Islamic Studies

Evaporation of Islam: the Plight of Our Brothers and Sisters in Tunis

Asalamu alaykum,

Words cannot express my sadness and anger for what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Tunis.

Some Facts:

  • There were reports of police requiring women to remove the veil in offices, on the street, at universities, and at some public gatherings; however, it was nonetheless common to see women wearing the hijab in a variety of public settings.
  • School officials took disciplinary action on several occasions to punish and deter wearing the hijab. According to local NGOs, on March 6, 2008, a teacher at a Tunis high school removed the hijab of a student. On April 10 and 11, 2008, a principal prevented several female students from attending their classes at a high school in El Ghazala because they were wearing the hijab.

  • There were also frequent reports that police harassed or detained men with beards and/or who wore traditional Islamic-style clothing. According to human rights lawyers, the Government regularly questioned and detained some Muslims who were observed praying frequently in mosques.
  • The Government controls and subsidizes mosques and pays the salaries of imams (clerics). The President appoints the Grand Mufti of the Republic. The 1988 Law on Mosques stipulates that only personnel appointed by the Government may lead activities in mosques and that mosques must remain closed except during prayer times and authorized religious ceremonies, such as marriages or funerals. However, several historically significant mosques are partially open to tourists and other visitors for a few hours per day, several days a week. New mosques may be built in accordance with national urban planning regulations; however, upon completion, they become the property of the Government.

  • The authorities instructed imams to espouse government social and economic programs during prayer times in mosques and informed imams that those who used mosques to “spread ideologies” would be prosecuted.

  • Government decrees dating from 1981 and 1986 restrict the wearing of sectarian dress, generally interpreted to mean the hijab, in government offices and discourage women from wearing it on public streets and at certain public gatherings. In December 2006 a lower court ruled that the 1986 decree was unconstitutional, but the ruling is not binding. The Government stated that the hijab is a sign of membership in a fundamentalist group that hides behind religion to achieve political ends and that, according to the Modern Islamic school of thought, wearing the hijab is not an obligation. The Government describes the hijab as a sectarian garment of foreign origin and justifies its restriction of the hijab in public institutions as necessary to preserve the impartiality of officials.
  • There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report. The Government prohibits efforts to proselytize Muslims; it also restricts the wearing of the hijab (Islamic headscarf). Domestic and international human rights organizations reported instances of police harassment of women wearing the hijab and men with traditional Islamic dress and beards.

Source US Embassy Tunisia

Finally, two years ago the Government of Tunisia started the mosque I.D plan. Meaning, if you want to pray in your local mosque you would need an I.D card. This card would prevent you from praying anywhere else. Now if you are a tourist there is no problem, you can go where you like. This was announced on al-Arabiyyah news 2 years ago. This brother has more information on the program: click here.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.

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  • Salams,
    May Allah make things easy for them and all of us. With that, I believe that the story about ID cards for the Masjids is an urban legend – at least that’s what I have heard (and pray that it is an urban legend).

  • Allahu Musta’aan, may Allah make it open the way for our brothers and sisters in Tunis and everywhere… Alhamdullilah we have the freedom to wear hijab and brothers to grow their beards, to pray in masajid and chill there as long as we want…how many of us are taking advantage of it?

  • subhanallah, am so lucky to me in the US and not worry about such a thing. May Allah help the brothers and sisters there in Tunisia.


  • I feel so lucky to be in Egypt where I don’t need to worry about this type of harassment. In the US, I was so tired of stares and attitudes and always feeling like the ‘different’ one. Here, fine they’re not super practicing but they’re not questioning me at least and I get some respect and honor.

  • Subhanallah that is saddening and ridiculous. May Allah relieve Muslims everywhere from harassment and unfounded accusations.

    Does anyone have an idea of what the situation in Tunis is now? The source mentioned is a little old (2 years) dating back to the ID card initiative, but I’m curious to know current government opinion of hijab and other issues in Tunis right now. Is anyone aware of this?

  • It’s just amazing when you see the situation there in Tunisia. It’s funny: a Muslim land where Muslims have no liberty to practice Islam.

    I know a sister who moved from Tunisia officially for studies but in fact she just wanted to be free, wear her hijab because she couldn’t in Tunisia. She said me that her brothers have a lot of difficulties with the police coz they wear the beard and go to the masjid.

    So yes here in some non Muslims countries we have difficulties to practice Islam but we “can” understand coz this is not a Muslim country. We just have to recognize that it’s more easy to practice our faith here than Tunisia for example!

    And I don’t know if you know that our brother Tariq Ramadan said a lot of critics about the liberties in Tunisia and because of those critics now he can’t go to Tunisia. He’s not allowed to go there like Arabia Saudi too!

    All of us have to remember them in our supplications.

    We have wonderful arm is our du’as, don’t forget this!

  • Li Kulli Dhalim al-Yawm…May Allah help the Tunisian and give them faith upon faith. I am not someone who makes takfeer and wont enter upon that as I am someone with little knowledge but someone who changes Allah’s law and believes it is ok, isn’t that the definition of istihlal? IF that’s the case, looks like its pretty clear that the leaders are calling to ma3siya.
    Allah guide is to what pleases Him.


