What are we to make of the women in Iran who are taking off their head coverings and waving them on sticks in public? Are they…
- dire threats to the very foundation of the Iranian nation
- misguided young people acting childishly
- noble freedom fighters to be admired for their courage
29 have been arrested that we know about, and it remains to be seen whether the gesture will spread like wildfire as more and more women throw off the symbol of their servitude, or whether it will peter out, relegated to the many failed attempts of reformers through the ages to alter religious customs and strictures.
Their bravery is considerable. We know they are fined at the very least, but are they also harangued, beaten, tortured? Are they called whores? Molested? Sentenced to lengthy jail terms? And what is their argument when confronted by the men who run the country, the ultra-islamists who point to the verse in the Holy Qur’an that clearly backs up their belief that women must cover their hair? Could they ever convince their jailers that there are good reasons to throw off the head coverings and let each woman dress as she pleases? The argument might go something like this:
Woman: The covering is uncomfortably hot.
Islamist: It’s in the Qur’an that you have to wear it.
Woman: It makes me feel like a second-class citizen.
Islamist: It’s in the Qur’an, don’t you understand. The Blessed Prophet wrote that you must wear it.
Woman: That was 1,400 years ago. Times have changed.
Islamist: You are wrong. His words came from Allah, to be respected for all time. Are you saying that Allah came to you with a message that his Prophet was mistaken when he wrote that 1,400 years ago? Have you lost your faith?
If you look more closely at the hijab arguments of an Muslim apologist, the parsing of words, the minutiae, it’s remarkably like the arguments from Catholic holy fathers with regard to the finer points of their rituals and why they must be performed just so and not any other way. Any change is a hole in the dyke that will weaken the entire structure, built up carefully many centuries ago to hold back the pounding waves of sin and chaos that threaten to overwhelm our race. Or in short, it’s the Word of God. Believe it.
An interesting way to approach the hijab issue would be a Muslim trying to convince a non-Muslim to get on board with Islam. There are many good arguments for embracing Islam including a sense of peace, a spiritual connection with the universe, a rejection of materialism, wealth, and lewdness. But how do you convince a heathen that Allah spoke to Mohammed and Mohammed is the one who wrote it all down in the 7th century? Look into your heart? Intuition? Faith, faith, faith…..! A tall order. The question raised by the women of Iran is, basically, can we edit the Qur’an and agree that much of what is a part of Islam is of tremendous value, but other parts are reflections of an ancient culture, not the mind of God at all, but the desire of men.
So what it comes down to with the hijab is this: If you believe that centuries ago the Creator of the Universe told His Prophet everything we all need to know about how to live our lives, then there is no point in arguing. The head covering stays on, the disgruntled go to jail.
But if you believe that positive change is possible, and the way to gauge whether a change is positive or not is by whether it delivers benefit to individuals, then you have made the transition from a faith-based philosophy to one based on the Greater Good.