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Friday Sermon: The Crescent and the Cross: Path to Religious Accommodation in a Multi-Faith Society

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By Babatunde Jose

That Islam and Christianity share common grounds has never been in doubt. Both being offspring of Father Abraham and sharing geographical proximity in their origin, as well as shared historical antecedents preceding the modern era, there seems to be enough that binds the two religions together. This is an attempt at fostering interfaith harmony; especially in this season of Islamophobia and the West’s unpopular proposal for a Nazi-like ‘final solution’ to the Islam question.

Before we go on, it is pertinent to ask: What are we fighting for? Does being a Moslem or a Christian guarantee Aljana or Paradise? Does it make for good or better governance? Does it promise the leadership type we want at this material time? Does it eliminate thievery in government? Does it offer a leadership that will promote the welfare of the people? The answer is a resounding NO!

All the good books, Quran, Bible, Vedas, and the precepts of all other religions emphasize our goodness as the sure passport to salvation. This is very true. Our life here should be guided by Stephen Grellet’s wise words “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”.

Prayers, day, and night, without good deeds are useless. Why then fight and quarrel over which religion is the best? Ignorance of what we will meet on the day we are called to give account is the main reason why people fight over religion. This is more so, in our clime where we are worshipping God in ‘borrowed spiritual garments’. No doubt the two religions arrived as a result of Arab and European imperialism. Though trade and conquest played their part in the cauldron.

It has been said that ‘the faith of the father cannot grant salvation to the son. Each man will have to account for his deeds when he stands before God Almighty. On that fateful day, when we are called to give account, our religion and denomination will not avail us. It is then we would realize that they were just vehicles for keeping the faith.

How did you spend your life on earth is the question that would be asked? Did you love your neighbor? Did you deal with your fellow man with justice, equity, and fairness? These are questions that do not require you to be a Christian or a Moslem to answer. It is therefore important that we should emphasize our similarities rather than our differences in order to live a life of harmony and peace.

The right to choose or reject religious belief is famously revealed toward the end of surah al-Baqarah as ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ (2.256). The temptation to forcibly coerce religious obedience is strongly discouraged in favor of its free exercise.

There are some 4,300 religions of the world; and their central theme is the goodness of man. Nearly 75 per cent of the world’s population practices one of the five most influential religions of the world: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.

Christianity and Islam are the two religions most widely spread across the world. These two religions together cover the religious affiliation of more than half of the world’s population.

Why should it really matter which religious divide one finds himself? Most of the hiatus are man-made and ego driven. The British were Catholics before the schism and the founding of the Church of England. Today they are no less Christians than their Catholic brethren. Many great Moslems had Christian backgrounds while there are many still who have an admixture of both faiths in their homestead.

On the Day of Resurrection, when we are called to answer for our stewardship, it would be each man facing his God. There would be no one to hear or answer to your pleas as even the prophets would be facing their own Judgement. Every creation of Allah must face judgement. Allah will confront His servant directly, without a mediator.

The messenger (S.A.W.) said: “Allah will talk to everyone directly, without a translator. The person will look to his right and will not see anything but his deeds. Then the person will look in front of himself and will see nothing but the hellfire facing him. So, protect yourself from Hellfire even by giving a charity of half a date.” Reported by Imam Bukhari.

We will be asked on the Day of Judgement about all of the blessings and bounties that Allah gave us in this life. Some of these blessings may include our good health, our wealth, our food and drink, our ride and our home, etc. Allah (S.W.T.) says in the Noble Qur’an: Then, shall ye be questioned that Day about joy (ye indulged in!) (Quran 102:8)

Allah (S.W.T.) describes that situation:  On the Day when their tongues, their hands, and their feet will bear witness against them as to their actions. (Quran 24:24).

They will say to their skins: “Why bear ye witness against us?” They will say: “Allah hath given us speech, –(He) Who giveth speech to everything: He created you for the first time, and unto Him were ye to return.  (Quran 41:21)

Also, Allah (S.W.T.) will ask us on the Day of Judgment about all of our covenants and promises that have been made in our lives. Today as in the past our political contestants make promises which they never fulfill. It is always, I will do this, I will do that, but which never materializes. They would think they had taken the people for a ride. But unknown to them, they are digging their portion in hell.

