Sunday, September 23, 2007

Veiled agenda: Wearing the Hijab

To veil or not to veil? The question over whether Muslim women should wear the hijab is on the front line of Islamic-secular relations in nations across the world. In three different continents, Kyrgyzstan, Canada and Nigeria are the latest contested battlegrounds for use of the traditional Muslim headgear. The Kyrgyz education ministry has officially banned the practice on school grounds and have imposed a fine of 700 soms (about $19) on the family of infractors.

Meanwhile the Youth Minister of Nigeria’s mainly Muslim state of Kano has denied the state government issued a directive for female students of all religions to wear the hijab. Over in Canada, politicians of all political parties have protested a recent decision by Elections Canada to allow veiled voters to participate in the upcoming federal elections without having to lift their veils.

According to Turkish sociologist, Nilufer Gole, veiling is the most salient emblem of contemporary Islamism. She says no other symbol reconstructs with such force the ‘otherness’ of Islam to the west and its use shows the insurmountability of boundaries between Islamic and Western civilisation. Gole also says that female dress codes have always been the litmus test of modernity in Islamic societies.

Her words are quoted in Geraldine Doogue and Peter Kirkwood’s study of the relationship between Islam and the west entitled “Tomorrow’s Islam: Uniting age-old Beliefs and a Modern World”. While the book addresses many controversial issues in relation to Islam, the chapter on the hijab and whether Muslim women are oppressed is possibly the most disputed. Doogue and Kirkwood interviewed many prominent Muslims for the book and found great diversity among Muslim women on clothing choice.

Baroness Pola Uddin, a Bangladeshi born British Labour politician (and the first Muslim woman in the House of Lords), told the authors she was puzzled by the decision of English Muslims to take the veil. She said her home culture has produced many female engineers while the women she knows are not passive and would not consider taking up the veil.

Turkish TV journalist and filmmaker Ayşe Böhürler, meanwhile, deeply shocked her family when she wore the veil that had been cast aside for two generations. She did not see her act as casting aside the secular reforms of Kemal Ataturk. Instead she saw her actions as the next logical step: by linking progress with an accompanying religious commitment. It was both a protest against Western ideas of modernisation and an affirmation of a collective identity.

Another Turkish interviewee, Professor of Sociology Ayşe Öncü, was not so sure. At her university in Istanbul, women students were debating the issue in detail: not only whether to wear the veil but if so, what version: full cover up or tied scarf. Öncü was worried that gender segregation would become a state policy. Geraldine Doogue believes that Muslim women are being encouraged to be anxious about their bodies and the whole idea seems suspiciously like self-loathing.

Wearing a veil was a Persian Zoroastrian and then Byzantine fashion which only made its way into Arabia after Mohammad’s death. There are no injunctions in the Koran about wearing the hijab. There is only one passage in the Koran (Sura 24: 30-31) about the need for modesty and it applies to men and women. Both men and women should “lower their gaze and guard their modesty” while in addition the women "should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof.”

The recent rise of the hijab is puzzling to western women, where dress codes have tended to become increasingly less modest. For many in the west, the hijab is a symbol of oppression against Muslim women and is a reminder that in some Muslim societies women are second-class citizens who cannot attend universities, are not allowed to drive and are victims of honour killings, circumcision and domestic violence. Ayşe Böhürler rejects this analysis. “For me it means freedom,” she said. "I do not want to impose my values on others and my own daughters will be free to choose whether to wear it or not”.


Sara said...

I just wanted to say that there are verses in the Quran about hijab:
'And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things) and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc) and not to show off their adornment except what must (ordinarily) appear thereof, that they should draw their veils over their Juyubihinna.'(S24:31).

In addition there are numerous narrations in which our prophet (SAW) talks about importance of hijab. So, the comment you made about it coming after islam is just wrong!

Why do non-muslims try to tell muslim woman why they should not be wearing hijab? Have you ever asked a muslim woman? Why is it modern to expose your self? Why do "MODERN" men feel threatened by a woman who covers? Are we boaring? I get so sick of such comments. I'm covered, I have friends who are covered. We work hard, doing PhD's in Science.

So called modern woman are oppressed! Yes thats right!

Hijab is protection from unwanted attention. It ditinguishes the beleiver from the non-beleiver.
Hijab is our right

We are NOT oppressed!

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that hijab IS mentioned as compulsory in the Quran and it IS required of Muslim women to wear. However, even if a Muslimah chooses NOT to wear the hijab, she is still regarded as Muslim and is in no way lesser, or inferior to the Muslim women that choose to wear the hijab.
Hjab is not only a head covering. It is an outfit, an attitude, a belief. It is the way the wearer acts as well as dresses. If a Muslim women chooses to display her faith, she can still be 'modernized' at the same time, as long as she is not breaking any Shariah rules.

Another point i would like to correct is, what you say in the last paragraph:
"For many in the west, the hijab is a symbol of oppression against Muslim women and is a reminder that in some Muslim societies women are second-class citizens who cannot attend universities, are not allowed to drive and are victims of honour killings, circumcision and domestic violence."
In Islam, women are completely equal to men and children are taught from a young age that 'paradise lies at their mother's feet'. Islam ENCOURAGES women to have a good education, pursue a career, and, also, be independent. if a Muslim women decides to get married and start a family, she keeps her money, possessions, and name. She is in no way expected to provide for her family (that is the husband's job) or even tidy or clean the house (She should be allowed to employ a maid to do this if she chooses, though most women do it themselves). Her husband should respect her and is not allowed to beat her AT ALL.

