VISITORS COUNTER (Begun @ 5 June 2008)

Free chat widget @ ShoutMix

Monday, April 28, 2008



Hijab issue in France and Germany

As an aftermath of the Sept 11 and the United States of America sponsored war on terrorism, the Muslims living in Europe and America, as elsewhere, were somewhat put under the spotlight. Amongst these Muslims, instead of being cowed, many reacted by reasserting their Islamic identity. The more the Muslims were subjected to feel marginalized, the more they would resort towards adhering to their faith. Those who, at one time, may not be too concern about their identity as Muslims, became more assertive in wanting to practice Islam. The perceived Islamaphobia only heightened the Islamic awareness amongst many Muslims as the feeling of belonging to the Ummah gave them confidence and sense of solidarity.

Elsewhere, in Germany and France, where the Muslim population has grown significantly over the years, other dynamics were at play. The influx of migrant there which had started long since the colonial era, and increasingly so after the World War. With the conflicts and civil wars of post-independence in their previous colonies, more sought to relocate in Europe. The failure to effectively facilitate their naturalization as citizens of the country or their inability to integrate and be accepted as equal citizens had polarized these Muslim communities from the rest of the citizenry in some of these countries. This led to resentments. There may be many reasons for the resentment towards them - from racial, to economic, cultural, ideological and political reasons. Resentments tend to lead to discrimination. Cases of discriminations stemming from such resentments abound, but the most glaring, which the media sensationalized was on the subject of Muslim women donning the "Hijab" which surfaced in Germany and France. The refusal of the authority there to allow for the Muslim women to put on the Islamic scarf was being challenged. The authority there may not be adequately equipped to understand the Islamic perspectives, what more to appreciate how important it is for Muslims. Due to this they misperceived the Muslims opposition as though Muslims are challenging their prerogative to legislate.

Sheikh Al-Azhar’s comment

Under the headline "Tantawi: France has right to ban hijab" the Al-Jazeera news agency reported:


"One of the leading voices in Sunni Islam has defended France's right to ban Islamic headscarves in state schools.

Before talks with French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday, al-Azhar shaikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi said Muslims living in non-Muslim countries coerced into obeying the law could do so.

"If a Muslim woman is in a non-Muslim country, like France, for example, and the officials there want to pass laws which are contrary (to Islam) on the question of the headscarf as it relates to the Muslim woman, then that is their right which I cannot interfere with as a Muslim," he said.

"In that case, if a Muslim woman observes the laws of a non-Muslim state, then from the point of view of Islamic law, she has the status of acting under coercion."
Extract from posting on – Wednesday 31 December 2003, 11:32 Makka Time, 8:32 GMT (see APPENDIX III for the full report)

What was the issue?

The local media in Singapore were quick to pick up from the controversial statement of the Sheikh al-Azhar. What was the issue? If we study the issue objectively, the Sheikh's comment was focused only on "whether or not a country has the prerogative to legislate their own law for their citizens." His silence from commenting as to whether such law is valid or not from the Islamic stand point, or that it contradicts two human rights: individual freedom and religious freedom etc. was what made it controversial. For this, he was taken to task by majority of Islamic scholars worldwide. It was not because he has ruled the taking-off of the hijab has become permissible for those Muslims in France. The Sheikh was being overly careful, trying not to be dragged into making statement that may be seen as interfering into the affairs of a sovereign nation and their prerogative to legislate. But, the media headline made it seem that the Sheikh had opposed the hijab rule. In fact Sheikh Tantawi himself had already underlined this point regarding the hijab when he said, "that hijab is a divine obligation for a Muslim woman ... No Muslim, whether ruler or ruled, can oppose it." (Source: IOL (IslamOnLine) Correspondent, Subhy Mujahid)

When our PM Goh Chok Tong visited al-Azhar, the media coverage glaringly slanted the message from the Sheikh’s comment regarding “the right and prerogative of every country’s to legislate its own law” to one that suggested that the Sheikh approves the “taking off of the tudung for every Muslim women living in a non-Muslim country.” If ever the intention of the media and the authority was to influence the general Muslim’s here towards accepting the status quo on the “Tudung” issue in Singapore, then, such callousness only affects negatively the image of the authority concerned.

