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DEAR EDITOR: Force-fed freedom? Must Muslim women move backwards to Islamic Front?

“Is Abdullah suggesting, however irrational that may appear, that anyone who raises questions about the advisability or wisdom of wearing the hijab is encouraging Muslim women to tend towards prostitution?

“Clearly, Muslim women, hijabis or not, can think for themselves. Evidently, Aisha Sabur didn’t feel she wanted to remove her hijab. Is Abdullah suggesting that she has that right but does not have the right to do the opposite?”

The following Letter to the Editor, which is prompted by Umar Abdullah’s response to Kevin Baldeosingh’s 28 May Sunday Guardian column, headlined “Hijabonomics Explained,” was submitted to Wired868 by Alana Abdool:

Photo: A Muslim woman in her hijab.
(Copyright Daily Bruin)

In his column which appeared in the Sunday Guardian of 28 May under the headline “Hijabonomics Explained,” Kevin Baldeosingh posed this rhetorical question, “Why, then, does she simply not remove her hijab so she can get the job?”

Quite frankly, although Baldeosingh’s columns have not always sat well with me, I had absolutely no problem with the manner in which he presented his case in this one.

Ironically, I have a certain difficulty with one high-profile Muslim’s response to “Hijabonomics Explained.” That response came from Umar Abdullah and I believe it to be a statement which is nothing short of absurd.

According to the Islamic Front head, Baldeosingh’s question implies that: “…all women should strip themselves and compromise their true worth in order to get a job in this country. This is synonymous with prostitution.”

Is Abdullah suggesting, however irrational that may appear, that anyone who raises questions about the advisability or wisdom of wearing the hijab is encouraging Muslim women to tend towards prostitution?

I have difficulty believing that the Muslim cleric was likening to prostitution any decision to divest oneself of the hijab for personal financial gain.

Photo: Islamic Front leader Umar Abdullah.

It would be far-fetched to speculate that Baldeosingh’s comment covers women’s clothing in general, inclusive of the clothing of non-Muslim women, as that would be to completely ignore the context of the original question. To me, it seems a more than reasonable deduction that Baldeosingh is referring exclusively to Muslim women as is clear from his reference to the removal of “her hijab”—a garment worn exclusively by Muslim women.

Clearly, Muslim women—hijabis or not—can think for themselves. Evidently, Aisha Sabur didn’t feel she wanted to remove her hijab. Is Abdullah suggesting that she has that right but does not have the right to do the opposite? Does he believe that hijabis’ understanding of the concept of hijab is either fundamentally very weak or non-existent?1

If not, why did he feel the need to make the statement at all?

If a woman chooses to remove her hijab or chooses not to wear it at all because it doesn’t align with her understanding or her beliefs, does that make exposing herself “prostitution?” If she doesn’t believe in wearing the hijab, is it prostitution because people like Abdullah believe in the necessity of wearing the hijab?

I think that there’s at best maybe a five percent chance that a Muslim woman who understands why the hijab is necessary and fully believes in it might remove it. I cannot, therefore, imagine that that scant probability would worry Abdullah sufficiently to warrant his statement.

So the question we must ask ourselves is this: Why would the absence of the hijab or, more specifically, the removal of the hijab spawn protestations of “prostitution?”

Photo: A Muslim woman in her hijab.
(Copyright Everydayfeminism.com)

Based on an open-minded reading of the “Hijabonomics Explained” column, you would have to know very little about logic or, alternatively, to be what is generally called a “quack” to call Abdullah’s statement a deduction. So, like Baldeosingh did in his follow-up response, I am going to assume that Abdullah was “pretending to not understand,” and view his statement as inductive—meaning that it was pulled from specific observations.

That being the case, while I still can’t bring myself to see the line that directly connects the absence of the hijab to the sewer of prostitution, I’d agree that I have observed significant differences in the interpretation of what constitutes a hijab—including the niqab—in what it is and what it is not. The concrete expression of these differences of interpretation has, in my view, led to a kind of cultural and religious stratification.

In addition to the Quranic injunction on khimar—called in modern times hijab—believing women are also called upon to “guard their haya.” Haya is most commonly interpreted as “modesty.”

