How does a Muslim woman really assert her rights? This seems to be an underlying question in many discussions on Islam worldwide and touches on issues of choice and self-determination. However, questions like this can never be answered in one way because of the diversity of Muslim communities that cannot be defined by one culture, one outlook, one interpretation of faith, or one context. Not only must we address this reality, we must truly engage it and work with the consequences. Although a topic that seems so overly debated, Muslim women’s bodies continue to be a part of different political landscapes. The veil–along with all its numerous manifestations–needs to be critically assessed by women (enough discussions by men) and appropriated in a way to represent what they choose about their faith.
The event that provokes me to write on this question is French president Nicholas Sarkozy’s address to Parliament on June 22nd, in which he spoke of eliminating the burqa. While his comments alone are provocative, it is interesting to read them in light of President Obama’s speech a little over two weeks earlier where he spoke of a woman’s right to choose to veil. For me, the question is really one of the right to determine one’s relationship to their faith. By this I mean that a Muslim woman, wherever she lives, should have the right to determine her relationship with Islam without anyone deciding that for her. If President Sarkozy is concerned for the rights of Muslim women, he should make an effort to dialogue with Muslim women in his country and find out the challenges that they face and the rights that they seek. He may find it is very different than what he anticipated. In fact, its important that Muslim communities worldwide engage in this dialogue among themselves. Women are half of the Ummah, the Muslim worldwide community, and should have the right to self-determination.
How did you react to President Sarkozy’s comments? Have you felt unable to determine how you express your religious commitment? What do you think are the really concerns of women? Please leave your comments below.