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Alhamdulillah for His infinite bounties and truly endless grace.

We pray for His continued blessing of our devotion, His continued cover over our shortcomings and inadequacies, and that His grace ever enable us to be a source of solace and sense in the world.

By His grace, this brief comment will address the incident between the grand-shaykh of Azhar, Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi, and a sixteen year-old student whom he asked to remove the niqab she was wearing. http://muslimmatters.org/2009/10/07/with-scholars-like-these/

1.1 | October 9, 2009 | On Niqab and Culture

Islamic shari‘ah left certain (pre-Islamic Arabian) cultural norms in place to not offend the cultural, including the folkloric, sensibilities of peoples. That Islamic shari‘ah did ‘not’ forbid the pre-Islamic, Arabian practice of niqab is but one example that demonstrates that shari‘ah was indeed ‘not’ revealed to obliterate the standing order of the world—along with all its cultural varieties—and hegemonically impose upon it one stale, monolithic culture.

It could be amply demonstrated that the commentary of the Companions themselves, or their individual scholarly positions reflected cultural sensibilities—sometimes not in agreement with what the shari‘ah was revealed to stipulate. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad himself, peace and blessings be upon him, explicitly foretold that there are certain pre-Islamic practices “that his ummah would not abandon,” despite his explicit injunctions against them. Thus he affirmed: “One of you does not truly believe unless his inner inclination is in agreement with that which I have brought,”—i.e., that for each of you, his unintelligible customs, his bizarre innovations, his pagan rituals, his mythic lore are all ‘not’ more beloved to him than what Islam has brought.

What is most egregious about the “correction” in this episode is that it was addressing the ‘cultural’ sensibility of a young woman regarding a non-ideological matter within a shari‘ah that clearly stipulates that the ideology (or ‘aqidah) of an ignorant or unlettered man is not to be corrected, for that would impose hardship upon him. Any other devotional act is evidently of lesser juridical gravity than that. See, even if this young lady were to (hypothetically) be ‘entirely’ in error, the manner of “correcting” her is the issue here—and particularly, the disproportional juridical weight that was attributed to a non-ideological act that has no definitive ruling.

It also remains to be impressed upon ‘servants of sacred knowledge’ that when certain issues become politicized or encumbered by polemics, it urgently behooves us to cease juridical or legalistic engagements into such topics. This is because an argumentative endeavor of this sort would inevitably make (even if but) an allusion as to “prohibition” or “allowance” of a particular subject. Most critical here is that such a declaration of “prohibition,” for example, might unwittingly be tantamount to a repressive measure against the natural response of people when they feel their human dignity violated.

People will often resort to an outward expression of rebellion, like niqab—and in some instances, removing one’s veil all-together, though they are inwardly devout and observant—as the only way (within their own individual context) that they themselves believe they have remaining to assert their freedom and sovereignty. Fashion and grooming have historically been a personal domain of expressing either conformity or rebellion throughout the world.

It is certainly possible to acknowledge certain inescapable cosmic realities, without having to comment on the validity of their logic, nor the decisions that people make when bound by them—for ultimately judgement remains with Allah. Regrettably, the psycho-social dimensions are rarely, if ever, introduced to illuminate—and thus to humanize juridical discussions that seem disconnected from human lived experience, and thus can only appear callous.

Lastly, this is to say nothing about how human society—throughout history and across all religions and cultures—sought to “control” (everything) about the female... especially her body, and her desire, and put in place societal dogma to maintain their moral codes. Thus ultimately, the magical enigma with which she is divinely endowed will continue to be a perennial source of cultural discombobulation—even within a supposedly ‘secular’ societal construct.

Shaykh Abdallah Adhami
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