Why the Veil Liberates Women
August 30, 2008 1:51 am
Last month, newspapers all over the world broke the story of Faiza Silmi, a Muslim woman who was denied French citizenship on grounds of her ‘radical’ practice of Islam. On top of that, French minister for urban affairs, Fadela Amara – herself a Muslim – called Ms. Silmi’s face veil “a prison” and a “straitjacket.” This is despite the fact that Ms. Silmi wears it out of choice.
The concept of veil is quite misunderstood both in the West as well as amongst some Muslims. Sydney Morning Herald published a great article by Naomi Wolf exploring the motivation of wearing a veil among Muslim women
– the article is a very good one and worth a read for anyone trying to understand the issue. The author recognized that Muslims differentiate between private and public life when it comes to sexuality. Modesty is a cherished value for both men and women in public. In an Islamic society, partners exclusively belong to each other. Explaining the concept, Ms. Wolf writes:
The West interprets veiling as repression of women and suppression of their sexuality. But when I travelled in Muslim countries and was invited to join a discussion in women-only settings within Muslim homes, I learned that Muslim attitudes toward women's appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression, but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one's husband. It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality, but that it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channelling - toward marriage, the bonds that sustain family life, and the attachment that secures a home.
A family forms the foundation of a society, and it ought to be preserved. Modesty is one of the means, and perhaps the most important means, of achieving that goal. And headscarf is one of the many components of that modesty. However, it is not only headscarf that is the focus of Islamic teachings - it is in fact modesty. For this reason, in its order, Quran first addresses males and tells them to "lower their gaze and guard their modesty" and then moves to address women. Exploring the headscarf, the author narrates:
Many women said something like this: "When I wear Western clothes, men stare at me, objectify me, or I am always measuring myself against the standards of models in magazines, which are hard to live up to - and even harder as you get older, not to mention how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected." This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images, but it is a recognisably Western feminist set of feelings.
The author also recounted her experiment of trying out a headscarf in shalwar kameez, dress worn by men and women in eastern countries. Her experience and learning are worth a read as they shed light on the feelings of a western non-Muslim woman in veil for the first time.
A very good explanation of the veil. This article, however, "unveils" that Western society standards and Islamic ones are hard to reconcile. This explains why Muslim women who wish to switch to Western style appearance carry high personal risks against their families and background and may be sometimes become subject of murder of honor. Long time ago, European societies had much more rigid standards regarding the social contacts of sexes, however softened by the fact that this was a rather middle class phenomenon. Aristocracy and low class people never cared that much. At this point, it should be remembered that moral teachings of the Roman Catholic and other Christian churches are as strict as Muslim ones, except for the veil. Interesting that the veil was common with us in the Middle Ages and again a kind of fashion gadget in the 19th century.
— Peter Fuchs, Purkersdorf, Austria
(Posted on Sep 4, 2008 3:05 am)
Why is the hair or face considered "immodest"? I understand the bosom and waist and legs and whatnot, but the face and neck, or HAIR?? Come on. A woman can be modest by just wearing loose clothes in general. I wear loose clothing in the workplace for the same reasons...to be taken seriously and to take focus off my body...but I don't wear a veil and I doubt that seeing my HAIR has turned anyone away from God.
Besides, some women in the Middle East have been blinded and maimed when acid was thrown into their their eyes because their faces weren't covered. You can't tell me that this is liberating towards women. I just don't buy it, no matter how many rationalizations and weird interpretations I hear.
The veil predates the Quaran and began by poor women imitating the rich ones, who could afford to wear scarves and be idle and not do hard labor.
Lastly, it seems that the veil puts all the blame of sexuality on women, and holds men as hapless victims of a woman's beauty. Men need to be held responsible for their actions, too, and not just blame women for all of their problems.
— Asa, USA
(Posted on Nov 13, 2008 10:13 pm)
your comments prove your ignorance of Islam.
1) Modesty is relative. Many people may think face is the most lustful thing in a women's body. So if you obey Islam, you cannot just say hair is not immodest and so I will bare it in public. You may follow Islam or not, but you cannot misquote.
2) And Islam has NOWHERE specified the exact dress for hizab. Scholars agree that definition of modesty and humbleness as described in the Quran differs from countries to countries. The general notion of modestly-dressed women is far different in Pakistan than in Italy.
3)However, Islam has said some basic 'rules' for women. For example, 'not showing off their beauties', 'hanging a cloth over their breast', 'preferring to stay in houses' etc. A hizab can be numerous types even after obeying these rules.