In the Sunday Times, 15 February 2004, it carries a headline "Al-Azhar chief backs govt's stand on tudung." The article claimed to quote from a website based in Middle-east where that Sheikh is reported to have said that "the government has the right to impose a unified code of dress, which also bars students from wearing hijab" or tudung. By agreeing that the prerogative for a government to legislate does not mean that he therefore agrees to the substance of the law passed. Clearly his comment was only regarding the right to legislate, and not that what is then legislated is right. This "twisted" logic and fallacious argument was again used.

Other leading Islamic Scholars views not highlighted by local media

In the age of Internet where accessibility to various news and news group becomes an easy option, local news media should not take the common people’s awareness of issues for granted. Amongst the Muslims, reliance of the Internet and the proliferation of discussion groups that transcends physical boundaries internationally is a reality. The perceived monopoly and strict control of the local media only accelerated the proliferation of the people’s reliance of news through the cyber space. Especially amongst the Muslims, any attempt at partial or selective biased reporting here can easily be detected. So, in the issue of the “Tudung” in France, and when subsequent controversial quote from the Sheikh al-Azhar were highlighted, Muslims here were also aware of the counter response made by other equally respectable and authoritative Islamic Scholars. Disappointingly, when the Muslim public scanning through the various reports in the local media, the relative absence of views, comments and quotations from other Islamic scholars whose views and strong opposition to what was expressed by Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi (the Sheikh al-Azhar), was not left unnoticed. Why only quote from the Sheikh al-Azhar? Was it because his views are more agreeable? It only confirmed the suspicion the general Muslims here have against the media.

What was left out from the local media could be glean in the various Internet news groups and discussion. In this concern, for example the eminent Muslim scholar, Dr. `Ali Jum`ah (Goma), the Mufti of Egypt, has made a significant comment:


Egypt's Mufti Ali Goma said hijab is an obligation on all Muslim consenting female adults, as firmly established in the Holy Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad’s hadiths as well as unanimously agreed upon by Muslim scholars. He cited the noble Qur'anic verse, which reads: "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."

Extract from posting on IslamOnLine – Sunday, December 21 2003,
(See APPENDIX IV for the full report)

The unanimity of opinion regarding the hijab amongst Islamic jurists of both the Sunni-Shiite schools of both traditions is very clear. We should note that Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadl Allah, a well-known Shiite jurist and the Grand Ayatollah of Lebanon, also comments:

"Wearing hijab derives from religious commitment; it is in the same status of religious obligations in the way that incompliance with it constitutes a sin. Has secularism become so weak that the secular authorities fear a scarf, a turban, or a cross hanging from the neck to threaten its stability?"

Moreover, another eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states:

"I completely reject and condemn the French resolution that prevents the Muslim female students from wearing hijab at school. By doing so, they force Muslim women to ignore the teachings of their religion and disobey Allah's commands, which say: "…..and to draw their veils over their bosoms", and: "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad).

Actually, all Muslims with their various affiliations and inclinations agree upon the obligation of hijab. Hence, we have been struck by the hijab ban, which is a persecution against the Islamic teachings and values, especially which it is made by France, the land of liberality and openness, the home of the French Revolution that called for freedom and equality. Moreover, France has the largest Muslim community in Europe.

Therefore, such resolution contradicts two human rights: individual freedom and religious freedom, which are asserted by all constitutions and charters of human rights all over the world.

