Don’t judge women by their clothing

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Sisters In Islam (Sis) is extremely concerned about the recent crackdown conducted by the Kelantan Islamic Affairs Department (Jaheaik) and the Kota Baru Municipal Council (MPKB) on women wearing ‘tight’, ‘sexy’ or ‘indecent’ attire.

To date, over 20 notices and summonses have been issued against women for the way they were dressed in an operation dubbed ‘Ops Sopan’. The operation involved over 90 officers and was held in hypermarkets, hotels and resort areas in Kelantan.

The cruel obsession with women’s bodies and the audacious need to control their dressing reflects the medieval and backward attitudes of the authorities. This action unfairly implies that women are defective mentally, physically, spiritually and are dangerous to the moral order of the society.

Today, girls are outperforming boys in school and women make up the majority of undergraduates in public universities. Work-wise, women represent 54.6% of the labour force in Malaysia (Department of Statistics, 2017). Operations such as this completely undermine the accolades that women have worked so hard to earn and reduce their worth to merely their clothing.

Quranic discussions around how men and women should dress centre around the concept of modesty. This is understood first, as an avoidance of access, and secondly, as the covering of nakedness. Surah al-A’raf (7:26) speaks of clothing to cover nakedness and clothing as a thing of beauty. The same verse also tells us that the garment of piety or taqwa is the best of all.

In applying the essence of this verse in our everyday lives, it is important to understand that while covering the body is essential, no amount of material used or discarded can take priority over taqwa or God-consciousness.

We are also concerned that this kind of operation also completely discounts the responsibility of men in ‘addressing’ social ills, as no men were given any notices or summonses for not guarding their modesty ie lowering their gaze in public as prescribed in Surah an-Nur (24:30).

All brochures circulated in print and online via social media have also been designed to unfairly target, vilify and warn women and not men of their modesty.

Therefore, should Jahaeik and MPKB wish to curb social ills, the solution lies not in shrouding, segregation and control of women. Instead, they should make efforts to understand the lived realities of the community which they serve as a whole, as well as the systemic roots of social ills. Only then can it be considered acceptable that such an unseemingly large number of public officers be appropriated for such operations.

Sisters in Islam
18 April 2018

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