Isha khan’s Weblog

What clothes a Muslim woman should wear
July 8, 2009, 9:52 am
Filed under: Religion

What clothes a Muslim woman should wear

By Maswood Alam Khan

Inspired by a self-imposed success of the French government, in spite of protests, in banning the Muslim headscarf in public schools in 2004 Nicolas Sarkozy in his recent speech in the French parliament was agog shedding crocodile tears for Muslim women terming the ‘burqa’ a walking prison, a sign of subjugation, a signature of debasement, and an instrument of torture not tolerable on French territory. What a great Frenchman empathizing with the pains of the hapless women, a male Sarkozy deciding what female Muslims should wear and should not!

The first cultural shock I had on the first day of my arrival at Kuala Lumpur back in 1995 was how conventional Malaysian Muslim women conserve their body exposure. They insulate their head with headscarf so that head-hairs are not visible, but they don’t wear any sash or any extension of their costumes that could additionally cover their basic dress contouring their breasts. On the other hand, Muslim women in Bangladesh, no matter they wear a sari or a frock, are careful first to hide with extra clothing the area of their torso and then their head and other areas of their bodies in accordance with Bangladeshi style and not in gross contravention of Islamic dress codes.

What pleasantly surprised me was the liberty Malaysians enjoyed in ‘dressing as they liked’. You will find Malaysian men and women and foreigners strolling in public places dressed in whatever style they fancy. Liberal attitude to religions and tourist-friendly environment have made Malaysia, a country deemed an ideal Muslim nation, a haven for foreign direct investment.

Nobody will ogle you if like a Chinese damsel you, a Bangladeshi girl or an Iranian lady, wear a bikini while shopping at a mall or move around in public places wearing a ‘burqa’, a head-to-toe Islamic garment. The peaceful coexistence of Malay Muslims, Chinese Buddhists, Indian Hindus and tourists of different colors, creeds and religions enjoying complete freedom in pursuing their individual dress and culture in Malaysia should be a tutorial President of the French Republic Nicolas Sarkozy can study and implement the lessons in his own country.

Inspired by a self-imposed success of the French government, in spite of protests, in banning the Muslim headscarf in public schools in 2004 Nicolas Sarkozy in his recent speech in the French parliament was agog shedding crocodile tears for Muslim women terming the ‘burqa’ a walking prison, a sign of subjugation, a signature of debasement, and an instrument of torture not tolerable on French territory. What a great Frenchman empathizing with the pains of the hapless women, a male Sarkozy deciding what female Muslims should wear and should not!

The French President spending precious time in his parliamentary lecture on sartorial details of Muslim burqa is a clear indication that he was perhaps running out of ideas on how to solve economic and social ills of his country.

The French parliament is soon going to enact laws that will further embolden the 2004 law to ban everything from headscarf to burqa to anything else that Islam had prescribed to conserve woman’s body exposure. Such a ban applicable in all public places would be a veritable French display of secularist fundamentalism entrenched by their law since 1905—to keep religion firmly out of the state sphere.

The 2004 headscarf ban in France was supposed to outlaw conspicuous religious symbols of all faiths. We don’t know whether Israelis wearing Jewish yarmulkes or Americans wearing Christian crosses or Indians with clipped beards wearing their Sheikh turbans to cover their uncut hairs or Muslim imams with their uncut long beards wearing their Muslim turbans are debarred from entering the French territories. If not, such a French policy barring headscarf and burqa should be construed as a discriminatory principle to pick only on Islam and to constrain religious freedom of only Muslims.

Religion should be practiced privately. No religion—Islam or Judaism or Christianity or Hinduism—advocates that religious identities have to be flaunted in public places. We wear caps while praying inside mosques, but there is no compulsion that we have to cover our heads day and night, at workplace and at bedroom. But if someone wishes to keep his or her head covered round the clock there is no right for anybody, let alone the government, to veto the practice.

In fact, very few men and women nowadays wear the garments that are ordained by their religions. There was a time in the first half of the last century when our Muslim ladies not only had to wear burqa under compulsion but also had to move in a rickshaw or a ‘palki’ (a wheel-less and human-powered litter vehicle) tightly wound around by long pieces of clothes so that neither the female passenger inside the litter vehicle can see the outside world nor can a passerby peek into who is sitting inside the manpowered vehicle.

Time has changed. A Hindu priest while moving in public places hesitates to wrap around his waist and legs a long piece of unstitched cloth what in Bangla we call ‘dhuti’, a traditional men’s garment in our country Hindus and Muslims alike would love to wear as a fashion only a few decades back.

We hardly find in our country Muslim women attending their schools, colleges, universities or offices wearing burqa. There are ladies of course who still wear burqa and who are highly esteemed in our society; nobody frowns eyebrows at them. There are girls as well who dress themselves in western styles and nobody ogles them unless they are overly nude.