As a child, I saw Muslim women walking into different masajid with shawls loosely draped over their heads, sometimes slipping back to reveal half their heads. This “halfway hijab” would, depending on the masjid you entered, see you getting the cold shoulder.

And there were also those women who either wore lipstick or wore a shade of lipstick that was a tad too bright or wore bangles that jingled or wore nails that suggested that they may have had them manicured. All such women ran the risk of finding themselves consigned to the dreaded category of “feminist hijabi.”

Photo: Style meets hijab…

And there was yet another group who, most notoriously, dared to walk into the masjid hall wearing no hijab at all. This group is nowadays small enough to be considered non-existent but the segregation of and discrimination against the “lesser hijabs” is alive.

Now that I have put on the hijab, what I find particularly interesting are the statements of non-Muslims about what constitutes proper hijab. My impression is that they are heavily influenced by their familiarity with the now more widely propagated description of the “greater hijabs.”

There has to be alignment, they stress, between your inner conviction, belief and understanding and the individual external display of your interpretation of hijab. In other words, it’s all or nothing; if you can’t do it properly, then don’t do it at all.

But that still leaves intact the mystery of Abdullah’s thinking. According to him, since there can be no independence of inner intention and outward expression and since the locus of protection of all things immodest is the hijab, then the slightest departure from modesty constitutes prostitution.

So I am left to wonder what specific observations Abdullah has made that lead him to believe that inadequacies in hijab provoke the categorization of prostitution.

And I feel compelled to ask this question: What would be the “greatest hijab?”

Photo: A Muslim woman in her hijab.
(Copyright Dia Khalil/The Click Styles)

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30 comments

  1. Abdullah is no cleric…he’s a self proclaimed leader of a group that is trying to force itself into mainstream Muslim society, he is not recognized by anyone but maybe a few of his deluded followers, I know many Muslim women that do not wear a hijab and they are no more a prostitute than he is a Muslim cleric, he is the leader of a front which is clearly that…a front for him to recruit and a front for him to pretend to be a relevant voice for the Muslims in this country….he needs to get over himself and his hypocritical ways and pray that Allah forgives him for his deciet and propaganda he spreads using Islam as his defence

  2. I doh see the deductive reasoning used here. So the author really doh understand the concept of having a belief and choosing integrity over financial gain? Still in Babel.
    “By di ghettoes of Babylon is where we dat down inna a meditation wanting Zion”

  3. What a horribly constructed letter, that’s the real crime here.

  4. Kevin fired over article ?? Really ??
    That is absurd .
    His articles are educational and stimulates thinking that drives intellectual expansion

  5. Clearly Brother Umar Abdullah’s statements & actions continues to bother the Islamphobes! Allahu Ackbar!

  6. Slaves don’t have the ability to make choices, that what he is calling Muslim women his slaves.

  7. “Guard their modesty”…I missed the part where the Quran says that modesty = hair or head or head hair and face. Or is the right said of the equation a cultural interpretation? And if it is, does that mean that the covering of the hair or head or head hair and face is man made and not God made?

  8. I think the more important question is whether, in a secular society with freedom of religion, it is discriminatory to demand the removal of the hijab, to gain employment. This is a discussion we must have as a society.

    • Earl Best

      “Demand,” Gerard? Sounds more like a recommendation to me…

    • Trinidad is not, was not and so far has never been a secular society.

    • I have often read or heard in the media, comments by various people that Trinidad and Tobago is a secular state. I don’t know how or where that misconception came about as the very first paragraph of the Constitution clearly states:

      Whereas the People of Trinidad and Tobago—
      (a) have affirmed that the Nation of Trinidad and Tobago is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God, faith in fundamental human rights and freedoms, the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions, the dignity of the human person and the equal and inalienable rights with which all members of the human family are endowed by their Creator;

      and the fourth:

      (d) recognise that men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law;

  9. Isn’t that a serious insult to all non-hijab wearing Muslim women?

  10. Is there a larger nuance and a high brow sophistication here?

    What all, must we all do, to get work? To keep work? How have activists been silenced threatened to keep work? Or some killed?

