I have copied the letter to Queen Rania in text format below as requested.
Hasan Ali Imam
Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah
Royal Hashemite Court
From: Hasan Ali Imam
40 Alderney Ave
I recently came across your article to the Arab Times (12/11/01) on a website regarding the issue of the hijab. I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions regarding this topic. In brief, my understanding is that you only accept the Quran as source of shariah and reject the sayings of the prophet (S) by virtue of the fact that it is tantamount to idolatry. And since the verse on veiling does not directly talk about covering the head, it therefore implies that women dont have to cover their heads or that they should be modest in accordance with their cultural norms. Furthermore, since women have worn veils before Islam in other communities, it is therefore a remnant of the past and nothing to do with Islam.
My primary response is as follows:
Last November 2001, I went to New York for the weekend and paid a visit to Ground Zero. The amount of devastation and destruction of human life, as well as property was mind boggling and completely deplorable. It felt like being in a war zone. Those who committed this crime waged war against Islam and the rest of humanity because the murderers had broken the Islamic rules of valuing human life (civilians). It was a sombre moment to see the deplorable evil that humans can do.
Today, I attended a talk about the Israeli injustices against Christians and Muslims in the Occupied Territories. I heard speeches by British people, as well as Arabs who visited Israel and brought back stories of tragedies and injustices against Palestinians. One thing I wont forget was the video footage which a Scottish lawyer showed us. He took some footage in Jenin and what he showed us was shocking. Complete devastation of property and human life. I remember seeing the charred remains of a body buried in rubble. Furthermore, there was an eerie silence in the area as the film was being taken. It brought back memories of the devastation in New York. No respect for human life whatsoever. There are one billion Muslims in the world and we are sat helpless whilst innocent people die. Another speaker was a Member of the Scottish Parliament here in the UK, and he recounted his experiences in the Occupied Territoriesthat of oppression by the Israeli army and the Israeli Govt. He was kind enough to give me some documents to read which lists cases of injustices done against Palestinians. So we have non-Muslims who risk their lives to go to Israel and report back on what is happening out there, yet Muslim leaders pay lip servicebut if they do talk their words are rarely followed by action. We were sat helpless when tragedies in Bosnia took place, but who took action? It was NATO who did what Muslims should have done (without killing Serbian civilians).
When the mass murder of civilians took place at the World Trade Centre last year, Pres. Bush took decisive action and tried to crush Al-Qaida and capture bin Laden, the prime suspect behind the bombing. The killing of civilians in Afghanistan is not supported though. However, when 3,000 civilians were massacred in New York it did not take Pres. Bush much time to act quickly. How many deaths do Muslims need to suffer before a Muslim leader takes decisive action? How many more Jenins need to take place before a Muslim leader says enough is enough? Where is that decisive Muslim leadership? I look at various Muslim leaders in various Muslim countries, but I do not find the qualities of leadership which one should expect to find. I have more respect for Pres. Bush junior than the current Muslim leaders because at least he has taken action for the 3,000 people who died (which included Muslims) in New York (although I dont agree with killing Afghan civilians), whereas hundreds and thousands of Muslims had died over the last 50 yrs. in many places, yet not one Muslim leader has taken action, apart from Ayatollah Khomeini who cut off oil supplies to Israel in 1979 and King Faisal who suspended oil supplies to the USA which got him killed. We are living in a time when massacres of Muslims and other peoples are taking place, and this is meant to be the 21st Century.
So what has this got to do with your article on the hijab? It is to show that we Muslims need to re-focus on our priorities. We cannot afford the time to talk about the pros and cons of a piece of cloth for women when lives are being lost. As you are the wife of a Muslim leader, it is hoped that this message would translate into some form of action to help the Muslims and Christians in Israel/Palestine. We muslims tend to talk too much and I have heard of many speeches by Muslim groups and leaders which do not result in action. We have become a nation of sloganeers and non-action. But if this letter encourages you to take some form of action, be it militarily, verbally or diplomatically then this would have been worthwhile.