Today, being Christians or Moslems and all that, is what we could regard as being members of, ‘spiritual trade unions. Yet, in heaven, its everyman with his own baggage. There is no ‘collective bargaining’ in heaven. Therefore, your Christianity or Islam will not avail you of the judgement you deserve. There will be nothing like ‘group salvation’.

Christianity and Islam share much common grounds.   Both trace their roots to Abraham. Both believe in prophecy, God’s messengers (apostles), revelation, scripture, the resurrection of the dead, they are enjoined to cater for the poor, pay zakat and tithe, and the centrality of religious community.  This last element is especially important.  Both Christianity and Islam have a communitarian dimension: what the church is to Christianity, the “Ummah” is to Islam. Though there are differences, the commonalities are better emphasized to foster togetherness.

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is ONE! Therefore, you shall worship the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [Deuteronomy 6:4-5] and [Mark 12:29] And the Qur’an proclaims His Absoluteness in Sura Ikhlas. Quran 112.: He is Allah. the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him. (Quran 112:1-4) 

Jesus washed his face, hands, and feet before praying. The Muslims do the same. Jesus and other prophets of the Bible prayed with their head to the ground ,(see Matthew 26:39):  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, . . .. Muslims do too, as taught in the Qur’an:  “O Mary! Worship thy Lord devoutly: Prostrate thyself and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down.”  (Quran 3:43)

Jesus followed the law and believed in all the prophets, (see Matthew 5:17). Muslims do too, as taught in the Qur’an 3:84, Say: “We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah do we bow our will (in Islam).(Quran 3:84) See also (Quran 2:285)

Jesus’ mother Maryam dressed modestly by fully covering her body and wearing a headscarf (hijab) as found in 1 Timothy 2:9, Genesis 24:64-65, and Corinthians 11:6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.

Muslim women modestly dress the same as taught in the Quran. 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. (Quran 33:59)

Jesus and other prophets of the Bible fasted for up to 40 days (see Exodus 34:28, Daniel 10:2-6. 1Kings 19:8, and Matthew 4:1)- Muslims do so too during the month of Ramadan. Muslims are required to fast the full obligatory 30 days: O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. (Quran 2:183)

Jesus taught to say, “Peace to this house” when entering it (see Luke 10:5), and to also greet the people in the house with “peace be unto you”. Muslims do exactly what Jesus did and as taught in the Quran: But if ye enter houses, salute each other-a greeting of blessing and purity as from Allah. Thus does Allah make clear the Signs to you: That ye may understand. (Quran 24:61)

 Finally, “. . . We have taught thee the inspired (message), “Follow the ways of Abraham the True in Faith, and he joined not gods with Allah.” (Quran 16:123)

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.

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Islam

Friday Sermon: The Weapon of a Believer

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By Babatunde Jose

By earnestly praying to God, we achieve the greatest of blessings: atonement for our sins and an increase in rank with our Lord. Prayer is also a potent remedy for our sicknesses, for it instills faith in our souls.

As human beings, our life in this world is characterized by fluctuating conditions happiness and sadness. There is no perpetual bliss or misery. Life by its very nature is a test. Allah says: “He is the One that has created Life and Death in order to test who amongst you is best in conduct.” (Quran, 67:2)

Pleasant and favorable conditions demand us to be grateful and humble while adverse conditions require us to be patient and to seek Allah’s help.

Dua means invocation – to call out – and is an act of supplication, meaning asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly. It is an act of worship in which we ask Allah for His forgiveness and mercy, to grant us His favors and answer our requests.

Making dua (invocation) is an important part of the Islamic faith, as Allah says in the Quran that believers should call on Him and ask Him for His assistance and forgiveness. Along with this, Allah provides assurance that He can hear and see everyone wherever they may be, and that He will indeed respond to prayers.

In Surah Ghafir, He says: “. . .  Make Dua before Me, I will accept. . ..” (Quran 40:60). Thus, Muslims should not be shy in seeking the help and guidance of Allah in every problem they face in their life.

Every condition is a manifestation of the Will of Allah. What has passed us was not meant to befall us and what has befallen us was not meant to pass us. Assistance comes with patience, relief after affliction and ease after difficulty. (Tirmidhi)

Our faith and belief is tested when we undergo difficulties and afflictions. These difficulties may be physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual. Allah says: “Verily We will test you with some fear, hunger, and loss of wealth, life or the fruits of your labor.” (Quran 2:155)

These adverse conditions may at times be upon an individual, a family, a community or upon a large section of the Ummah as is the current case of Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar and our country Nigeria where people are suffering needlessly, queuing for PVC, at ATM for new notes and worst of all for fuel, a God-given resource for which our country is the 6th largest producer in the world, but which we have been importing for  30 years. As the largest economy in Africa, we are ironically the poverty capital of the world and as the largest black nation in the world, we also have the highest population of out of school children.

