A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

A ray of sunshine in the dark


Have you ever caught eyes with a stranger across a room, just for a moment or two, and felt that you made a connection with them? Like you shared a moment together, like they would remember it forever and maybe look back on it many years later in their life. Not as a story to tell or a life changing moment, just as a fond memory of a stranger who smiled. I’m not talking about physical attraction, but something much deeper and far more profound.

I had such a moment recently at Manchester airport, when I was there to collect someone. I caught eyes with a girl and immediately I felt that there was something there, an unspoken understanding, an empathy, a bond of sorts formed that would remain forever intact – simply because there was no way to break it, because we would never see each other again. For that one moment, I felt as though I knew her like my best friend, loved her like my own family, would fight for her life and defend her freedom as I would for my own, and that I would die to protect her. I sensed, for that moment, that she felt exactly the same way. I smiled at her. I got the distinct impression that she smiled back.

Unfortunately, I’ll never know. She was a Muslim, and she was wearing a niqāb. I could see her eyes, but nothing else.

A niqāb (Arabic نِقاب) is a veil which covers the face, worn by some Muslim women as a part of sartorial hijāb. It is popular in the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf but it can also be found in North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

This has been a source of much political controversy in Britain in the last year or so. There was the whole argument with Jack Straw, and there have been many disputes about what should be worn, what can be worn, what can’t be worn, who are the victims and who is to blame.

It is not the purpose of this article to wade into that debate. It’s not because I don’t have an opinion, I most certainly do. The reason I want to abstain from this particular discussion, is that I think the whole thing misses the point.

Consider the case of Shabina Begum who eventually lost her fight to be allowed to wear her veil to school in March 2006. Look at some of her comments, like

“I had to make a stand about this. Many women will not speak up about what they actually want.”

I remember hearing these comments on the radio at the time of the story, and thinking what a brave and intelligent young woman Miss Begum was for having the courage to fight so passionately for something she believed in. Then, this comment followed:

“I feel it is an obligation upon Muslim women to wear this [the jilbab]”

The full weight of the tragic irony hit me and in that moment, I could have burst into tears. Here was this bright, passionate young woman speaking so articulately and confidently about her human rights, and all I wanted to scream at the radio was, “can’t you see that it’s your religion that is violating your human rights?!”. To me, there couldn’t be a clearer case of Stockholm Syndrome – this girl was fighting for her right to be oppressed! If only she could fight so passionately for her freedom.

Islam treats women disgracefully. They are regarded as no better than dogs. And when western culture has the influence of teaching Muslim women that they have a right to speak out, they are so indoctrinated that they bite the hand that feeds them, by defending the very system that deprives them of their freedom. Their freedom to speak, their freedom to be happy, their freedom to be treated equally.

Consider these quotes from the Quran:

And call two witness from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not at hand, then a man and two women . . . 2:282

As for those of your women who are guilty of lewdness, call to witness four of you against them. And if they testify then confine them to the houses until death take them or Allah appoint for them a way. 4:15

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them. 33:59

Your women are a tilth for you so go to your tilth as ye will 2:223

Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property. So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. 4:34

More quotes can be seen here.

What I saw at Manchester airport that day was not a woman, it was a prisoner. A wonderful, unique individual locked up in a cell made of cloth, for no apparent crime other than being born female. A human being deprived of a birth right to freedom; to say what she wants; to do what she wants; to have sex with whom she wants; to marry whom she wants; to condone or condemn what she wants; to believe what she wants; to wear what she wants.

She peeked out from the window of her jail cell. All I saw was a beautiful ray of sunshine in the dark.

I hope one day she wins her freedom. I hope one day I walk past her in the street, wearing jeans and a tee shirt. The funny thing is, I think I’ll recognise her.

5 Responses to “A ray of sunshine in the dark”

  1. I am glad you brought this blog to my attention. I’m adding it to my blogroll and RSS aggregator. Keep up the quality atheist blogging.

  2. This is a beautifully written article. it is very moving, It is indeed sad to watch intelligent minds being crippled by oppressive religion.

  3. I concur – this was a beautiful, moving essay, and I thank you for posting it. It’s tragic to see people willingly consenting to their own oppression, and worse, to turn down the assistance of others who only want to help them see the better way. No one should value obedience to dogma more than human happiness, especially their own happiness.

  4. It’s funny how alike Christianity and Islam are, and yet here they’ve been killing eachother over it for centuries.

    You’re article made me cry a bit. It’s very sad that so many women around the world are oppressed both by religion and themselves. It’s also sad that this was one of the reasons we told we were going to war in Iraq–to fight for freedom.

  5. Yvette said:

    It’s funny how alike Christianity and Islam are, and yet here they’ve been killing eachother over it for centuries.

    You make a very good point about the similarities between the two religions. Their holy books are close contenders in their levels of misogyny. The only difference is that Christianity has had an extra half a millenium to be diluted with free thought and liberalism.


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