BBC Arabic Service
Until recently you would never have seen women presenting television programmes dressed from head to toe in the niqab or burqa. But on the Saudi religious channel Awtan TV it has now become the norm.
Female broadcasters at the station are draped in the all-enveloping dresses, which are usually black and also cover their faces.
The work environment too is very different. Male technical assistants do not enter the studio while the women are presenting.
There are more than 60 religious channels across the Middle East. Some allow women to present programmes without being fully covered or dressed in black.
Others have no women presenters at all.
Awtan TV decided to take a unique approach. The station was launched in 2008, and last month it set a precedent by allowing women to present, but only on the condition that they wear the niqab.
Ola al-Barqi Awtan TV presenter
Ola al-Barqi anchors a breakfast show, as well as a quiz show for girls called Mosabqat Banat.
A key element of the programme is the relationship built between presenter, contestants and the audience – something that might be more difficult if the presenter is totally covered up.
“The face is not the only way to build a relationship,” explains Ms Barqi, speaking to BBC Arabic.
“We’re always receiving calls from viewers in various countries encouraging us to keep doing what we do.”
And, as Ms Barqi points out, women are not just confined to the studio at Awtan TV.
“We report from the field in the niqab and it does not stop us from doing anything.”
Wahhabism, the strain of Sunni Islam that is officially practised in Saudi Arabia, is considered one of the religion’s most conservative forms.
Some critics say that Awtan TV is restricting women’s freedom by making it compulsory to wear the niqab if they want to be presenters.
The issue recently returned to prominence when a leading Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, said he would issue an edict stating that the niqab was a “custom that has nothing to do with Islam”.
Many Muslim scholars take the position that the niqab is not obligatory.
But Ms Barqi says nobody “forced the niqab” on her and she does not intend to force it on her three daughters, who watch their mother on television and feel proud of her.
However, the presenter thinks that when the time comes, her girls will want to wear the niqab because that is how they were brought up and it is, she argues, part of Shariah – Islamic law.
Ms Barqi says there are other good reasons why she wears the niqab.
It helps her to concentrate more on her work rather than anything else, and what she looks like is irrelevant.
“We don’t introduce ourselves as beautiful women who put on layers of make-up. Our audience is focusing on what we present to them, our ideas and our discourse.”
Ms Barqi believes some people work in the media to become famous. But that is not why she became a presenter.
“We don’t need fame,” she explains.
Published: 2009/12/09 10:29:55 GMT
© BBC 2011
The following is a final exam paper I wrote on the practice of hijab (Islamic veil). I was in a Sociology class called “Sociology of Gender” taught by Dr. Elizabeth Bernstein at Barnard College. It presents the results of a survey I conducted at Columbia University that shows that non-Muslims and Westerners fail to understand this and other practices because they focus on forcing their assumptions on the situation rather than considering what Islam really means. I got a B+…
Daniel Nehemiah Oliver
Sociology of Gender Final Question 2
There is no god but ALLAH. Muhammad (May the Peace and Blessings of ALLAH be upon him) is the Messenger of ALLAH. Sincere belief in these statements makes one a Muslim. They are the fundamental, guiding principles of Muslim life. They, for instance, establish the Qur’an unquestionably as the word of ALLAH, brought to humanity by his Messenger. Belief in ALLAH and His Messenger and the authority of the Qur’an figure importantly in the Muslim/Western
debate over veiling moreso than Hoodfar, in The Veil in their Minds and on their Heads*, realizes. She rightly identifies the Qur’an as an influencing factor in Middle Eastern veiling practices, but her essay does not explore its implications. Her argument is based mainly on historical and sociological sketches that illuminate truths about Middle Eastern society and Muslim culture, but by ignoring Islam as a faith, and failing to acknowledge Muslims as a distinct, diverse group, held together by and operating upon the dynamics of this faith, the discussion of veiling loses credibility and explanatory value. This paper presents the findings of a study aimed at exploring and explaining this crucial and little understood aspect of veiling.
