Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More siliness: Cover up or else!

Now, those who know me will know that I think modesty in dress is a virtue. I'm not sure what people who dress immodestly are trying to prove. I also have a thing about appropriate dressing in Church.

So, when the latest ruling came out from the Kelantan State Government, which is the only state in the Federal System of Malaysia that is controlled by an ultra-conservative Islamist party, I have to admit that, despite my personal feelings, I was appalled.

The state government, via the Municipal Council of the state capital, has imposed a dress code both on Muslims and non-Muslims in the state who work in retail outlets and restaurants. Of course, in keeping with the best in Islamic tradition adn the Sharia Law, the dress code ruling applies only to women, lest they lure the pious and virtuous Muslim men to unleash their lust.

'Indecently' dressed women can now be fined. Mind you, these laws have been on the books all this while, its just that the authorities have only now chosen to implement them fully.

All of this is based on the Islamic concept of covering one's 'aurat'. So, even non-Muslim dhimmis who 'expose' themselves are perceived as an insult to Islam. I'm starting to wonder what does not insult Islam. It seems to be very easily agitated and insulted while its slurs of others are ok cos they're kaffirs.

We need more reciprocity here.

There's a list of no-no's too with a graphic. =)

Check out the news reports:

MPKB: Cover up or else

KOTA BARU: Women working in retail outlets and restaurants in Kelantan have been warned to mind their dressing or be prepared to face a fine.

The Kota Baru Municipal Council (MPKB) has announced that it would “no longer tolerate indecent dressing” by women, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

Public relations officer Mohd Azman Daham said that under local council by-laws women who “dressed sexily or indecently” could be fined up to RM500.

“Such outfits are prohibited here as it smears the reputation of Kota Baru and affects its status as an Islamic City,” he said in an interview.

He added that although punishment for indecent dressing was in place under the by-laws, it had not been totally enforced.

“But now, MPKB will no longer tolerate skimpy outfits, following mounting complaints from the public,” Mohd Azman said, adding that under the by-laws, women working in retail outlets should wear decent clothes.

Council enforcement officers, he added, would step up checks in various localities.

Mohd Azman said MPKB would focus on “suspicious areas”, especially the shopping malls in Taman Hijau, Taman Uda and Taman Tengku Anis here.

The council had received complaints from ratepayers that certain shop assistants and waitresses here donned sexy outfits, supposedly to woo more male customers.

Under the standard dress code here, a Muslim women has to be covered until the ankles and wear a tudung. Non-Muslim women are required to wear decent clothes.

Tight-fitting tops and pants were not allowed, even for non-Muslims, Mohd Azman said.

Mohd Azman said under the council by-laws, the owners of retail outlets who employed indecently dressed workers could also be fined.

If the offence was repeated, the council could suspend the business permit of the outlet, he added.

State Local Government Committee chairman Takiyuddin Hassan said the state had not taken any tough action yet as, the MPKB had been more involved in generating awareness about proper attire.

“We define proper attire as wearing respectful clothing,” he said.

“We apologise to non-Muslims if this comes across as harsh but we must respect our Asian culture and religion in public.”

He noted that “eye-popping” outfits invited undesirable attention.

He urged the people to co-operate, especially those in the retail and restaurant businesses.

Trader Che Suraya Hulaimi Sulaiman, 32, supported the council's move, saying: “Almost everywhere there are retail assistants or waitresses wearing sexy clothes.

“This is an insult to Islam.”

Of course the country's women's groups, dominated by non-Muslim spokespersons are up in arms and are denouncing the measure as sexist as no corresponding code exists for men and women and their dressing are blamed for the sex crimes that occur.

Outrage over fine for ‘revealing clothes’

PETALING JAYA: Several women's organisations are up in arms over the decision of the Kota Baru Municipal Council (MPKB) to fine women working in retail outlets and restaurants who wear clothes deemed to be revealing.

The offending items include tight fitting blouses, pants, jeans and mini-skirts.

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Ivy Josiah said the ruling was unacceptable and ridiculous, as women were always blamed for rape, sexual harassment and molest due their attire, while the men were never blamed for their behaviour.

She said the ruling was a reflection of a narrow mindset and she was wondering if they would stop their nonsense only when the women became invisible.

Josiah said everyone had the freedom to wear clothes of their choice, and that no one should dictate what a person should wear, certainly not the MPKB.

“I would like to know what is the (acceptable) level of tightness of a pair of pants or jeans, and what happens to those of us who have larger buttocks? Is the MPKB saying that we cannot wear pants or jeans as it will emphasise the buttocks?'' she asked when contacted yesterday.

Josiah said the MPKB should instead concentrate on cleaning the drains and parks, collecting rubbish and providing child care centres.

MPKB public relations officer Mohd Azman Daham said that under the local council by-law, those caught wearing outfits deemed indecent or sexy could be fined RM500.