On the other hand, banning hijab on the basis of preserving secularity of the state is an illogical claim, because secularism in a liberal community means that the state authority should be neutral in matters of religion. The government should neither accept nor reject, neither with nor against any religion. The state is to provide freedom of religion for all people. Conversely, Marxist secularism is hostile against religion in general; it considers religion to be like addiction that hinders peoples' development. Marxism denies the existence of God and he denies the existence of man's soul as well.

Claiming that hijab is a sign of religion is by no means acceptable, because a religious sign or symbol has no function but to declare the religious beliefs of the one who wears it, such as the cross for a Christian and the kippa for a Jew. They both have no function but to declare the religious beliefs of those who wear them. Hijab, on the other hand, has a religious function, namely, to protect Muslim women and preserve their chastity. It could not strike the mind of hijab-clad women to wear it for declaring their religious beliefs. Rather, they wear it in obedience to Allah's commands.

Therefore, the hijab ban contradicts the principles of freedom and equality that have been asserted by the French Revolution and stipulated in all heavenly revealed religions and international charters of human rights. In fact, the hijab ban is a form of persecution against the committed Muslim women; it infringes upon their freedom; it prevents them from their right to learn and work to the favor of non-Muslim and uncommitted Muslim women.

Real civilization is characterized by tolerance, so it has room for various races, religions, and ideologies. It does not tend to make people copies of a prototype. People should be brought up to the point of tolerance with one another in spite of their difference in religion, as the Glorious Qur'an teaches us in the following verse: "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion."
(Al-Kafirun: 6)

It hurts to hear the claims that one who wears hijab bears hostility towards others. What hostility can a woman who tries to protect her honor and who is committed to the teachings of her religion bear towards others? Hostility and enmity are never expected from a pious person, man or woman, who is conscious of Allah and fears Him.

It is true that the majority pass whatever laws they agree upon, according to the principles of democracy. Yet, just democracy cares for the rights of the minorities, whether religious or ethnic; it does not oppress the minorities. Were it so, the majority in a democratic society could get rid of the minorities under the name of democracy."


In fact, amongst the Muslims here in Singapore, this Sheikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is better known than the current Sheikh al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayed Tantawi. Their highlighting on Sheikh al-Azhar Muhammad Sayed Tantawi’s views alone to the total exclusion of other equally eminent contemporary Islamic scholars, it exposes the local media to being biased (in the estimation of the general Muslim) or many amongst Muslims may even be inclined to believe that the media here are indeed being controlled and manipulated towards a certain preferred opinion. It was to them, most obvious. Many have accepted the truism that the media is only a tool of the powers that be, yet our concern is only when media biasness is causing confusion.

attempt at diversion

From the way the media here is highlighting similar issues on the Tudung or Muslim headscarves elsewhere, the public may be diverted from the actual discussion which is relevant i.e. whether or not a legislation or rules have discriminated against any of its citizen by depriving their basic rights, to one which emphasized exclusively on the point that any country has every right to legislate. As we have argued, the issue of the prerogative for any nation to legislate is not being challenged here. Yet, any legislation must be founded on or guided by higher principles, as enshrined in the constitution. Furthermore worldwide, there are advocates of human rights which monitor every form of civil governance which they see as having infringed this basic fundamental rights and have highlighted them because of this. It was news to them precisely because of this possibility of infringement to basic human rights. Yet this human rights elements are not given due coverage in the local media – whatever else may be their reason for adopting this stance - as though this does not seem to be their concern. But for them to pick on media reporting elsewhere minus this real concern on human rights there, and then try to somewhat conclude that in these countries they are also discussing the same issue, which they then highlight only on the question of the basic right for any country to legislate as the main issue, reference or emphasis to human rights becomes somewhat omitted. Their tendency for selective reporting only on countries or authorities that rejected appeals for the putting on of the Muslim headscarves is very revealing (especially amongst Muslims here).

