04/11/2008 2:34 am
Tags: Cultural diversity, First Amendment, Islam, Islamic dress code, religious freedom
This title reflects the first of 2 good questions posed by one of the readers (who named his/her Centrist) of my first blog posting about finding my Muslim voice. The part I am going to address in this post is quotes below (emphasis in the quote is mine).
“I saw a woman in a West County grocery store the other day with traditional Muslim dress, not a burka, but the only part showing were her eyes. That is fine, I have no objections with her choice.”“… Our culture is so different in terms of outward sexuality and homosexuality that is so contradictory to the Muslim faith, that I don’t understand why they would not prefer to live in Saudi Arabia or some other Muslim country where they can live more easily which in the norms of their culture and religion.I have a problem with Muslims coming here and not wishing to assimilate and try to get calls to prayer and footbaths etc. which kind of cross the line of seperation [sic] of church and state in our country.My first question is, why don’t Muslims just live in Muslim countries and why do they choose to live in America or England where the culture is do different from what their religion espouses? Many of us fear that we will one day be forced to live under Sharia law such as Saudi Arabia or Iran if the Muslims take over our country.”
The reader’s second questions is equally interesting and is about Muslims and why they vote Democrat. Whether this assumption is right or wrong, that question will have to wait for another posting.
But for now, let us tackle the first question. There are a lot of points to cover so I will use almost a point format to cover the different issues raised in the comment:
- Niqab (Arabic name for attire that covers a womens face) is Not the traditional Muslim dress. It is a dress that some traditional Muslim women wear (although is is admittedly ‘mandatory’ in some societies, especially Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia which are hardly the beacons of democracy, freedom or individuality). We are not all traditional in that sense. Many practicing Muslims women with strong devotion to Islam do NOT wear niqab or burqa (burka is a word derived from a Farsi root). Some of them wear traditional western attire, and some wear a more conservative attire with long sleeves, below knee outfit with or without a head cover (Hijab in Arabic). The latter group would look more or less like many orthodox Jewish women, or catholic nuns (before the change in their dress code in Vatican II). They wear the typical attire that the Virgin Mary, the most revered woman in Islam, is portrayed in.
- And why should it be assumed that a Muslim has somewhere else to go and live. This statement is based, assuming best of intentions, on ignorance. Half of the American Muslims are ‘real’ Americans, born and raised here to American parents that may have been Muslims, Christians, Jews or atheists. Some are Black, White, Hispanic or of Middle Eastern and Indian ancestry. But some are of German, Irish or Chinese ancestry amongst many other possibilities. They did not chose to come to America. God created them here. They have no where else to go to, Muslim country or otherwise. And even if they do have another country to go to, why should they? Do we expect a Muslim born in this country to a Muslim family, or who has converted to Islam as an Adult, to leave America and look for another homeland just for the dress code?
- A homeland is more than place with a dress code that I like. The culture that defines someone by how they dress is a very shallow culture, and our American culture, mine and yours, is not shallow. That is why many people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, come to America. Moreover most of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, disagree with the society at large on one or more intellectually or practically pivotal issues. Take for example abortion, same sex marriage, the war in Iraq, affirmative action, universal health care, or even home schooling. Is there anyone out there who is willing to leave there homeland if the law of the land is opposite to their choice for a way of life? Should I assume that the reader Centrist would have to go and live in Denmark if his/her dress code is more on the nudist side; or to somewhere else where abortion is still criminalize if they were anti-abortion? People are not defined by one issue, neither should a homeland, especially by something as trivial as dress code.
- Centrist also has a ‘problem with Muslims coming here and not wishing to assimilate and try to get calls to prayer and footbaths etc‘. Without belaboring the point, I will restate that half of the American Muslims have not come here - they were born here.
- Assimilation deserves some comment. Every time I here it in this context it reminds me of the ‘Borg hives’ on Star Trek. The goal was “assimilating all species by incorporating their knowledge and technology into one Borg super collective”. None of us would ever desire to be part of that super powerful society for a simple reason: individuals lost their uniqueness, that is ‘the quality of being one of a kind’, i.e., different in some ways. Assimilation that does not retain the individuals identity is not only evil; it is doomed to failure in the long run.
- And, on the legal side of this, if a municipality accommodates some Muslim communities and issues a permit for a mosque to have the call to prayer, that is the municipality’s right (although I am not aware of any that did this in Missouri). If the council of elders is democratically elected, and feels comfortable giving their OK to that, then that is the stance they would like to face voters with in the next election. And that is called democracy in action.
- I am not even sure the reader Centrist is using that term “separation of church and state” correctly. Church bells ring every Sunday, and that is not violating the separation of church and state. The first amendment of the US Constitution states that “… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. For a private business to make a free-will decision to establish footbaths for their Muslim clients, or employees, because the business owners feel morally good about being inclusive, or because it is good for their business, is a far cry from violating what the constitution enshrined in the first amendment. Any constitutional lawyer amongst the readers to chip in??
On a rather personally note, I am not a supporter of a dress code that covers the face. A big part of an individual’s identity is in the face. I am even sure I would not know how to communicate with someone covering their face. That is not just from the security point of view, but for many other practical reasons. The face communicates a lot more than words. My early medical training was in a Egypt at a time when some medical student started wearing niqab. The dean of medical school was decisive about it. If you wear a niqab, you were not allowed to get on the medical school campus. I am not aware of any women students that left medical school because of that. Niqab is not mandatory according to the very vast majority of Muslim scholars. It is actually forbidden during the most sacred of all Muslim events, Pilgrimage to the Holy Mosque in Mecca. It is still a very uncommon practice outside Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia were is it a dominant cultural habit to many, not a religious tradition. And therefore, many women stop wearing it when they are out of those countries.
Even in Iran, it is becoming less and less popular. For passports, drivers license, security Ids, and in courts of law the face must always show. If one woman wants to wear it in a West County grocery store, and the store does not have a problem with it, who am I to stop them?
Do I want wearing Niqab or burqa to be the law of the land for women here? NO.
The bottom line is this: this is a society where the rule of the law is king. If it is legal no one should expect others to change just to please the rest of us. But if Centrist’s argument is that this is a Christian Nation, and that only Christians should decide how it is run, then that is a violation of the first amendment. And that can be a topic for another post.
[Note: The reader Centrist, in a second comment expressed deep unhappiness and disappointment that I did not respond right away to the comment. Since I am not a full time blogger or a journalist, and I am a full time professional, I will rarely be able to respond right away to comments (except to the most simple of questions). Other readers are welcome to participated in the discussion and have a dialog go on, but I will not oblige myself to respond in a particular time frame.Blogging is NOT about instant response. That is called instant messaging. I would rather take my time posting something that I put some thought into, than to response in a haste with a half-cooked one and a half sentences. Other bloggers may have the talent to do that and produce something good. This blogger does not. Sorry if anyone is disappointed. Khaled]