Hundreds of people protesting against the Denmark veil ban on 4 August 2018. | Photo from: eeradicalization

The Blurred Lines

The West has always maintained the right of people to govern themselves. What happens when they encounter traditions and cultures that they do not understand? And what happens when their practitioners become significant minorities in their countries?

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“Muslims are mentioned in the same sentence with terrorism, cruelty toward women and war,” said the First Lady of Turkey, Emine Erdoğan during her meeting with the female representatives of the US Muslim community.

It has become a norm to wrongfully link certain reproachable cultural practices with Islam. 

This has gone beyond just being a social problem; the prejudice and discrimination have reached legal systems in countries, as seen with the immigration ban for people from Muslim-majority countries in the US and the prohibitions of face veils in countries across the European region, which directly affects Muslims who don such veils. 

The root cause of the social phenomenon of Islamophobia is in the failure of many in separating the culture of some Muslim societies from the religion of Islam itself.

This has misinformed the view of many anti-Islamists, especially those whose sole source of information is the media.

Through the different forms of media, Islam is commonly associated with the inequality and violence as the First Lady of Turkey mentioned.

With that said, the ease of access to information should rightfully erase the misconceptions people have of Islam. However, this is not the case.

Islam is seen to be opposing the Western picture of liberty, human rights and freedom. Activists, feminists in particular, oppose Islam as the religious laws and practices do not conform to their ideals.

Muslims have to adhere to the five pillars of Islam.

The requirement of modest wear and the duties and responsibilities of men have been criticised by outsiders to the religion. Those who believe and follow the ways of the religion have chosen the path and understand the rationale behind the practices of Islam. According to Western views, a religion that ‘imposes’ dress codes and actions goes against the idea of freedom of expression and choice.

In reality, women who are not oppressed and tortured as well as those who study and understand the religion, willingly carry out the duties and responsibilities set for them.

Activists believe they have a responsibility to ‘free’ Muslims (particularly women) from the ‘oppression’ and ‘inequality’ they face despite clear evidence that they do not experience the oppression and inequality they are assumed to go through.

The public misinterprets Muslim women who do choose to rip off their hijab as fighting against the religion’s oppressive rule instead of the oppressive, extremist, patriarchal society that they lived in.

In some countries like the United States, there are rules in certain public places, like public swimming complexes, which ban users from wearing Muslim-wear as a way to show their support for the liberation of Muslim women.

The failure of human rights activists and feminists to solve the problems in Muslim societies is due to their inability to stray away from solely blaming the religion instead of the extremist and patriarchal societies the women and children are in, regardless of which country they live in.

Islam is a religion whereby both the men and women have their respective roles to carry out. Men, for example, have explicit duties and control over the women in their family. Instead of taking care of these women, some men, in these extremist societies, lock them up. Or they take away the women’s freedom to study or go out, using their responsibility to protect them as an excuse.

Another instance includes the donning of the hijab. While women are supposed to dress modestly according to the sayings of the Holy Quran, it is not for men or society to abuse women into doing so. Instead, they are supposed to simply remind only those related to them. 

Fighting the terrorism, inequality, and opression that is common in Muslim countries, especially in the Middle East, is inarguably an urgent issue for world leaders. This is not to be taken as an attack on Islam but an attack on the people who fund and train the terrorists and the patriarchal, authoritarian rule in these countries.

To conclude, it is important for people, especially those with Westernised, ‘modern’ ways of thinking, to respect that Islam and Muslims do not follow the same views as them.

The traditions, laws and beliefs that Muslims have to follow are not aligned to the way of life of outsiders. Muslims should be allowed to practice their religion and wear their attire without having these outsiders discriminating against them. Outsiders may not understand Islam and the beliefs as well as laws.

However, Muslims around the world do not need others to save, ‘liberate’, or even understand them. Muslims just want people to respect that they have beliefs and rules which are important to them.

The respect between people of different belief systems is what will make the world a more socially peaceful place.

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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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