This is a perfect example of the contradictions inherent to secularism.
“Two influential German legal associations are calling for headscarves to be banned for judges and lawyers to uphold ‘neutrality’ in court.
“Robert Seegmüller, chairman of the Association of German Administrative Judges, said the required uniform of black robes, white shirt and white bow tie, cravat or neckerchief is important to show that the outcome of a case does not depend on the person, but solely on what the law says.””
What do you think are the origins of the black robe? The NY Times says: “Although the judicial robe’s origin remains uncertain, some believe it has its origins in the church, when the clergy and judiciary were one and the same. Robes appeared in the British judiciary in the 14th century.”
I haven’t taken the time to research this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, centuries ago, the robe was borrowed from the Muslim thobe (thawb), which itself was considered a garment of status, erudition, and religious prestige in our tradition.
Regardless, it is clear that the robe which these German secularists are insisting on has religious origins. And even to this day, the long robe has religious significance for Muslims, as both Muslim men and women will wear it. Women in particular wear black robes, i.e., the jilbab. Jewish and Christian religious figures also utilize the black robe. Whether past or present, the black robe is permeated with religious significance.
There are those who are arguing for the ban of the hijab as well as other religious symbols and claim that they are upholding “neutrality.” The straightforward objection is, of course, who decided what is “neutral” dress?
This is the central conceit of secularism, namely that if you subtract everything that is “religious,” what you are left with is truly neutral and that is where secularism ought to begin. In reality, however, there is no neutral core that is completely free of the same metaphysicality and normativity that is supposedly so objectionable about religion.
The only way to get to this neutral, secular core is to *create* it. You simply assert that a particular custom, cultural norm, style of dress, normative commitment, etc., is “secular” or “neutral” and everything else is “religious.” This labeling process gains legitimacy through shared cultural assumptions. Muslim practices and dress happen to be relatively foreign, so they are easily seen by all as distinctly “religious.” But Western modes of dress, many of which also technically have religious origins and significance, can be deemed “cultural” and hence “secular” and hence “neutral.” These are just language games.
So, this kerfuffle about black robes and the headscarf is a perfect example of secularism fabricating neutral ground in order to artificially maintain a hollow semblance of impartiality.
I also want to mention something about religious freedom. As I keep emphasizing, as Muslims we should not resort to freedom of religion arguments to defend ourselves against the secular assault. We should instead point out the internal contradictions of secularism (e.g., like I do above) and force the secularists to admit that their problem with the Muslim headscarf is nothing more than cultural bias. If they can admit that, fine. But we should not allow them to get away with pretending that their opposition to the hijab is due to some rational commitment to neutrality and even-handedness because, as we have seen, that is clearly not the case.
At the end of the day, if they want to insist that their objections to the hijab are due to cultural bias, Muslims can live with that. Because in Muslim societies, we should feel comfortable instituting our own standards of dress, standards which are not due to ever-changing cultural whims but based on our religious values and standards of decency and modesty set by God. This is where we want the discussion to end up.