To this end, I selected a survey sample that could represent these unheard and ignored voices. I picked 3 types of respondents, whom I coded as “Muslims”, “Muslimahs” and “Hijabis”. The Muslims were two male Muslims, one born Muslim (Muslim B) and one revert to islam (Muslim R). (Those who accept Islam from another faith are called reverts rather than converts, due to a belief that all things are born in, and some later corrupted from, fitrah, a natural state of submission to ALLAH.) The Muslimahs were two Muslim women who do not veil; one born Muslim (Muslimah B) and one revert (Muslimah R). The Hijabis were two Muslim women who do veil, also known as wearing hijab; one born Muslim (Hijabi B) and one revert (Hijabi R). All six of these were affiliated with Columbia University or Barnard College either as undergraduates, graduate students, or staff. Their ages ranged from 18-29, and their backgrounds and living experiences represent the diversity of the world’s Muslims to as great a degree as possible given the sample size.
Islam is the basis of a worldwide community united by belief in the Lordship of ALLAH and the messengership of Muhammad. This community is diverse in every way that a community can be: linguistically, culturally, economically, geographically, economically, theologically, and so on. Veiling and most other practices are not uniform. These differences, however, are usually not based on belief, but on interpretation of belief. Take the Qur’an, for example. There are no versions. The only variation lies in the rendering of Arabic terms different translators may choose. So, in the original Árabic, every Muslim reads the same thing, but inevitably many individualized readings result. Consider the following:
(With the Name of Allah, the Universally Merciful, the Discriminately Merciful)
And say to the believing women to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts, and not to show their ornaments except what is apparent, and two draw their veils over their bosoms and not to show their adornments except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women or what their right hands possess, or to their male servants who have no vigor, or children who are not yet aware of women’s private parts…
- Qur’an, Chapter 24 an-Nuur/“The Light”: 31
O Prophet, say to your wives, and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their outer garments over themselves. As such it is likelier that they will be recognized and not molested. ALLAH Is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.
- Qur’an, Chapter 33 al-Ahzab/“The Confederates”: 59
It must first be said that this paper is not gaging the accuracy of this translation from the original text. In addition, the purpose of this paper is not to explain or interpret these verses. These verses have been presented simply as evidence that the Qur’an contains mandates concerning the practicing of veiling or hijab. (The word hijab means “screen or veil”, rather than, for example, for example, “headscarf” or “cloak”. There are many words for Muslim womens’ outer garments, not all of which are found in Islamic literature.) To Muslims, again, the words of the Qur’an are no less than the words of the One, True God.
All but one respondent, Muslimah B, agreed that hijab is legislated by the Qur’an. In the words of Muslimah R, “It was prescribed in the Qur’an for women to cover themselves”. Hijabi B simply answers “ALLAH Commanded it”. These statements begin to answer one of the questions central to this study and the lager debate over veiling: why do Muslim women veil themselves?
Hoodfar unduly emphasizes Arabian and Mediterranean traditions dating back to antiquity, but only presents the fact of veil-wearing: its first recorded references, its changing role in societies over time, etc. However, the reason for veiling is largely untouched in her essay. Westerners and feminists have for some time defined their reasons for other women’s veiling customs: patriarchy, notions of the harem, and extreme repression and domination by men. This colonial method of assumption is prone to great misunderstandings because these “studies” of Muslims have mostly been unaccompanied by what makes them Muslim: Islam. This ignorance seemed apparent to Hoodfar at times, though she did fully address it or elude it. It was not lost on Hijabi B, quoted here at length, who summarizes wonderfully how Muslims feel about the views of Westerners and academics whose conclusions about Muslims are formed without consideration of Islam.
