims who will be preoccupied with defending the face-veil. And so the merry-go-round, goes round and round and round.
Now one of the first misconceptions is of course, as many have mentioned, is that the face veil is something which is imposed by husbands on their wives in Muslim families.
I remember watching this week which was presented by Andrew Neil a few weeks ago. And he said that the face veil was being forced by their husbands. How do we know that's not true, he questioned?
He had a Muslim guest.
Now I don't know Andrew but I've got a revolutionary idea why don't we ask them?
Why don't we ask the women who wear the face veil, why are you wearing the face veil?
Well that's rarely done. In fact, when they speak up in defence of their right to wear this face veil. We dismiss them.
Oh no, no no that's not the reason you're wearing it. Look at the arrogance.
You take intelligent, articulate self-resolved women who know their rights. Who've made a conscious decision. And you tell them what they should be wearing and what they can't wear. And when they express their own views, you dismiss it.
Now you tell me, who's oppressing who here. Is it the Muslim husbands who are oppressing their wives, or is it in fact you, through your arrogance who are dismissing these Muslim women and their life choices.
Do they look like frail, brutalised women? Their coming on TV, their coming on shows. Their articulating themselves, their giving lectures. Their engaging with their society. Do they look like frail, brutalised women? I don't think so.
There's been some discussion that perhaps the face-veil is an Arab custom. Some think from thousands of years ago, 1,400 years ago. Which Muslims have kind of adopted without realising it's only a cultural practice and they've confused it with their religion.
Now, over the weekend, sorry on Monday, I visited one of the voluntary aided schools in Blackburn which is called Tawheed Al-Islaam, quite a famous school most recently been in the news. It was in the news for 2 days for the same reason.
Number one, it achieved the highest progress measure in the UK for a school. It came number one according to a criteria which looks at 20 aspects of a school. Including attainment, attendance, punctuality.....And they came number one in a deprived area of Blakburn.
The other reason they came in (the same school) came on the same day was that some of the girls in the school wear the face-veil and they were being attacked for that reason.
Now most of these girls, in fact almost all of them - if anybody knows Blackburn - are from an Indian-Gujarati background. Nothing at all to do with any Arab country. Similarly, you'll find in the UK Muslim women of white-English background of Afro-Carribean background, you go to Malaysia, in the Far East. It's something spread across the Muslim world.
It is a very tenuous assumption to say it's something which is an Arab custom, far from it. (We find) different countries, different cultures practicing it.
What I found fascinating was that even some Jewish women are adopting the face-veil in compliance with Jewish law. A growing group of women consider face-covering to be halakah I think, (halaacha) which is Jewish law and these women can be found in Baych-shemech, Jerusalem and Ilaad. And this was reported in 2010. And here's the irony, that some of their husbands have gone to the religious courts in Jerusalem to try and force their wives to remove the face-veil.
So look at the irony.
Here we have Muslim men, accused of forcing their wives to wear the face veil and I am yet to come across a single case where a woman - a Muslim woman - is so intimidated, is so brutalised by her husband that even when she walks outside in the streets, she's wearing a face-veil purely for him. I'm yet to come across that case... maybe there are, but I'm yet to across it. And here you have at least 20 cases in 2010 of Jewish men in Jerusalem, who are trying to take their wife to court to forcefully remove the face veil.
So its practice root spans different Muslim cultures and in fact spans different religions.
So why do women. Muslim women where the face-Veil?
Now first and foremost, it's an act of worship. It's an act of venerating God. It's an act of glorifying God. That is its primary purpose.
And we could in theory, stop my little rambling here right now. And all of you would go home fairly well-versed in the purpose of the face-veil.
Primarily, it's an act of worship, an act of veneration of God. By recognising, that the creator. His legislation, his guidance, is to be applied in his dominion. It actually has very little to do with the Muslim husband. Yes, you could argue it is one of the acts of modesty, the wife, you know she only shows her face to her husband. You could argue that.
But if you spoke to most Muslim women who wear the face-veil their husbands come relatively little in the picture. It's primarily an act of worship for God. Now, this can be a confusing idea for many people who are not familiar with the Muslim traditions and Islaamic traditions.
For Muslims worship is based on scripture, and it is sourced in scripture. It's not purely something which is personal in the heart which has no external manifestation. No.
That faith which you have in the heart, and belief you have in the heart, has many external manifestations.
Now that doesn't mean that you can look at some of those external manifestations and guarantee that persons a good person. Women who wear the face-veil are like women who don't wear the face veil. You'll find some of them are good and some of them are not so good.
That's not the point.
