Ahmad Mizher Saado
The right of women to choose the suitable clothing for them is considered one of the essential rights that Syrian women were able to achieve through ancient and modern history. This right was never violated except in certain cases, and under conditions of repression and violence against women, like what happened with Syrian women in 1981, when the militia (the defense brigades) which was then headed by Rifaat Al- Assad, brother of Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad, violated the sanctity of this garment. People reacted largely to that and they came out to defend the right of women to wear the dress or veil that suits them, or goes in line with their customs and traditions and social norms. Today, however, the attempt to impose the veil on Syrian women in Idlib governorate is surprising, and receives constant societal rejection and rejection on the level of values.
Today, while cases of imposing the Niqab on Syrian women in Idlib are prevalent, we find a state of dissatisfaction (in Idlib communities) when the Niqab is forcibly imposed on women, because it is incompatible with the desired and aspired state of freedom in the future Syria.
Mrs. Liqaa-S from the town of Salqin in Idlib assured us that: “the extremist factions are imposing the Hijab by force. From my personal experience, members of the so-called Al-Hisbah (committee for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice) in the Levant Liberation Committee have beaten me violently in the main street, because of my 11-year-old girl, despite her wearing a Hijab, because it is contrary to the system of imposing the Niqab. This was not the first incident as they have blatantly attacked us more than once, even though my child has not reached the legal age of Hijab.” She believes that “there is a social rejection of their Sharia, which is far from the Islamic religion. The evidence is that in one occasion, one of the preachers from Al-Hisbah intervened, and I told her that the girl did not reach the legal age, I asked: is not this the word of God? She replied: no, her size calls for her to wear a Hijab. In fact, there is no religious authority nor a correct religious background behind their words.” Mrs. Liqaa continued, “The preacher filed a lawsuit against me and I was summoned to their religious court. I did not respond of course, and my husband was interrogated instead of me. The truth is there are many wounds and feelings of insult in my heart because of this imposition.”
As for the university student (Safiyya A), she talked about what she called the detention of freedom. She said, “In their actions, there is not only detention of our freedoms but also a bloody flogging to our humanity. Our children have borne the biggest burden of fear, and the fatal feeling of erasing childhood features of their lives, and the magnitude of suffering from the harsh besieging.” She continued, “Is this religion? I say no, because their ideas are distorted. In the long term, there must be a correct vision of religion upon which we raise our children, and we must separate religion from political processes. I think what is happening to us is a corruption that must be amputated.”
It is a fact that participation must be established with some of the civil society organizations concerned with women and people’s rights, in order to stand by women to obtain this freedom. Hence, it was not possible to talk about the importance of addressing these violations of women’s rights without standing side by side with civil society organizations concerned with women and human rights in general. We met with Mrs. Ilham Haqqi, president of the Syrian Women Association concerned with Syrian women inside Syria. Haqqi confirmed, “The Syrian Women Association cares for women and women affairs, and works to deliver their free voices everywhere and to free them from the injustice they suffered.” She added, “We support women in the city of Idlib with the freedom of choice. They are essentially modest and we do not allow anyone to interfere in their privacy, and we refuse the return of slavery and the return of the absolute male domination as long as they are acting decently. No one has the right to impose the Niqab on them. There is much controversy over the subject of Niqab. The conscious society considers it a hindrance for women especially in these situations, as the family needs the efforts and work of the free woman because most men are absent at war. We emphasize that Syrian women are decent, and no one has the right to impose the Niqab on them because their relationship is with their creator who is the most merciful. We do not need mediators between our God and us. We always intervene to protect women, and this has led to the relative decline of the process of imposing the Niqab.”
Lawyer Marwan Hamza, president of the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria, said: “this is a complex problem from all sides; the religious opinion and more precisely the sectarian opinion and most unfortunately the opinion of the militia overlap. Factions govern all of Idlib and each faction claims to be right whereas the rest are wrong. The imposition of the Niqab in Sunni areas may be normal and accepted. However, do other sects accept it? It is very difficult, and if it is forced on all sects then it is rejected in any form as it associates with violating people’s freedoms and forcing them to execute the orders of those dominant groups in those areas.” As for how to deal with this phenomenon and the role of the organization, Hamza said: “this will not be easy as long as the illegal weapon is the master of the situation in Idlib. Confrontation with these factions opens a new door to battle and more casualties. All that is imposed on the individual human being is a violation of laws and human rights, even if it is from any political or religious party. All human rights organizations should monitor and detect and take a stand on these cases, and their condemnation is necessary because they violate human rights and freedoms.”
It is alleged that all the de facto forces and strict militant factions have obliged women in general to wear the Niqab and imposed it by force. In the context of accountability, we talked to Mohammad Abu Hafs, one of the leaders of the Levant Liberation Committee, which is the largest and most dominant faction in Idlib governorate, and he denied what was said about the process of imposing the niqab, saying: “what is publicized about the Levant Liberation Committee imposing the Niqab on the general public is pure fabrication. This has never happened. The Committee did not impose any kind of veil on the people, its work is only limited to (advice and guidance) through (the missionary office) which is active in markets and public places, and the work of the office is limited to guidance and advice, and clarifying the conditions of the Islamic veil to the public without imposing any kind. After this comes the role of Al-Hisbah whose task is preventing the use of any cosmetics or adorning oneself, like wearing tight or indecent clothing or showing off makeup in the markets.”
Syrian women remain the beneficiary category especially those living in Idlib governorate, because they are affected by the imposition of the niqab, and therefore, the work to restore the right of dressing freely is the path that directly benefits them, and thus the ability to move and do useful work for the whole society. The process of empowerment in this field will benefit all women in Idlib and therefore Syria.
The right of women to choose their dress and their social customs is an important part of the general freedoms of humans, as people were born free as stated in the human rights bill. This was confirmed by Dr. Ibrahim Fadel, a member of the Board of Directors of the Arab Organization for Human Rights in the city of Salqin/Idlib. He said: “there is a process of imposing the Niqab on women in all areas that are under the control of the strict Levant Liberation Committee in Idlib. This imposition is done by the committee’s institutions and its members (Al Hisbah), and the previous Fatih army and the Islamists and ISIS. This policy led to a state of grumbling by the people and hatred towards those who imposed it, because they demonstrated hostility towards women as if they are an adversary and a source of sedition. In fact, they consider women to be Awrah (a thing of concealment, unlawful to appear in front of men), hence the pursuit of young girls at the age of ten years and above and harassing them by reprimand and abusive speech, because (Al-Hisbah) and its members are only interested in pursuing women. Then he added in utter frankness: “we have no role as a human rights organization because we are not allowed to work as they consider us to be secular organizations and a civil society and infidels, and we should be murdered as a punishment. And their voice is the only voice that can be heard.”
On this basis, there was a process of raising this issue as an important right that must be preserved for the sake of Syrian women in Idlib, where those who dominate are those who see the Niqab as an important issue that must be imposed. Moreover, the Syrian society is calling on us to reject it, on the grounds that it is a matter of personal freedom, and it is not permissible to interfere with it positively or negatively, because it is the right of a person whether a man or a woman to wear the outfit that suits them without infringing on the sanctity of the Syrian civil society and its prevailing values.
This human rights story was produced with the support of Journalists for Human Rights Organization (JHR) and Donner Canadian Foundation.