Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Michael Jackson and the Burqa

“Likewise, it is important for 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. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.”
- President Obama

The death of Michael Jackson, and the speech made by President Sarkozy of France regarding Burqa may seem unconnected, but not for the community of believers (Muslims). This connection is not alluding to the numerous reports of Michael Jackson reverting to Islam, that may or may not be true, but for sure, his brother Jermaine Jackson has reverted to Islam for sometime. In the subsequent points, the connection between the two events will be elaborated.

In life, nothing is guaranteed except death, yet the society is shaken, whenever a well-known personality dies before attaining old age, as life is taken for granted. Despite all the technological advances humanity is no closer to conquering death. A person can have a sudden heart failure or become terminally ill in their youth, or die of old age. As the Quran states ‘every soul will taste death’, there will never be an exception.

For the dominant secular creed, death is the end, reflecting its underlying materialist philosophy. Accordingly, they advocate the essence of life is simply to meet the carnal desires until death arrives. In that case, human beings are no different to animals in terms of their purpose in life. However, human beings have something unique - that is the ability to think and develop ideas. Hence, they exhibit progression, as each successive generation makes advances on the knowledge inherited. In contrast, animals are somehow pre-programmed to perform the same task, using the same methods and means; it hunts, kills, devours, and procreates.

Therefore, unlike animals, our awareness through the faculty of thinking tells us human beings must have some higher purpose in life, everything around us has been designed to permit the limited life span to flourish. How could one arrive at this point through mere chance?

If we accept the rational premise that life has a purpose, and our existence is not a mere coincidence, then it follows death cannot be the end, there is more to come. For the believers, death is merely a temporary stop on one long journey; it marks the beginning of what is to come, the next eternal life. This life must have some consequence for the next life; otherwise, the two events are disconnected which would make life on earth meaningless.

The connection between life on earth, death and the life in the hereafter manifests in following the divine injunction that permits the believers to navigate the difficult terrains of life. One of those divine injunctions is the dress code for men and women in society. This is the connection, for a believer wearing the veil is a divine injunction that has implication in this life, and in the hereafter when they are bought to account for their deeds.

Exhibiting modesty by covering our body is another visible sign that marks the distinction between human beings and animals. Indeed, every society enforces a minimum level of clothing, indicating the natural disposition of human beings. Therefore, a nudist camp like homosexuality is diverging from the normal straight path. For the believers minimum level of clothing to be worn in public is prescribed by the divine revelation, whereas the secular and liberal societies the goalpost is constantly moving. The recent comment made by Sarkozy raises this debate as to what should be the desired level of clothing enforced in society.

His comments would have been taken more seriously, had he not concealed it behind the pretence of concern for the welfare of Muslims women. If that was the case, he could easily have found groups of Muslim women in his country to speak on the issue, especially who may have removed the Burqa after being forced to wear it in a liberal society like France. Of course, he could not come up with such evidence. Such pretentious speech of Sarkozy echoes the recent statement made by Barak Obama in Cairo: ‘We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.’ If Sarkozy is that concerned about the welfare of women, he could have started to tackle real issues like domestic violence or the seedy industry of prostitution and porn that runs into millions of Francs. Perhaps then, he might have been crowned by the Pope as the new mini-Emperor of France.

There are reasons why Sarkozy could not present the argument with a degree of honesty as elaborated by the following points:
  • One of the fundamental values of a liberal secular society is personal freedom, the right of the women to choose, be it covering up with a Burqa or stripping down to a miniskirt with a low-cut top. Sarkozy’s attempt to deny this right of choice is inconsistent with his secular values. Furthermore, many would point to the underlying motive of a ‘man’ to oppose the right of a woman to wear modest clothing. Maybe this is why he is married to a former nude model!

  • It is implied by Sarkozy and the secular culture in general that replacing the modest clothes with attires that provokes the male sexual instinct is a sign of modernity and progression. If removing the clothes is a sign of progression, then why have any limitations at all in the first place. Make the entire country a nudist camp. In short, the boundary drawn in a secular society is arbitrary, which in any case is constantly moving.

  • Sarkozy makes a flawed assumption about the cloth being forced upon the Muslims women. If it was Afghanistan or Saudi, one could assume that but surely not in liberal France. A woman in Burqa is a confident woman sending a message that I am not available for any predatory male on heat! A woman like that can only be accessed with a dignified marital contract. For sure, such a woman is very intimidating for many men who prefer to have that ease of access.

  • Even the reference to the imposition of Burqa in places like Afghanistan and Saudi cannot be argued against, as every society enforces a certain code of dress. If the parents were not enforcing Burqa on their daughters perhaps, they would be enforcing the miniskirt, or some other dress code.

It is amusing that Sarkozy refers to the issue of dignity of women as if he is an expert to speak on the subject with his record of accomplishment! The Burqa does not degrade the woman, but the scanty dress designed to provoke the male interests is what degrades women, projecting them into sexual objects to be devoured by predatory men, like Sarkozy. If you still doubt this point, try this simple test. Ask a group of women randomly picked, give them two choices, to strip in front of a crowd down to their undergarments or go fully covered, see which path would they choose?

Yamin Zakaria
UK, London

Copyright © Yamin Zakaria 2009


  1. At first I was baffled as to what sort of a connection there could possibly be between the king of pop and the burqa but as I read on it was easy to see the relation. It is well written and openly points out to sarkozy's hypocrisy.

  2. Hi Yamin,

    I received your email from Media Monitors but found your response inadequate. You said:

    "I merely made the point that if removing clothes is a sign of progression and hence the argument against veil in general then surely why have any limitations, turn the country into a nudist camp. Its not circular at all."

    No one has said that progress is a linear process from fully clothed to fully nude. In fact that is not even the issue. The issue is whether or not there can be reasonable restrictions on clothing at either end of the spectrum. My view is no but subject to certain time and place restrictions.

    Strangely you cite public nudity laws in arguing your point which strikes me as incredibly odd. On the face of it, if public nudity laws are justifiable than restrictions on burqas is justifiable. You can't hold up the importance of freedom in one context and ignore it in the other.

    Personally I prefer my clothing right in the middle (not to flashy, not to restrictive); but don't really care if one decides to go one way or the other.

  3. Hi KC

    All I am saying is, the implication of the secular argument seems to be that progression is equated with wearing immodest (less) clothes, as they argue against the veil. This is what they imply from their argument. I posed the question as to what basis they can claim it represents progression?

    I did not cite nudity laws in the article.

    Finally the minimum level of clothing enforced is subjective and the goal post is always moving for a secular society. So how can they dictate what is right and what is wrong?


  4. Yamin - Then you are misinterpreting the secular argument.

    I note that on another one of your posts you suggest that a society is justified in dictating morality to its citizens. Why can western society not do so here if the burqa does not accord with its values?

  5. Hi KC

    Please state how I am misinterpreting the argument and how you understand it.

    As for society dictating morality is the status-quo, I am not suggesting it is right or wrong but that is the reality of how we live.