You have connections with other Muslim leaders, but since I have little faith in most of these leaders, it would be better to use your influence amongst the people who have influence on Israeli policy, namely the US administration. I would hope that the US Govt. can take a more even-handed approach to the Palestinian issue. It has been done before after the Gulf War when Pres. Bush senior suspended $10 billion worth of housing loans to Israel because they were building settlements on Occupied Territories. Despite the powerful Israeli lobby in American politics, he took that decisive action which cost him his election in 1992. The late Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin gave some land back to the Muslims, for which he paid the ultimate price by an Israeli assassin. Which Muslim leader in recent history can come anywhere near Bush or Rabin when it comes to taking action against injustices against Palestinians and then paying the price for it? Apart from the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, I cant think of anyone else. There are many Israelis who are protesting against Ariel Sharon. There are also Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories because they dont agree with their Govts treatment of Palestinians. Maybe this is where your influence might be useful. We need to build relations with Jewish peace movement in Israel and have dialogues with the Jewish communities in the West based on the Quran. That will be the ultimate solution to the problems in Israelpeace is the only option.
I hope that the above statements I made will translate into some form of action as you are in an influential position and that Israel is only next door to you.
Below, I am giving you a response to your comments about hijab since you did raise this topic, but I would hope that at this point in the letter, you will put it away and take some action, as I mentioned above. But if you really want to read my response below, then please do so, although you would be focusing on the wrong priorities.
My secondary response is as follows:
Within the last 20-30 years I have noticed a phenomenon which I would term as feminist revisionism. That is the reinterpretation of Muslim text from a purely feminist perspective, thus overturning 1400 yrs of accepted laws. I have come across two books that aim to reinterpret gender dynamics in the modern context from Muslim sources. They are:
- Women and Islam - An Historical and Theological Enquiry, by Fatima Mernissi
- Quran and Woman Rereading the Sacred Text from a Womans Perspective by Amina Wadud.
- I have also come across Prof. Leila Ahmed who wrote the book, Gender and Islam.
Mernissi is a lecturer at Mohammed V University in Morrocco. Her book tries to prove that for 1400 years Islamic laws had been dominated by male chauvinists and restricted womens freedoms until the 20th Century when democracy championed the rights of women. With regards to the hijab, her argument is that the first verse that talks about the hijab in fact was a curtain to separate Muhammad (S) from Anas bin Malik (R), a Companion of the Prophet. This was when Muhammad (S) had married Zaynab (R) and wanted to be alone with her and because people at that time were too invasive. Hence the hijab initially descended initially to separate two men, i.e. Muhammad (S) and Malik (R). This is how the hijab is presented as a spatial barrier between two men. Another chapter deals with the item of clothing. Here Mernissi blames Umar (R) for the institution of the veil. She says that the veil is the exact opposite to what Muhammad (S) wanted to bring about for women. There were Hypocrites who attacked women and were summoned to explain why they did that. They would argue that these women were slaves. So a method was needed to separate slave women from free women and the institution of the veil did that. Mernissi says that the verse on the veil then descended which veiled free women. Mernissi then presents this as a victory for the Hypocrites who could continue harassing female slaves. She then says that Umars (R) solution to hide women was to overshadow Islams dimension as a civilisation. In the last part of her chapter, The Hijab Descends on Medina she says:
This body of thought [i.e. Umars] made dar-al-Islam at the outset a pioneering experiment in terms of individual freedom and democracy. But the hijab fell over Medina and cut short the brief burst of freedom. Paradoxically, 15 centuries later it was colonial power that would force the Muslim states to reopen the questions of the rights of the individual and of women
In other words, Mernissis analysis of the veil is that it was something which was instigated by Umar (R) and was a victory for the hypocrites so that they could continue to abuse slaves whilst the free women were restricted. However, her last paragraph gives an idea of who initiated the debate on the hijab and the alleged Islamic restrictions on womens rights. I have yet to understand whether Fatima Mernissi believes that the Quran is Gods wordsfrom what she said about a particular verse does bring doubt.
