MUSLIM WOMEN need not wear veils or a full-length burka as a sign of their faith, a Muslim imam told a small gathering here last week.
Muhammad Afzal Mirza from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which holds annual gatherings throughout the northwest, said veils and burkas represent more of a cultural issue in some Muslim countries.
“They don’t do that because Islam says so,” said Mirza. “That’s a cultural issue. Their leaders used Islam to give them control,” he added of places where veils and burkas are mandated for women appearing in public.
In the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, one of the smaller branches of the Islamic faith, Mirza said 99.9 per cent of its female members do not wear a veil.
“It is not that I’m telling my wife to do that,” he said. “If you want to do it, it’s between you and God.”
But there are principles in the Islamic faith that indicate women should dress modestly, Mirza added.
The veil, for those who wear it, is a form of security and safety, he said.
“For a woman it means ‘he will look upon my face as a sacred person, not be to be lusted upon,’” said Mirza.
Mirza’s comments came in the form of a session on Islam and women’s rights.
Women in Islam have had specific rights for more than 1,000 years, he said in citing specific sections of the Qur’an.
“Your rights are given by God, same as mine are,” he told the audience here.
Mirza, who lived in the United States after leaving Pakistan and who now lives in Ontario, said some perceptions of Islam can be incorrect when viewed through western media outlets.
And he reminded those at the session here in Terrace that it was not that long ago that women in western countries could not vote.
And that western religious and cultural influences also encourage women to dress in certain ways.
In many ways, Mirza said one of the challenges with Islam historically and currently is that people who live in Islamic countries don’t have a lot of education.
“Women lived in the situation where they didn’t know what their rights were and how to get their rights,” he said.
“Women need education. They may not even know what services are available to them.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is considered to be one of the more moderate arms of the Muslim faith and its teachings have often placed its members at odds with other Muslim organizations.
The session here last Tuesday was not without comment – one of the posters at Northwest Community College, where the event was held, had a variety of verses from the Qur’an added to it from someone else. Some of the verses contain information and instructions placing woman in a subordinate position to men.