For convenience most of our Muslim women in our country wear pajamas or jeans in both their homes and offices; our modern girls wear with élan extra clothes tailored in the latest fashion to cover their head and torso. There can hardly a Muslim lady be found who does not wear sari, which is a dress evolved in our Bengali culture based on Hindu religion, not at all a Muslim dress. Have saris made our women less devout compared to those who wear burqa? Have the women lost their liberty for the reason that they had to wear burqa?

It is fascinating that people who raise their voices and complain about their liberty have no such regards when it comes to other people’s freedom, no matter it is freedom of religion or freedom of secularism. For them it is a one-way affair—they want you to obey them or else you risk your social status.

There are groups who may call the burqa ‘a coffin that kills individual liberties’ and there are people who may call the necktie ‘a rope that gags a man’. There are groups who say ‘Muslim women are treated like disposable items’ and there are also people who will say ‘women are worshipped by men when they are nude and abhorred when they are clothed’.

Some groups may say that ‘Muslim women are forced to wear burqa’ while the opposing groups will say that ‘women in the West are forced to get plastic breasts in order to get more acceptances in the society’. Some groups may wish to find their women wearing burqa that covers up the whole body but not the eyes; some groups might wish to find their ladies wearing only sunglasses that cover their eyes only in order to expose the rest of their whole body on a sea-beach under the sun.

Let citizens hear voices of both the groups and choose for themselves what fit them best. But an official ban on headscarf and on burqa the French parliamentarians are now contemplating to impose as a law, reportedly within six months, will be a despotic move on a democratic land and may be interpreted as a ploy to stigmatize Islam. The French should never give in to the blackmail neither of Muslim Fundamentalists nor of Secular Fundamentalists.

In his recent speech in Cairo, Barack Obama has rightly said: “It is important for the Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit—for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear”.

Maswood Alam Khan is a banker. His e-address:


Christianity- Islam and the Crusades
May 16, 2009, 8:09 am
Filed under: Religion

Christianity- Islam and the Crusades

Khalil Rahman

The First Crusade was planned by Pope Urban II and more than 200 bishops at the Council of Clermont. It was preached by Urban between AD 1095 and 1099. He assured his listeners that God himself wanted them to encourage men of all ranks, rich and poor, to go and exterminate Muslims. He said that Christ commanded it. Even robbers, he said, should now become soldiers of Christ. Assured that God wanted them to participate in Holy War, masses pressed forward to take the crusader’s oath. They looked forward to a guaranteed place in Heaven for themselves and to an assured victory for their divinely endorsed army. The pope did not appoint a secular military supreme commander, only a spiritual one, the Bishop of Le Puy. Initial expeditions were led by two churchmen, Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless. Peter was a monk from Amiens , whose credentials were a letter written by God and delivered to him by Jesus. He assured his followers that death in the Crusades provided an automatic passport to Heaven.

When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem on the 14th July 1099 , they massacred the inhabitants, Jews and Muslims alike, men, women and children. The killing continued all night and into the next day. Jews who took refuge in their synagogue were burned alive. Muslims sought refuge in the al-Aqsa mosque under the protection of a Christian banner. In the morning Crusaders forced an entry and massacred them all, 70,000 according to an Arab historian, including a large number of scholars. The Temple of Solomon was so full of blood that it came up to the horses’ bridles. The chronicler Raymond of Aguiliers described it as a just and wonderful judgment of God . Even before the killing was over the crusaders went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre “rejoicing and weeping for joy” to thank God for his assistance. Muslim prisoners were decapitated, shot with arrows, forced to jump from high towers, or burned. Some were tortured first. Neither was this an isolated incident. It was wholly typical. When the crusaders took Caesarea in 1101 many citizens fled to the Great Mosque and begged the Christians for mercy. At the end of the butchery the floor was a lake of blood. In the whole city only a few girls and infants survived. Soon afterwards, there was a similar massacre at Beirut. Such barbarity shocked the Eastern world and left an impression of the Christian West that has still not been forgotten in the third millennium.

The Second Crusade was proclaimed by Pope Eugene III in 1145. It was preached by St Bernard, a leading Cistercian theologian who declared that “The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified”.

The initial object of this second crusade was to recapture Edessa which had fallen to the Muslims in 1144. Initial contingents were lead by military commanders like the bishops of Metz and Toul. On the way, traveling by sea, the Crusaders besieged the then Muslim city of Lisbon . After four months the garrison surrendered, having been promised their lives and their property if they capitulated. They did capitulate and were then massacred. Only about a fifth of the original Crusader force got as far as Syria , where the real crusade started. It proved a failure, at least partially because tactical targets were selected for religious rather than military reasons. A military tactician might have gone for Aleppo , but the Crusade leaders agreed on mounting an attack on Damascus , apparently because they recognized its name as biblical. The leaders argued amongst themselves until the crusade collapsed in 1149, having failed to take Edessa or Damascus . The whole thing had been a disaster.