Prayers or dua are panacea for the present problems facing the nation today. The dilemma, however, is that dua for us has become a ritual. Yet, Dua, according to a Hadith, has the unique ability to change destiny (Tirmidhi).

All the Prophets (peace be upon them), as we find in Quran, resorted to supplications as their ultimate ‘weapon’ to solicit Allah’s help when all their efforts to reform their respective nations faced hostile environments.

For example, the Prophet Noah (Nuh), asked God to inflict a torment on his people, who went astray despite his best efforts to guide them to the right path. As an answer to his prayer, God inflicted a great flood on them which went down in history.

The Prophet Job (Ayyub), called out to God because of his distress, saying “… Great harm has afflicted me, and You are the Most Merciful of the merciful” (Surat al-Anbiya, Quran 21:83). Allah said: We responded to him (Job) and removed from him the harm, which was afflicting him and restored his family to him.” (Surat al-Anbiya, Quran 21: 84).

God answered Prophet Solomon (Suleyman), who prayed: “My Lord, forgive me and give me a kingdom the like of which will never be granted to anyone after me. Truly You are the Ever Giving.” (Surah Sâd, Quran 38: 35). And God bestowed a great power and wealth on him.

Accordingly, those who pray should keep in mind the verse, “His command when He desires a thing is just to say to it, ‘Be!’ (Surah Ya-Sin, Quran 37:82).

At the time of the battle of Badr, with the future of Islam under threat, when a small ill equipped band of 313 Muslims faced an army of 1,000 well-armed, the Noble Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) spent the entire night on the eve of the battle begging and supplicating unto Allah for His assistance and Allah Almighty the following day granted the greatest victory in the annals of Islamic history.

In another such incident, when Sultan Yusuf ibn Ayyub ibn Shadhi (c. 1137 –1193), commonly known by the epithet Saladin, received news of the Crusader’s ships sailing toward them with reinforcements, he retired to the masjid and spent the night in prayer, beseeching and begging Allah Almighty’s assistance. In the morning prayer, he told a pious man, “Please make dua, so that the enemy ships left the shores carrying reinforcements.” The person replied, “Don’t fear, Saladin. Verily the tears of the night have drowned the enemy ships.” A short while later news was received that the ships had sunk.

We read in the Bible, 2 Kings 20:1-6 the story of Hezekiah. This is axiomatic of the power of supplication: “In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’”

2 Then he (Hezekiah) turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, 3 “Remember how, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

4 And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 5 “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. 6 And I will add to your days fifteen years.”

Such is the power of dua which has been rightfully referred to by scholars as ‘the weapon of a believer’.

While there are conducive and opportune moments when duas are accepted in relation to the above there are no restrictions or specifications on the act of dua. Dua can be made at any time, in any place, in any language.

A person who has faith in this truth can pray to God for anything and can hope that God will answer those prayers. For example, a person who is seized by an incurable disease will surely resort to all forms of medical care. Yet, knowing that only God restores health, prayers will be offered to Him for recovery. We pray today that God should restore the health of our afflicted brothers and friends. Amen

Dua is that act which ‘connects’ the slave to his Master. The slave lifts his hands as begging bowls in an expression of begging as a beggar does. “O mankind! It is you who stand as beggars in your relation to Allah, and it is Allah Who is Free of all wants, Worthy of all praise. (Quran, 35:15).

It is said that Allah feels shy in turning His slave away empty handed. (Tirmidhi, Ahmed, Abu Dawood).

If it is not in the nature of a mother to turn her child away empty handed no matter how disobedient a child may be, how is it possible that the One who is the most merciful and who has placed mercy in the hearts of all mothers turns away His slave, empty handed? How is it possible for the One Who becomes angry when His slaves do not supplicate to Him not to be happy when they do? (Sunan Ibn Majah)

Continuously turning to Allah Almighty in dua is a sign of one’s conviction in Him and the more one turns to Him, the more one’s faith increases. Dua is a condition of the heart and conversation with one’s Maker in the language of one’s choice.

