Sunday, August 19, 2012

Why Some Muslim Women Don't Wear Hijab
by Dian Kuswandini
August 15, 2012

A cleric takes out two candies; unwraps one of them and throws them both onto the floor. He asks: “If you have to choose, which candy will you pick? Of course, you’ll take the wrapped one because it’s the clean one. In Islam, we protect our women through hijab.”

First of all, I'm a believer: I'm a practicing Muslim. Second, I don’t wear hijab. And from here my story starts.

One day, a male friend tagged me on a note in Facebook; it's about a conversation between a non-Muslim man and an Islamic cleric. 

The man asks: “Why does Islam oblige Muslim women to wear hijab?” 

In answering the question, the cleric takes out two candies; unwraps one of them and throws them both onto the floor. He asks: “If you have to choose, which candy will you pick?” 

The man answers: “Of course I’ll take the wrapped one, because it’s the clean one.” 

The cleric goes, “Indeed. In Islam, we protect our women through hijab.”

Feeling disturbed with that degrading analogy, I sent him a message.

“Do you suggest that non-hijabi Muslim women are dirty? And how come you compare women with candies?” 

This guy replied, “Don't take it to your heart. Just understand that wearing hijab is an obligation in Islam, and shouldn't be compromised.”

It wasn't the first time I engaged in that kind of conversation with Muslim men like him —  those with the "I'm more Muslim than you" syndrome. They thought they knew Islam better just because my appearance doesn't “represent” Islam. 

In between our debates over Qur'anic verses and hadiths (saying of the Prophet Muhammad), they always slapped me a hadith telling that non-hijabi women would be burned in hell. “Remember that,” one of them warned as if he has secured himself a place in heaven. 

They even called me a follower of the Liberal Islam Network (JIL), just because I refused to be forced into wearing hijab. Never in my life I've joined JIL nor attended its events — I don't even agree with many of JIL's ideas. Yet one guy easily condemned: "You can deny you're a JIL follower, but you act just like them, so you're one of them."

At least I'm not the only one to receive such a condemnation. Respected ulema and former Indonesia's religious affairs minister Quraish Shihab was once called an agent of liberal Islam and was slew with harsh words when he released his book on hijab, which argues that Islam never strictly determines the limits of women's awrah (body parts to be covered). 

Many accused him of writing the book in favor of his non-hijabi daughter, TV presenter Najwa Shihab. In his book, “Jilbab: Pakaian Wanita Muslimah” ("Jilbab: Muslim Women Attire"), Shihab  presents different views of ulemas in the past and the present on hijab, encouraging readers to analyze this issue from many perspectives instead of following something blindly. He says Muslims should realize that there are other “menus” offered in Islam, and it's important to note that Islam never intends to complicate its followers. 

In fact, it's Muslims themselves who complicate things by opting for the strictest views. On hijab, Shihab quotes Imam al-Syafi'i, one of the founders of Islamic jurisprudence, who said: "I cannot say — and even others with great knowledge will never say — that this (the hijab law) has been mujma' 'alaihi (universally agreed)." 

Many Indonesian Islamic figures in the past, Shihab says, were very relaxed toward hijab. Although he didn't precisely identify them, I can name famous figures like Buya Hamka, Mohammad Natsir and Agus Salim. Today, however, it seems like hijab is everything that counts in an Indonesian Muslim woman. 

In 2007, I went undercover and lived for few days among prostitutes in a famous red light district in Jakarta for my investigative report. Several prostitutes there — mostly the senior ones — wore hijab. When I told this to those same friends, they said I shouldn't link hijab with one's piety and profession. Muslim women must wear hijab; their professions would be another case. So I asked, "In which part then hijab can protect women when they work as prostitutes?”

I'm not against hijab — who knows that someday I might wear it? But it's the harsh judgments on one's personal choices of religious practices that have made me swallow aspirins now and then. I can't agree if some Muslims force something into others, like it's God's unquestionable truth. Even Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) couldn't force his beloved uncle to embrace Islam. 

Remember, something that's forced will create nothing but hatred and antipathy. Do you realize that your silly hijab campaigns might be counter-productive and make non-hijabi women view hijab negatively? 

You, Mr. "I'm more Muslim than you," are angry if someone calls you a terrorist because you wear Arabic attire. And you say, “Don't judge me from my clothes.” Now dear brothers, please apply your words as well to your non-hijabi sisters — don't hold double standards.

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