COMMENTARY: Hijab: a symbol of liberation and not of oppression

This brought to mind a similar hijab incident at Pilar College whose authorities steadfastly refused to listen to the imploration of Muslim parents on behalf of their veiled daughters. They adamantly reasoned that no one forced them to enroll their children at Pilar College and so they have to conform to school regulations just as non-Muslim OFWs have to conform to Muslim countries’ legal compulsion for the former to wear the veil.

Reiterating my pronouncement during the Magna Carta for Women Conference organized by Cong Beng G. Climaco where we lobbied for the rights for equal educational opportunity for Muslim women in the Philippines, I observed that infringement on the Muslim student’s right to wear the veil is a result of profound ignorance of its divine merit and significance. Asking a Muslimah to take off her veil is not as ordinary as asking her take off her hat; or as mundane as asking her to take off her coat; or as simple as asking her to take off her shoes.

In Islam, the female body, excepting the face and the hands, is considered “private parts” (awrat or juyyubihinna), and thus, the Qur’an ( XXIV: 31; XXXIII:59) and Ahadeeth have so decreed that it must be covered before public eyes and even in private, i.e., home if in the midst of prohibited or restricted males. Thus, the school
authorities are unaware that asking a Muslim student to take off her head veil is tantamount to asking her to strip off her unmentionables, her undergarments, or her underpants! Thus, such action is an encroachment upon her right to privacy; it is synonymous to stripping her nude or to physical transgression.

A Muslimah who wears the veil by choice, in her obedience and worship  of Allah as the Supreme Being fundamentally understands the wisdom of being covered. It is a protection of her hayya (modesty or chastity) just as the habit is as vital to a nun. How would a nun feel if one violates her habit? The hijab of a Muslimah is her shield from the penetrating bullet of evil desires of nafs / hawwa just as a knight would cover himself with an armor or a cop protect himself with a bulletproof vest. How would a cop feel if he is deprived of his armor? One Muslimah in the name of Danah Quijano said: It is my life; Islam is my life! Armed with her faith in Allah, rather than disobey Allah and resolute in safeguarding her chastity, she chose to deprive herself of a nursing career and shifted to RadTech. If you take off my veil, you are killing me! I understand Danah’s predicament, I resonate her sentiments; and I know many Muslimah empathize with her. How would an astronaut feel if he is deprived of his spacesuit which to him is his lifeline?

Such incidents trigger worst memories in the mid-1990’s of students being expelled from schools and by some of them who countered by successfully suing the French government; of one French student who staunchly fought for her Islamic aqeedah and shaved off her hair in defiance of the educational ban. She declared: “My decision to shave my head is dignified than committing sins by taking off my hijab.”

When “religious freedom in France was restricted by a law which outlawed religious proselytizing by persons of all faiths,” the French Minister of Education severely interpreted such law as banning the wearing of the hijab. Thus, he ordered the expulsion from schools of all female students who wore it. President Jacques Chirac of France was even quoted to have pronounced this statement: “Wearing a veil,
whether we want it or not, is a sort of aggression that is difficult for us to accept.” The Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger was alarmed that enacting a law banning the wearing of hijab in public schools would encourage an aggressive anti-religious trend. He commented: “This clumsy law risks reopening … a religious war.”

It is clear that the State and International Laws affirm the right to Islam and the right to wear the veil by Muslims is a fundamental right in as much as it is a substantive right; and for these very reasons it is ordained to be inalienable. The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines declares: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Article II, Section 6), and that, No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (Article III, Section 5).

Furthermore, the right to freedom of religion and the exercise of it is entrenched in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights1 (ICCPR). In the Philippines, Islam, as a comprehensive ad-deen or way of life, is also a deeply significant
part of the cultural and ethnic identity of the Bangsamoro people. As such the Muslim Filipinos’ freedom of religion is protected as both a cultural right by Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and as a right of minority groups by Article 27 of the ICCPR which states: In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Warina Sushi A. Jukuy of Sulu was an activist while a student at the Western Mindanao State University and remains to be so. She ran for governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2005).