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A trip to the Vatican City (Citta del Vaticano)
Today’s global village brings world religions increasingly into contact with each other, contrasting diversity and exposing harmony between different world views. I was inspired to write this article after a trip to the Vatican this summer. The Vatican, and Rome in general, is the heart of European Christian heritage, and a vestige of the classical Roman civilization alluded to in the Qur’an in Surat al-Rum (the Romans), which refers to the war between the Persians and Romans in the Levant, prophesying that the Romans would be defeated and then be victorious. As a Muslim, intercultural experiences foster my respect of diversity and the concept of living together.
In a coach trip to the Vatican there was an announcement that women and men should wear appropriate clothes and cover their bodies in order to enter the Vatican. All the tourists of different religious and ethnic backgrounds respected this and prepared themselves with appropriate clothing. I was inspired by the huge similarity between the modest clothing commitments displayed and the concept of hijab in Islam, both of which are chosen by women due to religious belief or respect, and reminded me that spiritual traditions enjoin respect for others in all aspects of life. I reflected on the widespread ignorance in the West about this issue, when the crucible of its own spiritual heritage still enjoins modern dress, and I contemplated that many Muslim women in the West try to hide their hijab (e.g. by wearing hats and hoods, or discarding it altogether) due to their fear of being labelled by others, while it is believed by many in the West that Muslim women are forced to cover their bodies – which is nonsense in the majority of cases, as anyone who knows Arab-Islamic heritage can attest.
Hijab is an individual religious commitment and choice that should be respected; indeed, in contexts where hijab has been prohibited, one must ask by what right the self-proclaimed champions of freedom dare to dictate what is and is not acceptable for a woman to wear. Individual choices in a free and open society should be made without fear of shame and judgment by others, and choices we may not agree with must be respected as individual rights. Bahrain is a shining example of peaceful intercultural experiences and harmony, where women can dress as they please without any legal constraints and with a generally accepting society within the parameters of public expectations. Intercultural exchange and thinking is crucial for social cohesion in every society, particularly in the increasingly globalized world. While people of power and wealth are happy to accept the free movement of capital worldwide, they are less accepting of the free movement of people, but in a capitalist liberal world one is indefensible without the other. In the increasingly interconnected global village, all people should be free to express their personal and religious identity.
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