Amina Wadud is an Islamic Studies Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies and Virginia Commonwealth University. I picked up her book, Quran and Woman in New York. Here she re-interprets the various aspects of women in a modern context. She rejects the 1400 years of interpretation by apparent male chauvinists. She only devotes a paragraph to the hijab. She says that the verse regarding the veil should be regarded as a verse on modesty rather than seclusion. She incorporates the various cultural contexts which would determine what modesty is and may vary from culture to culture. This is more in line with your view. So Wadud supports an open interpretation of modesty which would vary according to cultural norms. She says in the introduction:
This method of restricting the particulars to a specific context, extracting the principles intended by the Quran through that particular, and then applying those principles to other particulars in various cultural contexts, forms a major variation from previous exegetical methodologies. The movement from principles to particulars can only be done by the members of whatever particular context a principle is to be applied. Therefore, interpretation of the Quran can never be final.
Prof. Leila Ahmed
I will not deal with Ahmed as I have not read her book, Gender and Islam and I do not know what her view is on the hijab. However, I did attend her lecture a few years ago at a London University. Polygamy is an interesting issue which feminist revisionists try to reinterpret. There is a verse in the Quran that allows men to have up to four wives as long as they are dealt with in a just manner. When Ahmed was asked about polygamy, she then countered with another verse in the Quran (4:129) which says:
You are never able to be just and fair as between women
Amina Wadud in her book quotes the same part of that verse. Thus it gives the impression that Polygamy is not allowed or is looked down on. However, both these women do not finish the verse. The full context is given below:
You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it be your ardent desire, so do not incline too much to one of them so as to leave the other hanging. And if you do justice, and do all that is right and fear Allah by keeping away from all that is wrong, then Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
In other words the verse acknowledges that it will be difficult to do equal justice between wives, but it does say that we should not ignore the other wife if we incline toward the favourite. So the verse does accept and allow polygamywith justice. But feminist revisionists always reinterpret or quote out of context to argue against polygamy.
I would like to know your views on polygamy, do you believe this to be an anti-woman institution which is outdated in the modern context? Or do you accept that men can have up to four wives as long as they are dealt with in a just manner?
Back to Hijab
You mention in your article that the Quran does not tell women to cover their heads but only their bosoms and neck. As far as I understand, the khimr is the cloth which women used to wear on their heads but didnt cover their necks or bosoms. So the verse on the hijab is telling women to draw their khimrs over their bosoms. In other words the hair, as well as the neck and bosoms are covered. A booklet I recommend you to read is entitled, In Support of Hijaab by Umma Hanna and deals with arguments brought up by revisionists. Furthermore you ignore the hadiths which indicate how the Wives of the prophet (R) dressed and what Muhammad (S) told Asma (R), the daughter of Abu Bakr (R) when she wore thin clothing, i.e. a woman should be covered apart from the hands and face.
If you reject hadith on the basis that it is idolatry you have to explain why you reject hadith. I know you mention that the Quran says it is complete and the best hadith. However, it also says that in Muhammad (S) is the best example for us and that Allah reveals the Quran and it is for the Messenger to explain it. Hence we have a body of Hadith where Muhammad (S) explains various aspects of the Quran. How can this be idolatry considering that Allah alone is worshipped and no partners? The hadith literature is another topic altogether. I have come across the Quran alone group, whose lectures I have attended and also watched on video (Muhammad Shaikh being the advocate of The Book only) and have read literature by the Submitters which also advocate Quran alone, as well as the largest deception of Muslims in history, namely the alleged 19 miracle. I dont know whether you belong to any of these groups, if so we can talk about their beliefs and why I find their arguments to be faulty and contradictory.
If you still advocate the idea that modesty is relative to cultural contexts, then you would also agree that mini-skirts are ok to wear because in some cultures this is not seen as immoral. These are the types of clothing which I have noticed many women wear in Western countries:
1. Mini skirts
2. Micro skirts
3. Long skirts with slits on the sides
4. Mini skirts with slits on the sides!
5. Low cut blouses, even see-through blouses
7. And if you are on the beeches then bikinis are the norms, with no moral objection whatsoever because bikinis are not regarded as immoral nor immodest. Some women would go even further and go topless on beechesagain within the environmental norms of the beech this is not seen as immodest nor immoral.
All he above descriptions of womens clothing in the West which have changed over the last 50 years would be regarded as norms in their relative cultural contexts. So by your argument, it would be ok for Muslim women to follow any of the above modes of dressing or undressing if they were in Western countries. This is the logical conclusion to your line of thinking. If you disagree, then what are your boundaries? The conventional Muslim line is that the boundaries are clear and absolute and come from our Creator and the Messenger (who explains the message). If you believe that there are absolute boundaries then logically there should no room for flexibility according to cultural relativism. If you believe in cultural relativism then there is no room for absolute boundaries. You cant have it both ways and you need to resolve this apparent contradiction.
