An integral aspect of any discussion, dialogue or debate is for one to have consistency in one’s argument. However, it seems that in most discussions that occur between Muslims, consistency is not as scrupulously maintained as it would be in a similar discussion with non-Muslims.
Exemplifying this is an issue in my local community, which is close to my heart for several reasons; the Auburn Tigers Women’s Australian Football team.
An individual outside of our community may wonder, “How could a womens’ football team be an example of inconsistency in discussions that take place between Muslims”? However, the answer is sadly very simple – some men like to argue different sets of rules for men than for women.
Recently I have heard mountains of criticism piled against the women’s team. There have been suggestions (albeit, not quite as concise) that the team promotes desire (shahwa) and temptation (fitna) amongst individuals watching the games. This is proposed to be a result of the ‘immodest’ attire worn by the women when playing games and training. Indeed, some have even gone as far as to say that the women’s team should be wound up because the players do not cover their nakedness (awrah) while playing.
These are quite significant claims to level against the players in the team. Indeed, they are significant even to those that support the establishment and maintenance of the team (myself included in this group). However, these are based upon some extremely inconsistent arguments, which indicate that religious scrupulousness is, perhaps, not the primary objective that is being pursued by those espousing them.
Firstly, the Auburn Australian Football Club also has men’s teams. But just to start, for those readers that are not familiar with Australian Football, the following provides an example of a standard playing kit compared to baseball uniform:
Why do I point this out? Well, most Muslims will know that the male awrah is not typically covered in an Australian Football kit. To get around this, most of the men wear tights underneath their uniforms to cover between their navel and knees completely.
Here is an example of a player in the team wearing such tights in order to completely cover his nakedness: http://www.smh.com.au/national/smoothing-the-harsh-edges-of-a-cultural-clash-20110408-1d7pk.html
What is interesting here, however, is that despite the exposure of what are often well toned arms, there are few suggestions that the men’s teams promote shahwa or fitna. Moreover, there are no suggestions the men are failing to cover their awrah because their tights show the shape of their bodies.
So, how can such arguments be placed against the women’s team in the very same club, when they play in attire like this?:
May Allah (swt) protect me from the fallacy of tu quoque, in simple terms, ‘pot calling the kettle black’, (that is – just because individuals that identify a crime are also guilty of a similar crime themselves, it doesn’t mean that their identification of the crime is invalid), however this is not the case that I am making here. Rather, we have a clear inconsistency which must be identified. Simply stated, the most coherent arguments placed against the women’s team are summarised:
“The women’s team is against Islamic principles because the women expose their nakedness. The men’s team also expose their nakedness in the very same way the women do, but that is not against Islamic principles.”
Clearly, when worded this way, the argument is completely fallacious. It is akin to saying, “I believe in universal free speech, but Geography teachers should not be able to say what they think.”
I hear the readers screaming already, “but don’t you have to wear clothing that is not tight”? Indeed, this is a valid fiqhi question, and many opinions indicate that it is essential. However, I know of no opinion that says it applies to women and not to men. In fact there are clear opinions that suggest that men invalidate their prayers if they pray in standard trousers, due to their usual tightness around the groin area. It is reported that the Prophet (asws) prohibited praying in trousers unless a loose garment was placed around them (in the collection of Abu Dawood).
However, this is ultimately a position with a bit of wiggle room. Classical Hanafi texts (I am not in a position to comment on other schools on this topic) detail what makes up the awrah of men and women (In public, men: the navel to the knees, women: all but the hands and face – and possibly feet). The also outline the importance of wearing garments to cover the awrah that are opaque enough to hide the colour of the skin.
The key Hanafi scholar, Imam al Haskafi, in his major work Dur al Mukhtar states:
“Garments that are appropriate for covering the nakedness are those that cannot be seen through”
Imam Ibn Abideen, in his commentary on the above text, elaborates:
“[Those that cannot be seen through] means that the colour of the skin is not visible through the garment. As such, see-through garments are prohibited… If the garment makes the colour of the skin non-visible, but is tight enough to show the shape of the body, this will have not impact the validity of the prayer.”
These illustrate that, while undesirable, tight clothing is not expressly prohibited in the Hanafi School, unless it allows the colour of the skin to be seen.
The readers would now be within their rights to ask, “why has the discussion shifted from one about consistency to one about rulings in fiqh”? A minor digression, please pardon me.
I am attempting to illustrate another issue here that is indicative of inconsistency: convenience in argument.
Those that argue against the women’s team speak of specific fiqhi opinions that do not allow tight clothing as a means of covering one’s awrah. However, they not only ignore the application of these opinions to men, but they also reject the valid opinions that allow for tight clothing. Not exactly water-tight rationale here.
Ultimately, what is most sad about this specific situation is not the foundational inconsistencies in the arguments of those that reject the permissibility of the women’s team, but rather the impact it has upon any objective responder to such arguments. Conclusions such as, ‘men have double standards’ and ‘women are being oppressed’, would not be completely irrational, given the application of these arguments.
Also disappointing is that in an environment where one football code’s world governing body continues to prevent Muslim women from wearing the headscarf at the highest levels of the sport, and some local swimming centres prevent Muslim women from swimming in anything that covers their entire body, the story of the Auburn Tigers Women’s Australian Football team, which is fully supported by the respective code’s governing body, is one that should be embraced, celebrated and encouraged.
I do sincerely pray that this wonderful initiative will be around for many years to come, so that many more young Muslim women may be able to participate in amateur sport in an environment that is genuinely Muslim friendly. The Australian Football League is ensuring that there are prayer rooms and halal food options at each of its stadia. Muslim players at the elite level are encouraged to observe the prayer and fast Ramadan (and do). Most importantly, our women are not told they are not good enough to play because they cover themselves out of modesty.
Let us pray that inconsistency in the way Muslims have discussions with one another do not lead to the destruction of such initiatives. Certainly, they are destructive enough in the impact they have upon intra-community relations and the perception of our Law from those outside of the faith.