When we talk about the rights and respect Islam gives to women and the benefits of hijab, some sisters and brothers will sometimes compare our lot with that of non-Muslim women, whether Western or not. Oftentimes I have heard a note of disdain and disrespect creeping in to these discussions. Non-Muslim women are deemed to be fettered by the sexual demands of men and considered lacking in morals and self-respect.
We have to be careful with where this thinking leads us. We must all have met women who are not Muslim but are still modest in behaviour and dress, kind and of good character, I know I have. Then there are those who like to dress in clothes that make them look and feel attractive but are still good, kind-natured people who would never hurt another person.
What we forget sometimes when we rush to judge, especially born-Muslims, is the amount of protection we often have had. I was born in a large family and had my uncles, parents and grandparents to watch out for me. As a teenager I had my brother and dad, now I have my brave beloved and my brother-in-law as well as the rest. It is easy for someone like me to sit in my home, safe and secure alhamdulillah and pass judgment on the behaviour of others. The events that got me thinking this way were the serial murders of the five women in Ipswich in 2006. They had all worked as prostitutes, mostly to feed drug habits. As news came in of each murder, there were pictures of them as children and the sordid details of their descent to the street: care hostels, run-ways, homelessness, the loss of their children to social services.
They were all someone’s child. Their parents must have had the highest hopes for them and they were dashed in the cruelest way. Must they have been that much different from the hopes I have for Little Lady?
I don’t mean to digress, the point is sometimes as Muslim’s we sit in our comfortable lives, sure of our deen and quick to judge others without thinking about the fact that they are not that different to us. Sometimes they have fallen into the path that they have because they have not had the protection, safety and ease that we have had. I was born into a Muslim family with all of the benefits that brought for me. If someone doesn’t follow my faith how can I look down on them as they didn’t have that advantage.
The issues that women face of poverty, discrimination, misogyny and exploitation affect both Muslim and non-Muslim women. I would have thought the humane thing to do would be to have sympathy for one and another and also provide help and support where possible.
We can look at all other women as sisters who we wish better for, or the deficient "other", devoid of faith. I don’t think that the second mode of thinking benefits anyone at all. Reaching out is always better than cutting off, especially if we are to fulfill our duty of encouraging good and discouraging what is bad and stepping forward to act when we see something wrong. If you judge a person even before you speak to them, they will know it and not take in a word you say.
In the end it all comes down to respect. Even as a Muslim woman who covers, I still believe that a women has the right to remain unmolested and to be respected regardless of what she wears. This is less a reflection of her character and more one of ours. Are you the brother that sees and has contempt, or the one who lowers his gaze and makes dua? Are you the sister who scowls and gives a dirty look or the one who smiles and shows her kindness?Who knows the lady who is dressed sexily today might be the one wearing hijab tomorrow.
Inshallah these words are first and foremost a reminder to myself and for my betterment. If it makes others think, then alhamdulillah.