conscripting false parallel

Due to the selective reporting by media mentioned earlier, another trend emerges. We can detect in the local media reporting a strong insinuation that minority Muslims here should also accept the same fate as that of their counterpart Muslims (who are minority too) in Europe and other Western nations. Any discerning scholars of history would know that to equate similarity between Muslims here with minority Muslims any where else is too simplistic. This tantamount to trying to conscript a false parallel. For example, the fact that Muslims here are presently in the minority is due to certain political event, a twist of historical ‘fate’. What is conveniently overlooked is the fact that this region has all along been overwhelmingly populated by Muslims. The island nation of Singapore was somewhat carved out from within this bigger landscape. The history regarding the formation of the nation of Singapore is unlike those nations in Europe, and the presence of Muslims here and their rights with regard to the practice of their religion has already been sanction by our country’s constitution since from the beginning of the birth of this nation. As indigenous people we are not clamouring for acceptance and accommodation like the other Muslims in Europe, where Muslims influx there through migration is considered as comparatively recent and thus requires recognition and acceptance. For them there, they are still regarded as ‘newcomers’ to the country’s social landscape. On the other hand here, our situation is totally different. Our concern therefore is not like that of a minority seeking recognition of their existence, but rather a legitimate complain against the failure of the nation’s leadership to uphold a legitimate right of fellow citizens who already were included in the social contract since the founding days of our nation. If by numerical census today, we the Muslims have become a minority here, we do not and should not suffer from any “minority syndrome”. To suggest or attempt any program to make us to feel so is deceptively misleading and mischievous. After all the history of our young nation is not that very long so for any one to plead ignorance. So to now pretend to be in amnesia is incredulous.

false argument – modest dressing as religious symbols

Another subtle approach employed by the media seems to be to suggest that the issue of the “Tudung” or Muslim headscarves is similar to religious symbols as in other religious tradition. It is common to read media write up that tries to equate the Muslim headscarves with the Christian crucifixes or the Jewish ‘kippa’ (a skull cap worn by Jews when attending the synagogue or observing religious ceremony). And that whenever there is a call for all religions to remove religious symbols from the public is suggested, people would include the modest dressing of Muslims in the same category. Some argue that since the Christians or the Jews have also been told not to display their religious symbols therefore the “tudung” (since it is also a symbol) must also be included in this ruling. This could be a subtle approach which may cause people to be distracted from seeing the issue of “tudung” objectively, and seeking to understand it from the perspective of its functional value. Moreover, its educative significance in the inculcation of modesty, we feel, can be better appreciated by every one irrespective of whether one is a Muslim or a non-Muslim. The virtue of modesty is not exclusively a Muslim virtue, but one in which people of other faith also share (e.g. the dress code for nuns in which subscribe to one of their vow which is modesty), but perhaps with the difference in forms or criteria. We are worried that some Muslims may be gullible into agreeing that the “tudung” is a symbol, albeit even if they qualify it by saying that “it is not merely a symbol.”

PERGAS’ response on Sheikh al-Azhar’s statement

Regarding the Sheikh al-Azhar’s comment, PERGAS could not remain silent. The community expected our comment and guidance as the media reportings clearly were causing confusion. Some people were ‘angry’ that MUIS did not even bother to clarify, what in fact were controversial statements, made by insinuation as though through the lips of the Prime Minister which was reported in the media. The strong insinuation in the message seems obvious for Muslims i.e. it suggested as though the Sheikh was totally agreeable to the Singapore governments ruling on the school uniform and that Muslims here are to change their objections regarding the “tudung” issue. Perhaps because University Al-Azhar being the premier alma mata of many of the Asaatizah and Islamic scholars here, some in authority may have hoped that by relying on the status of the eminent Sheikh, the quote from him would serve as the coup de grace in ending the debate on the “Tudung” issue here. With due respect to the Sheikh al-Azhar, PERGAS have to fulfill our role and clarify the Islamic stand.

