Recently there were two op-ed articles in the Bangladesh-based internet daily, bdnews24.com, on the issue of veiling women. Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, and veiling of Muslim women is a serious topic there, with increasing number of women there using veils.
The first one was posted on July 31, 2014. The author, A. Rahman, is a frequent contributor to both bednews24.com and mukto-mona.com. The gist of his opinion was that the French ban on “religious headgear” was justified, that veiling women was not required by the Muslim holy books of the Quran and the Hadit, and that Bangladesh should consider following the French example and ban such veils for women in public.
The second one was posted on the next day. The author, Rainer Ebert, is also a frequent contributor to both bednews24.com and mukto-mona.com, and his article was essentially a rebuttal of the article by A. Rahman. The gist of his opinion was that wearing veils was a woman’s right to choose, that the French headgear ban was discriminatory against the Muslims, and that it put France in the same category as Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries that enforced dress-codes on women.
Obviously, the first article got many more comments from the readers, compared to the average number of comments that Rahman’s articles generally get. The article outraged a lot of religious Muslims. The second article also got a lot of comments from the readers, mostly supporting Ebert’s opinion.
I was one of the readers who commented on both articles. Some of my comments got published, some did not. For example, my comments, “Following a religion or not, a civilized world would try to ensure human and citizenship rights for all people. Burqa/niqab/hijab violates the human rights of women, even of the victims that have been brainwashed to think otherwise.” were unacceptable to the editor, and were not published.
I was actually surprised to see Rahman’s article published in a mainstream newspaper of Bangladesh. He not only criticized veiling women, he also talked about how Muslim societies and Islamic Sharia doctrine go against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. However, while Rahman’s proposition of banning veils in Bangladesh was indeed too courageous by the Muslim standard, it did not really challenge the core issue. His major points were that burqa/niqab/hijab was not required by Islam, that it was only an Arabian culture, and that it did not need to be practiced by Bangladeshis to be Muslim.
Ebert obviously pleased the religious Muslims, and got a lot of praise from the readers. However, his views that veil was a woman’s choice and that banning it was oppressing that choice were deeply flawed. No free-minded woman would choose to be veiled.
To be fair about veils for women, Muslims are not the first or the only socio-religious group that has been practicing this. Veiling women is not only pre-Islamic; it was certainly done by non-Muslims of the Indian subcontinent as well. However, a Hindu woman’s veil was mostly the edge of her sari or other clothing to cover her hair, quite different from burqa, which is a full body cover generally with black clothing.
I was pleased that bdnews24.com published my comments, “Rainer Ebert is certainly politically correct with the religious Muslim crowd. While some of his arguments against the reason that the French government showed for banning burqa are valid, he misses the bigger point of what the purpose of burqa is. The picture that he posted with his article says, “Face veils: a woman’s right to choose.” Is it really a choice of free minds? Would a liberally educated woman choose to cover herself up? What is the purpose of covering oneself up? Why would someone want to cover someone else up? These are some of the questions that need to be honestly discussed and debated. As for France, they could ban burqa even if the Muslim crowd is not convinced with the rational answers to this kind of questions. They certainly have the right to keep their country culturally French, which by most definitions provides a lot more human and citizenship rights than most of the world.”
Let me touch on to just one question. Is it really a choice of fee minds?
A free mind does not do anything to please the so-called God. A free mind does not endure discomfort to keep others (perverted men) from losing their character. A free mind does not endure discomfort by trying to distinguish herself (as a Muslim) from others (non-Muslims).
It is true that veiling of women used to be done by many societies. However, most societies have been moving forward with modernity and with education and freedom of women, including not using/imposing veils. Most societies have been ignoring and discarding many of the primitive religious doctrines. The backwardness by Muslim societies, in terms of women’s subjugation and in terms of many other religious restrictions, would keep Muslims as perpetual complainers of the world. It is really a choice that they need to revisit in order to be leaders and equal partners in the world.
About the Writer: Sukhamaya Bain is a US citizen who was born in a place that is a part of today’s Bangladesh. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1987, and currently works for the US federal government, evaluating chemistry. While being a scientist by profession, he believes that societal justice is vital for the well-being of mankind. Thus, he occasionally writes on sociopolitical issues.