    Think about the endless ways we don’t just prostitute our bodies, but our character, our souls, our values, our well being, health,… To eat. Stay sheltered. To have a job. To get a job. To keep a job.

    Ponder that for a long time. Take as much time as necessary.

    And the price some of us pay when we refuse to dance any of those compromises. Just noticed how a promise is part of a compromise. Huh!m!

    • Most certainly Maven. The structure of authority, I think, is what keeps us enslaved. It is worth thinking about the direction our world is heading in and what we need to change to save the children from falling into the same cycle.

  11. The use of the prostitution analogy to me is obvious hyperbole meant to link removal of clothing to the earning of money.
    I disagree that the solution should be to ask the woman to remove the hijab in order to secure the job and I think it’s a very unfortunate question to even pose. How many people are told to remove a cross from their neck in order to get a job? What about someone with a bindi?
    As for if a Muslim woman chooses to wear a hijab? Her choice. But the obsession with Muslim women and their hijab is silly given the presence of headwear in many other cultures and religions.

    • It most likely is that it isn’t the headwear that unnerves people but the link to the Muslim religion. They don’t want Muslims. Hijabs are just the identifying mark.
      My opinion anyway.

    • Yep. And I think by focusing on the prostitution bit, this column draws attention away from the obvious religious persecution.

    • I did not want to assume it was a hyperbole Chabeth. The prevailing understanding of the reason for wearing hijab is modesty, which is usually accompanied by hadith and fatwas that go into great detail, depending on the country, the sect, the cleric etc. about what is constituted as modest or immodest. Some give evidence for the need for niqab, while others who do not ascribe to the niqab, give details about the manner in which hijab should be worn e.g. no makeup, degree of looseness, the material shouldn’t be patterned to name a few. There is also the commonly held belief that the more modest you are the less likely you are to be raped or harassed. The video that has been shared here gives some history behind why women were ordered to draw their khimar around themselves i.e. so that they would not be harassed OR so that they would be recognized. Believe it or not, but there are many Muslims who reduce women or view women who do not ascribe to their idea of modesty to very degrading levels, both in their behavior towards them and treatment. This includes other Muslim women.
      That said, I also wanted to raise the question of the idea of modesty as much of the defining lines around what constitutes hijab is guided by being as modest as possible.
      What I also found interesting was the fact that Abdulah referred to the hijab as a symbol in his response. Symbols for me equate to image. Is it more important to Abdulah to uphold the image of hijab than to respect the choice of the women to remove it? That is of course not to say that Ms. Sabur or any other woman who did not feel the need to remove it should ever have to be put in the position to feel compelled to make that choice. But I believe in the freedom to say whether or not you believe in something and why. I think that Abdulah overstepped his boundaries in more than one way when he responded to Baldeosingh. In addition to posting a gross overreaction and irrational response to the original article, he also spoke on behalf of hijabis and about hijab in a manner that undermines women’s rights to freely explore different opinions about dress in or out of Islam, incidentally also overriding their right to speak for themselves by assuming to know what they think.
      I was shocked after reading Baldeosingh’s article that he could reach the conclusions he did.

    • This was very well presented. Whilst I agree with the speaker on many points, it is absolutely clear to me that believing women are commanded to wear the khimar. I also agree that the modern usage of the word hijab is not contextually correct as it is used in scripture. Nevertheless, it is used in a way today to represent what is meant in the three verses she mentioned. However, she has gone on to rationalize in a way that is interesting. If, as she says, the historical context of the revelation of the verses were only applicable to the wives of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., then how does this differ from the rest of the Quran? Are all verses now to be historically rendered as applicable to only that time and only to the people or situations to which they refer? I would be interested in knowing how the speaker applies that line of reasoning to other verses and if it is not applicable all the time, when is it applicable? Because as I understand it revelations usually came in response to what was happening at the time. Perhaps so that it would be most well understood. Is the Quran and Islam only for that time?

  12. “However irrational that may appear”?

    In my opinion, it’s very irrational and the author knows it as well.