  • Brother Suhaib,

    Salamou alaykoum,

    I am new to this forum, I have heard of you and of your blog through my beloved wife who in turn was referred to it through the MCA in Santa Clara. We both attend some classes there and in other mosques as well and quite frankly I am concerned about a phenomenon that is taking place in bay area muslim community. Before I do that, let me first commend on your efforts to introduce Islam to the American people; may Allah reward you for your efforts in this life and in the hereafter. I am going to try to be as concise as possible, and not diverge from the topic of the post above. I’d like to share some of my remarks and concerns as it portrays to my experience so far with MCA and other organizations and mosques although not as large but also affecting the community in general. Some of these organization give introductory classes on Islam to new muslims, others invite speakers to shed light on other aspects of Islam, while larger organization hold seminars that span weeks over a subject matter. These are great initiatives and surely well intended efforts, but there something that struck me as I started to further explore the environment of these classes and talks. Quite frankly, i am troubled by tendencies of these speakers and audience at MCA for instance to always emphasize the “bad deeds and lifestyles” of what I consider moderate muslims, labeling them as liberals or progressives, some times demonizing them, other times mocking them. These are muslims who’s only fault is to have a different take or understanding about say shaking a woman’s hand or befriending a non muslim. My issue is not really the fact that this is happening, for I believe everyone has the right to view a certain behavior as too liberal or too conservative in these post modern times. My concerns is really that while these views are being expressed by both the speakers and attendees, the former never take the time to mention or warn about the extremism that is happening on the other end of the spectrum: the “goulouw” in religion and the rigid reading and interpretation of the quraninc text; I am not speaking about politics, terrorism, or anything of the sort, but rather about issues that affect people on the daily basis such as the portrayal of moderate muslims as fake muslims so to speak. A talk addressed to or about folks who are attached to the image of islam or its religious trappings, who think that acting islamic begins and ends by putting a scarf on their head or growing facial hair, and proceed to then question the piety of other attendees; who simply assume that no one is real muslim unless they do these things. In fact, many of the questions asked during these “classes” or “talks” are rhetorical questions aimed at making people uncomfortable either to entice confrontation or to create a Madrassa-like environment! “What is the punishment of people who hang pictures in their houses?” This is a question I actually remember because I just heard it last week in one of the classes in the bay area, and it seems to me that many attendees come to these classes in order to preach, not learn! Unfortunately, the speakers and instructors do not make note of this phenomenon, in fact the mainstream idea inside mosques and during any community gathering -say a picknick or a Eid Fitr gathering- is that if you do not have a scarf on your head or some facial hair, you are either not a full muslim! Classes and talks became a holy event! Another and more alarming example I will mention is when when a speaker asked the “class” if they believed that in general, poeple who call themselves muslims today around the world are indeed muslims. Almost everyone in the class said “no” which was surprising tome since the teacher spent the last ten or fifteen minutes speaking negatively about the so called progressive muslims. I am sure that he probably did not intend for this coorelation to be made and the conclusion to be drawn and that’s understandable; but I was stunned that the teacher found this an acceptable answer and not even worth discussing. How can such a question be asked to an audience of twenty, half of which haven’t even been muslims for a year (not to downplay their knowledge, but there is a due process involving this kind of judgment); and most importantly how can such answer not be elaborated on or discussed? It seems to me that the muslim organization are more focused on doing outreach programs to non muslims while letting people already muslims on their own, judging each other and cultivating narrow minded ideas and attitudes. It goes without saying that my comments are not directed at you personally. I am merely sharing my opinion with you and the readers; I also should mention that I’ve lived in the bay area for about four years only and that there might be other aspects I have not gotten to experience or witness. However, what I have noticed so far appears to be consistent and ingrained in people’s mind. Allah knows best!

    Concerning the topic above, and in connection with what I said above, please allow me to ask you the following: What is your opinion on the role of the state to protect the cultural identity of its people, prevent the instrumentalisation of Islam for political gains, and about the necessity of an oversight of the religious institutions in muslim countries by their respective governments?


    Youssef B.

  • Salamu Alikum,

    Brother Youssef if I may I would like to comment on your post. To some extent I agree with you about the harsh tone and seemingly “trivial” matters of discussion that happen in some of these events. But there are two problems with this phenomenon.
    One, is that some of the speakers do not fully comprehend the Quranic command
    (ولو كنت فظا غليظ القلب لانفضوا من حولك) (If you were vulgar/rude and hard of heart they would scatter from around you) and this is a phenomenon I have noticed since moving to North America 12 years ago and in a lot of masjids the Khutbah focus on what is Haram and does not deal with what can be done to help you live your life Islamically in a non-muslim country. But this phenomenon is reciprocated by another more dangerous one in my humble opinion which is the fact that when people are faced by the “threat” of a non-muslim society to the Islamic way of life they tend to bounce back to the way they grew up in an Islamic country. Unfortunately as we all know, the lines between culture and religion become blurred and people can not distinguish between what is “this is Islamically correct” and “this is what I grew up with” and they seem to hang on to trivialities.
    Progressive, moderate, conservative are all political terms coined to make the lines even blurrier. Take a look at American politics for example and even though I consider myself “conservative” I do not want to be mixed with the “conservatives” in the view of the American public, nor would I want to be a “liberal”.
    A muslim is a muslim. There are shades of faith and there are levels of Iman but Allah is the judge of that not you me or any sheikh. Having said that though, it is safer brother for one to admit their own short coming to themselves اذا بليتم فاستتروا and take proper steps towards strengthening their Iman. As far as those events go, ask the question of why and see what evidence the sheikh comes up with and see what other trusted SCHOLARS say and make your choice. After all that is what you are going to be judged on by Allah; your choice and whether it was well/ill informed.
    I wish you, and the rest of our muslim ummah, the best akhi.

  • Salam Alaikum Ustadh,

    You may want to get in touch with Shaykh Rachid al-Ghannoushi and post something about his work and his efforts towards making things better in Tunisia. 🙂

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