Religious clothing and secularism
I’ll be straight forward: I disagree with the ban of religious attire in certain public areas and I disagree for two reasons.
Reason one: the blurred boundary between cultures and religion.
Take holidays for example. Christmas is a Christian (originally Pagan) festival celebrated by staunch atheists in the western world and the Laïcité-embracing French government, despite its prevailing spiritual significance among devoted Christians. Halloween, another holiday of Pagan/Christian origin, is also celebrated by secular and religious westerners alike. Nowruz is a Zoroastrian holiday celebrated by Persians all over the world, including the ones living in Afghanistan and Iran, despite its prevailing spiritual significance among Zoroastrians.
In much of the world, we name the planets (and one former planet) in our solar system based on Roman Gods; NASA even has the Project Apollo, which is named after the Roman God. Garuda is a creature in Hindu mythology and yet it is one of the national symbols of Indonesia, a predominantly-Muslim country; in fact, none of of the country’s national symbols are of Islamic origin.
When it comes to headcovering, many people associate it with Islamic dress. But, everyone with basic religious literacy knows it is NOT an exclusively Islamic thing; it has been used for non-Islamic religious rituals and even for entirely cultural reasons! That’s what both Islamophobes and zealous Muslims refuse to acknowledge.
Reason two: it is just fucking clothes, for fuck’s sake!
Okay, I don’t actually believe that.
I do think what we wear matters depending on the occasions as we can emit impressions, both accurate and inaccurate, to others without uttering a single word. For example: one would never visit a funeral while adorned in party costumes; if one wants to be perceived positively, wear the proper outfit. One must always be mindful of one’s own image. While I try not to judge how people dress, I cannot expect them to do the same.
But, some people don’t share my mindset. Instead, they genuinely believe our outfits are literally everything and therefore, it is acceptable for them to judge a person’s dignity and even morality solely based on how he/she dresses. I disagree with it because I have an approach called ‘living in reality’.
Suits and ties are often associated with dignity, despite the fact that sleazy TV journalists, politicians, lawyers and businessmen are almost always seen wearing them. If I have to bring up Muslims, I have met ones who genuinely believe their adherence to strict supposedly religiously-obligated dress codes make them morally superior than me, despite the fact that they are anything but moral as shown by their supports of discrimination and their support of/unwillingness to condemn extremism.
In the context of state secularism, it is often believed that donning religious attire is an indication of one’s commitment to put one’s religion above everything else. I have met hijabi Muslim women who think Islam should be their countries’ only state religion and their fellow Muslims should be given more rights than the non-Muslims.
But, I also have met hijabi women who are either apathetic about the topic of state secularism OR are in favour of governance that respect the society’s plurality. I also have met non-hijabi women who are apathetic about this issue and do not see anything wrong with the presence of religions in public schools. In fact, I know one Indonesian Muslim woman who hates hijab and supports the policy of banning hijab… who also refuse to vote for non-Muslim candidates in the recent Indonesian parliamentary election.
Admittedly, this argument of mine won’t convince many people. Not only it is very anecdotal (and we live in a world where we even don’t take peer-reviewed researchers seriously), it is also challenges the prevailing idea of state secularism.
It challenges the notion that appearing secular is the same as actually being secular. It challenges the notion that secularism can be achieved simply by removing religiosity out of sight. It challenges the idea that appearances can or should be taken at face value.
France, a place where religious attires are banned from public schools and government buildings, is arguably the most (in)famous secular state and often hailed as a model of state secularism. Yet, it also gives exemptions to the Alsace region, which funds religious activities of Calvinists, Lutherans, Catholics and religious Jews and makes religious classes compulsory.
Pre-Erdogan Turkey officially banned hijab in certain places… and yet it already had Religious Affairs Directorate which controlled mosques and appointed Imams, who were officially recognised as civil servants. Iran under the so-called extremely-secular anti-hijab Pahlavi dynasty also had similar approaches regarding religious affairs.
So much for Laïcité, eh?
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