The Times, Friday, 16th July 2010
Honouring human liberty and freedom
Laiq Ahmed Atif, The author is president, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta.
One common and most cherished fruit of life is liberty and freedom. Freedom is a basic right of all living things, man being no exception. Man is the embodiment of liberty, which is deeply rooted in him.
But, very amazingly, we find that certain man-made laws are against the liberty and freedom of man in the final analysis and such laws deprive a man of his fundamental human rights.
Sometimes, laws are made against displaying Christian crucifixes; sometimes against building minarets on mosques; and sometimes we find that some countries stand against building places of worship, such as synagogues, churches or mosques. And, most recently, laws are being introduced against the hijab or veil in certain countries.
Is this a definition of modern democratic governments that claim to safeguard the rights of their peoples? Is this the way to bring together people of different nations? Is this the way to foster love and affection among people? Most certainly, every just-minded person will oppose this because these things will build the walls of hatred ever higher and destroy the peace of the world.
These issues, thus, have become a source of sarcasm. However, there are some sober-minded people in whose hands are the reins of the Executive and Legislature who should not interfere with such matters. Should legislation be passed against Christians and Jewish ladies who also adopt religious attire? If bans are imposed against the Muslims, then Muslim countries may impose restrictions on some forms of Western dress in response. This issue has the potential to snowball and it will affect the peace of the world.
Let me make it very clear, the Ahmadiyya community does not support any such motion against human rights, whether in Muslim countries or in Christian countries or anywhere else in the world. We support and believe in full freedom and liberty for all human beings.
By all means, if there is any covering that hides the identity of a person and it is necessary to remove it to identify a person, then the governments or the authorities have the right to do so.
But what a travesty that a woman may be deprived from travelling simply because she is wearing the hijab!
Or a human life may be deprived of care in a hospital and left in the jaws of death because she was wearing a veil. Or to deprive a girl of education, however intelligent she may be, thus losing a national talent of a country only because she chooses to observe hijab or veil (a religious duty) not out of any compulsion but out of her own free will.
It is true that some Muslim women observe these teachings of Islam in such a manner that they have put on themselves some burdens that Islam did not prescribe. The purpose of the veil is to give women respect, honour and peace and not to burden them.
And Islam speaks in terms of a very moderate veil to provide protection to women and it does not say that women should be kept only at home or that they should wear those kinds of garments that even cover their eyes, hands, feet etc. and cause problems for them even to walk easily in the streets. Islam says you must remain moderate in the way you talk and behave.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat believes that a person’s choice of dress is a personal matter and a basic human right as are other rights. It believes that every human being must be given full liberty and freedom to practise his or her faith in every country, be it a Christian or a Muslim country. Islam teaches modesty for both men and women but underlying all Islamic injunctions is the Qur’anic principle that “There is no compulsion in religion”. Thus, if a woman, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, chooses not to cover her head then that is her right but, on the other hand, if a woman, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, chooses to cover her head or face then that too is her right and ought never to be interfered with.