By Gina Khan
On Waseem Zafar and Islamicising the Biraadari
A few Tweets after I raised questions about the actions of a senior Labour Councillor in Birmingham City Council, Waseem Zafar, it became national news.
I was furious when I saw some Facebook posts where he was discussing with someone, allegedly a male relative seeking support from him, about how he had called on a Catholic Infant and Primary school in Birmingham to immediately change its policy on forbidding hijab. Zaffar is Cabinet Member for Transparency, Openness and Equality for Birmingham City Council; if he wants an immediate change, that’s quite a demand from a powerful man using religion.
I challenged him publicly. I Tweeted: “Hijab isn’t compulsory for a child in Islam, but patriarchal biraadari power used to control Muslim school girls”.
Birmingham Mail picked up on the Facebook exchange following my Tweets challenging Zaffar and so did other national newspapers.
British progressive Pakistanis know that Islam has never mandated hijab for a girl and certainly not for an infant who hasn’t even reached puberty. We are not ignorant of either our culture or the religion we grew up in. I had never seen a child in hijab until the rise of Islamism in areas of Birmingham. In fact, the word itself is new. We only covered our heads for prayers or worship. Even in Pakistan, modern Muslims do not force a child to wear hijab all day. Women like my mother were educated. She taught me to read the Qu’ran herself; we rejected Mullahism. No female in my family was ever subjected to wearing hijabs – which didn’t even exist when I was a teenager. We integrated and weren’t subjected to an “Islamic identity” – unlike what we witness today.
The little girl at the centre of the dispute between Zaffar and the Catholic School is only four years old. The school had told the parents that she could not wear hijab but must adhere to the school’s uniform policy. Zaffar told them that they must reverse their decision as they were in breach of equality laws. Someone boot me to Mars. Is this man for real? Are these our future Labour lawmakers?
Apparently she belongs to the same biraadari or clan network as Waseem Zaffar. Biraadaris are powerful structures for patriarchs to control and exert power over the community. They are much wider than the immediate family and are interconnected. When they are dictating how women and men must behave, they use both culture and religion. Zaffar was not only endorsing his relatives forcing their little girl into a hijab but he was also making a stand to continue normalising Islamist values through the school system.
My fury as a British-born Pakistani feminist erupted as I became aware that this well
known powerful Pakistani Muslim councillor, a known patriarch of Aston, was using equality laws to justify an infant wearing a hijab.
The biraadari mind-set suffocates girls from Pakistani Muslim backgrounds. They are repressed, suppressed, oppressed and controlled simply because they are girls. ‘Family Honour’ is paramount and mainly the reason that girls are controlled – so that the faces of patriarchs are never ‘blackened’ by their daughters. They keep daughters away from ‘immoral, liberal Western culture’, which is to blame for everything in their minds. They are told Islamic values override everything else from a young age.
The whole biraadari is ‘shamed’ and ‘dishonoured’ by a girl’s behaviour. It’s the basis for many tragic stories of forced cousin-marriages, honour-based violence, domestic violence and misogyny. In recent years, forced hijab and veiling have spread in our communities especially schools without any challenge from Muslim feminists.
This row at a Catholic school shows things are only getting worse. When I was growing up, conservative parents used to worry about their teenage daughters; now it is small children who are being coerced.
And that is why I refuse to stay silent. It is because of our silence that Mullahism has taken root. Organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain (which was established by the Jamaat e Islami – a fundamentalist party in Pakistan and elsewhere) published a 70 page policy for Young British Muslim, focussing on curtailing the freedoms of girls from Muslim backgrounds in schools. Crucially, they promoted the hijab as a mandatory requirement of Islam.
The success of this policy is visible in Birmingham schools. Most primary infant schools in the area have succumbed to Islamist norms and girls have been wearing hijabs to primary schools for years. Primary and Infant schools have permitted infants and juniors to wear hijabs in classrooms, believing it is a religious obligation. Well it is not. In fact, many Muslim feminists don’t accept that it is even mandated in the Quran for women.
I believe it is abuse to put little girls into hijabs. How can hijab be a “choice”, when very young children are forced to wear it?
It seems to me that Zaffar is trying to normalise the hijab from the age of four – making sure that little girls learn never to take it off even if it scratches her hair all day.
These little girls are praised for wearing the hijab; seen as angelic little Aishas. Far from being about equality, the image of Aisha is used to justify many crimes against girls, including reducing the age of marriage to 9 years old, which Mullahism maintains is Sharia.
If they are wearing it for God then they are too young and it’s not mandated, however, if Zaffar is saying she needs to wear it to protect her from the gaze of men then he appears to have no issue with sexualising a 4 year old. This is the patriarchal tribal mind-set he inherited and asserts.
Where is the anger when it is forced on children and the practice spread widely?
Birmingham schools have been infiltrated by Islamist ideas long before the Trojan Horse scandal. This row in a Catholic school shows that Islamists are continuing to push back and will twist narratives and policies to achieve this if feminists continue to ignore the rights of children to be free from the religious impositions of their parents.
I’m glad I brought attention to the horror that is child veiling. It has forced a debate on a taboo issue.
Finally, people are saying publicly what they should have said many years ago, when the hijab first started spreading – that this isn’t a “Muslim issue” nor is it “Islamophobic” to speak out. It’s about children and their rights.
I would ask teachers, policy makers, MPs to give our girls the tools to think for themselves, to empower them rather than powerful patriarchs and community “leaders” who aim to veil and segregate girls and deny them real equality.
Gina Khan is Spokesperson of One Law for All