But in Islaam, worship is based on scripture and it not only has an internal dimension but it has an external dimension which is manifested. Now let's, take examples to illustrate the point. The five daily prayers, primarily an act of worship.
Yes, through the remembrance of God, Muslims learn to turn back to their Creator and it has many wisdoms to make-up your day into manageable chance....
But primarily an act of worship.
Let's look at fasting, yes, o.k., it can increase your empathy for the poor. But primarily an act of worship.
Let's look at Zakaah (the obligatory charity). Distribution of wealth, primarily though an act of worship, recognising that God is the true owner of that wealth and he has ordered you to give a section of it to charity. Not actually just give a section of it to charity, but the poor have a right on that wealth. It's not even actually your wealth. Apart of your wealth, is not your wealth.
That is the ultimate recognition that that supreme God, that creator, he's the own who owns your wealth.
So let's take the example of the Niqaab.
In the Qur'aan. Allaah (swt), Allaah being as you know the Arabic word for God, which denotes THE GOD - A unique God. Who has no gender, who is eternal.
Allaah says in the Qur'aan - And I will read first the Arabic, then the English, I think there's some use in that - Allaah says in the Qur'aan:
'O prophet tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers. To bring down over themselves their outer garments. That is more suitable, that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allaah forgiving and merciful. '
The Arabic word used in this verse is Jalabeeb which Is the plural of Jilbaab, which is the loose outer garment that covers a woman's body.
Now follow me, the Prophet (p) said in an authentic narration reported by his wife Aisha: When this verse was revealed the ladies cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces. This happened in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (p). When the verse was revealed it is also reported, the women of the Ansaar which was a tribe in the city of the Prophet Muhammad (p) came out as if they had crows over their heads, by wearing outer garments.
This gives you a picture that in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, when this verse was revealed.
The practice of the women at that time was to wear a type of outer garment or a type of face veil.
Ok, so here's two sources of Islaam. One is a verse from the Qur'aan and one is a statement of the Prophet Muhammad (p).
Let's go to a third source. In the books of Tafseer (which are the explanations of the Qur'aan). One of the most illustrious books of tafsir which Is Ibn Kathir, says:
Allaah commanded the Muslim women to cover this sheet on top of them. To cover their bodies except their eyes, when they come out of their homes.
Now you might be finding that this discussion is getting a little bit technical but I'm trying to illustrate a point which will become clear to you soon.
Historically the scholars of the Islaam had only differed whether the face-veil was highly recommended or whether it was an obligation is Islaam. There has never been a disagreement historically amongst Muslim Scholars, that does the face-veil have any place in Islaam. From the time of theحprophet Muhammad (p) it has already existed.
Now whether you wear the face-veil, don't wear the face veil, whatever your personal feelings are about the face-veil - there is a golden methodology here, which will give you a good appreciation of how things work in Islaam.
We have the sources of Islaam, we have the understanding of those sources and we have the application of those sources. So in this scenario, we have the verse of the Qur'aan, we have a statement of the Prophet Muhammad [p]. Those are our sources, all are acts of worship derived from these sources. It is not left up to the liberty of an individual to say 'right, my act of worship today is to do this and that.' Yes there's flexibility, but within the parameters of the authentic sources. But maybe me, being a teacher, thinks I know it all, I'm gonna go to the sources and come up with my own ideas. So we have the correct understanding of those sources and we have that through the application of the Prophet Muhammad [p] himself, who explained the Qur'aan and through the books of Tafseer which explain historically, from the earliest sources, from the companions or disciples of the Prophet Muhammad [p], what do these verses mean.
So once I have my source, I have the correct understanding of that source. We also have the correct application of that source, which is through a mechanism which we call Ijmaa' or consensus.
Historically, it is not possible that all of the Muslim scholars at any particular time will all agree on something incorrect. So what we have is of a historical consensus that the Niqaab, the face-veil is either something recommended or something obligatory.
So it's not an Arab custom, it's not something inherited from the dark ages. It's a pure act of worship which Muslim women have been performing for centuries.
And that illustrates to you how we do our rulings in Islaam, and how we can say with confidence what is right and what is wrong.
So when we see, deplorable acts like the killing in woolwhich, like the bombing of civilians we have this golden methodology by which to compare and say 'right that's wrong, that's not right.'
And if somebody just comes along and says 'Oh yes in the Qur'aan it says this, and the Prophet Muhammad says this.' We question is that the correct understanding if the sources.
Is this to be found in the classical books of tafsir, of explanation of the Qur'aan? Did the prophet Muhammad practice verse the way you're practicing it.
