Islamic attire for women—the burqa and hijab—are back in the news, though with a twist, as they cause problems and lawsuits in America, where they are legal. In France, however, they have been banned, and Muslim women are happily complying.
There is an instructive reason for this, but first, the stories from this week.
A Muslim-American woman, Kulsoom Abdullah, is trying to change the rules of competitive weightlifting to accommodate her. The rules require arms and legs to be bare so judges can see when elbows and knees are "locked," therefore being able to determine if a lift is successful. Most competitors wear a form-fitting body suit with short sleeves and short pants. Abdullah, however, says that "such exposure would violate her deeply held religious beliefs. But rather than giving up on her dreams of competitive weightlifting, she is pressing for a change in the sport's international rules," including "with the help of a lawyer, Muslim activists and the U.S. Olympic Committee."
And she won. The rules have been changed, in the words of the International Weightlifting Federation, to "promote and enable a more inclusive sport environment and break down barriers to participation."
It was also reported this week that Muslim-American Hani Khan is suing Abercrombie & Fitch, claiming the clothing retailer fired her for refusing to shed the hijab, an experience which in Khan's words "shook my confidence." She would be the third Muslim woman to sue Abercrombie for hijab reasons. But Khan is not trying to get her job back; rather, "her suit seeks to force Abercrombie to change its dress code to loosen restrictions on religious clothing… and is seeking back wages and unspecified damages."
In a statement, Abercrombie said, "We are committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all individuals regardless of religion, race or ethnicity. ... We comply with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodation."
Oddly, Khan's lawyer asserted that "Abercrombie prides itself on requiring what it calls 'a natural, classic American style.' But there is nothing American about discriminating against someone because of their religion." Apparently, work dress codes are now tantamount to "discriminating against someone because of their religion."
Meanwhile, in France, where Islamic dress is altogether banned, a new report suggests that Muslim women are happily complying—indeed, more Muslim women are traveling to France than before the ban:
Wealthy Gulf tourists are expected to continue to flock to France this summer in spite of a law that prohibits Muslim women from wearing the burqa, travel agencies said. Travel industry experts had initially feared a decline in Arab tourists after the April ban on full veils but now report no decline in peak-season bookings to France. Hotels.com, the parent company of the online travel website expedia.com, has seen a 219 percent increase in the number of searches for France from its Arabic Middle East site from April 1 to date. Searches for Belgium, which in 2010 passed a bill banning any clothing that would obscure the identity of the wearer, have increased 300 percent the website said.
Lest you think these Gulf women are any less pious than their American counterparts, there is a simple reason for why they are complying:
Islam's doctrine of taysir allows for hiyla, or the relaxation of Islamic law whenever Muslims find it inconvenient to uphold aspects of Sharia law, like when they are under infidel/Western authority. In fact, some of Islam's top leaders, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, for example, are great advocates of taysir, "especially for those Muslim minorities living in Europe and America."
Taysir is like a broader concept of taqiyya, which permits Muslims to lie when circumstances call for it, while taysir only permits Muslims to drop aspects of Sharia law when circumstances call for it.
But there is another distinction. The Gulf women traveling to France are tourists who are not nearly as acquainted with the West as their American counterparts. They naturally assume the West is like the Islamic world—actually tenacious about its customs and laws, hardly to be pushed around by minority groups. (This is precisely why Muslims in the West shamelessly push for the Ground Zero mosque -- Muslims in the Middle East can't believe it and think it's a Zionist conspiracy.)
Muslims living in the West, on the other hand, know how easily the West can be pushed into submission, so why settle for the Muslim option of taysir when they can score a victory for Islam—and make some money while at it?
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.