The scholar, shaikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi from the renowned institution of al-Azhar, issued a statement of support, for the right of the French government to impose the recent ban on the Muslim women in France from wearing the Islamic scarf (Hijab). It is important to note that, the legislation was primarily aimed at the Muslims. The minor reference to other religions is simply a red herring, aimed to prove political correctness and non-discriminatory motives behind the decision. The majority of the Western journalists have also highlighted, that, the legislation primarily targeted the Muslim community.
This sound ominous, and is like the initiation of a French Inquisition, in line with the long European tradition of Inquisitions. Despite the act being in direct contradiction to the secular values of “individual liberty” and “freedom”, as well as the Islamic teachings, the shaikh is content simply to condone the matter, under the umbrella that it is an internal matter for the French government.
This is very perplexing, since any sane person would expect a religious scholar to be outraged, when his religion has been deliberately targeted, without provocation, to say the least. What is more disturbing is the implication of what is being stated by the shaikh. What if, the French government decided to extend the matter and impose the mini skirt as a symbol of the Frances commitment to the secular values? What if, in the style of the Spanish inquisition, they decided to impose pork and alcohol as compulsory items for the Muslim children in the schools? Would the above reasoning also not apply and thus, the shaikh would be obliged to condone such legislation(s)?
The pre-emptive move to ban the Hijab was not because the French government was inflicted with an anti-Hijab virus. Nor was it due to fear or ignorance or the imminent threat felt to the security of the state. How can the wearing of a piece of fabric pose any form threat to a vibrant and a leading democratic society, bearing in mind that a similar clothe has been worn by the Catholic Nuns for centuries? The pre-emptive move is part of a wider French policy to undermine Islamic values in the current and future generations of Muslims in France, which they conveniently term as “integration”. Hence, as Noam Chomsky would say, this episode has created a new norm, i.e. a new pretext, which would either be directly used by other European countries or at least encourage them to pursue that same road of “integration”.
The shaikh argues that he cannot interfere in the internal decision of the French government as a Muslim. Firstly, does the principle of “non interference in a foreign country” also apply in reverse? Therefore, has the shaikh ever made similar pronouncement in condemning the interference by foreign nations in the Islamic lands? Just look at the number of US military bases in the Islamic lands. It is only a matter of time, when the US marines, with their muddy boots, set off to do the Tawaaf (Islamic ritual of Circumambulation) in Mecca, with his beer in one hand and the MI6 in the other. Similarly, when British subjects were sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, the shaikh never raised his voice against the British, for interfering. Likewise, no voices were heard when France routinely interferes in Algeria and other Muslim countries?
On the subject of interference, what about the open declaration by the US government of its policy to create a new Middle East order, by enforcing “democratisation” in the region? Which translates to, marginalising Islam even further, and colonising the region, not just the resources but also, more importantly, the minds. Did the shaikh confront the US State department for interfering in our lands? To the contrary, a deafening silence.
This is not mere scepticism or political conspiracy theory, the US as a capitalist nation, only seeks to maximise their interests and profit. Even the recent tragedy in Iran, where US ‘aid’ was exploited by the media coverage to score political points and to further her agenda in the region. This is simply disgusting!
Secondly, as a Muslim, I do not believe that you can simply remain a spectator, when a country launches a policy to undermine basic religious values, without any real justification. Logic dictates that when your community is attacked, it becomes part of your problem. If the large Sikh community in the UK or Canada were suddenly prevented from wearing the turban, would their priests in India simply remain passive? To the contrary, even the secular Indian government would act to defend the interests of its citizens. Hence a similar response would be expected by such an attack on any other religion, from their respective scholars.
The shaikh should have issued a similar response by urging his government to declare that no non-Muslim women be allowed to enter the Islamic lands without the Hijab or at least some form of modest dress. Perhaps, he was doing the opposite, rubber-stamping the act, so that it is business as usual for Hosni Mubarak with the French government. Could it be also be that, this is to legitimise the recent ban imposed by Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt, on the newscasters from wearing the Hijab?
At this stage many will shout, I am not qualified to speak on the matter, lacking Islamic credentials. For sure, I do not have the scholarly background of receiving years of training in an institution like al-Azhar. However, the first point to note is, that even from the basic teachings of Islam, the possession of knowledge per se does not necessarily mean that one will always be right. The Holy Quran describes the fall of Iblees (Satan) in detail, and he neither lacked knowledge or intelligence.
In addition this is not a technical matter of religion that requires scholarly exertion. If your house is on fire, you certainly do not need to ask a scholar for the permissibility to use water to extinguish the fire. Unfortunately, many in the Islamic world even at that stage would prefer to debate the definition of water, rather then extinguish the flame.
The actual matter at hand is simply the correct assessment of reality. Which is the initiation of a policy by the French government to eradicate the Muslim identity, from the hearts and minds of the Muslims in France. Like the house on fire, it requires a response to defend the Muslims in France, not simply to sit idly and condone the action of the French government.
The shaikh went on to mention that the Muslim women in France would be acting under coercion, therefore further implicitly legitimising the action. What does coercion mean? Surely he should come out and say, this is unjust. How can you coerce someone into an action that is contrary to ones religion and a matter that affects only the individual? Surely, far from justifying the act, he could have at the least resorted to their own principles of “freedom” and “individual liberty” to expose the unjust and hypocritical nature of the ban.
This type action by a secular state is an admission of intellectual defeat in the face of confronting, the resurging Political Islam. Thus indicating that, there are inherent fundamental weakness and contradictions in secularism. Intellectually defeated, these ‘freedom’ Fanatics have no other option but to ban, censor, imprison, torture, and execute in the Guantanamo Bay or the Spanish inquisition style activities.
Islam has given the scholars an elevated position, whilst reminding the burden of its great responsibility. As one of the anecdotes in Islam states that, “when the scholar errors, his entire flock will also fall into error”. Thus, the pronouncement by the shaikh may have drastic consequences in the minds of many, who are not so strict adherents of the religion. The long-term consequence may result in marginalising the values from the minds and conscience of the Muslims.
Scholarship in Islam is not simply a matter of possessing knowledge but applying it to reality, in the correct manner, otherwise it simply becomes an academic exercise. As the Quran aptly describes (The chapter of Al-Jummu’a) those people are like the donkeys that carry books, without ever applying them. This episode certainly proves the lack of application of the Islamic principles to the reality. Hence, the ineffective response. Therefore, such Islamic scholars are incompetent and lacking the simple perception of the political context of such events or that they have some other agenda or motivation that is driving them to pursue such line of reasoning.
For the Muslims of this era, their scholars are silent when they are most needed to be vocal. If and when, they do speak, it seems to work only against their interests. How unfortunate!