OPINION

Hijabs, kirpans— what must God think of all this?

BARBARA AMIEL March 19 2007
OPINION

Hijabs, kirpans— what must God think of all this?

BARBARA AMIEL March 19 2007

Hijabs, kirpans— what must God think of all this?

OPINION

Even given his concern for sparrows, the likelihood of God being concerned with hijabs seems small. He created both Eve and her Islamic equivalent, Hawaa, naked. No hats. The Koran itself doesn’t worry about head coverings, remarking only that women should be modest in appearance and sensibly adding that righteousness is the best outfit of all.

If Ottawa’s Asmahan “Azzy” Mansour, age 11, wants to interpret modesty as meaning she should wear a hijab, that’s her choice, though given that her Italian-Canadian mother does not wear one and Azzy was 9 when she decided to don the scarf, one might be forgiven for suspecting some psychological undertones. No matter. She looks like one hell of a soccer player from the photos of her leaping in the air, foot extended, face screwed up in determination with hijab in place, legs covered by thick tights under her soccer shorts.

The Muslim referee who said no to Azzy’s hijab during a tournament in Laval, Que., claimed to be following the orders of FIFA, the international governing body of soccer based in Zurich. In theory they don’t approve any head coverings, though on investigation they seem more flexible. More likely the ref’s decision reflected the cultural wars of Quebec, a province busily reinforcing the mantra of “maîtres chez nous” where neither Anglos nor Muslims will tell Quebecers what to do. The various human rights commissars in Canada must be dying to come to the aid of a hijab, but after letting the entire English language and educational system be guillotined in Quebec, how can they now rescue Azzy’s head?

A hijab is usually a cap with a scarf over top. The scarf is often pinned somewhere, which could scratch another player, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Azzy somehow fixes hers without a pin. Sources for athletic headgear for Islamic women include Capsters, a Dutch design company, and Aheda Zanetti, whose design for a two-piece “Burqini” is now worn by Islamic women in Australia’s volunteer lifeguards. The Burqini needs no pin, and does the job while being unbecoming as sin, which makes it less of a fashion statement than the hijab. The regulators of soccer, in which the head is another limb to hit the ball, may feel that two layers of material gives the hijabbed head an advantage—or a disadvantage if the material is slippery. Still, establishing hijab specifications or doing pregame hijab searches would hardly promote good sportsmanship.

BARBARA AMIEL

I get marginally exercised about groups in our society that feel that the larger culture should change to accommodate beliefs and choices they freely make. Or that no disadvantage should ever be attached to any choice made by them. For a long time, Orthodox Jews understood they couldn’t take jobs requiring them to work on Saturdays, and evangelical Christians would not work on Sundays. Now most groups want their private choices to become public policy. The notion, for example, that you want to be a police commissioner, as Susan Eng did in 1989 Toronto, but won’t swear an oath to the Queen, ought in my view to disqualify you from becoming a police commissioner.

The oath was later changed.

On merits, I genuinely couldn’t care less what a railway worker or RCMP officer has

I suspect all our dress codes and dietary rules are a source of amusement to Him

on his head. Or hers. As far as I’m concerned, wear a Prussian helmet with a banana tree on it. It is the spirit of entitlement that takes for granted that sports, private clubs, occupations, institutions and buildings should change their rules and accommodate them on demand that riles me. If someone wants to wear their ceremonial dagger to school, fine, but it’s a matter of random discretion, not an entitlement.

What must God think of all this? Of one thing I am certain: whatever he turns out to be will bear no resemblance to the god imagined by any of the religions I know, ancient or modern, monoor polytheistic. My belief in God is persistent and I pray. I know not to what I pray—Paul Johnson’s wonderful book The Quest for God tells me that my prayers are to a God that hears everything, but while I want to believe that, I have great difficulty doing so.

Sitting in a gynecologist’s waiting room in Manhattan, I was struck by the ostentatious davening of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish husbands. They could have done it outside or waited—and one couldn’t help feeling that by praying so energetically in the faces of a small room largely peopled with Jews of a more moderate bent, they believed they were establishing their moral superiority. It reminded me of public breastfeeding, not a religious issue but an ideological one, designated by feminists in the eighties as an absolute necessity for women to do publicly when-

ever, wherever—in restaurants and on trains. That need came and went, proving it was, after all, only a political statement.

I suspect our dress codes, dietary rules, and other little displays are a source of never-ending amusement to God. There are few things as ridiculous as a bunch of apes trying to be spiritual. If eventually we get to meet or understand the nature of God before or after our death, I think the likelihood of his concerns overlapping those of any religion to be very small. We may make political statements with our religious garments or statements of vanity with our religiosity, but surely this vainglory will fall away. In that timeless moment, perhaps Azzy will find out that Allah really doesn’t worry about her head, except that it be veiled in righteousness rather than self-righteousness. For my part, I hope to find the ability to compete with her leap— not on the soccer field but on the field of faith—a spellbinding leap she has already, so precociously, made. M

barbara.amiel amacleans.rogers.com