“Responses to common misconceptions (even by [Columbia] professors teaching about Islam” Hijab was not a left-over practice from pre-Islamic culture, it doesn’t mean our parents force us to marry our cousins, it’s not just a political statement, it doesn’t limit intellectual development… it’s not a symbol of male domination, it doesn’t have to be black, it doesn’t make our heads that much warmer in the summer”
She finishes with a telling reflection: “It can be some of those things, but often is not.”
Other respondents described hijab as:
- “the ultimate necessity for any woman (Muslim R)
- “unfair” (Hijabi R)
- “a chore” (Hijabi R)
- “a wonderful way to protect the modesty of a woman” (Muslimah R)
These are all things that wearing hijab or veiling can be, according to the respondents. But in the end, they are largely the effects of hijab, not its causes. For example it is doubtful that that Hijabi R, who feels that hijab is unfair, wears it because it’s unfair.
Regarding cause, interestingly, none of the stereotypical, Western/academic-assigned causes for veiling were quoted by the respondents. Some were actually refuted, as in Hijabi B’s above quote. Family pressure was mentioned once, but only as a discouragement against veiling. All respondents were geographically and socially distant from the Middle East, negating it by default as a cultural explanation of the veiling practice.
To the Muslims of this survey, veiling has a meaning, and a power, that is lost on the minds of Western academia. Just is in Hoodfar’s essay’s explanation of the veil carrying a sense of power, Hijabi R said that hijab was a way to “fight in the way of ALLAH’s Cause”. To Muslimah R it was a statement of faith. Muslimah B felt it “shows one’s inner strength”. To these women, whether or not they chose to wear it, the hijab was a force, and a statement, as well as a shield and display of modesty.
Why has Western academia, with it sustained contact with Muslim population groups, failed to recognize the value of the practice of veiling? It is not just because of the colonial/propagandist motivations that do too much to frame western discourse on Muslims. The seemingly blind misunderstanding is one symptom of a larger problem: willful ignorance of Islam and refusal to acknowledge faith. One does not have to be a Muslim to study the practice of veiling, but how can studies of veiling ignore Islam when the practitioners list ALLAH, Islam and the Qur’an as the cause? Western/non-Muslim perceptions, and to an extent Hoodfar’s essay, fail- refuse, in fact- to capture the reality of veiling as an extension of their refusal to acknowledge Islam. Sympathizing Western feminists thus perpetuate the paternalism and repression that they suffer by re-inflicting it on Muslim women. If Western men have historically treated women like objects, then that is all the less reason for them to do the same thing to Muslim women. The feminist protest is against being treated like a docile, disenfranchised second class, yet feminism, out of ironic sympathy, approaches hundreds of millions across the globe as exactly that. How can feminists insist on their voices being heard, when they drown the voices of Muslim women? How can they, perhaps even more ironically, oppose being treated like sexual objects, while fighting for their right to look like one and belittling the women who refuse to?
This guise of objectivity is itself a veil, masking an academic and cultural arrogance that causes the scientific standards of Western academia to falter and the societies which it informs to suffer. Some studies show American Muslims to live at a higher standard-of-living and education level than American non-Muslims. The statistics of homicide and sexual violence in Western societies soar high above those of Muslim populations. The tendency to criticize and patronize should be replaced with one to recognize.
The West, especially and perhaps because of its academics and feminists, succumbs to the subjectivity it is so wary of internally because it refuses to subjectively evaluate the meaning, or even acknowledge the statement that there is not deity besides ALLAH and Muhammad is His messenger.
* 1997. “The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads: The Persistence of Colonial Images of Muslim Women”, Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, David Lloyd and Lisa Lowe (eds). Duke University Press, (reprint).
This is a comment to an article about the role of Zionism in the Norway massacre.
