|code: 313912||Date: 2012/05/09 - 14:39||source: Onislam.net|
"Faith Travels, Cultures Don’t" in the weekly TV program “Islam and Life”
(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - The topic of this episode was Muslim Women, Hijab and Fashion, and the central question of the interview is in view of the anti-hijab campaign in several countries, how are Muslim women in the west today tackling their visibility crisis with the help of fashion?
Tariq Ramadan: If we look at what is happening within the Muslim community, and by the way what you are saying about Britain is of course what you mean should be everywhere in Muslim societies, because what we've got is something for example in France is one advisor to President Sarkozy saying "To wear the Burqa in London that’s fine, but in Paris that’s not good because this is not our culture”.
So he is making a cultural point and playing on the difference between the two societies, while what you are saying is that in principle when we speak about citizenship this is where we should go. But the point is that we have now Muslims, and Muslim women born in Europe or in Western countries, or they came afterwards when they were teenagers or whatever studying here, and some of them are coming with a way of wearing a head scarf that should be black and is the only Islamic way.
In your view as a Muslim, because you are now wearing a white head scarf, Khimaror hijab, as we call it usually, but for some there is this perception that we are mixing the Islamic principles with cultures that are not really European or western. And I think that this is problematic because you yourself are promoting a Muslim lifestyle magazine which is a lifestyle that could be western, it could be European, it could be British. So what would be our answer to some of the Muslim women coming with this perception that what’s done there (in Muslim majority countries) is the only way to be a good Muslim here (in the West)?
Diversity and Local Customs
Sarah Joseph: Faith travels, cultures don’t! There has to be in Islam as a principle of'Urf (local custom). I mean we see in the travel of the famous jurist Al-Shafei from Baghdad to Cairo how he changed his fiqh, about 80% of his fiqh, because he took on board local customs.
I’m here in Britain, I’m here in Europe. I’m European; I’m a Westerner, I’m English. That is my culture. And I will put forward a British Islamic identity which is authentically British and authentically Islamic. At the end of the day, God could have chosen to place me anywhere in the entire world; He chose to make me English.
If you look for example within 80 years of Hijrah, you had pagoda-style mosques in China, they didn’t import palm leaves from Arabia. They had authentically Chinese mosques, and they had authentically Chinese clothing. They took on board head coverings that represented their cultural and ethnic identity as Chinese citizens.
And so, why shouldn’t we in the West find ways to fulfill. If you go to the mosque in London on Eid, you will see the Nigerian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Pakistani, and Arab sisters. And you can tell, you can even tell "Oh, she is Iranian, she is Jordanian, she is Egyptian” because of the way they wear their scarves. And why shouldn’t that be the case? Diversity and the diversity of our tongues, our cultures and our clothing is an Islamic principle. Allah says in the Quran He could make us all the same but He chose not to. He is unity… we are diversity.
Tariq Ramadan: But let me ask you one question about this, if you have someone, a woman, coming from Egypt or coming from Somalia or coming from wherever, would you agree with her to say "OK, I should be able to dress the way I want because I’m coming from there, even if I live in this country, I should be able to wear it the way it was done in my country of origin? Is that OK with you? Is that something which is a principle that you would ask the society to respect?
Sarah Joseph: I think it is about how it synthesizes. It takes time. It’s like a good stew, it’s got to cook over time, it’s not born overnight. And so perhaps she might be coming from Egypt, perhaps over time it will develop. Or it might not change with her but with her daughter...
Tariq Ramadan: So, it’s a question of time, that’s the way you deal with culture.
Sarah Joseph: Yes, because cultures change organically over a period of time, and I think if we look at Islam for all people, for all time, we can think of it in two ways: because it replicates seventh-century Arabia, so we import seventh century Arabia all around the world. I don’t think that’s the Islamic principle. Or the second way because it generates, based on ethics and values, the principle of modesty and modest behavior. At the end of the day, the scarf is an outward sign of an inward feeling, so it's a feeling of a modest behavior which you try to demonstrate externally through the scarf.
Tariq Ramadan: So, there is something which is the universal principles which are the commonality of the universal principles, but the diversity of the cultures and the way it’s translated from principles to outward life that we are living in a specific society.
Sarah Joseph: Exactly
Fashion and Muslim Identity
Tariq Ramadan: So let me come to the point now, in the West you are promoting a Muslim lifestyle magazine and at the same time you have been involved with Muslim communities for years, and this is your experience from within. So tell us about how do you see Muslim women responding to this challenge of this diversity perceived as a threat to Western societies? What are the answers? Because some of the scholars once again when they look at this lifestyle and fashion they say "no, this is per se, by essence, is not Islamic,” how do Muslim women girls and women living in the West, European like you are, as you are responding to this challenge?
Sarah Joseph: There has always been fashion. Since the beginning of time there has been fashion in the sense that what does fashion mean? It means how you are expressing yourself in your contemporary moment, in that moment in time. You have 1960s fashion which is how they were expressing themselves in 1960s. You have got Egyptian fashion. It is always fashion. It’s just expressed in different ways. What I find actually very vibrant and exciting is the way young Muslim girls in the West are feeling confident enough to express their identity. And I don’t think we should politicize women’s bodies. We constantly politicize women’s bodies, i.e. they are forced to wear something, they are forced not to wear something. Women’s bodies became a strategic matter.
Tariq Ramadan: This is the case by the way, the colonization, and the free society. So how can we avoid that?
Sarah Joseph: I think what we have to do is to allow self-expression. And just because somebody chooses to cover doesn’t make it a uniform. It’s not a uniform of the Muslim woman that she has to have this rigidity. It’s about saying how does she transfer that innertaqwa (piety), that inner sense of modesty to external principle. Not for me, I was brought up in a model agency. I was surrounded by beautiful women and beautiful men my whole life. By the age of 8, I couldn’t stand fashion. I was bored with it, fed up with it.
But I don’t expect everybody to be the same as me. I was very bored. I only wear white because my mother likes me in white. She didn’t like any other color. But I’m not going to enforce that on other people. I think we should be proud of the many challenges that sisters are facing; young girls of ages 13, 14 and 20, but they are still feeling confident enough to express their Islamic identity, and then we start saying "No, no, that’s not good enough, you have to be like this, or you have to be like that.” We have to be a little easier on the people and say "No, allow them space to feel confident, allow them space to express themselves”.
Tariq Ramadan: But you are not opposing, as some scholars or Muslim scholars are doing, fashion and modesty. They say fashion by definition is against modesty. Would you say yes or no?
Sarah Joseph: What’s a fashion? Maybe blue is the fashion today. Turquoise is the fashion next week. As long as they fulfill the principles and the boundaries then you can really wear what you like. And I think that when we start imposing then that’s a school uniform. And there has always been fashion. We go back to the Egyptian, the Jordanian and the Nigerian sisters, how they put the scarf on, I can tell you their nationality, and that’s a fashion within their own country.
I think we are scared of the word fashion as somehow we think of the catwalks of London and Milan. That is not what fashion is...