He said the ruling was enforced due to complaints about retail assistants and waitresses wearing sexy outfits to woo male customers to their outlets and restaurants.

Wanita MCA chief Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen said once again Kelantan has come out with a policy to target the women.

“If men wear tight fitting jeans, is that not deemed sexy? Why is it only the women are targeted, so much so that the ruling covers non-Muslim women as well?'' she asked.

Dr Ng urged the PAS-led government not to introduce ridiculous policies.

Dr Ng said that she had confidence that the women working in the retail outlets and restaurants had the appropriate sense of dress and do not need anyone telling or controlling them on what to wear.

Women's Development Collective executive director Maria Chin Abdullah wondered whether the council planned to impose the same ruling on men dressed in singlets and shorts that exposed their thighs, arms and even armpits.

“Firstly, are these gatal (lecherous) men intending to buy products or eat at the restaurants, or are they there to see how the women are dressed? If that is their purpose, then it is an insult to the mentality of Malaysian men.''

The All-Women’s Action Society (Awam) executive director Honey Tan said that Awam was totally opposed to the move, if it was intended to improve moral standards.

Forcing women to bear the burden of morality is discriminatory and a violation of their rights, said Tan.

“It is not the job of the council to become the 'moral police', and if it is concerned about the community it serves, it should encourage men and women to respect each other regardless of their dressing,'' she added.

Wonder what tomorrow holds? Hmmn..

Check out the related posts for some background.



Anonymous said...

Here in the UK there was recently a bit of a furore about the full-face veil and the security and cultural implications. Best of my knowledge, nothing's been decided yet, which probably means we'll see more and more of it. What fun.

I find it an interesting thing that the whole veil & headscarf thing seems to be one of classical conditioning. That it is assumed that if men see an 'uncovered' woman they will be possessed of an overwhelming urge to sexually assualt her. Indeed, it has been said by some moslem religious (most notably the recent 'uncovered meat' comment in Australia) that 'uncovering' gives carte blanche to a man to do what he will to the 'uncovered' woman.

This suggests to me, and suggests strongly, that the practice of veils etc for these religious reasons is a bad idea in non-moslem countries (by the grace of God, may they long continue to be such) as moslem immigrants, seeing these veils and such, are, I think, likely to find reinforcement for such misogynist veiws in these behaviours and in the condonment of these behaviours.

However, having said that, I might be wrong. What's your take on all this, please, Andrew?

Andrew said...

Mr. Smith, thanks for visiting and for you incisive comments.

Yes, I am aware of the teacher’s case. The veil, just like the Tridentine Mass, while a good thing in itself, can be abused and made into the standard of a sectarian cause.

In my opinion, the veil, in itself is great. I’m sure you’ll agree that we’re all for Catholic nuns donning the veil =)) If only all women would obey the apostolic injunction in Corinthians and veil up in Church. A great huzzah for that!

But in this case, the veil has become a symbol of ‘otherness’. Strictly speaking, the niqab, burqa or the full face veil is not mandatory. Islam mandates covering of certain parts of the body, including the hair for women. There’s no mention of the face. But in the Arab culture, the hair, and face as well, have sexual connotations. It’s similar to the case of Chinese culture in the old days where bound or small feet was had sexual connotations and seeing uncovered feet might incite a man to lust. Thus, in Arab cultures today as of old, seeing the face of a woman became the sole priviledge of the husband and close family members only. It’s cultural rather than purely religious.

Not all Muslims have this cultural view. In Malaysia where I come from, as well as Indonesia, the largest Muslim country by population in the world, 20 years ago, the veil was not a common sight. A recent upsurge in Islamization has made the veil more common now and in Malaysian primary schools, little kids are being pressured by their teachers to veil up. But the full face veil is very very rare. Even Muslim women will look askance at full face veil wearers. Its also not very practical is a tropical humid environment.

I am totally against comments that blame a woman dress on sexual assaults. Totally 100% against it. Men should have the guts to take full responsibility for their actions and not pull an Adam. As in “The Woman you gave me, she uncovered herself so I assaulted her.” That’s just plain wrong and it should never be a justification. What kind of people do these fellas think men are? Going into an uncontrollable frenzy and needing to sexually assault women just because of the way they dress. That’s highly insulting to men as well. I’m surely insulted. Religious leaders should condemn all forms of violence against women, under whatever pretext.

Having said that however, I also very strongly feel that women should dress in a dignified manner. When they dress provocatively, what kind of message are they trying to send? What is their intention of showing off their ‘parts’, if I may say so? If it’s to attract attention, then they’ll probably get attention. But, like you say, certain men from certain cultures can’t interpret their signals properly because of their conditioning and the attention that they will be getting might not be exactly what they have in mind. These men have a low opinion of women, whose testimony might not mean much in a court where they come from. So, boundary issues do play a role. But still, that is no justification whatsoever for any form of unwanted sexual advances.