Dua in times of ease is gratifying and engenders humility while at the same time it serves as an assurance of our duas being accepted in times of difficulty, according to Tirmidhi.

Dua in times of difficulty, accompanied by the shedding of tears is uplifting, invigorating, assuring, cleanses, refreshes, and provides solace and relief to a broken heart.

A person can ask God for anything within the limits of the permissible (halal). This is because, as mentioned earlier, God is the only ruler and owner of the entire universe; and if He wills, He grants man anything He desires. Every person who turns to God and prays to Him should credit God’s power to do anything and “be firm in supplication” as our beloved Prophet, peace be upon him, said.

In current times as individuals we are faced with so many tribulations and internationally, the Ummah is faced with crises across the globe that, at times we cannot help but feel helpless, frustrated, and depressed. In such times we have the choice of negotiating these hurdles all by ourselves or through voicing our dissent by petitioning the ‘powers’ that be or to utilize the most powerful ‘weapon’ at the disposal of every Believer — dua and stand up before Allah Almighty and to petition Him for His help as He alone is the one who has power over everything and every situation.

Collectively, we can raise up our hands and supplicate to Allah to deliver us from the Pharaoh of our time. Vox populi vox Dei.

… There are some people who say, ‘Our Lord, give us good in the world.’ They will have no share in the hereafter. And there are others who say, ‘Our Lord, give us good in the world, and good in the hereafter, and safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire.’ They will have a good share from what they have earned. God is swift at reckoning. (Surat al-Baqara Quran 2:200-202)

 

Prayer for Palestine: Lord God, we turn to you in these trying hours when conflict is a daily reality for our sisters and brothers in Israel and Palestine. We ask you to bring justice to the people of Palestine. And utmost peace and reconciliation in the region.

Barka Juma’at and Happy weekend

Dua: On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray): “Our Lord! condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; help us against those who stand against faith.”

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Friday Sermon: Hijab 2: By Choice or by Force?

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By Babatunde Jose

 “Even though the hijab is related to religion, its acceptance is up to the individual. There is no compulsionBut if a girl wants to wear it, she should be given the chance to do so.” Syed Hasnain Akhtar, professor of Arabic at Delhi University.  Unfortunately, this has not always been the case in many countries.

The perception of the hijab dates back to Hadith when the “verse of the hijab” descended upon the fledgling Muslim community in 627 CE. Now documented in Sura 33:53, the verse states, “And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts”.

The wearing of the veil has since become a contentious issue as a result of controversial interpretations that has led to its being forced on women in many places and in others, being banned. There is no end to the Hijab War.

In the 1960s and 1970s Western clothing largely dominated in Muslim countries. For example, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, women went out in public without the hijab. This changed following the Soviet Afghan War, military dictatorship in Pakistan, and the Iranian revolution of 1979, when traditional conservative attire including the abaya, jilbab and niqab made a comeback.

After the Iran Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Hijab Law was decreed. It led to protests and demonstrations by women.

However, in Turkey there has been a decline in women wearing the hijab in recent years, although under Erdoğan Turkey is becoming more conservative and Islamic.

Egypt did not pronounce any ban on the hijab, but a movement to rededicate themselves to Islamic values led some college aged Muslims to adopt the jilbab as a dress code. Soon this movement expanded outside of the youth realm and became a more widespread Muslim practice. Women viewed this way of dress as a way to both publicly announce their religious identity as well as a way to simultaneously reject western influences of dress and culture that were prevalent at the time. A case of choice.

Many people, both men and women from backgrounds of both Islamic and non-Islamic faith questioned the hijab and what it stood for in terms of women and their rights. There was questioning of whether in practice the hijab was truly by choice or by force of social coercion.

Today the hijab means many things for different people. For Islamic women who choose to wear the hijab it allows them to retain their modesty, morals, and freedom of choice.

There are a few topics that take a lot of heat when discussed. One such topic is the hijab. Is it a choice? Or a forceful compulsion on Muslim women?

Ms. Neha Saleem, who observed the hijab said: “There is no compulsion in religion. One should not force someone to wear the hijab no matter how old they are, though one can suggest it and tell them how it’s a good thing. Ultimately, though, it is a matter for the people and their own personal choices. I wear a hijab because I like covering myself and I feel protected.”