Historical Inheritence and Piety
You mention that the veil was something which Jewish/Christian women used to wear before Islam, hence a remnant of the past and therefore nothing to do with Islam. This is a null argument. Just because some women wore the veil prior to Islam does not negate its validity in Islam. There may be practices which existed prior to Islam which would then be made compuslory or forbidden under Islam. Likewise, marriage is an institution which existed before Islam in other cultures and faith groups. Just because it existed beforehand does not negate its validity under Islam, in fact the status of marriage is strengthened. Also take the role of men as providers for women. This existed before Islam but has been made compulsory for men to provide for their wives and families under Islam. Hence to invoke history in order to disqualify the validity of hijab is null and void.
You also argue that if hijab was a sign of piety then Mother Teresa would have been the first woman to be counted. Again this is a null argument. If hijab is made compulsory by our Creator then that is the reason why women should follow it. Whether it is a sign of piety or not is neither here nor there. The reason for womens dress code is given by our Creator Himself, it is so that they will be known and not molested. Piety is irrelevant.
The other aspect of your argument is that the Quran is complete in every thing. It is true that the Quran is the final message to Mankind till Judegement Day and no new message will come. But there are instances where the Quran does not have the answers to various situational problems hence we need ijtihad, which draws from the principles of the Quran and Sunnah and applies them to the new contexts. I do recall reading in a Hadith (dont know the reference) that a man came up to the prophet and asked what should be done if a problem arises and the solution is not in the Quran. He said that we should look to his sayings, if not then use your own judement. I need to find this hadith, however as far as I know the method of resolving new problems is to look into the Quran, if the answer is not there, then the sunnah, if not then the consensus of the Companions (R), if not then the scholars who would come up with a solution based on the principles of the Quran and Sunnah, if not then our own judgement. Part of the reason for the decline of the Muslim empire was that the gates of ijtihad were closed and the Ummah stagnated.You may ask what new problems could arise which are not in the Quran? Here are a few pointers:
1. Organ donations
2. Examination of human bodies for medical purposes
3. Stem Cell research on embryos to help with Parkinson disease patients
4. If and when Muslims venture into space there will be no such thing as night and day because the sun will always be there. So how should Muslims perform their prayers given that they will not be able to do the five daily prayers at the right time according to the movement of the Sun?
5. In space where there is no gravity, Muslims would not be able to go through the motions of prayer as they do on Earth, so how will they perform the prayer? And in which direction?
6. If Muslims go to Mars and the time of Fasting comes (assuming they can fastwhich might be detrimental to their health) which of the two moons should they follow with regards to timing, Deimos or Phobos?
7. If in a couple of hundred years time, new life is discovered elsewhere or we meet intelligent beings from other planets, how are we to deal with first contact and subsequent contacts?
The Quran states that men can go to space but it doesnt specify how we are to observe the rituals should we venture out. This is where ijtihad comes in. The Quran states that there is life elsewhere in the universe but doesnt specify how we should interact with an intellligent alien species. Again, this is where ijtihad comes inI might add here that the Catholic Church is ahead on this and has worked out how to handle contact with new civilisations and what impact this contact might have on established religions, especially Christianity (for further reading I recomemmend a book called, Are We Alone? by Prof. Paul Davis. He examines the difficulties that Christianity might face if new civilisations are discovered elsewhere in the universe and how Christians are dealing with this. But I would add that this would be no problem whatsoever for Islam as our Creator has mentioned about life elsewhere in the universe).
This is what I see so far, when a clear verse on the hijab is revealed (with explanation by the Messenger) you say that this is open to interpretation according to relative cultural norms. However, when ijtihad is carried out on areas where there is no clear answer in the Quran, you say this is idolatry. Can you see the contradiction in your line of thinking?
Again let me thank you for your contribution and a response to my arguments would be welcome. But your primary response to acts of aggression against innocent civilians in Jenin would be even more welcome.