The best way is for men to respect women, for who they are and for the inherent dignity they possess as children of God. And for women to act and dress in a manner that would earn such respect.

As always, I am open to correction and other perspectives on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, many thanks for your kind and considered reply.

I find it interesting that Catholics (still viewing the group from an outside perspective here) are anxious to emphasise the similarities between moslems and Catholics. Joee Blogs was telling me recently that islam has some fruits as does Catholicism because there are periods of fasting etc in both religions.

Both examples are true as far as they go, but I fear that neither go far enough, with all respect for both yourself and Joee. For example, since we're on the veil question anyway, you have compared above the moslem full-face veil to nuns head-coverings, even going to far as to advocate that all women in church wear veils. I have to say that while I would welcome a pious head-covering in church, a congregation of veiled women would be much more likely to make me very very angry.

A nun's head-dress, firstly, is a voluntary sign of devotion to God above all else. Voluntary. Secondly, it by no means covers the face, and thirdly it is done to honour God. Whereas the moslem veil is (if these histories are correct) a cultural means of female subjugation, often not voluntary, and as we see increasingly in the myriad reports on the matter, out of a fear of being seen as 'fair game' for rape and other torments as they will be seen as 'loose' if they fail to wrap themselves in shrouds.

As well as being, as you so rightly say, highly offensive to both sexes, this is downright dangerous and disturbing behaviour to be allowed to continue, still less encourage under a banner of 'tolerance' (a word I believe may well be the work of the antiChrist, but that's another story for another time). Conditioning, as you say, in particular cultures, is for 'men' to see women as fair game if they are not covered. Should a 'man' rape an 'uncovered' woman, under these rules and conditions, he has done nothing dishonourable. I don't know about you, but I find that base, inhuman, and thoroughly repellant.

The problem, as far as I can see, is twofold. Firstly the conditioning is being perpetuated even outside of the source of infection. And nothing gets cured by encouraging the conditions in which it thrives. Secondly, we appear to be under something of a cultural Stockholm Syndrome. So enamoured are we (and I speak of Christendom in the main here) of other 'noble' cultures and beliefs, and the 'similarities' which we have in wanting women to dress in a dignified manner that we risk, I believe, losing the ability to think well, not only of ourselves, but of anything other than the Other. I walk daily past women and girls who dress in a dignified way, an undignified way, an outright whorish way, and who, poor misled daughters of Eve, wrap themselves in shrouds with only their eyes peeking out. Yet my reaction is my own, my actions are my own, and a full 80% of these women and girls show their faces, hair, and so on, without being in the least undignified by it.

There is all the difference in the world between a woman dressing well and beautifully, granting the rest of us a visual respite from the ugliness of the 'modernised' world, and a woman dressing like a would-be pop starlet (read 'amateur strip-teaser), and this within the realm of 'not-shrouded' (hmmn, there's a thought, let's maybe use that instead of 'uncovered', or we risk letting the moslems set the tone for the entire debate).

Personally I don't see much reason to respect anyone who hasn't yet earned it from me, but that's very different from considering the world in shades of black-and-white that could turn at any moment to shades of black-and-rape. Woman of herself, considered in the sense of what God first created, is an amazing creation, worthy of much graciousness, courtesy and, dare I say it, reverence (Eve and Mary were women).

I'm running out of things that might sound in the least sensible, so I think I'll finish this comment (or mini-essay?) with the words of one who will always be my elder and better:

"I do not cry, beloved, neither curse.
Silence and strength, these two at least are good.
He gave me sun and stars and ought He could,
But not a woman's love; for that is hers.

He sealed her heart from sage and questioner--
Yea, with seven seals, as he has sealed the grave.
And if she give it to a drunken slave,
The Day of Judgment shall not challenge her.

Only this much: if one, deserving well,
Touching your thin young hands and making suit,
Feel not himself a crawling thing, a brute,
Buried and bricked in a forgotten hell;

Prophet and poet be he over sod,
Prince among angels in the highest place,
God help me, I will smite him on the face,
Before the glory of the face of God."

The Unpardonable Sin - G.K. Chesterton

Andrew said...

Wow! =)

I would not dare to hazard Joe's motives but for myself, I think that no one can get everything wrong all of the time. Not even Moslems =)). They might come darn close, but not quite. Just because Moslems fast and wear the veil does not make it a bad thing. Christians fasted and wore veils long before Muhammad was a wee little apple in his mother eye.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, it was customary in most places for women to wear a head covering in the form of a scarf, mantilla, veil or hat when entering a church, just as it was and is still customary for men to remove their hat as a sign of respect. One reason for this practice is a passage from 1 Corinthians 11 where St. Paul writes:

4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. 5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. 7 A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.

