Female PJD MP makes u-turn on her views on the hijab in a bid to rise above the torrent of criticism threatening to sink her political career.
Rabat – As she faces a barrage of criticism for failing to uphold her party’s “Islamic values,” Amina Maelainine refuses to succumb to critics.
Hitting back at her “detractors” in a lengthy profile article published earlier today Moroccan weekly Al Ayyam, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) MP said that the Hijab is not an essential part of Islam.
Maelainine rose to political prominence as an articulated and outspoken proponent of female modesty in accordance with what she saw as Islamic principles.
Now, though, the PJD MP says she had been mistaken because she used to “disproportionately” consider physical appearance as central in experiencing one’s faith.
“The veil is not an Islamic pillar,” Maelainine said, in reference to the five precepts, or “Islamic pillars,” that constitute the cornerstone of the Muslim faith.
For an MP whose political speeches used to make effusive references to the virtues of devout female believers as she represented a party whose base is adamant on upholding the precepts of one’s faith in public life and government practices, Maelainine’s comments can come across as surprising.
Aware of the implications of her statements, however, Maelainine sought to clarify. She said that some Islamic precepts are compulsory, whereas others stem from personal choices and are subject to circumstances.
She elaborated, “Being naked does not have the same social significance in tropical Africa, the Middle East, or Latin America. These are relative questions that should not be approached through the lenses of an absolute.”
At the heart of Maelainine logic is the desire to refrain from judging others’ lifestyles. She said that clothing reflects a “social contract” binding an individual to centuries of social conventions, the result of historical and cultural considerations.
“I know some leading PJD members who are very open on the question of the Hijab. Their stances are indeed very liberal. But they can’t openly express their ideas because of party and social constraints.”
Maelainine evoked the context in which she took up the Hijab, referring to early high school years in which judgment is sometimes clouded by unquestioned allegiance to scriptures she did not fully grasp. She implied it is easy to espouse militant attitude toward faith when one knows very little.
When she was in high school and decided to wear the hijab, she considered it as the “essence of religion.” In those early years, she explained, “We tended to accord disproportionate importance to the veil and clothes in general.”
But many things have changed, Maelainine seemed to suggest. A philosophy graduate—and teacher— who had the chance to encounter classic texts on faith and community, the MP said she now knows that questions like physical appearance and clothing choices “are trivial.”
The most pressing concern for an Islamist government or leader should be good policy making to solve societal issues, rather than judgmental attitudes on people’s life choices, according to Maelainine.
She revealed that being bearded or refraining from greeting women were “essential considerations” for PJD male members in the party’s early years.
Now, however, “one can hardly imagine a [PJD] minister giving importance to such trivialities, at the expense of solving his department’s problems.”
More than ethical, religious considerations on what to wear and how not to behave in public, Maelainine also expressed her “liberal take” on the experience of faith.
Faith, she said, should entirely be a personal matter. The country does not need custodians to dictate on people what they should believe. “I think that freedom of conscience should be guaranteed for everyone.”
The Maelainine controversy
For all the conciliatory underpinning of Maelainine’s philosophy-inspired comments, her change from an ardent supporter of the hijab to a heartfelt proponent of hijab-free expression of faith and public decency has personal motivations.
She herself is currently fighting with mounting criticism from within the lower and upper echelons of her own party.
In early January, pictures of an unveiled Maelainine in Paris made the rounds on Moroccan social media. Critics—Moroccan liberals in great number—slammed both Maelainine and her party for thriving on “the credulity of the Moroccan electorate.”
The idea was that the PJD capitalizes on “Islamic ethics as a political market,” with MPs that publically exhibit Islam-saturated public personae that clash with their personal lives. Critics said that the PJD’s “hypocritical” MPs use religion to only appeal to the country’s largely conservative populations.
Maelainine first denied the authenticity of the pictures. She claimed the images were “fake and fabricated” and were only meant to defame her, ruin her political career. She even threatened to sue the authors of the “smear campaign.”
Following more leakages, however, the MP acknowledged that the pictures were real. But she remained as unrepentant. She declared that her convictions as a political representative and fighter for “democracy, justice, and human rights” far outweigh her attire choices or her public appearance in general.
Maelainine has since been at the heart of a party dispute. While some PJD members have voiced their support for the besieged MP, others, including party leader and head of government Saad Eddine El Othmani, have said that she had no right to take off her hijab while in Paris.
Referring to that episode in her interview with Al Ayyam, Maelainine said she has “no regrets” over her recent choices. However, she explained, she was “pained” that her PJD “brothers and sisters” who should have come to her rescue chose to lambast her instead.
“I cannot accept that my personality and political fights be reduced to my clothing choices,” she said.