Name any nation that is not at war… you can’t. Nearly every country in this world is in some sort of conflict. No matter what religion the majority of their citizens claim. Read the news: Buddhist Thailand vs. Buddhist Cambodia, over a temple. Civil wars and rebels all over the Christian nations of Africa. The secular and Christian nations of the West occupying, attacking or aiding conflict all over the world. Zionist Jews in Palestine. Hindus committing atrocities in Kashmir and against Muslims and Christians in India. It’s everywhere. EVERY religion has members that are fighting, that kill innocent people, that commit murder and rape, that embezzle, scandal, scam, scheme and plot, rob, plunder and steal, commit adultery, abandon children, can’t read or write, molest children, bribe their way out of justice, etc., etc., etc…. And secularists, atheists, agnostics, and humanists get in on it too, so don’t blame religion
As you can see, a religion’s texts are a proof for or against its members. They are not a proof for or against it. You measure a religion by its book, and you measure its members by its book, too. They either live up to it or fall short of it.
Let us look at an example. It is true that many Christians were at the forefront of abolishing slavery worldwide (many were also the leaders of enslavement). Should we judge Christianity by that? According to some places in the Old Testament and Romans 13.1, opposing the laws that allowed slavery were AGAINST what they consider to be the word of God. In other words, they had to step OUTSIDE Christianity to free slaves.
Islam’s Qur-an and Hadeeth (Prophetic narration) literature support abolition and forbid enslavement outside of the context of war-captives when there is no exchange for prisoners. So while many Muslims were involved in the slave trade, they were stepping OUTSIDE of Islam to keep slaves.
Judge them by the book.
The United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence, celebrated symbols of freedom, enslave Africans, dispossess Native Americans, deny the rights of non-landowning white males, and deny the rights of all women. So freedom, justice and equality can only be achieved by stepping OUTSIDE of America’s founding principles.
This is why we Muslims argue from our book. That, not the action of the next Muslim you walk past, is Islam for us. We only know the Qur-an as Islam. We don’t know what every Muslim in the world is doing and why, but we will argue as strongly against a (seemingly) good deed as we will against a bad one if it is inconsistent with our law and doctrine.
The truth is that Muslims also do a lot of good things, for the sake of Allah, in the name of Islam, to get a reward in heaven, etc. Find them and what they do. See, do they outnumber the wrongdoers? I leave that as an open question to any sincere seeker of accurate information, I won’t answer it for you.
Personally- and this is admittedly subjective- I’ve been around the world and read and heard viewpoints from many walks of life. I was in NYC on 11 September 2001 and accepted Islam there 3 years later. Islam is my free choice because after research and experimentation, I found it to be the best and most complete way of life. I won’t lecture you that I’m right, but I assure you that I’m aware and sincere. See for yourself: http://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/11/
So please, do justice to yourself and stop ignoring all the wrongdoing and conflicts involving non-Muslims, and all the good done by Muslims, to prop up an argument that is an offense to intelligence, reason, history and logic. Islam is singular in its establishment of justice and right. Why do some Muslims act to the contrary?
For more on the accusations of rape, sexism/masochism and slavery in Islam: http://qahiri.wordpress.com/category/stockholm-syndrome/
To see the deceptive and erroneous nature of Islamophobia and WikiIslam exposed: http://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/dealing-with-doubt/
To see whether Islam is incompatible with democracy: http://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/is-democracy-islamist/
To see if there is any difference between Arab culture and Islam: http://qahiri.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/is-islam-arabian-part-i/
To read what Islam actually is: http://qahiri.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/what-islam-is/
Excerpt of a letter from a friend:
“I have only read the Quran in English so the translation might be bad, but what i read says that a man can rape his wife and his slave girls who are unmarried and married. And since a husband can punish his wife for having sex with somebody else, this is really bad. Then there is also the fact that women is not found as mentally fit as a male when it comes to giving legal testimony. Not that the Bible is any better, I would say worse. The Quran doesn’t say beat your children and kill them if they are disrespectful, nor does it promote genocide and it promotes slavery more. And not that the west does a good job either. Its amazing in Canada, the % of political leaders that are slightly chubby, grey haired white men. And it was only recently that the age of consent for sex was raised from 13. And, raping your wife has only been a crime for about 20 or 30 years or so. However, still better than Saudi which has now had to ban maids from Indonesia the Philippines because they kept fighting back when being raped.”
