Shaimaa Khalil is the BBC’s Pakistan correspondent
I have just read your article about Burkinis on beaches…
VERY well written piece – nice to see the BBC can still publish well written articles!
Anyway, to my point:
I am overweight. The last time I went a beach, I wore, sat, swam and everything else in a t-shirt.
Yes, I do get ridiculed for it, but it is for MY comfort and it is MY choice.
It helps to hide the, let’s call it ‘middle-age-spread’, whilst also helping to prevent a deeper sunburn due to the fat heating deeper, lasting longer and, generally, being more painful.
Hence, I somewhat sympathise with the strange looks, etc..
I know there are differences – I am not ‘required’ to cover up any part of me, but I support those who do wear a Burkini, for their own, individual choice.
I must admit, I am pretty ignorant of the differences between Burka, Hijab, Burkini, etc. and I do believe there are times when a full covering is somewhat inappropriate – e.g. a Court hearing, or other instance where unequivocal identification is required.
However, ‘time and place’ comes to mind and people (NO differentiation at all!) should just be allowed to do what is comfortable and right for them.
The ban is, in my most humble opinion, wrong! Period.
I have worked and been to beaches with friends wearing similar clothing, due to their religion, but it has NEVER crossed my mind not to accept it. It’s life, it’s people having fun.
Keep on having fun and enjoying yourself – that is all that matters.
A quote that, also, comes to mind is:
‘Those that matter don’t mind and those that mind don’t matter’.
Would you want these ognorant people as friends?
I am taking the liberty that the answer is ‘no’, so it it does not matter what they think…
Good article, nice perspective.
Thank you for your insight!
One day, we will all be bought but a memory – I hope we can all be good ones…
I read your piece on burkini and I thought that it was a
well-argued post with a reasonable message.
The problem I had with it, is the narrow personal context in
which you placed the issue. If it is a matter of personal choice, as far as I
am concerned, you can wear a burkini, a bikini, a dragon outfit or nothing at
all. I wouldn’t take another look in your direction and I would wholeheartedly
support your right to choose.
But what if the choice was imposed upon you unbeknownst to
The implicit assumption behind your piece is that for most
Muslims covering up your head and body (and frequently your face) is an Islamic
requirement. And it is one of the sine qua non rules of Islam.
If you go back and take a look at family albums in Egypt or
any other Muslim country (except perhaps the Gulf countries where misogyny has
always been paramount) you will find that from the 1930’s onwards women either
wore no headscarves or if they did if was a loosely tied around the chin
“echarpe” favoured by contemporary Catholic women as well.
Burqa, niqab and hijab are much later creations. I can
provide links to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, North Africa, Turkey and
Indonesia to prove that covering yourself up was not the norm. I am sure you
must have seen the clip of Nasser laughing his head off about a suggestion by a
Muslim Brotherhood man to enforce headscarves. He says, “do it yourself in your
family if you can.”
The change took place after 1979. The House of Saud, which
allowed movies, music and a lively urban lifestyle after huge oil revenues, had
a rude awakening with the seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by several
hundred Wahhabis. The King killed them all but he also agreed to their demands,
including banning music and movies and removing girls from schools, and he also
decided to spend their new fortune on changing Islam.
Between then and now, Saudi Arabia spent roughly $200
billion to reduce Islam into three simple precepts.
(a)Islamic garb is a must for women and they should be
covered at all times (eventually Islamic garb became also a requirement for men
but not in the same compulsory way);
(b) Alcohol is one of the biggest sins in Islam and true
Muslims should never drink, never go into places where alcohol is sold and be
friends with people who drink.
(c) Blasphemy, that is insulting the Qur’an or Islam, is the
biggest sin of them all and should be punished by death.
Ask around and all your Muslim friends will agree with these
To reinforce this message, they built madrassas and mosques everywhere
in the world. In Pakistan it was Zia ul Haq that made it possible by
eliminating secular schools, in Turkey it was another general, Evren who pushed
Koranic courses, in Indonesia it was Suharto who converted in 1989, in Egypt,
it was Anwar Sadat who led the Islamisation of the army and society (little
good did to him). All with Saudi money. Not only did they build those madrassas
and mosques but they dispatched hundreds of thousands of radical imams to carry
Let’s look at those three precepts to see if what they say
Alcohol. It might surprise you that the Holy Book does not
ban alcohol. In fact, when something is forbidden, Qur’an does not equivocate.
For instance about pork: “Forbidden unto you are carrion and blood and
swine-flesh…. (5. Al Ma’ idah: 3).
For alcohol, this is what was revealed:
“They question you about strong drink and games of
chance. Say: In both is great abuse and usefulness for mankind; but the abusive
side of them is greater than their usefulness.” (2. Al-Baqarah :219).
As you know, Qur’an is not translated, it is rendered.