And we have the correct application, did the consensus of Muslim scholars ever understand that this is the way to understand this verse. Did they practice what you practice? Did they go around on the streets, running people over and stabbing them to death, did they do that? No, so what you are the only one who 1400 years later worked out how to practice Islaam. So if nothing else, I want you to appreciate that methodology that we have.
And why sometimes we become quite ......, yes we are going to practice it. It's not because we want to be isolated, it's not because of a sense of arrogance, it's not because we don't want to interact or engage - we have a legacy which we will continue to follow. From the time of the Prophet Muhammad (p) and it applies to us whether were living in the U.K., in the U.S., in Saudi Arabia, in Makkah. And it's flexible enough, we believe, to accommodate different cultures. Different styles.
But there are some parameters which we don't cross.
Now, I mentioned that primarily, this Niqaab is a act of worship, for God. For Allaah (in Arabic) and I think it's worth dwelling on it a little bit more. What is this relationship with the creator that we have?
The Qur'aan, majority of it and I don't know if you picked up on this, the verse which I mentioned about the face-veil ends with 'God is Oft-Forgiving most Merciful'. Almost every verse of the Qur'aan is describing the attributes of that creator. And when you ponder and reflect, on the attributes of the creator it becomes actually quite easy to understand why Muslims are so devote to some of these acts of worship, why the connection with the creator is so strong, and why, at times, they appear ardent or stubborn or perhaps even to a person who doesn't understand: isolations.
In the Qur'aan it says, and I again I think it's useful to mention the Arabic:
'He is Allaah, other than whom there is no deity, the Sovereign, the Pure. The Perfection, the Bestower of Faith, the Over-Seer, the Exalted in Might, the Compeller, the Superior, Exalted is Allaah alone above whatever they associate with him. He is Allaah, the Creator, the Inventor, the Fashioner. To Him belongs the best Names and Attributes. Whatever is in the heavens and earth is exalting him and he is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.'
This is our relationship with the creator. Our other source which is the sayings, approvals and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (p) preserved through generations and written in oral form.
You can consider it as the application of that blueprint, which is the Qur'aan. So you'll often hear Muslims talking about 'The Prophet Muhammad said this'. They'll often start with a verse of the Qur'aan and then 'the Prophet Muhammad said this', 'The prophet Muhammad did this', he being the embodiment of the application of the Qur'aan.
Now, that's not to say misinterpretations don't happen. They do happen, and they sometimes happen with ordinary Muslims, they sometimes happen with Muslim scholars, they sometimes happen with Muslim leaders. But the point is, these misinterpretations do not last very long, they are quickly ejected because it doesn't stand up to that golden methodology. It doesn't stand up to comparison to the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (p). It doesn't stand up to those classical books of Tafseer. And it certainly doesn't stand up to the consensus of the Muslim scholars. So it's quickly ejected, it doesn't last very long. But human beings, being human beings, we make mistakes. We err and we sometimes purposefully confuse and misguide.
Now as we draw to an end, let's just consider a few scenarios regarding forcing the removal of the face-veil.
Many of the critics of the Niqaab have claimed they would like to see the face-veil done away with in the name of liberation of women. So I just can't get over that example of Jack straw. I just can't get over it because he was one of the first people to do this. To bring it to public attention, it had always been an issue. Now I remember just being flabbergasted when he said this. Not because of what he said but because what happened afterwards.
His brother, William Straw, was almost immediately after he made this public announcement and this moral ground standing. He was convicted. Does anybody know what he was convicted for? And it just stuck in my mind, and just left me speechless.
He indecently assaulted a fifteen year old, who was the daughter of one of his close friends.
Now I know that's not Jack, that's his brother. He forced his way into her house, he went to her bedroom and he indecently assaulted her. And he was convicted and he pleaded not-guilty, and he was convicted.
Now do you know what his punishment is? A £750 fine For abusing the dignity of a fifteen year old girl.
Now you tell me whether Jack Straw needs to worry about women wearing a face-veil in his constituency, who've plucked up the courage to come and see him and he's kicked her out. Or whether he needs to worry about his brother, who's indecently assaulting fifteen year olds. And you tell me whether we need to worry about the face-veil or we need to worry about the fact that a fifteen year old girl, who's indecently assaulted by a friend of the family, in her own bedroom. Is worth £750 fine? That's the kind of issues we need to thinking about. And that's the kind of questions we need to be asking. Not whether this piece of cloth should be removed, shouldn't be removed, should it be removed in schools, should it be removed in hospitals, oh o.k., how about, they allowed it in certain places and not in other places.
