On the wearing of burqa and hijab

In July this year

Education Secretary Armin Luistro said it was part of reforms designed to make schools more sensitive to religion.

The order stated: ‘Once the teacher is in the classroom, she is requested to remove the veil.’ It added the move would help aid ‘proper identification of the teachers by their pupils, thus promoting better teacher-pupil relationship’. It would also help the teaching of languages, where ‘lip formation’ plays a role in pronouncing certain letters.

Again, the CHR has advised Philippine government agencies to allow Muslim women to wear their headscarves.

What is it with this particular headscarf? If I were wearing one, messing with my burka would be like messing with my hair. And no one but myself ever messes with my hair. Catholic nuns wear their particular sort of veils and we don’t hear Muslim women complaining to take them off do we? But tell Catholic nuns to take their veils off and there’d be a third world war.

The burqa and headscarf are often identified as symbols of women’s oppression in Muslim countries. In fact, head covering is a form of religious garb in many sub-cultures. Some of these subcultures require head covering all of the time, and others only during religious rituals, but all involve this tradition. Yet, when it comes to Muslims, the discussion often goes forward as if it is a uniquely oppressive, and uniquely Islamic, practice.

If I grow my hair all over my face, it is likely that I’d be perceived as lacking cleanliness. I understand that as I know mendicants are perceived by non-mendicants as unclean. But that’s the point. For Catholics and Christians, the teaching of Christ is that it is what comes out of a person’s mouth that defiles him or her and not what goes in. So then what we say about Muslim women who are wearing headscarves is what gives these headscarves a bad name not the headscarf wearing per se. It is what we label the thing – mixing it up with the wearer, the woman – that makes it unacceptable even threatening to us. In itself the headscarf is I’d even say fashionable and a reminder that in life a little bit of mystery is good.

I am a woman and I understand gender issues. But use of force in this case – metaphorically speaking, grabbing the headscarf from their heads – is violence. It’s like ripping the clothes off an unsuspecting woman. If we in the mainstream perceive these headscarves as restraints of a woman’s femininity — well there’s a process for that. Building awareness, educating, discussions, communication, little experiments, emotional support — not just with women but men too — until such time that the wearer herself on her own and of her own decision takes it off. Then it would be a real celebration because it is meaningful.

But again if after everything the wearer comes to understand that the headscarf, for her, is not connected to oppression of her self but rather a symbol, willingly given, of her belief and love for her God then, as what is with Catholic nuns, give her this freedom of expression.


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