4)The acid throwing incident is totally irrelevant. Many non muslim women in USA have been also 'acided' haven't they? Again, many muslim women have been tortured for observing hizab, haven't they?
5) Your last argument is baseless. Read the fourth paragraph of the essay. Hizab is just a tiny part of a vast set of Islamic gender and sexual provisions. Hizab is first for men, then women. There are a lot of instructions for muslim men on behaving with women also. However, those are not adequately mentioned in the press.
So dear sister, don't cling to the radical idea 'I just don't buy it, no matter how many rationalizations and weird interpretations I hear'. Study and obey Islam, which have liberated women from the gloom of repression and consumerism.
— Ashik, Bangladesh
(Posted on Dec 6, 2008 1:23 pm)
asa, i must say i'm in agreement with you, i understand however that covering the body can be good for communities, if so then why aren't the men required to dress in a similar manner? and i have never heard of a case in the U.S. where a woman had acid thrown in her face because she dressed in an inappropriate manner. The radical sexists that follow islam right down to the bone are putting women in positions that are below the men, it's almost obvious that the dress codes were written by men that are cited in the Quran. I support the practice of islam, i just do not support the way the religion treats women.
— adam, USA
(Posted on Jan 9, 2009 11:43 am)
Mashallah. Good effort.
One should be a fundamentalist if the fundamentals of his religions are 100% right. I am proud to be a Muslim fundamentalist because I know that each and every command which I follow is from Allah, the creator.
— Muslimah, Pakistan
(Posted on Jan 10, 2009 10:28 pm)
I do not understand how women cannot understand the fact that covering yourself requires men to appreciate you for more than the outward apperance. I do not desire to be seen as a piece of meat in the market, which is the way many women are portrayed in western society. I am a muslim convert and am very comfortable with the idea that there are still somethings that are reserved for my husband.
— Fatima, usa
(Posted on Feb 28, 2009 5:01 pm)
Men are meant to be modest. RAINN and some understanding of physical differences between genders and mental capacity for forceful gratification and sexual association among other things Adam are the easiest arguments.
Also I will quote and paraphrase a woman I know who is a fundamentalist and a feminist, a very intelligent visiting doctor (oncologist I think) asked her why she covered up, she in turn asked what he did when he met a woman, he answered very frankly a (admirably) by saying he would likely (actually always) look at her body , she then asked having not been able to do that upon meeting her if he acted any differently, he said he (practically by force) listened to what she said when she spoke.
Also you realize men use visual cues much more than women and that the overexposure to stimulus does affect libido and brain chemistry? Non sensical and self destructive gratifying behavior is not called being open minded by the way, and doing wrong things that you pretended were ok at the time even though you know were wrong aren\'t called \"mistakes/mixups\". Dressing modestly and covering yourself reinforces what you chose to live by and might save you and reminds you of your values that a lack of serotonin (no sleep), an overactive libido and too much coffee (inducing norepinephrine) and social and situational pressure might tempt you in to caving. And to say that the mind doesn\'t need psychological queues and a framework is like saying Hydrocarbons don\'t need hydrogen, oxygen or carbon to be hydrocarbons.
— thesilverpanther, Qtr
(Posted on Mar 1, 2009 6:32 pm)
I for one wish that society in the USA would get away from women having to constantly decorate themselves to be valued and/or liked. I am tired of being compared to something that I will never attain, nor wish to. I am short, plain and I like it that way. I do not wish to be judged or valued by my 'theatre,' rather by my charactor, etc... I wish Hijab were in-fashion because I would never have to worry about bad hair days ever again! I would rather wear my pashmina over my head than around my neck any day. To wear a Hijab or anything like it would invite hate crime, and ridicule. I wonder what shaving my head would do???
— Naomi M., Indiana, PA, USA
(Posted on Mar 11, 2009 7:44 pm)
Hear! Hear! I agree with Ashlik from Bangledesh...because of this consumerism those women who cannot afford such extravagances have no chance to be seen for themselves! I am a whole person, not just my clothing, or hair...
Shukran Asklik for stating it so well!
— Naomi M., Indiana, PA, USA
(Posted on Mar 11, 2009 7:52 pm)
So if women have to cover up in this way to be taken seriously, by er... well, men as it turns out, doesn't this suggest that men are nothing more than weak willed, over sexed idiots, unable to even look at ANY woman without turning into a drooling, panting, sticky mess?