Aren't we wasting our time? Aren't we turning in on each other? Aren't we imploding them?
Now the critics are demanding laws are introduced to specifically target this dress code. Now you imagine how it feels, for a religious minority, for women. To know that there are laws targeting them specifically, such as France. How does it feel?
To know a law has been passed, just to condemn you. Not to condemn a general practice, or a moral principle. But just to condemn you personally. How does that feel? I'll tell you how it feels. First of all it de-humanises them. It demonises them. In breaking the law, their criminals. And once you de-humanise and demonise people, it becomes very easy to attack them verbally. Attack them through the media, physically attack them. Why? Because their breaking the law, their criminals. The language used for them sometimes, 'ninja's, crows, bats' all of them imply a de-humanisation. So the poor mother walking down the street, taking her children to school, she faces that every day.
Even more laughable, lets prevent them from public institutions like hospitals, schools. Right, so your liberation of women's answer is, right let's keep them at home. Your answer to liberating women, your strategy is to imprison them in their own homes. Because they'll be too afraid to walk the streets, and they know they're not welcome in schools and hospitals and other public institutions. How ironic, how hypocritical? And what a message we give them that they have no place in British society what so ever, they have no place. And what's worse, we're going to cut off essential services to them. Because if they're not welcome in education, they're nor welcome in the health sector. What are they gonna do in their homes, when they need support when they need to access essential services.
Now there are also misconceptions amongst Muslims, many Muslim women, those that are wearing face veils, they become quite passionate and say 'right, I wear this because it's my human right.' Right, so before human rights legislation, nobody wore it? Yes, it is a human right, in the sense that the human rights act does protect religious freedoms. But that's not the reason you're wearing it. It is an act of veneration of God, of glorifying God and worshiping God. Remember that.
Now if those human rights acts, were to be repealed, would you remove the face-veil? Of course not, so be careful of that agenda, Human Rights.
Yes, it's true to some extent, but it's not your motivation, it's not your source. Now I've mentioned this many times about venerating God, Glorifying God, worshiping Him alone, and not associating partners with him. This is the essence of the Muslim creed and belief in Islaam. And when we do this as Muslims, we believe we are fulfilling the purpose of our creation.
A verse in the Qur'aan says: 'I have not created men and Jinn, except to worship.'
So we believe that we are coming to terms with the purpose of our creation through fasting, through praying, through all the acts of worship in Islaam. Now at times, Islaam can seem very action-driven. Very legalistic almost, we've just got rules and laws and there's no spirit there. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I hope that through those verses of the Qur'aan, you got a bit of a taste of that relationship with the Creator. Also, by following the guidance of the Prophets, I hope we've managed to explore what Muslims believe our relationship is with the Prophets. We have a deep respect, for our prophetic tradition. Starting with our Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (p). He is one, of a family of prophets. A legacy of prophets. And you'd be surprised to know, that many of those great personalities that you believe in, we believe in them also. And you'd be surprised to know also, that much of their guidance is crystallised and capsulated in Islaamic law.
The Prophet Moses, Abraham, we also believe deeply in the Prophet Jesus, Isma'il, Ishac, a list going back thousands of years, of Prophets who we respect and we follow the remnants of the message can still be found within our practice.
So for example, many of the laws of personal hygiene in Islaam date back to the Prophet Abraham, many of the laws and guidance with regards to political interaction. Many lessons can be found in the message of the Prophet Moses and much of that spirit of forgiveness and over-looking, being better than retaliation and revenge can be found in the message of Jesus. It's still alive and kicking in our faith even if we don't acknowledge it. Or even if we don't articulate it very often, or maybe we use Arabic names without other communities realising that were talking about the same people.
So with this, I'd like to conclude the essence of the message of Islaam. It's crystal clear, simple belief in one unique God, that he created us. And simply He alone deserves to be worshiped. His dominion, His creation, there's nothing outside of it. There's nobody that takes part in it, that classical religious imagery of God and the devil being involved in some kind of internal struggle doesn't exist in Islaam.
It is His dominion, God alone, without partner and the devil Satan, he is given permission to create mischief as a test.
And in the Qur'aan, he asks Gods permission, and in the Qur'aan it's given to him for a limited period of time to test human beings. The trial of life, the whole drama of life, in competing ideas, competing influences and man and woman having to choose the straight path. But he's not an opponent to God, and we believe that on the Day of Judgement, he will plead his innocence before God and say 'I only whispered to them and I only tried to convince them, but it was there decision to follow.'
With this I thank you for your patience, I thank you for your time - for giving me this honour to come and address you, and I'm very humbled by the fact that you came and listened.