In Eastern Orthodoxy, as in traditionalist Catholic circles, this practice of women wearing veils in Church still holds.

For most of the Christian era, and long before, women wore veils, perhaps as a personal choice, perhaps they had bad hair, but it was what everyone was doing. It serves as an equalizer so women with nicely done up hair and women just in from the fields were both veiled. Until very recently, women still wore hats for formal occasions. Her Majesty has a fine collection and still carries on the practice. It is, or was anyway, considered polite.

The practice of wearing veils predates Islam. It is modern chauvinistic muftis and imams that have used the ‘if you’re unveiled, you’re fair game’ card to pressure women to conform to Islamic style of dress. This is very wrong and should be clearly repudiated.

The wearing of the veil should be a personal choice, made in good conscience and not under coercion. Like I said earlier, the full face veil like the niqab or burqa are not mandatory in Islam. It can, and often is, used by males to impose a sense of ownership over their wives. If so, then that is wrong.

I’m going to stress again that I am totally against comments that blame a woman dress on sexual assaults. Totally 100% against it. Men should have the guts to take full responsibility for their actions because, as you said, their responses is their own to make and theirs alone, whatever the supposed ‘provocation’ is. What kind of people do these fellas think men are? Personally I’m offended that these folks could even dare suggest that. Going into an uncontrollable frenzy and needing to sexually assault women just because of the way they dress. That’s highly insulting to men.

But perhaps we should not let the Moslems hijack the veil. Remember, it predates them. Not only Christians, but Jews and Hindus wear the veil as well. The veil, when worn with the right intentions is a good thing. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Many nuns see the veil as repressive, being steeped in that feminist myth. Muslim women follow suit and to preserve their culture, imams start flinging this crap about being uncovered inviting rapes and assaults.

I ain’t a big fan of Moslems wearing the veil to emphasize their different-ness from everybody else. The Islamization that is going on in Malaysia alarms me. But, if its done in good conscience, the I can’t really object cos its not my place. When they start forcing non-Moslem girls to start getting shrouded, and that’s happening here, then that’s too far. Motives make all the difference.

On another point, highlighting similarities is not a bad thing. When you can't say anything good, perhaps highlighting similarities is a way to highlight the good in our position. Like what Vatican II said to Muslims: "Hey, you guys worship One God? Swell, we worship One God too! Of course you guys are waaay of the mark in the Trinity thing, but hey, at least you got the One God thing right."

Shared perspectives dissolves initial hostility and gets you a hearing. Heck, even St. Paul did it with the unknown God trick at the Areopagus. Coming with all guns blazing saying "You Greeks are idolaters and worshippers of false gods, inanimate idols of wood and stone. You fools! Believe in the One Living and True God!", while strictly speaking is completely true, would not have gotten Paul very far. It makes them defensive and whatever you say just flies past them. The unknown God thing at least got Paul a decent hearing and not an immediate stoning. That came later =).

Anonymous said...


I think there's a massive difference between Christians and moslems that is being overlooked in the search for similarities. Sorry to repeat myself, but really, the two don't even begin to compare (unless my understanding of the two is massively off, of course).

For example, the excellent Andrew of Pub Mass fame sent me a link to a wonderful resource site on matters Catholic, Fish Eaters.com, which has an entire article on veiling and another on modesty. Both are worth reading in their entirety, of course, but I thought it worth highlighting these points:

Moslem women wear their veils and such in public, due to distrust of the male ability to control the male sexual urge. Catholic women, on the other hand, wear their veils in church and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to honour God. A few quotes from the articles themselves:

For 2,000 years, Catholic women have veiled themselves before entering a church or any time they are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (e.g., during sick calls). [Emphasis mine]

The point is that there is no need to believe that we all have to look like cookie-cutter, calico-laden "Little House on the Prairie refugees" with "Peter Pan collars" and tent-like skirts (Christ, spare us!). No! It is good to dress attractively! Proverbs 31:22 speaks of the "valiant woman" as being attired in "tapestry, fine linen, and purple." [Emphasis mine] Psalm 45 speaks of the "the Queen" in "gilded clothing." Apocalypse 21:2 speaks of the Church as a bride "adorned for her husband." Queen Esther, a type of Our Lady, is described as an "exceeding fair" woman whose "incredible beauty made her appear agreeable and amiable in the eyes of all" (Esther 2:15). Pope Pius XII wrote in an address to the Latin Union of High Fashion that the "penchant for the adornment of one's own person clearly derives from nature, and is therefore legitimate."

I do not say that I am The Authority on such things, but as someone leaving his old ways to enter the Church, it is distressing, to say the least, to see some within my destination seeming (I may be wrong) so keen on making themselves believe that night is day.