If I were a man I'd be really unhappy with what this dress-code doctrine implies about my inherent nature. Don't men care that this is how they are being represented?
Blaming women for the 'weaknesses' of men is an ancient tradition. Even if the notion of modesty decreed the wearing of blindfolds for men, women would still be blamed for the sexual power that plagues them. Instead of policing how we dressed, we would be critised for our sexy voices or seductive perfumes. We would end up having to wear gags and bathe in muck instead.
And don't even get me started on what this whole male/female sexual power/modesty crap means for gay and lesbian people.
— Trublu xx, Exeter, UK
(Posted on Mar 27, 2009 11:18 am)
well i being a young recently awakened muslin donot really know of what to make out of this litle argument that has been blown out of proprtion over the years......as a girl in india i am in a constant dilemma as to hijabify myself or not......reading the above artcle was enlightening...my heart is asking me to go ahead and wear the hijab.........pls pray that allah subhanavtala shows me and all other muslim women the right path.................insha allah.
— saman, india
(Posted on Mar 29, 2009 3:29 am)
I am a non-Muslim western woman who has covered her body from neck to toe for some 25 years. I am also an ardent feminist.
My rationale for doing this is clear. My body and my sexuality belong irretrievably to me, and I will do everything in my power to prevent these becoming alienated from me in male sexual fantasy. I also believe that being covered militates against the cultural objectification of women that is rife in Western societies and the growing trend towards normalisation of pornography and prostitution.
I agree with other commentators about men needing to be responsible for their own sexual response towards women, however these women are dressed and believe unreservedly that men who rape or assault women are wholly to blame for their actions. My choice to cover comes from my own sense of myself as a woman and a human individual and my insistence on defining my own reality distinct from patriarchal conceptions of what I am.
— Redveg, London, UK
(Posted on Apr 7, 2009 6:15 pm)
I'm sorry, I still don't get it, I respect it, of course! But I don't get it. Surely gliding through society as an anonymous cloned ghost can't be good for you. Sure you can bling it up, but you are still unrecognisable. In westerner eyes, it gives the impression that you are ashamed or feel like a 'nobody,' or are worried about what people will say about you, that you are hiding from society.
Hey, you are who you are, and that's it. Period. Show it! Most societies are covered from head to knee as well so as long as it's done with taste then it's all good, right?
I 'kind of' get the hijab, is it like a uniform? Like why the police and military wear the same - it shows a belief, a unity towards one thing, which is admirable. The thing is, even in this gear, they are still recognisable.
I'm sure our creators are proud of what they have made, as I am proud of my family. I will not hide them.
Oh, the belief that men will become panting sex crazed molesters once they see female skin is laughable! You get the odd jerks in EVERY society, but you should not condemn the whole bunch. Do you think your father or brother would be one of these people? I pray they are not and if they are, they need a good slappin'!
Love and peace to all.
— Paul W, Kuwait
(Posted on May 8, 2009 9:32 am)
There is a differentiation between the choice of covering up and the pressure to cover up which is perhaps being missed. To discriminate against a woman who chooses to cover up in accordance with her interpretation of modesty is unacceptable. To demand or pressure a woman to accord with an external interpretation of modesty she does not agree with is also unacceptable. Whether or not the hijab is good or bad is irrelevant. Choice and toleration will eventually become the closest thing to global norms. To cling to "fundamentals" in defiance of these two norms will ensure anachronism and eventual oblivion, albeit potentially after protracted struggle.
— Mike, Australia
(Posted on May 28, 2009 3:51 am)
The complete covering from head to toe is to deny your own belief in God. For it was he who made women in their form. To appeal to men for procreation. To appeal to men so that want to stay with you. And the opposite is true - he made man in their form to appeal to women for procreation and to appeal to women so that they will not stray. Ever hear of what a true family is? To show off God's hand work is not a sin in any religion - just ask him instead of listening to others - ask him, talk to him, walk with him. (Read RUMI). But it is the society and not the religion which subjugates women and or men. People who actually believe in Islam find no problem with women and support them in becoming individuals and are the people who carry the wisdom and love of God - those who who cover their real desires of subjugation of women and others (out of fear) under the cloak of Islam are the true enemies of Islam. And for the latter I feel sorrow that they cannot know God, his teaching, and his wonderfulness for they use all their time hating.
— martin, united states
(Posted on Jun 5, 2009 2:20 pm)
Assalamualaikum wr wb
After many articles about hijab and khimar or niqab and burkha...I came to conclusion most of us thinking the benefit of wearing the hijab is mostly about to avoid ourselves from the look of men!
