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Letters to the editor: April 10 to 16 2015

Hiding hair is not Islamic

Muslim women such as Fatima Asmal should be saluted for heeding Jewish and Christian law (Scarf or scoff: How do you wrap your head around hijab?). It is ironic that she and other hair-hiding Muslim women unwittingly pose as observant Jews and Christians when they champion the headscarf or hijab. Nowhere in the Qur’an does it demand that women cover their craniums, although there are such commandments in the Jewish Torah (Genesis 24:65, Numbers 5:18 and Isaiah 47:2) and the Christian New Testament (I Corinthians 11:2-16).

Women such as Asmal have sadly been indoctrinated by a sexist Muslim clergy claiming that female hair concealment is mandatory. But this is potent patriarchy at play rather than any Islamic injunction. Other than calling for both genders to cover their private parts for the sake of public modesty, there is no Qur’anic directive forcing women to hide their hair, let alone their faces.

Asmal gives the game away by citing a contestable English rendition of a Qur’anic verse (24:31) that supposedly convinced her of the necessity for culturally originated headgear. She also quotes the clearly contradictory views of “a visiting Islamic scholar” to justify this indisputably pre-Islamic custom.

The word “hijab” appears eight times in the Qur’an (7:46, 33:53, 38:32, 41:5, 42:51, 17:45, 19:17, 83:150), but not once does it allude to female hair concealment. It refers to a curtain, screen, barrier, divider or partition (the words “niqab” and “burka” do not appear at all).

The term “hijab” has been hijacked by misogynistic mullahs on the basis of questionable Hadith (the reputed sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, compiled 10 generations after his death in 632CE and time-bound medieval opinion (sharia). Such constructs cannot trump God’s word or introduce non-Qur’anic legislation, but millions of oppressed Muslim women have fallen victim to “obligatory” hair hiding because of relentless propaganda from bigoted, sex-obsessed clerics.

It is high time that thinking Muslim women reject this patriarchal programming by pursuing authentic theological self-empowerment. Critical self-education by means of Islam’s premier text can help them challenge the masculine monopoly in Islam. Informed Muslim men and women will also be empowered to jettison superficial symbols such as bushy beards and long robes.

These external emblems are neither reflective of pristine Islam nor indicative of genuine spirituality. Indeed, Muslims should rid themselves of all facile foreign identity markers: these only showcase religious insecurity and theological ignorance. – Dr T Hargey, president of The Open Mosque, Cape Town


Universities should publish free textbooks online

In Anatomy of a varsity textbook, Mpuka Radinku justifies the cost of university textbooks by arguing that the production of a textbook involves collaboration across multiple institutions for the author teams and a critical peer review process.

Academics employed at universities enjoy the benefit of state subsidies paid for by the South African taxpayer. Writing textbooks (or compilations of lecture notes) should be part of their job description. Universities get subsidies from the National Research Foundation for each academic paper published. Should the same system not apply to textbooks?

Any university worth its salt should have all the expertise required to produce a textbook, including language editors, proofreaders, designers, artists, illustrators and project managers. After all, they teach these skills.

Radinku’s argument that feature-rich digital editions result in higher development costs is nonsense. A simple PDF document is perfectly adequate for the needs of a student and the cost of converting a Word document into a PDF is zero. You can set up a website with file transfer capabilities for R250 a month.

Varsity textbooks should be published under the creative commons licence and be available as free downloads on university websites. – Louis Liebenberg, associate professor of human evolutionary biology, Harvard


Look at flipside of colonial coin in #Rhodes debate

In giving ample space to university “transformationists” (Leaders of the #Rhodes rebellion) and none to opposing views, the Mail & Guardian looks partial on the matter of tearing down monuments. This is not the kind of even-handedness I expect of your esteemed publication.

Yes, these are symbols of colonial times. Many South Africans are descended from colonials, and the deeds (good and bad) of their forefathers are as much a part of South Africa’s heritage as the deeds (good and bad) of any other community.

And the good parts of the colonial legacy – mainly technological advances and the universities it nurtured – have contributed immensely to making this the most advanced country in Africa.

Apart from that, South Africa supposedly belongs to all who live in it. That includes those of colonial descent. In both the Freedom Charter and the Bill of Rights, the rights to culture and heritage enjoy – or should enjoy – the same protection as others.

The term “colonial” and its variations are now used as a substitute for “whiteness” and anything to do with it. So the current campaigns are a race-based denigration of white people, their culture and their rights. If a campaign arose to tear down monuments dear to black Africans or the Khoisan, Malay or Indian communities, we should be equally outraged. We should protect them all.

We cannot have a situation in which one community – in this case, a very small part of it – demands the removal of a monument just because they feel offended by it and because they claim to be representing the majority. It’s even more dangerous when they adopt the methods of hooligans.

Make no mistake: the students doing this are the exact equivalent of the young white thugs who supported apartheid, and of the right-wing idiots who defaced the statue of Chief Tshwane in Pretoria. – Ron McGregor, Cape Town

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