Burqa an affront to human dignity say Muslim women

By Lincoln Tan

A Muslim women's group is expected to tell a public forum tonight that the burqa is not a requirement in Islam and it is "an affront to human dignity" for women to be forced to wear it.

This month, a Saudi Arabian student was left crying on an Auckland street when a bus driver refused to let her board because she was wearing a Muslim veil, which she refused to remove.

This brought a call from Prime Minister John Key for New Zealanders to respect the beliefs of others, and for women not to be discriminated against because they wear the burqa.

But the Sisters in Islam say Islam has no laws making wearing of the full veil compulsory.

The Malaysian-based group's acting executive director, Ratna Osman, is the main speaker at the "Muslim Women Rights is Human Rights" forum at AUT University tonight.

The group's founder, Zainah Anwar, said on its website: "I find the burqa really disturbing.

"There is enough literature to show that the face veil is not a requirement in Islam.

"In a conservative, patriarchal Muslim context, face veiling really symbolises women's invisibility and inferior status.

"That a woman should not be seen and heard, and should she venture into the public space she must be as invisible as possible, is an affront to human dignity."

Ms Anwar said the burqa also put pressure on other Muslim, as it set a standard that "a good Muslim woman is someone who is covered from head to toe".

The view was supported by the head of Islamic studies at the University of Auckland, Zain Ali.

He said the burqa was more a cultural requirement than an Islamic one.

"The Islamic requirement is for modest dressing, but what has happened in many parts of the Muslim world is that the burqa has been accepted as a norm for that modest dressing," Mr Ali said.

"But the burqa is almost dehumanising and it robs the personality and the ability of someone to express themselves."

However Malaysian businessman Zulkifli Hamzah, who is in Auckland to help set up a Muslim "Obedient Wives Club" branch, said followers of Islam understood "women and men are not equals".

"Everything has a structure and for a Muslim, the man is seen as the leader of the family or household.

"If a woman is told to wear a burqa or hijab so she does not tempt other men, then she should obey.

"The issue is not whether it is a cultural law or religious law, it is the husband's law."

The club's founders, Malaysian-based business group Global Ikhwan, support polygamy, and claim their moral attitude is in line with Islamic teachings for building strong families.

The club encourages women to submit to their husbands and meet all their sexual needs because it believes sexually fulfilled men are less likely to stray so marriages are less likely to break down.

It claims a worldwide membership of about 1000.

The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand said it did not support the movement and that the club's views were "interpretation of Islam to the extreme".

- NZ Herald

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