Goddess

Questioning The Veil by Marina Lazreg

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I thought I would share some quotes from this book, as I found it very enlightening.  I realize it’s a “hot” topic, but I feel the author of this book takes on the subject in a very respectful manner.  It helped me to better understand the reasons for veiling, they are as individual as the women who wear it, and the real life experiences presented in the book give a human feel to the issue that I think is lacking in a lot of discussions.

There are so many good points in the letters, so I will add them to the thread as I have time, but I'll start off with the introduction to the book and the first letter - tackling the issue of Modesty.

 

From the Introduction:

 

Early in the book, Lazreg speaks of her mother and how she could not come to rescue her (the author) when a boy from the neighbourhood was hitting her. Her mother did not have her veil on, thus she could not walk into the street in public to help her daughter.  Her mother threw a shoe at the boy, missed and hit her daughter in the forehead, leaving a permanent scar.  As she grew up, she wondered, “If the boy had been older and carried weapon, would the veil have prevented my mother from saving me?”

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There has been a change in women’s perceptions of the veil in the Middle East and North America.  The generation of women that came of age in the 50’s and 60’s when a number of countries recovered their political sovereignty seldom took up the veil in urban centers.  Coinciding with the emergence of the Islamist movement, the 70’s and 80’s witnessed a trend toward the use of veiling.  Women explained their turn to the veil as the result of heightened consciousness of the place and meaning of religion in their lives; as a way of showing modesty in their dress; a protection against sexual harassment or undesirable looks from men; and a political statement, especially among women relatives of men who joined the Islamist movement.  The most difficult argument to unravel is that of faith and conviction.  I respect the woman who, after studying religious texts, concludes that it is incumbent upon her to veil herself or that without a veil she would be living in a state of sin.  I would however, doubt her commitment to the veil if she has simply followed the opinion of others – men or sometimes women, of religion – about the religious meaning of the veil.  Faith is a personal matter even if religious practices involve the community of believers.  Nevertheless, considering that the woman question in the Middle Eastern culture has traditionally been a thorny one, it is crucial that any woman who decides to wear any type of veil examine her conscience and determine whether the veil is the ONLY manner for her to fulfill her spiritual needs.  Because of both its role in the history of women’s exclusion from social life and its resilience, the veil is overlaid with meanings that cannot be simply brushed away because a woman says so.  Whenever a woman wears a veil, her act involves other women, including girls.

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I take these women’s arguments seriously but wish to subject them to scrutiny as I am convinced that only rational reflection can advance women’s understanding of themselves, particularly in times of political turmoil.  For what is at stake is how women think about themselves when they are discussing religious matters, implementing what they think is God’s will, substituting religious norms for political action or (more important) retreating into custom as a means of political protest.

 

 

Letter 1 - Modesty

The author begins with the story of Mina, who at 13 was told by her mother she needed to start wearing the veil.  Her first veil was a bedsheet, and she felt “disoriented” when she first stepped onto the street.  She said, “I did not feel good at all wearing the veil. I felt camouflaged. But then I thought, ‘This is life, you know.’”  She decided to make herself look good under the veil and bought expensive silks to drape over her face.

From the book:

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I was moved by Mina’s early memories of her veiling.  She had experienced the veil as a turning point in her life, signaling not only confinement but loss of femininity; the world had closed in on her.  The poignant strategies she used to retain her individuality and femininity speak to her resentment of veiling.  She had been a vivacious girl, well liked by friends, running errands for her mother and playing outdoors.  She was also very tough, beating back boys who tried to tease girls in her neighbourhood.  The veil put an end to her life of youthful insouciance.  Had she been born outside the culture of the veil, she would have continued to enjoy going outside her home and lived out her youth and adulthood at her own pace.  She would have had no abrupt separation in her life; she would have continued to enjoy the freedom of running, feeling the wind in her hair, and just being alive, like her brother.  Instead, with the onset of her menses, the biological clock ticked for her at age thirteen and the veil fell like a curtain on her childhood.  Mina’s wistful description of her childhood brought back to mind the countless prepubescent girls I have observed over the years in small towns and poor neighbourhoods in large cities.  They would be lively, joyful, but as soon as they reached an age when they were made to wear the hijab, they would lose the spark in their eyes and become more self-conscious.  I suspect that the veil makes them at once more aware of their changing body and of the social limitations that such change entails for them as girls.