Typically this is rendered as “great sin and usefulness”. A sin cannot have
great usefulness. The Qur’an also says this:
“O you who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when you
are drunken, till you know that which you utter,. ….” (4. An-Nisa: 43).
Hardly a “forbidden unto you” message. But ask any Muslim
you know, they will say that it is strictly forbidden.
As for covering up women, hijab, burqa or niqab are never
mentioned in the Holy Book. People who want to cover women up usually quote
verses 30-31 of An-Nisa (24) surah. These verses talk about what should be
private and what should be public. If you take into account 5:6 about daily
ablutions, you realize that hands, arms, feet, face, head and hair are not considered
private. Yet, currently in some societies, even a burqa is sometimes not enough
But perhaps the best example of Saudisation of Islam is the
question of blasphemy, you know, the motivator behind all kinds of terrorist
activities. In the Qur’an you have two passages dealing with the issue of
making fun of or insulting Islam. The first is Al-An’am (68)
“And when you see those who engage in [offensive] discourse
concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another
conversion. And if Satan should cause you to forget, then do not remain after
the reminder with the wrongdoing people.”
This was revealed to the Prophet when he was in Mecca and it
was the mashrikun making fun of Islam. Ask any Muslim scholar how offensive
this should be, yet the instruction is clear: do nothing, move away.
Then, several years later in Medina, Christians and Jews
made fun of Islam. This is what was revealed (An-Nisa (140))
“And it has already come down to you in the Book that when
you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and
ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation.
Indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed Allah will gather the hypocrites
and disbelievers in Hell all together.”
Two extremely clear revelations by Allah on blasphemy. Yet,
there is not a single Muslim state that does not punish the same crime with
either long prison sentences or death. Is there a bigger sin in Islam than
knowingly and willfully disobeying Allah? Yet all Islamic organizations and
states are doing it in broad daylight.
Ask any Muslim what the Holy Book says about blasphemy. I
guarantee you that all of them will tell you it is a mortal sin punishable by
death. This is why they reacted to the Danish cartoons and Charlie Hebdo
That is because no one bothers to read the Qur’an, instead
they take the word of their local imam who clearly has a different agenda than
Do you see what I mean by Saudisation of Islam?
Your burkini or hijab should be your choice.
But if someone spent a great deal of money and effort to
make sure that Muslims define themselves through these three precepts, then you
should question why a burkini or hijab or burqa might not be a personal choice.
If they persuaded you that without it you are no longer a Muslim, there can be
no personal choice. And this is exactly what had been done.
At this point, my friends invariably ask my why Saudi Arabia
did this. I say, you tell me.
But I will tell you this, there is another interesting twist
to this massive effort. It is about Muslims in the West.
If you think about it, making you wear special garments in
the middle of a Western society and asking you to cut yourself off from anyone
who consumes alcohol or anyplace that sells the stuff is a perfect way to
isolate you, to ostracize you. It is designed to turn you inward and to make
you “the other.”
It was a slow moving process until 9/11. The rising
Islamophobia afterwards helped those imams enormously. Many Muslim women in
Europe began to wear hijab as a political statement. And when they were greeted
with open hostility, their imams were there to remind them what they preached
previously. They hate you because you are Muslims, they said.
So, Muslims in the West began to turn inwardly. You started
seeing women in burqas or almost burqas following men with shaved heads and
bushy beard wearing shalwar kameezes. Molenbeek in Belgium or Saint Denis
outside Paris will give you enough visuals on that score. And the more they
turned themselves into the other, the more the larger society treated them with
hostility and contempt.
And their imams told them, you see, that is because you are
Muslims. It is a vicious cycle with both sides stubbornly and blindly playing
In that context, the lost souls of the second generation
became easy targets for radicalization. But that is another story.
So if you see burkini as a personal choice, that is one
thing and I am with you on that.
But if burkini is part of an effort to change what being a
Muslim is through three silly precepts then you need to discuss its political
context as well. Because in that context, Islamic garb is something designed to
isolate you, to turn you into “the other” and to force you to face a hostile
reaction from the larger society.
Please don’t tell me that the larger society has no business
reacting to you. Thanks to the third precept i.e., blasphemy Islamic garb is
now firmly associated with violence. It is unfair but so is life.
And it was and still is the responsibility of Muslims to
take back their religion that was hijacked by a cynical ruling family.
When people ask me about Islam, they silent question is
“what is wrong with Islam?” I do two things. First I tell them the answer to
their silent question is “Muslims who are too lazy to learn about their
religion and rely on misogynistic Salafist imams”.
Second, I buy them a copy of Karen Armstrong’s book on Islam
(which is available for free on the Internet in pdf form) as it is the best
source to find out that Islam, outside the shackles of political authority, is
a glorious religion.