But society cages women in various lengths of cloth in the name of chastity and dignity. In a few Muslim states, hijab is not mandatory by law, but it is the society that conditions the modesty of the women in the name of the hijab. The cultural concept of hijab or modesty controls the society and freedom of women – this is so badly inculcated in the psyche that there is nothing that can be done to alter it. This cultural concept defines the modesty of women and brings the entire focus to their bodies in exactly the same way as using a woman’s naked body to sell products.

The hijab is currently required by law to be worn by women in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Indonesian province of Aceh. But it is no longer required by law in Saudi Arabia since 2018, although Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has stated that women must still wear “decent and respectful attire”.

In Gaza, Palestinian jihadists belonging to the Unified Leadership (UNLU) have rejected a hijab policy for women.

Other countries, both in Europe and in the Muslim world, have passed laws banning some or all types of hijab in public or in certain types of locales. Women in different parts of the world have also experienced unofficial pressure to wear or not wear a hijab.

The Muslim Reform Movement holds that Quran 53:33; 33:59; 24:30-31 simply meant “barrier” and that it was used in the context of both men and women; the jilbab and the khimar were pre-Islamic clothes and the Quran simply recommended how to wear these, rather than imposing a new clothing requirement.

Turkey had a ban on headscarves at universities until recently. In December 2010, however, the Turkish government ended the headscarf ban in universities, government buildings and schools.

In Tunisia, women were banned from wearing hijab in state offices in 1981 and in the 1990s, more restrictions were put in place.

In 2017, Tajikistan banned hijabs. Under existing laws, women wearing hijabs are banned from entering the country’s government offices.

On 15 March 2004, France passed a law banning “symbols or clothes through which students conspicuously display their religious affiliation” in public primary schools, middle schools, and secondary schools.

On 13 July 2010, France’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a bill banning wearing the Islamic full veil in public. It became the first European country to ban the full-face veil in public places, followed by Belgium, Latvia, Bulgaria, Austria, Denmark and some cantons of Switzerland in the following years.

In 2016, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s supervising judicial authority upheld a ban on wearing Islamic headscarves in courts and legal institutions, despite protests from the Muslim community that constitutes 40% of the country.

The blatant sexualization of the body in both cases causes women to be perceived as nothing more than a source of temptation, pleasure, and sin. Owing to such notions, when a girl is little, she has to be dressed in a ‘modest’ way, during her adolescence she is forced to wear a dupatta and finally as a grown woman, she knows her position lies behind the hijab.

Considering the verse in Qur’an 24:31, which states that they should cover their “adornments” and not show them to strangers outside the family, it can be thought that the Qur’an introduces a new scale of chastity in the public sphere. This has become a veritable weapon in the hands of Talibanic Islamists who now interpret it as Allah’s enforcement of the hijab on women: A practice which Afghanistan and Iran have today carried to a notorious level, abridging the fundamental rights of women. A sad irony to a supposed religion of peace, equality, and freedom.

In India, Muslim women are allowed to wear the hijab and/or burqa anytime, anywhere. However, in January 2022, a number of colleges in the South Indian state of Karnataka stopped female students wearing hijab from entering the campus following the state government circular banning ‘religious clothes’ in educational institutions where uniforms are prescribed. This led to the celebrated Karnataka High Court case of 15 March 2022. The Court, in a verdict, upheld the hijab ban in educational institutions where uniforms are prescribed, arguing that “the practice is non-essential in Islam.”

Among the issues raised are: What is the ambit and scope of essential religious practices? Is the wearing of a headscarf an essential religious practice? An essential part of a religion means the core beliefs upon which a religion is founded. It is upon the cornerstone of essential parts or practices that the superstructure of a religion is built, without which a religion will be no religion. If taking away that part or practice results in a fundamental change in the character of that religion or in its belief, then such part could be treated as an essential or integral part of the religion. We may then ask: Is the wearing of the Hijab an essential part of the religion of Islam? This is the litmus test.

Wearing a hijab may be a practice, it may be an ideal or a permissible practice, but to raise it to the level of an essential religious practice, something more is required. It has to be shown that if the headscarf is not worn, the identity of the person as a believer in the faith itself would be jeopardized.

It could be argued that wearing of a headscarf may be a religious practice but is not essential to the religion as non-following of such practice would not lead a believer to be non-Muslim. The essential religious practices are those practices, if not followed, would render the person religion-less.

In this vein, it is worth considering the issue of wives for example. The Muslim law permits marrying four women. Personal law nowhere mandates or dictates it as a duty to perform four marriages. No religious scripture or authority provides that marrying less than four women or abstaining from procreating a child from each and every wife in case of permitted bigamy or polygamy would be irreligious or offensive to the dictates of the religion.