    And again, in my opinion, Mr Abdulah is saying that if a muslim woman has to take off her hijab in order to get a job, in his mind, it’s like taking off your clothes for money, hence “prostitution”.

    Abdulah, too, misses the mark. That’s not prostitution, that’s your boss being an a$$hole. To borrow some lines from Singing Sandra, “You can keep your money, I will keep my -hijab- and die with my dignity!”

    I am not muslim! I cannot debate whether or not it should be worn. But let me ask Ms Abdool the following question.

    If you’re willing to remove your hijab for a job, safety reasons aside, does that not invalidate the reasons for wearing the hijab in the first place?

    I’m certainly glad that Ms Abdool was able to identify Baldeosingh’s rhetorical question, Abdulah apparently could not or simply did not!

    • It is irrational.
      It depends. I absolutely do not agree with the situation that Ms. Sabur was placed in. No one should have to sacrifice their personal beliefs for a job, except as you pointed out, under considerations of safety. Invalidate for whom? I suppose if you are referring to the woman wearing the hijab, we should ask if she was wearing it because it was her choice, was that choice based on inherited social/cultural custom or did she choose it based on her understanding of religion? If she was compelled to wear it however, and if she is now a legal adult, is taking an independent decision to remove it because she never believed in it wrong in the context of religion? Let’s also assume that perhaps her beliefs have changed and whilst she used to believe in wearing it that has now changed.
      I suppose it all depends on the reasons for each woman’s beliefs and the importance that she places on those beliefs.
      As to the idea or fear that the more women who reject the hijab, for whatever reason, will invalidate the hijab…well that’s just silly. It’s either you ascribe to the belief or you don’t and that depends on individual choice.

  13. Missed the Abdulah column. Is it in here somewhere?

    • Earl Best

      Not in Alana’s piece, Chabeth. You have to check Lasana’s second piece on “Hijabonomics Explained”

    • Media Release:
      Re: Response to Kevin Baldeosigh’s Column entitled “Hijabonomics Explained”
      In Response to Kevin Baldeosingh’s Commentary in the Guardian Newspaper which was published on Sunday 27th May 2017 Entitled “Hijabonomics Explained” in which he suggested “Why then does she simply not remove her Hijab so she can get the job” Waajihatul Islaamiyyah (The Islamic Front) is saying this is an attack on the dignity and modesty of all women. What Kevin is suggesting is that all women should strip themselves and compromise their true worth in order to get a job in this country. This is synonymous with prostitution.
      Baldeosingh has crossed the line to suggest such, and enough is enough! We are calling for his immediate dismissal. If this is not done Waajihatul Islaamiyyah (The Islamic Front) together with the entire Muslim Community of Trinidad and Tobago will have no reason but to believe Guardian Media Limited and its’ editors views the Muslim Community of Trinidad and Tobago with scorn and disgust.
      It appears as though Guardian Media Limited its’ editors and Kevin Baldeosingh takes great pleasure in attacking and ridiculing the Muslim community during their most auspicious occasions; the last attempt was on Eid-ul-Fitr 2015 and this present Ramadhaan. We are not going to tolerate this blatant disregard of religious freedom especially in this holy month of Ramadhaan.
      Our National Anthem which is a symbol of Our nation’s sovereignty boasts of “Where every creed and race shall find an equal place”. The Hijab also is a symbol; a symbol of God’s sovereignty on Earth. We will be damned to allow anyone to suggest the removal of or attack our symbols.
      The Devil is chained during the Month of Ramadhaan but there are human manifestations of his handiwork. This commentary is laced with a poisonous blend of bigotry and racial discrimination to say the least. This commentary was done in bad taste, lacks substance and void of any positive contribution. It is a venomous attack on identity and Culture.
      The Guardian Media Limited definitely has to do something about this plague that has infected the integrity of this media House. I’m also calling for a full retraction of this commentary and is further calling on and challenging the Guardian Media Ltd to apologise in like manner to sister Aisha Sabur, to all Muslims and to all women of Trinidad and Tobago.
      For Immediate Release:
      Date: 29th May 2017
      Umar Abdullah
      Head of Waajihatul Islaamiyyah (The Islamic Front)