I am wearing hijab my self Alhamdulillah...
I think we better go back to our intention when wearing one.
I prefer to believe we should submit our intentions in doing anything just because of Allah, including when wearing hijab ...Insya Allah.
May Allah have Mercy on us Amin Yarrabbalalamin..
All that is good comes from Allah and the bad from myself. I beg forgiveness from Allah for my mistakes.
Wassalamualaikum wr wb
— Nana Luqman, Indonesia
(Posted on Jun 11, 2009 11:29 am)
I have found it very interesting to read the above comments. I have to say, I see where each one of you is coming from. I do believe that being conservative to a certain extent is important. Unfortunatly that is how society is, and will in fact judge a woman on how she dresses. I do believe women should in fact keep some parts of their body covered. However, I still don\'t understand why they should cover their faces. I think its important for women not to be afraid and feel as if they need to hide behind something. The covering of the hair I do get, because I think it is said thats where the beauty lies in a woman. Either way, living in a Muslim country myself, I do in fact think that Islam is a beautiful religion, and cultures should not be forgotten, however somethings do need to be modernized to a certain extent in order for women and societies as a whole to progress.
— Jennifer, Qatar
(Posted on Jul 17, 2009 9:23 pm)
I Think you all should stop telling women what to do, and stop over reacting to sexuality, its really not that much of a big deal. Sex is just sex, it is what people do- sometimes for fun and sometimes to make babies. Please grow up and mind your own business. Also I think you should stop terrifying and indoctrinating your children with negative ideas about their bodies and making them cover themselves up when they go into puberty. Your making a big deal out of normal human development. How ridiculous is that? Modesty is just a construct, It doesn't have to have anything to do with respect. Respect is a human right-everyone deserves, no matter how one chooses to dress, live etc. Also it is abusive to brainwash children into your belief system. Give them the right to decide what they believe for themselves, when ready, if ever, it really doesn't matter. It is their business and human right.
Also stop living in fear, and don't let a book dictate to you how you should live your life. I dont need to be told by a book not to hurt someone, if I use my brain I know its not right. Dont you trust yourself? well then perhaps you should start learning to...
— liz moore, nz
(Posted on Sep 7, 2009 4:08 am)
As a Muslim, I think women should feel free to wear whatever they want, just like men do, no matter what religion they follow. Religions should deal with inner states, not appearance. I know most of you won't agree, but I wanted to add my word to the debate. Just one more word for the women who wear the veil because they fear the lascivious gazes of men: why don't you just start teaching your own sons and daughters to think differently? Otherwise society will never change, especially in the Muslim countries.
— Ghazi, Italy
(Posted on Sep 18, 2009 2:07 am)
After spending time in a Muslim country, I came to understand that for a Muslim woman who chooses to wear a veil, going without it in public would make her feel immodest and undressed. In other words, pretty much the way I would feel if I went out without a bra. It's also an outward representation of a woman's inner devotion to God, in much the same way as many American Pentecostal women don't cut their hair or wear makeup and always wear long skirts. No woman should be discriminated against in any way for choosing to wear a veil.
However, that being said, I don't believe that anyone should be forced to wear a veil nor punished for not wearing it. From my understanding of Islam, such extreme views are based more on tradition and local custom than on Islam itself.
— Diana, US
(Posted on Sep 21, 2009 6:53 pm)
I find this debate interesting... I am not from Islam and I am a Christian. I came to this blog to see what Islam had to say as I am comparing Christianity vs Islam. With that said I would like to state that in the USA women have been attacked for not dressing modestly. Women have been raped for wearing provocative clothing, and then lost the rape cases because they were dressed in mini skirts, etc. Yes, men do need to learn to act more responsibly however this is not the case as we have not evolved that far. I like to think of modesty as an insurance policy. People should not rob homes, but would you leave your doors open and unsecured knowing that burglars are near? No, you would lock your homes for security reasons so that your house is not burglarized. I think that if someone wants to wear modest clothing, I see no harm in it. I see power in it for those that wish to wear them. It is a personal choice. I see people here quoting what the bible wants, but I do believe that some of you should read your bible further. It also states to dress modestly. It also states that your hair is your crowning glory to God.
Even though I don't dress as modestly as Islam, I do believe it is their right to do so if they wish. I see people screaming for their right to wear their G-string bikinis here in the USA so why not let those that wish to cover up just do so in peace?
— Charity, USA
(Posted on Oct 8, 2009 6:53 pm)
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