The Five Pillars of Islam are: Profession of Faith (shahada). The belief that “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”; Prayer (salat). Alms (zakat); Fasting (sawm) and Pilgrimage (hajj).

We must not end this sermon without reference to what is happening in Afghanistan.  Today, nobody would call what is going on in Afghanistan Sharia, the dictates of hadith nor define it as based on any known Islamic injunction.  It is not only a blatant travesty of Islam but also an abuse of fundamental human rights of the female gender.

How can they be more Muslim than the holy Prophet?  Afghanistan is everything bad about Islamic fundamentalism.  It is not Islam, but religion gone awry.

The veil by whatever name it is called should be by choice and not by force. Secondly, being a choice, society should stop making political weapons out of it by banning it in whatever guise.

Barka Juma’at and happy weekend

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Friday Sermon: Hijab 1: A Historical Excursion

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By Babatunde Jose

The issue of the veil and hijab has created so much controversy and continues to do so depending on which side of the religious and social platform we stand to observe the unfolding events. The issue raises many fundamental questions which cut across historical, social and traditional spheres, Quranic pronouncement and Hadith, Islamic jurisprudence, Sharia and the whole gamut of Islamophobia and Hijabophobia. Finally, issues of law across nations where the question has been, to ban or not to ban.

We would start our discourse with a historical excursion into the institution of veiling across the ages and its metamorphosis into a symbol of Islamic identity.

We shall interrogate the Quranic provision and determine if it was recommendatory or mandatory. Therefore, without the hijab, would the Muslimness of a woman become null and void? Can what is made recommendatory by the Holy Quran be metamorphosed into mandatory dicta by hadith which is supplementary to the Quran? These and other issues shall be explored in the Sermons to come.

There is no doubt, the controversy over the hijab arose out of the age-long interpretations given the Quranic verses, some hadiths,  and the role of Islamic schools of jurisprudence after the demise of the Prophet.

Veiling did not originate with the advent of Islam. Evidence of veiling dates back as far as 2500 BC. Elite women in ancient Mesopotamia and in the Byzantine, Greek, and Persian empires wore the veil as a sign of respectability and high status.

In ancient Mesopotamia and Assyria, they had explicit sumptuary laws detailing which women must veil and which women must not, depending upon the woman’s class, rank, and occupation in society. Female slaves and prostitutes were forbidden to veil and faced harsh penalties if they did so. Veiling was thus not only a marker of aristocratic rank, but also served to “differentiate between ‘respectable’ women and those who were publicly available”; pro bono publico.

Strict seclusion and the veiling of matrons were also customary in ancient Greece. Between 550 and 323 BCE, prior to Christianity, respectable women in classical Greek society were expected to seclude themselves and wear clothing that concealed them from the eyes of strange men. Roman custom included the practice of the head covering worn by the priestesses of Vesta (Vestal Virgins).

It is not clear whether the Hebrew Bible contains prescriptions with regard to veiling, but rabbinic literature presents it as a question of modesty. It became an important rabbinic virtue in the early Roman period, and it may also have been intended to distinguish Jewish women from their non-Jewish counterparts in Babylonian and later in Greco-Roman society. According to rabbinical precepts, married Jewish women have to cover their hair. According to Fadwa El Guindi, at the inception of Christianity, Jewish women were veiling their heads and faces.

The Bible attests to the veiling of women as we read in the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:4-7: “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”.

The early Church Fathers, including Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome, John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo attested in their writings that Christian women should wear a headcovering, while men should pray with their heads uncovered.

There is archaeological evidence demonstrating that headcovering was observed as an ordinance by women in early Christianity, and the practice of Christian headcovering continues among female adherents of many Christian denominations today.

In the Indian subcontinent, Hindu women cover their heads with a veil in a practice known as ghoonghat. Intermixing of populations resulted in a convergence of the cultural practices of Greek, Persian, and Mesopotamian empires and the Semitic peoples of the Middle East. Veiling and seclusion of women appear to have established themselves among Jews and Christians before spreading to urban Arabs of the upper classes and eventually among the urban masses. In the rural areas it was common to cover the hair, but not the face.

According to Leila Ahmed, the rigid norms pertaining to veiling and seclusion of women found in Christian Byzantine literature have been influenced by ancient Persian traditions, and there is evidence to suggest that they differed significantly from actual practice.