The third Crusade. Having proclaimed a jihad in 1186, Saladin re-took Jerusalem for the Muslims the following year. Once the battle was over no one was killed or injured, and not a building was looted. The captives were permitted to ransom themselves, and those who could afford to do so ransomed their vassals as well. Many thousands could not afford their ransom, and were held to be sold as slaves. The military monks, who could have used their vast wealth to save their fellow Christians from slavery, declined to do so. The head of the Church, the Patriarch Heraclius, and his clerics looked after themselves. The Muslims saw Heraclius pay his ten dinars for his own ransom and leave the city bowed with the weight of the gold that he was carrying, followed by carts laden with other valuables. As the unransomed prisoners were lead off to a life of slavery Saladin’s brother Malik al-Adil took pity. He asked his brother for a thousand of them as a reward for his services, and when he was granted them he immediately gave them their liberty. This triggered further generosity amongst the victorious commanders, culminating in Saladin offering gifts from his own treasury to the Christian widows and orphans. “His mercy and kindness were in strange contrast to the deeds of the Christian conquerors of the First Crusade”

The Fourth Crusade was preached by Pope Innocent III and lasted from 1202 to 1204. Although intended to regain the Holy Land from the Muslims by way of Egypt , the crusade was hijacked by the Venetians and directed against the Christian cities of Zara and then Constantinople , which offered a softer target and richer pickings. Constantinople was taken, the Emperor deposed, and Baldwin of Flanders was set up in his place. The victorious crusaders amused themselves in the usual way, even though this was the capital of Christendom.

The fifth Crusade. This Crusade was preached by Pope Innocent III but undertaken in the reign of Pope Honorius III. It was lead by Cardinal Pelagius of Lucia, and lasted from 1217 to 1221. Although ultimately intended to recover Jerusalem the main force was initially directed against Egypt . Damietta was besieged. Saladin proposed a deal. He would cede Jerusalem , all central Palestine , and Galilee if the crusaders would spare Damietta . This offer was rejected by Pelagius, despite military advice.

Damietta duly fell to the Christians. The surviving inhabitants were sold into slavery, and their children handed over to the Christian priests to be baptised and trained into the service of the Church. But Saladin soon recovered Damietta by force.

The Sixth Crusade was proposed by Pope Gregory IX, but found few takers, previous crusades having proved such failures. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II organized his own crusade while under sentence of excommunication, and pursued it between 1222 and 1229. Despite the pope’s machinations and much to his embarrassment Frederick’s military and strategic skill led to a negotiated settlement under which Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem came under Christian control.

The Seventh Crusade lasted from 1248 to 1254. It was initiated under Pope Innocent IV, Jerusalem having been lost to the Moslems again in 1244. It was led by King Louis IX of France ( St Louis ) who started by attacking Egypt . Once again Damietta was captured, and once again the Sultan offered to exchange it for Jerusalem . Once again the offer was rejected. And once again the Muslims won Damietta back by force of arms. Louis himself was captured, and had to be ransomed for 400,000 bezants. After his release he went to the Holy Land , but failed to recover the holy cities, and so gave up and went home.

The Eighth Crusade was proposed by Pope Gregory X, but not organized until a later reign. It lasted only from 1270 to 1271, and was initially led once again by St Louis . It collapsed after Louis died of disease while attacking Carthage (modern Tunis ).

The Ninth Crusade continued St Louis ‘s eighth crusade. It was led by Prince Edward between 1271 and 1272. Edward, the future English King Edward I, reached the Holy Land . Like earlier crusades, this one fizzled out, a total failure.

Pope Pius II was so keen to revive the Crusades that he went himself, but hardly anyone else could be coerced into going with him. He waited near the coast at Ancona in the summer of 1464, hoping for others to turn up. Sixtus IV made a couple of efforts at organizing crusades against the Turks, but nothing came of them. Leo X planned another one in 1515, but nothing ever came of it either. Clement XI hoped to launch a Crusade early in the eighteenth century but he too failed to win much backing.

[NY Sun: Islam and Muslims are expected to be a priority for Pope Benedict XVI, but he has been publicly quite muted on these topics during his first nine months in office.

“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Sept. 12, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI

The Vatican has confirmed that it is negotiating for permission to build the first church in Saudi Arabia . Time Magazine Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2008

Sun Mar 23, 2008, The Vatican City (Reuters) – A Muslim author and critic of Islamic fundamentalism who was baptized a Catholic by Pope Benedict said on Sunday Islam is “physiologically violent”. ]

When, Where The Pope Inspires No Hope
May 12, 2009, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Religion

When, Where The Pope Inspires No Hope

By Nicola Nasser

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to be the third pontiff to visit the Holy Land from 8 – 15 May, following in the footsteps of Paul VI in 1964 and John Paul II in 2000, on a mission officially described as a “pilgrimage” and one of “peace and reconciliation.”