------------------------------------ Extract statement -------------------------------------------------

In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful


PERGAS would like to respond to Sheikh Al-Azhar's comment on the Hijab Ban in Singapore. The Muslim Community acknowledges the secular stance of the Singapore government. Thus, the Muslim Community in its aspiration to adjust itself within the multi-racial society, while at the same time to steadfastly hold on to the pristine values as Muslims, recognizes that any intended action should be to bring more benefit than harm. Among the best steps (towards safeguarding this) is through dialogue and healthy discussions between the government and the Muslim Community leaders.

(Firstly) PERGAS is of the opinion that the Muslim Community here in Singapore should not be influenced by foreign fatawa (religious edicts) on certain (religious) issues (as in the case of the Sheikh Al-Azhar's view in this matter, it has even been strongly opposed by other equally respectable Islamic scholars), the Singapore Government should therefore be cautious towards relying upon the perspective contained in fatawa (made in othercountry) in formulating policies (here); and must also be sensitive towards the aspiration of any races or groups in Singapore.

Secondly, the (crux of the) advice of the Sheikh Al-Azhar, in practice has already been adopted by the Muslim Community of Singapore in general. The Muslim Community acknowledges the prerogative of the government(to formulate policies) and has been patient in facing the enforced ban. Nonetheless, PERGAS holds the view that the Muslim Community, as citizens of this nation, has the right to convey their wishes and aspirations rationally, peacefully and (respecting the) democratic process. A government that upholds the democratic principle will surely not prevent its people from putting forth their aspirations or to strive towards achieving them using appropriate means available.

A good step towards (forging our) future is to continue the dialogue and communication in searching for a (suitable) solution on how the Muslim community's aspiration and that of the government can be met,without affecting (the process for) national integration or the other (common) interest (of the nation) - not by building obstacles which will only widen the gap between the two groups with differing concerns.

PERGAS would like to stress that hijab is not a (religious) symbol but rather it is a religious obligation for Muslim women (who attained the age prescribed and PERGAS is confident that on this issue even the Sheikh Al-Azhar also holds the same view.


23 FEBRUARY 2004

------------------------------------- End of statement --------------------------------------------

PERGAS had initially sent the statement to the Straits Times (Forum) on the 15 February 2004, as well as to the Malay newspaper Berita Harian. When we received no response and it was clear that our letter would not be published in the press, PERGAS put it up on our web page ( and sent copies to various leaders in the government, social and community leaders, organizations and discussion groups in the internet, etc. The same statement is also placed in our Quarterly Magazine “Ar-Risaalah” (Apr-Jun 2004).

On Tuesday, March 30, 2004, CNN Washington Bureau carries a headline “U.S. to defend Muslim girl wearing scarf in school. Federal position will oppose Oklahoma school district policy.” By its correspondent Terry Frieden. (see Appendix V). Although this report gains wide interest in the sense that what it highlighted was pertaining to a basic human rights which even the U.S. Federal government deemed it necessary to support the case, this was hardly reported in Singapore’s local media.

Instead, several days later when the issue in Germany where there was a move to ban headscarves amongst civil servants, the local media was eager to highlight it. Yet, in today’s global internet age, the local media’s stand and bias reporting as perceived by their selective reporting would only be an added nail to their coffin in the death of local media’s credibility.

In comparison, BBC correspondents may be an example of what media people should be concerned with – educating the masses objectively towards an issue rather than taking sides. They even presented in BBC NEWS - Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, “Q & A on the Muslim headscarves” (see Appendix VI) so that non-Muslims can appreciate the issue better by presenting the Islamic responses to common questions, so as to dispel misconception and assist in removing confusion and bias perceptions.

Allahumma arinal-haq-qa haqqa war-zuq-nat-tibaa-‘a,
Wa-arinal-baa-tilaa baa-tilaa war-zuq-naj-ti-naa-ba.
(O Allah! Make us see Truth as True and make us able to follow it;
and make us see Falsehood as False and make us able to reject it.)


No comments:

(Archived visitors Cluster-map)

(Archived visitors Cluster-map)

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed


free counters