The Big Pharaoh
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Friday, March 25, 2005

Unveiling the mind

I had a very heated debate with a colleague of mine that literally raised my blood pressure! I want to share it with you.
My colleague is a very decent guy and a little bit religious. I will call him AB. Below is a brief transcript of our conversation.

AB: I am getting engaged.

GM: Mabrouk (arabic for congrats). Who is she?

AB: A friend from college. She is very good, religious, and muhajaba (wears the head cover or the veil).

GM: OK but wearing the veil is not indication of how "good" someone is. Many muhajabat are decent and good girls but other muhajabat are not, the same with those who don't wear the veil.

AB: You are right, but as you know, the hijab is a fard (an obligation on all muslim women)

GM: Says who? How can Allah be so small as to concentrate on a piece of cloth? How can Allah send a good woman to hell just because she is not wearing the veil? He can't be so unjust and unfair and so narrow minded.

AB: So you want Muslim girls to wear bikinis and tight jeans? Is that what you want? The hijab protects the girl from hormone driven males?

GM: nonsense. Why do you go to extremes? Why do you think I want girls to run around in miniskirts? Besides, the hijab cannot guarantee their protection. I have seen muhajaba girls get harassed on the street. Haven't you read stories of veiled girls who got kidnapped and raped? They face the same danger as those who don't wear it.

AB: The hijab is a fard. You cannot choose to do some of God's orders and leave others.

GM: says who? The hijab is a new phenomenon that mushroomed in the 70s during the rise of political Islam in Egypt.

AB: That's wrong. It is written in the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the prophet). Haven't you read Al-Noor chapter?

GM: I did. I read the Quran and the Bible as well. Let me explain my point clearly. I said that in Egypt we have witnessed the rise of the hijab phenomenon during the revolution of political Islam that President Sadat allowed in order to counter the influence of communists in Egypt's universities. I am sure you've seen some of Um Kalthoum's (a very popular singer who died in 1975) concerts; I'll give you $1 million if you spotted ONE lady who was wearing a veil! Go ask your grandmother whether she wore the veil when she was 20. She'll tell you no. I asked my grandmother and she told me that nobody heard about the obligation of the hijab during her years as a young lady. I have seen pictures in her album and I haven't seen ONE single muhajaba woman. Weren't those ladies back in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s Muslims?? They prayed, they gave alms, they did all the obligatory stuff but no one back then heard that the hijab is a green card to paradise or that it is a must.

AB: you are wrong. Look at the 1919 revolution, they were wearing the veil. It is written in the Quran. You cannot deny this.

GM: In 1919 it was more of a traditional dress. It was a full attire and not just a head cover. It hadn't this religious connection back then. As for the Quran, people can interpret the Quran as they see fit. The scriptures that discuss the covering of women are open for dialogue and interpretations and re-interpretations. They are not crystal clear given the fact that we should take the historical context into consideration. Besides, some of the things written in the Quran we cannot do today. The Quran and the sayings of the prophet were written in a specific period of time for specific people who were living in a specific time frame. Our job is to use our minds and discover the basics that the Quran calls for and realize that some of the "non basic" stuff were written to suit this period. For example, over 150 years ago, a man could buy as many female slaves as he wants to sleep with them even though he was married. If you spoke to him back then, he will swiftly respond that his actions are condoned by Islam. He is right, the Holy Scriptures allow such behavior. We do not do such stuff today because it is not allowed worldwide anymore. Religion allowed it because it was normal back then. We need to use our minds and not take the scriptures so literally while closing our eyes to the historical context.
AB: You know, all the problems we face are because we do not do Allah's commands.
GM: I don't know why you changed the subject AB but I will answer you. I disagree with you. Back in the golden liberal age of Egypt, when this country was the hub of literature, music, movies, and poets of the region, the people might not have been as religious crazy as they are today. Yet no one can deny that Egypt back then was more successful than today. Our stock exchange was ranked among the top 10 in the whole world, look at it now! Being religious or not is not a factor in success.

The door opened and someone entered. We had to change the subject. I am glad we did that because my blood pressure was beginning to rise! Also it seems that nothing will convince my friend. That was so clear from the way he wanted to change the subject.


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