However, the Pope will be stepping into “a diplomatic minefield,” where the Catholic highest spiritual authority will be unmercifully scrutinized by the protagonists of the one hundred year old Arab – Israeli conflict for the Holy Father’s every step, word and handshake, which would force him into the defensive in an impossible balancing act that will rule out any hope his presence is supposed to inspire, especially among the down-trodden Arabs of Palestine, whether those who are “Israelis” living as second class citizens since 1948 or those Palestinians living under the Israeli military occupation since 1967.

Even the pontiff’s own Catholic diminishing flock in the Holy Land seems in controversy over the timing and the itinerary of his pilgrimage. “We will ask him why he came, what he intends on saying … and why he isn’t coming to Gaza,” Father Manuel Mussalam, the pastor of the only Catholic church of about 300 believers in Gaza, out of 3000 Christians in the Israeli besieged Mediterranean strip, was quoted by AFP as asking. “We’ll tell him that this is not the right moment to come and visit the holy places, while Jerusalem is occupied,” Mussalam added.

In November 2006, long before Gaza Strip came under the control of the Islamic movement Hamas, which is cited as the casus belli for the Israeli latest three – week bloody and destructive war on Gaza as well as for the nine – year old Israeli military blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians since 2000, Father Mussalam described the situation there: “Gaza cannot sleep! The people are suffering unbelievably. They are hungry, thirsty, have no electricity or clean water. They are suffering constant bombardments and sonic booms from low flying aircraft… They have no income, no opportunities to get food and water from outside and no opportunities to secure money inside of Gaza. They have no hope and no love. These actions are War Crimes!”

Vindicating Mussalam’s statement, the World Bank reported on April 24 that a serious environmental threat is evolving in Gaza where only one tenth of water meets the world health standards, a fact that is responsible for a quarter of the disease cases, and creating a water crisis similar to that in Sudan and Congo.

Nonetheless, the Holy See is determined to rule out Gaza from the Pope’s itinerary. In a recent letter to the Vatican 40 prominent Christians from the occupied Palestinian territories appealed to the Holy See to add Gaza to his itinerary. They could not understand how the Pope has been to Auschwitz to pray for the people murdered there, “as a duty to truth and to those that suffered,” as he said, but could not similarly heal the wounds of those who are still suffering in Gaza.

The Vatican cites security reasons, according to the spokesman of the Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, Father Peter Madros. Israel recently barred the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Franco, from Gaza. But security did not prevent Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General from visiting Gaza when the guns were still smoking, nor did it prevent Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, to name only a few.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, in an interview provided by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land and published by on April 22, acknowledged that the Pope’s trip has undoubtedly a “political dimension”: “We mustn’t fool ourselves: there is 100% a political dimension … everything will have a political connotation. Here we breathe politics, our oxygen is politics.” But Twal has three explanations. First, “it is difficult to find a good balance and to maintain it.” Second, “imagine the negative consequences it would have on the pilgrimage industry, if the Pope himself was afraid of coming on pilgrimage.” Third, “what should be done? Wait for better times … until the Palestinian question is resolved? I’m afraid that two or three Sovereign Pontiffs will pass before it is definitively settled.”

The three reasons Twal cited are shocking, but his conclusion devastates whatever hope the papal visit might inspire: “The more the Vatican is a friend of Israel, the more it will be able to draw profit,” otherwise, “we will all lose, we Christians and we Arabs”!

When His Holiness is to meet on April 14 with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has dispelled all hopes for even the resumption of a peace process, let alone peace, both by his on-record political platform as well as by the composition of his extreme right ruling coalition, and when he will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of Christianity and Islam which his Israeli hosts are determined to Judaise as theirs only eternal capital, and to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, the Islamic Al-Buraq Wall as the Jewish Western (Wailing) Wall of the Temple, and when Israel forces his protocol team to drop from the list of his Arab audience in Nazareth the Palestinian mayor of Sukhnin, Mazen Ghanaim, because he rallied against the Israeli war on Gaza, then the itinerary of his pilgrimage could be described as anything but being apolitically balanced when Gaza is ruled out.

In his Easter message on April 12, Benedict XVI noted the world food shortage, the financial turmoil, the old and new forms of poverty, the disturbing climate change, the violence and deprivation, “the ever present threat of terrorism,” to conclude that, “it is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope,” and urged his audience to spread the kind of hope that inspires courage to do good even when it costs dearly. But his oversight that did not make him mention military occupation and the long standing refugee problem emanating therefrom, as it is the case in Palestine, to where he is heading as a pilgrim, dispels any hope that he will say, let alone do, anything that would inspire hope.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories.