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No Compulsion in Religion

Adil Salahi

Arab News, 4/20/04

Q. In our university in the US there is a Muslim Students’ Association. Yet because of different views our biggest problem is dress. Some are of the opinion that all the Muslim women in the group must wear the hijab. They refuse to let anyone who does not wear the hijab to do anything in the name of the group, except for menial tasks like taking notes during meetings etc. Also, for some reason, they insist that the president of the organization be a man and that there be a “sister’s representative” for the women. Even though I wear the hijab, I do not feel that it is the job of the male members of the group to force other members to don the garment. Certainly, they may advise that the sisters do so, but after that, it is between each woman and God.

I understand the point of a lot of sisters. Wearing the hijab is difficult in America. People stare at you, look at you weird, think that you are oppressed, and since 9/11 even try to label you as a terrorist. It takes a person of strong will to wear the hijab, and some people just are not ready, though most of them really want to. I do not think that it is the duty of the Muslim Students’ Association to ostracize people who they do not think are “religious enough” or restrict certain people because of what they look like outside. After all, it would not be fair to insist that all the men in the group grow beards. Please comment on this issue. It has divided the Muslims in our small community to the point that there are now two Muslim student groups on campus.

A. Mohamad

A. I agree with everything the reader says. To start with, no one is responsible for another person’s compliance with Islamic teachings. This is a matter for the individual. To insist that a certain person must wear this or that, even though it is required by Islam, is to go beyond what Islam requires. We may have brothers or sisters whose compliance with Islamic teachings leaves something to be desired. We do not appoint ourselves as their keepers or guardians, because God does not want some of us to act as though they can judge others. How does any one of us know that the woman who is not able to wear Islamic dress is not closer to God than himself? She may be, after all, weak on this point but strong on others. She may be very keen and sincere in her observance of other Islamic duties and she may volunteer something additional. Her sincerity may earn her greater reward than others who appear to us to be more devout. It is not for us to judge anyone or to discriminate against anyone for their behavior.

Besides, when people adopt the attitude the reader describes, they actually drive the weaker members away from the rest of the Muslim community, when they should try everything to bring them closer. God says to the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him): “We will strengthen you with your brother.” (28: 35) Unfortunately, those people in your students association do not realize that their sisters would be better able to comply with the hijab requirement if they were made more welcome in the student community. While if they are treated as second class members, they are more likely to be isolated and find themselves weaker.

As for insisting on having a man president of the association, they have no argument for that. I suppose they liken it to the rule that the head of state cannot be a woman, but being a president of a student association does not constitute anything similar to that. A group of Muslims who have an organization looking after their welfare could choose a woman for their president, if she is capable. In fact they should choose her if she is the best of them for the task.




















Earth, a planet hungry for peace


The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers (Ran Cohen, pmc, 5/24/03).


The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, like a Python. (Alquds,10/25/03).

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