Language 101 for Mona Eltahawy (On the Burqa Ban Debate in France) By Imam Afroz Ali

Posted on April 13, 2011 by


The recent burqa ban in France has stirred quite a bit of heavy debate in the mainstream media. One of the more interesting debates was between MuslimMatters Blogger Hebah Ahmed and journalist Mona Eltahawy. Eltahawy supports the burqa ban on the grounds that its a representation of right wing Islamic ideology. To put it lightly, Hebah clearly won the debate. Mona has been complaining quite bitterly on twitter about how the whole thing was unfairly set up and has gone so far as to make several unfair personal attacks against Hebah. Here’s the video:

Imam Afroz Ali of the al-Ghazzali Centre has written up a response regarding some of Eltahawy’s statements. Posted with his permission.

Language 101 for Mona Eltahawy and Others Regarding “Respect” –

By Imam Afroz Ali

Firstly English. The word comes from two separate Latin words, used most commonly in religious context: “re” and “specere“, which means “back” and “look” respectively. Spectacles, for example come from the word “specere”, and so does “speculate”. In Old French, the word was “respectus” and literally means “act of looking back at someone”, the nuance being giving someone regard that is correctly due. It refers to an inward state (re) from which one looks at the other, by giving them esteem and regard with distinction.

In Arabic, the word which directly relate to the idea of respecting the other is “Ihtiraam”. It comes from the root word “haruma” which means “to be forbidden” or “to exclude”, often due to a sacred nature of the matter. As such, derived forms of the word, like the key nounal derivation, “haram” means both “forbidden” and “sacred”. Another key nuance of the word is that it also carries the implicit meaning of space, therefore “sacred space”, as in the Sacred Mosque or the Sacred Precinct bound by a specific territorial definition. So, the inner portion of a house behind the closed doors is known as “hareem”…. from which is derived the English word “harem”.

The word “Ihtiraam” which is somewhat the equivalent of the English “respect” means the “reverence or high regard of a matter, thing or person.” The specific reason is that the inward state and reality of the other (the one to whom respect is shown)is “forbidden for the one looking, to assume or judge”. In other words respect is that we hold the other in high regard of honour and refrain ourselves from making judgment of the other in a negative or untrue manner. From a religious perspective, if a person acts out on a matter by respecting and holding sacred a particular act, then “Ihtiraam” is obligatory; that the onlooker gives the practitioner due regard of honour and assume the best of character, not the worst. The person’s inward status, intentions and character is to be refrained from being judged or presumed; it must be held as  sacred and is inviolable.

So, to “respect” a woman in Hijab and Niqab, who wears such an attire out of reverence for God Almighty, is to see her in high regard, to honour her and to refrain from making presumptuous conclusions about her- that she is oppressed, backward, unfitting or unintelligent.

THAT is what respect is- giving the other high regard by refraining from making presumptuous or untrue assertions of the other by holding their state and character as forbidden to tarnish and as inviolable- unlike many ill-informed feminists and so-called freedom fighters of the ilk of Mona Elthawy, who assert respect for women by inadvertently demeaning them and holding a low opinion of their adherence to reverence of God.

Respect! As the Arabs would say to their children about holding themselves with honour- “Ihtaramnafsak!”


Posted in: Article