Thank you for taking the time to write this. I’m glad you trust me enough to be honest about thoughts that you probably assume I will not like. It is useful and enjoyable to hear your impressions and views about Islam and the Qur-an, and I think I’ve learned a lot about what some people may think or feel. I can see that you’ve taken pains to say what you know I won’t agree with in a way that does not insult me, and to show that this is a general criticism rather than a grudge against Islam. I thank you for the respect and consideration you have shown, and most of all the honesty.
From what your message contains, either your translation of the Qur-an’s meanings was scandalously (and singly) inaccurate, or you have succumbed to that all-too-human phenomenon of memory fading with time, and being replaced with impressions of things we think we remember…
I have been blessed enough to have read the entire Qur-an in its original Arabic, along with the entire translation of its meanings. Simply put, the Qur-an does NOT:
(e) promote slavery.
It does touch on all of these subjects. I am not a scholar, but I read and listen to the words of people who are known as scholars. From that, my limited knowledge, I will do my best to address these and your other points.
(a) Spouses’ sexual rights.
A man has the right, freedom and duty to have sex with his wife, and a wife has the right, freedom and duty to have sex with her husband. This is clear, and considering what comes from other religions and their sects, as well as some Muslim sects, this is one of the beauties of Islam and the Qur-an.
The Qur-an, Chapter 23, Sign 1 may be translated as
“The believers have succeeded.”
This sign is followed by a list of qualities of these believers, including Signs 5-7 which can be translated as
“who guard their private parts, except from their wives, or those whom their right hands possess, for with regard to them they are free from blame. As for those who seek beyond that, they are transgressors”
So it is clear then, that a man is permitted to have intercourse with his lawful wife (“those whom their right hands possess” shall be discussed in point (b)). To state it bluntly, a man can have sex with his wife. But nothing in the original Arabic, or English attempt at translation implies force. Not in this or any verse is force implied. Being able to do something with someone, and being allowed to force that person to do that thing are entirely different and separate matters. It does not seem to need an explanation.
Now, the ahadeeth, or narrations of Prophet Muhammad- May Allah Pray for him and Give him glad tidings of peace- contain a hadeeth, or single narration, on this subject. Unfortunately I do not have the book that contains it in front of me, but I remember the wording as something like “If a man calls his wife to bed and she refuses, the angels will curse her until the morning.” Let us assume for the sake of argument that this narration is authentic. It means that a wife who refuses to have sex with her husband will be cursed by the angels for some time, i.e. that such a thing is blameworthy or discouraged. But does it say or imply that a man can force his wife to have sex if she does not want to? No.
Another narration is remembered as stating that a woman should answer her husband’s call to bed even if she has just saddled herself on a horse. Again, if this is authentic, it is an encouragement towards sex, or even a claim of a man’s right to it, but it does not imply the use of force.
The so-called “right” to rape simply has no textual basis, and therefore no place in Islam.
Whether or not marital sexual rights as I have outlined them are found to be objectionable by some or many, it is clear that rape has no place in them.
Slave-girls’ sexual rights
Referring back to Qur-an 23.5-7, Muslim men are permitted to have sex with “those whom their right hands possess” which is a reference to captives of war after there is no exchange of prisoners between the two sides. Well, again, there is no linguistic basis in the Arabic or any worthwhile translation behind the use of force. There is no linguistic or logical way to deduct rape from this or any of the statements regarding war-captives in an Islamic state. So if it is asked how a man would have sex with a war-captive without raping her, my answer, and mine alone, would be with consent, as the use of force is not sanctioned in the Qur-an or any authenticated Prophetic narration.
Whether or not war-captives’ sexual rights as I have outlined them are found to be objectionable by some or many, it is clear that rape has no place in them.