Women should also NOT be circumcised in Islam- female circumcision comes from some cultures and is PROHIBITED in Islam.

And now we come to the subject of "honour killings", or,as they are more widely known today, terrorist attacks. Islam prohibits killing innocent people and people who do so have warped beliefs and are not acting as Muslims should. Muslims who lived around when the Prophet Muhammad(saaws)was alive were instructed, when going to battle, to ' never kill children, WOMEN, old people, trees, or animals ' killing is only allowed as self defence, and even then only if there is no other option.

Islam, is, you see, a religion of piece where women are thought of as jewels, and if you have a jewel you do not go around flashing it around at everyone, because that is just asking for trouble; you keep it hidden and only show it to close relatives and friends. Women wear the hijab so as not to be thought of as 'sex objects', but as people, judged by their personalities, not looks or figure.
And, if you do not believe this, then let me ask you a question: Why is Islam the fastest growing religion in the world? And why are the majority of converts women?

Derek Barry said...

I think it is important that I address some of the issues raised in comments by Sara and "Muslim and Proud".

Firstly I did not say that hijab-wearing is a post Islamic tradition. From my research it began in Zoroastrian Persia and spread through the region. This region now has a predominately Muslim population but I believe it is a "Post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy to say that the tradition followed the religion.

Secondly, I personally made no recommendations as to whether Muslim women should or shouldn't wear the hijab. I outlined the various arguments pro and against, but do not have an opinion either way (and as a non-Muslim, it would have been irrelevant even if I did have a strong opinion on the topic).

re Muslim and Proud's comment, I totally agree that Islam itself that women have total equality to men. However, its occasional interpretation (like some interpretations of Christianity and Judaism) allows patriachal norms to discriminate against them.

I understand the 'jewels' and 'sex objects' argument and have no beef with them. Your question as to why Islam is the fastest-growing religion and particularly good at converting women, is an excellent one for which I don't have a good and ready answer. However I do think, that Islam's success with women is not necessarily related to arguments around the hijab.

Thank you both for taking the time to engage in the debate here and for leaving your informed comments.

Anonymous said...

Dear Derek, there are two passages in the Quran which refers to dress codes for Islamic women. As your essay quoted only one, I gather this subject has not been researched thoroughly.

I would recommend that you and all those who are keen in commenting about Islam read the Quran and Hadiths so that you may have a better understanding and put forward a more substantial article than what was posted.

The issue should not be limited to which country or government allows or disallows head scarves/hijabs but whether Islam directs the women to dress as such. For this you need to study and address the subject with the necessary research and references.

There will always be differences in interpretation but at least the arguments presented will deserve some respect.

I am always amused to see people especially in the west, discussing this topic and mostly their comments are negative for women who cover up.

Where is this "freedom of expression" which the west has always touted? Dont people have a right to dress as they see fit. Most Muslims have tolerated with a "live and let live" attitude when they see scantily dressed western women, yet the west are quick to jump on those who cover themselves up.

When there is no equality of treatment it is quite difficult for us to get our opinions across especially to those who have little or no knowledge of the subject matter.

Nevertheless I hope that down the road some will see the light and we can live with one another regardless of the clothes we wear.

A Believer

Mokhtar said...

To the owner of the blog. In your reply to Sara, you claim to have outlined various arguments on the "pros and against" the wearing of headscarves but you do not have an opinion either way!

Why would you want to write or comment on an issue when you have no opinions about it?

Either your arguments are not solid or you are just trying to jump into the "hijab" fray and stir the hornest's nest but not moving and inch either way for fear of being stung. Or could there be other agenda for bringing this issue to the fore.

State you convictions, whether readers of your blog agree with it or not is another matter. Take a stand and be respected as a writer with a mind of his own, rather than just regurgitating what others say.

Anonymous said...

Derek your research is faulty. There is no pre-Islamic or post Islamic.

Ask any scholar of Islam and you will be informed that Islam has been around since day one. From the prophet Adam to prophet Mohammad.

Anonymous said...

Hijab does not demonstrate whether you belive or not it is what is in your heart and not what you wear that brings you closer to Allah. When you give a present to someone it could be beautiful but wrapped in brown paper, on the otherhand it could be wrapped beautifully but be an ugly and undesirable present inside. As everyone should have the freedom to dress how they wish so everyone should take responsibility for their own actions AND THIS INCLUDES MEN AS WELL. Why should women be required to dress in a particular way because men cannot be trusted to behave correctly. Get a grip men start taking responsibility for yourselves.
The only reference I see in the Quoran requires women to dress modestly not hide their identities behind the niquab-gloves, socks, veils etc. To me these people have something to hide-like my reference to the present these women could be evil-whores-criminals who would ever know. They just look terrifying and ridiculous like 'large black bin bags'. As the Quoran states 'dont show off your adornment except what ordinarily appears i.e your face and hands. We should all be able to look each other in the eye and see the honesty in each others hearts. Wear hijab if you so desire but please do not put ridiculous conitations on it and niquab is nothing more than a aid to loss of identity. I am an unoppressed modern woman who lives in a muslim country with many muslim friends and I know for sure that hijab does not protect my friends from unwanted attention. Open your eyes and minds and look at the bigger picture.

Anonymous said...

In response to "Muslim and Proud":

There is a passage around 4:46 that does give instructions for a situation in which husbands are allowed to beat their wives. A husband is not allowed to beat a "good" or even a mediocre wife, however this rule does not generalize to all wives.