To Veil or Not to Veil: That is the Question.
Ethiocross// February 1, 2008// By G. Ayalew."The particular episode commenced due to an attempt by the Ethiopian ministry of Education to enforce the dos and don'ts in a 5 page clear and firm communication it dispensed in Mekelle University. Albeit the rules and regulations articulation without bias of limitations in the dress-code and other church and state related matters on the grounds of the university, students of the Islam faith were evidently apprehensive."
A veil according to the American Heritage Dictionary is "A length of cloth worn by women over the head, shoulders, and often the face." As simple as this meaning may sound to any reader, how veiling is perceived in various parts of the world is rather complex. In very recent years, months, and weeks, many devout Muslims, religious leaders of the Islam faith, scholars, politicians as well as ordinary citizens have gone back and forth trying to justify their perspectives.
The religious say, to veil is a mandate by Allah as written in the Quran. Scholars call attention that the same verse is misinterpreted by some religious leaders hence suggesting that the Quran does not specifically mandate veiling, but simply speaks about modesty, respect, and the covering of the body. Politicians argue there must be a separation of church and state hence advocating, that nations can better serve their citizens by strict implementation of the secularist ideals.
Leaders of different nations, be it officially or in private have expressed in more ways than one, that veiling is a backward culture that society must break away from. For instance, when Egypt's culture minister casually told an interviewer that he personally considered veiling a backward practice; the ensuing public outcry forced him to recant. Comparably, past Turkish presidents have refused to admit scarved women to official receptions. And two nations that are virtually Muslim, Turkey and Tunisia are at one end of the Muslim spectrum; both ban female civil servants, as well as students in state schools, from covering their hair. On the other hand, citizens, Muslim and non Muslim alike, have different takes on whether women should be allowed to veil in public schools, state work places, courts, or government facilities. Their expressions that manifest the gamut of impressions from disgust to appreciation to say the least, accentuate how divisive the subject can be.
By all measurements, this is a topic that knows no boundaries as it has become controversial in The People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia today. This nation of about 70 million or so population, consisting of numerous religions with diverse cultures and traditions, apparently is being challenged by the Diaspora Muslim community on account of one of its agencies exertion to stay secular.
The particular episode commenced due to an attempt by the Ethiopian ministry of Education to enforce the dos and don'ts in a 5 page clear and firm communication it dispensed in Mekelle University. Albeit the rules and regulations articulation without bias of limitations in the dress-code and other church and state related matters on the grounds of the university, students of the Islam faith were evidently apprehensive.
According to the document central to this controversy, it appears the ministry underscored articles in the nation's constitution to amplify its intentions to interpret and implement laws that pertain to its design.
Subsequently, Badr International Ethiopian Muslims Organization that is playing a vanguard role asserts its adamant intentions to get the rules reversed, for reasons it claims infringe on the right of citizens to freely exercise their religions and keep their cultural and historical values.
In light of these developments, it is important to acknowledge religion is a private matter that needs no meddling by government, as it also has no place in dictating how government should conduct. If a government adopts separation of church and state as its constitutional principle, enforcing it to the full extent without any prejudice, is vital to its existence. Ethiopia, a nation that has time and after been commended for the religious tolerance its people has for so long practiced, has in recent years shown signs of intolerance. What brought this phenomenon into existence is anybody's guess. Some suggest unwanted foreign influence has found its way around the durable coexistence. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi 'claims that Qatar and other un-named Arab Sunni Muslim states were financing Eritrea's covert operations against Orthodox Christian Ethiopia. He suggested Eritrea was intent on radicalizing Ethiopia's Muslims, particularly in the eastern Somali regional state where a low-level insurgency has been underway for the past two years.' On the other hand, others allege the government short of foresightedness, ventured the status quo for political expediency. No matter which we choose to believe, suffice to say spirituality must remain for self and country for all.
And in the final analysis, there is not one place on earth where people of a nation are one and the same in every aspect-be it in their culture or tradition, religion or ethnicity, social stratum or political affiliation. One crucial element that helps sustain an equitable coexistence has always been tolerance that engages in making sure rights take precedence over all interests of all groups. If our objective is social harmony, our steps should remain clear of others' toes.1.The Veil and Veiling; www.skidmore.edu/academics/arthistory/ah369/finalveil.htm
2.Economist.com; Muslims and the veil: The meaning of Freedom; May 10, 2007 Ankara, Cairo and Tehran.
3.Ellen Knickmeyer; Islamic Attire Dominates Debate Before Turkish Vote: Secularist Fear an Increase In Activist Fandamentalism; Washington Post Foreign Service, July 22,2007
4. Economist.com; Muslims and the veil: The meaning of Freedom; May 10, 2007 Ankara, Cairo and Tehran.
6. http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2246188,00.html: 'To impose democracy from outside inherently undemocratic'; Simon Tisdall; January 25, 2008.
Ethiocross regular writer G. Ayalew can be reached at:- firstname.lastname@example.org