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Modesty is both a  character trait and a manner of acting with others that is inconspicuous and unobtrusive.  Not attracting attention to oneself, not sticking out in public, is an attribute of modest behavior, as is avoidance of ostentatious display of wealth.  In and of itself, modesty is a good quality that connotes some consideration for others’ feelings in dealing with them.  But why is a veil a mark of modesty?

Can a woman not dress modestly without wearing a long coat that flaps between her legs, picks up dirt on the ground, soaks up rain puddles and hinders her speed when she’s in a hurry?

How does a woman reconcile the modesty of the veil with the modesty of character?  What if a woman is modest in her dress, but immodest in their speech and actions?  Conversely, would a woman who does not wear a veil but dresses conservatively and is modest in character be termed immodest?

 

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Interestingly, men too are exhorted in the Quran to protect their pudenda (translated as “modesty”)  However, this exhortation has not given rise to multiple interpretations, nor has it been used to conflate dress with moral character, as has been the case with women.

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It is particularly confusing for a young Muslim girl to hear that modesty is the hallmark of being a Muslim woman, and that the only sign of modesty is not specific behavior and deeds, but the veil that a woman wears.  In other words, modesty as a rationale for wearing a veil hangs on a concept that is so elastic as to be meaningless.  Conceivably, a woman could dress any way she wishes as long as she doesn’t show her breasts or wear makeup.  Yet women wearing the hijab also use makeup, just as many non-Muslim women do not wear garments that display their breasts or put on makeup.  A Muslim woman is not more modest than another woman for wearing a veil.  Modesty is not reducible to wearing the veil.

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A regional leader of an Islamist movement in Algeria once told me that “Westerners accept that nuns wear long black dresses and cover their heads, but they object to Muslim women wearing the veil.”  This comment equates women who have taken vows and live life in convents outside of the mainstream of social life with women whose religion is Islam, although they may or may not be practicing Muslims.  For the veil to be the equivalent of the Catholic habit, Muslim women would have to be devoting their daily activities to the worship of God alone.  This is clearly not the case.  Women are engaged in activities that are remote from a narrowly defined worship of God.  They are involved in mundane tasks such as cooking, cleaning house, taking care of children, and going to work.  That some women carve out time for daily prayers is undeniable, but this does not make them people whose lives are centered on worship.  There is a difference between din (religion as worship) and dunia (life).  The distinction between the two spheres of existence is being blurred by the reveiling trend.

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A woman is a human being first, before being a Muslim or having a religion.  The foundation of organic life of a woman, her physical body, is also denied.  Denial of a woman’s physical body helps sustain the fiction that veiling it, covering it up, causes no harm to the woman who inhabits the body.  Paradoxically, denial feeds into the notion that a woman is afflicted with a condition, her body, which makes her a fundamentally flawed being.  Her flaw must be concealed, and the veil is the best concealment.  It conceals even from the woman herself, the fact that she is endowed with a body in the same right as a man, and that what God or nature created cannot be defined as flawed by humans.  Veiling has the effect of making a woman feel that her body is something to be ashamed of.  It is easy to take the step from thinking that a body is in need of concealment to denying that it has needs, such as feeling the soft breeze on its limbs or having the freedom to breathe under the sun without a special cloth restraining its natural functions.

….the veil becomes religion in action.  This of course smacks of heresy, since the veil – an object – comes dangerously close to being revered.

….Given the vagueness of “modesty” the problem is to define what part of a woman’s body is likely to arouse desire in a man.  Men’s desire is the root cause of veils that cover the body and face, such as the Afghan burka, veils that obliterate a woman’s physical self.  She must bear the body she was born with, just as a convict bears a ball and chain.  Concealment of the body is thus a form of punishment as well as an apology for having been born female, when it is not a means of redemption.

 

 

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The woman who forces her prepubescent daughter to wear a headscarf tightly wrapped around her neck violates the texts referring to modesty and thus does harm to her daughter.  There is no religious or moral ground on which to justify the forced induction of a girl into the culture of veiling.  When she wraps a scarf over her young daughter, a mother conveys to her the belief that her body is an object of shame or special concern for others.  She inculcates into her psyche and emotions her natural inferiority.  And this is done at an age when the little girl is vulnerable. 

