A response to the Oxford conference on hijab (28 Feb 04)
by Shaikh Riyad Nadwi M.A., PhD.
Are we creating too much fuss over a trivial matter – hijab?
Shaikh Riyad Nadwi Responds to the
Oxford Hijab Conference of 28th February 2004
It was argued by some Muslims in the conference that hijab is a small component of
Islamic practice when compared with the full spectrum of what it means to be a
Muslim in the West and therefore the uproar in the Muslim community about hijab is
disproportionate and ill-informed.
This, I am afraid, is an extremely shallow understanding of the issue. If we accept
that there is no difference between wearing hijab and not wearing it, then by
implication it would mean that we must also accept a monumental change in the way
we relate to Quran and hadith in general (usul al-fiqh). To all intents and purposes,
this would constitute laying the foundation for an artificial reformation of the entire
structure of our jurisprudential principles. This is exactly what the pro-Israel activists
have been trying to achieve for several decades. We should note here the keenness
with which Daniel Pipes1 quotes Bencheikh when he argues that the reforming and
liberal trends that he hopes will emerge in France can be ”transferable to the
Muslim world as a whole”. (Daniel Pipes review of Marianne et le Prophète:
L'Islam dans la France laïque by Soheib Bencheikh)
The issue is not just about hijab. It is about setting a precedent. Such a precedent
would then be used as a catalyst to dictate to us the terms of our commitment to the
Quran and the way we relate to our entire scholastic heritage. This could lead to a
situation in which we are eventually presented with a list of verses in the Quran which
would be ‘unacceptable’ to read.
Some Muslims have been arguing that hijab is an obligation on Muslim women
purely as the result of a scholastic heritage dominated entirely by men. It has been
argued that the recent participation of some Muslim women scholars has brought
about a ‘liberation’ from the old, ‘oppressive’ rulings. We are therefore led to believe
that the obligation of the hijab can be interpreted in a more lax way, to the extent that
it may not even be an obligation after all.
By way of correction, it is crucial for Muslims to realise that our scholastic heritage
includes thousands of female scholars and that (their) traditional rulings are based on
sound principles rather than political correctness. In fact, there is an Alim here in
Oxford who is in the latter stages of compiling an encyclopaedia of more than ten
thousand women hadith scholars, some of whom were teachers of Imam Bukhari,
among others. Ten thousand women scholars – and that is in only one discipline
(hadith). It is therefore a sign of gross ignorance for people to argue that the Islamic
sciences are built entirely on male scholarship and that female scholars are only now
beginning to participate. This is another major ‘spin’ on our heritage.
As a Muslim community, we must not become an easy target for the ‘spin’ doctors. It
is time for them to stop interpreting our generosity and hospitality as idiocy. My
advice to the Muslims of Britain and Europe remains that we should explore the
motives of every politician and their advisers whenever they make an attempt to
interfere with our faith and we need to demonstrate our complete rejection of this ban
Shaikh Riyad Nadwi M.A., Ph.D.
29th February 2004