‘This judgment is not just a blow against active, dynamic and working Muslim women,’ EU Muslim Network member Suliaman Wilms told The Telegraph, ‘it’s the confirmation of an ongoing European trend to constrain the religious expression of their faith and spiritual life praxis.’

Praxis is interesting. As in an academic article title like “Contemporary Islamic Activism: The Shades of Praxis,” the word implies that bringing the veil to the public realm may amount to (among other things) a social act, a visible embodiment/performance of the truths of Islam for women. Looked at from this angle, there’s nothing ‘modest’ about covering yourself in this way; on the contrary, you are transmitting loud and clear, by your striking difference from secular people, the particularities of your faith, and in particular the offer-you-can’t-refuse nature of female covering. I am covered; I must be covered. You are not covered. Think about it.

Dominating the angry responses to yesterday’s EU court ruling that in some circumstances workplaces can ban the hijab has been an expected stress on the Islamic demand that girls and women cover themselves from the gaze of men. Once again, this is for some a non-negotiable demand.

Aisha, a lively young woman active in the mosque community, had long dreamed of becoming a psychologist and had studied hard to pursue her dream. In 2009, after moving to Paris with her husband, she found that no hospitals or clinics would accept her for clinical training in her headscarf. So she abandoned her ambition.

Okay, so no joke, right? Here is a woman who might have made a real contribution to the health of thousands of people, but because of a headscarf she won’t be doing that. So this ain’t no common headscarf: This is a headscarf profoundly arrayed with godly significance, a carrier of such powerful, constitutive Commandment that under no circumstances may one remove it (except, one assumes, in one’s home). Priests, by contrast, from virtually every denomination, may freely remove their clerical collar. Indeed, many monks are under no obligation to wear their robes. But in Islam, laypeople – not the men, to be sure, but the women – must, even at soul-crushing cost, keep that scarf attached.

Put this fiercely expressive piety in the context of a constitutionally secular country and don’t be astonished when some people don’t appreciate it. Don’t be astonished when a lot of mothers at day care don’t want their daughters to deal on a close, regular basis with a spiritual life praxis involving submission to modesty orders. Don’t be surprised when some businesses, suffering significant losses as some of these seculars avoid praxis-exhibiting work settings, appreciate judicial relief.

Dismiss these people as bigots at your peril: They have the backing of important courts, plus other important forms of legislation, and they seem to be on the side of history. As with the manifold, now-well-established burqa bans in many parts of the world (including the mideast), attacking the millions of opponents of the burqa as reactionary far right bigots gets you absolutely nowhere. Let us consider a more promising option.

It seems to ol’ UD that the obvious first thing to do is some good old-fashioned public relations. This does not mean slick social media advertisements featuring veiled athletes at the Olympics. There’s no content there, and you need to make an argument. You need to argue that it would be humane and enlightened for seculars to try to overcome their resistance to you. You need to be willing to talk openly about why veiling yourself is so important to you that you are willing to suffer serious personal harm because of it. So bring that psychologist forward – the one who gave up her entire career because of her headscarf. Ask her to consider why non-bigoted people tasked with training psychologists might reasonably object to her bringing her spiritual praxis into the clinic. If your situation is going to get any better, you (and the other side) will have to offer some serious, good faith, give and take.

If, as I write this, you are sputtering with rage and totally refusing to engage, okay. You’ve already lost on the burqa and you’ll probably keep losing on the hijab.

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2 Responses to “More on the Latest Hijab Ruling”

  1. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I don’t follow hijab bans as closely as you do. Did they also forbid the wearing or display of crosses, yarmulkes, wimples, stoles, and other religious apparel, or was the prohibition strictly restricted to Islamic attire?

    Prohibition of all religious apparel makes some sense (though it would not be allowed in the USA), but prohibition for some religions and not others smacks of bigotry.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    gasstation: The restriction would only go forward, as I understand it, if the workplace prohibited all religious apparel.

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