Available evidence suggests that veiling was not introduced into Arabia by Muhammad, but already existed there, particularly in the towns, although it was probably not as widespread as in the neighboring countries such as Syria and Palestine.

Similarly, to the practice among Greeks, Romans (Byzantines), Jews, and Assyrians, its use was associated with high social status. In the early Islamic texts, the term hijab does not distinguish between veiling and seclusion, and can mean either “veil” or “curtain”.

Allah says “O Prophet! Tell your wives & daughters & the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (screen themselves completely except the eyes), that will be better that they should be known as respectable women so as not to be annoyed or molested. (Quran 33:59)

 The Holy Quran does not make wearing of hijab or headgear mandatory for Muslim women. Whatever is stated in the above Ayat, is only directory, because of the absence of prescription of penalty or penance for not wearing hijab, the linguistic structure of other verses supports this view.

The only verses in the Qur’an that specifically reference women’s clothing are those promoting modesty, instructing women to guard their private parts and draw their scarves over their breast area in the presence of men.

The contemporary understanding of the hijab dates back to Hadith when the “verse of the hijab” descended upon the community in 627 CE. Now documented in Sura 33:53, the verse states, “And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts”. This verse, however, was not addressed to women in general, but exclusively to Muhammad’s wives.

As Muhammad’s influence increased, he entertained more and more visitors in the mosque, which was then his home. Often, these visitors stayed the night only feets away from his wives’ apartments. It is commonly understood that this verse was intended to protect his wives from these strangers. During Muhammad’s lifetime the term for donning the veil, darabat al-hijab, was used interchangeably with “being Muhammad’s wife”.

Because Islam identified with the monotheistic religions of the conquered empires, the practice was adopted as an appropriate expression of Quranic ideals regarding modesty and piety.  Veiling gradually spread to upper-class Arab women, and eventually it became widespread among Muslim women in cities throughout the Middle East.

Veiling of Arab Muslim women became especially pervasive under Ottoman rule as a mark of rank and exclusive lifestyle, and Istanbul of the 17th century witnessed differentiated dress styles that reflected geographical and occupational identities.

By the 19th century, upper-class urban Muslim and Christian women in Egypt wore a garment which included a head cover and a burqa (muslin cloth that covered the lower nose and the mouth). The name of this garment, harabah, derives from early Christian and Judaic religious vocabulary, which may indicate the origins of the garment itself. Up to the first half of the twentieth century, rural women in the Maghreb and Egypt put on a form of niqab when they visited urban areas, “as a sign of civilization”.

Hijab has been referred to as the veil that covers the head and is usually worn by Muslim women. It is taken as a symbol of modesty and privacy. The Quran never explicitly used the term hijab in reference to body veiling, instead used the words khimār and jilbab. The word hijab means “a screen or curtain” and is used in the Quran to show the meaning of a screen, partition, or curtain. None of these words are used in the Quran in reference to what the Muslims refer to today as a dress code for the Muslim woman.

Some meanings for the word include screen, covering, curtain, drapes, or partition. Hijab in the Quran has nothing to do with the Muslim women dress code.

Jews practiced the tradition of wearing a veil (by women) and cover (by men), as apparent from Talmud quotes (Talmud equals the hadiths and sunnah, but neither of which are the words of God Himself). The Christians adopted this further. The people belonging to the above-mentioned religions cover their heads in the synagogues, weddings, and religious festivities.

Christian nuns are seen in full veil all the time. In pre-Islamic times in Arab, everyone used to wear a veil only out of tradition. In Saudi Arabia up to this day, men cover their heads with veils. In North African Sahara, the Tuareg Tribe has men wearing veils instead of women. In pre-Islamic times people used to cover themselves more fully in order to protect themselves from the harsh weather conditions, especially in the Arab states with scorching heat.

Covering the heads was neither a religious nor a social obligation. But today it has assumed a potent religious ammunition, particularly with the weaponization of religion.

There is nothing bad in the adornment of hijab by choice by women to protect them from the lustful attention of the menfolk and also to project their Islamism, but when its use is being forced as we have in some Talibanic societies under the guise of Hadithi injunctions, then it becomes a questionable exercise open to interrogation. This brings into fore the various interpretations of the provisions of the Quran and the fatwa of the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence on the matter. To be continued.

Barka Juma’at and happy weekend,

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