Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Our Society Suffers From Schizophrenia

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi • kbatarfi@al-madina.com

A foreign journalist told me about a weird incident that happened to him on his flight from Jeddah to London. After taking a short nap on board, he woke up to set eyes on a totally different scene. His veiled neighbor wearing the familiar long black abaya had disappeared. In her place, he found a beautiful and stylish girl in tight pants checking her make-up. Still dazed, he looked right and left trying to find his veiled neighbor, but then came the second surprise: All surrounding veils were gone. Some men who had been taking care of their women were busy watching others, some of the completely silent women started talking and laughing loudly, expensive dresses came out, and for the first time the astonished journalist saw and heard Saudi women. In London, it was the same. Cheery Arabs were gathering in London’s markets, squares and nightclubs dressed in the latest Western fashions.
My confused friend asked: If your religion and traditions specify certain features for a woman’s dress, why is their use limited to your country? Why can’t I phone my friend’s wife in Jeddah if I can meet her in full make-up in London? Why does my Muslim friend perform his prayers regularly five times a day in his country and turns his back on some or all of them in London? Is your religion confined to the land of Islam or do rules vary according to time, place and occasion?
I explained to him that these few don’t represent the whole of society. There are maximum and minimum levels of veiling depending on persuasion and circumstances. Covering the face is not required in most Islamic schools of thought. The black abaya is a societal tradition and not a condition for wearing the veil. Foreign women do the same when they visit the Kingdom. They wear veils and dress in long abayas out of respect for the country and its authentic traditions.
Although I believe in that answer, I also share the desire to explore the reasons for the “schizophrenia” many segments of our society suffer from. Our young are taught the noble values and virtues of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in schools and mosques, and learn about them from radio and TV, but when they are out in the real world dealing with adults and observing the behavior and attitudes of their teachers and parents, they discover that what they had learned is not necessarily what is practiced. Confusion rules and innocence is submerged in a sea of contradictions.
We are in real need of religious, sociological, and scientific studies concerning these phenomena. Experts in each field should participate in exploring ways to get us out of this situation. Allah doesn’t help a people unless they help themselves.

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