Faith means complete trust or confidence in someone or a strong belief. By the mere definition, faith can only come from within the heart — whether it be faith in others, faith in oneself, or faith in God. Faith cannot be imposed on someone, since it requires the heart’s devotion and involvement. It is a seed buried that flourishes in the heart.
Sadly, we continue to see people attempting to force their faith and beliefs upon others. Most recently, news captured the events of an American wishing to pursue a chess match in Iran, yet she was denied the opportunity because she refused to wear the country’s state-mandated attire for women.
The irony is that American chess prodigy, Nazi Paikidze, and all women, regardless of their faith, should never be forced to wear a hijab per the tenets of true Islam. The prescribed law of Iran, forcing Muslim and non-Muslim women to wear hijab, is extremely un-Islamic.
Countries such as Iran that impose unfair laws in the name of Islam have created a misleading image of Islam. Rather than highlight that Islam was the first religion to offer women their rights, as well as a religion that embodies freedom of conscience, their country’s laws signal oppression of females, which is contrary to true Islam. While modesty is indeed an important aspect of Islam for both genders, forcing a woman to submit to matters of faith is seen as a violation of a woman’s right to her freedom of conscience.
Should Iran wish to reflect on Islam’s perspective of hijab, they should note that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself taught Muslims, Jews, and Christians to live side by side and practice their religion freely. He never forced them to convert or wear the hijab. If the Prophet never forced women to dress a certain way, why would any government think that they could do so?
If Iran in indeed a genuine practitioner of Islam, then its government should know that a guest is considered a blessing. Guests, while visiting a country, should be entitled to the high standards of hospitality ordained by true Islam. Any guest should be given as much comfort as possible. For instance, it is noted in many hadith that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would surrender his and his family’s comfort for the sake of his guests.
Sacrificing for the comfort of another should have been on the minds of the Iranian government for the sake of all their visitors. Imposition of laws that only apply to Muslims should not be forced upon anyone, not even Muslims, as it was never the practice of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to subject anyone to follow Islam’s guidance unwillingly. The very mere fact that Paikidze would have been a guest should have given way to hospitality that would make her feel welcomed, rather than deterence by forcing religious practices.
The Holy Qur’an clearly states: “There is no compulsion in religion.” [2:257] Government laws per true Islam should enable freedom of religion and freedom of conscience to help develop a pluralistic and harmonious society. Forceful laws that are actually an imposition of faith give rise to extremists. And in cases like Pakidze’s, all Iran has done with its actions and un-Islamic laws enable more minds to develop a negative image of Islam.
Religion is practiced from the heart, not by force. Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the fourth worldwide spiritual leader to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, famously said, “Swords can win territories but not hearts, forces can bend heads but not minds.” Any sane person or government should keep in mind that if God actually desired for everyone to be forced into a certain faith, He had the power to do so, but instead granted human beings free will to learn and intellectually practice what a human would think best. Those governments who think they can impose religion on anyone are only fooling themselves to think God would do the same.
Ramlah Saifi received her bachelors of arts in Religious Studies and Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She was born in Sierra Leone during its tumultuous civil war. Contact Ramlah Malhi-Saifi at RamlahSaifi@gmail.com or follow her at Twitter.com/RamlahSaifi.