Children, young girls, do have feelings about the veil that they may not share with their parents.  As a child, I kept quiet out of respect for my grandmother when she admonished me about wearing the veil.  But I never forgot that moment.  I can recall the color and style of the dress I was wearing at the time, as well as the texture of the fabric.  I had felt good in that dress.  But my grandmother had noticed only the slight swelling on my chest, not how nice I looked.  A sense of unease mixed with bewilderment seized me; I did not feel well, and I left the room in silence.  I was still interested in dollhouses and collecting stamps, and had not given any thought to veils and adulthood.  Somehow, my grandmother’s comment just put a different cast on the world in which I lived, which had not seemed threatening or ominous until she spoke those words.

 

There is also an interesting part of the chapter that gives the experiences of older women who took up wearing the veil as a way of “accepting their age”.

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To these women, donning the veil was a sign of modesty born out of the recognition that they were not sexually attractive because they had not married or in the case of a 60 year old, had been divorced.  “I cannot hope to be married, so why not wear the headscarf?” The significance is their implicit acceptance of veiling as a device that separates the sexually attractive from the sexually dead.

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Since the veil has more than one meaning, how does a woman know that modesty is the one meaning she is conveying to others through her veil?  Wearing a veil is not just a personal act, it is a social convention.  Consequently, it is not possible to claim that veiling is a voluntary act comparable to deciding between going out shopping or staying at home.  Even though veiling involves willing compliance, it always takes place in a social context and responds to social norms.  Social pressure to conform obscures the stated purpose of the veil, modesty.  Were modesty truly the issue, there would be different ways of expressing it.

 

 

The second letter is called Sexual Harassment, and looks at the views of women who veil because they feel it is the best way to ward off men's advances.

I'll post quotes from there later.

Edited by Goddess

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Thanks for posting this, it's interesting and I'm looking forward to additional excerpts.   I just have a couple of questions, if you don't mind.  I'm guessing when the author refers to the veil, she means the niqab?   And, which country is she from?  

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4 minutes ago, dialamah said:

Thanks for posting this, it's interesting and I'm looking forward to additional excerpts.   I just have a couple of questions, if you don't mind.  I'm guessing when the author refers to the veil, she means the niqab?   And, which country is she from?  

Oh, I meant to include that part of her introduction.  Sorry.

She describes the different forms of veiling, then says, "To avoid linguistic confusion, I will use the concept "veil" to mean hijab, the most common style of veiling".  Other places in the book, if she says burka, she means burka.

I can't remember where she's from....she is Muslim, still is, and she interviewed Muslim women from all over the world for the book.  Their stories are very interesting.

Edited by Goddess

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Very cool, thanks for sharing, I only read the intro I'll find time to read the rest.

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Mary, the mother of Jesus, is depicted by some paintings to be wearing what seems like a hijab, or a veil (head covering).  I assume it could be the culture as part of women's dress code - depending on their status whether they're still virgins?

Edited by betsy

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40 minutes ago, betsy said:

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is depicted by some paintings to be wearing what seems like a hijab, or a veil (head covering).  I assume it could be the culture as part of women's dress code - depending on their status whether they're still virgins?

Since Mary was was a jew, would that be a Tichel?

Jewish tradition: Married women wear a head covering (Ketubah - basically prenuptial agreement)

Christian tradition: Women wear a head covering while praying (1 Corinthians 11:2-9)

Muslim tradition: All women after puberty wear a head covering in public (Surah 33:59)

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13 minutes ago, ?Impact said:

Since Mary was was a jew, would that be a Tichel?

Jewish tradition: Married women wear a head covering (Ketubah - basically prenuptial agreement)

Christian tradition: Women wear a head covering while praying (1 Corinthians 11:2-9)

Muslim tradition: All women after puberty wear a head covering in public (Surah 33:59)

Thanks.

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14 hours ago, Goddess said:

Yes, I really want to spend an evening with her.:D

Yes, that would be interesting.  If I did spend an evening with her, I would ask her this:  Are the reasons behind wearing the veil significantly different from those women who 'dress modestly' because they are Christian?   The list provided in the first quote really seems to coincide with reasons why Christian women might choose below-the-knee skirts and no cleavage blouses.   This dress sets them apart from the non-Christian or worldly, reflects the place Christianity holds in their life, shows modesty (and thus protects against sexual harassment).  It is perhaps not a political statement, but more of a social statement.   

Women explained their turn to the veil as the result of heightened consciousness of the place and meaning of religion in their lives; as a way of showing modesty in their dress; a protection against sexual harassment or undesirable looks from men; and a political statement, especially among women relatives of men who joined the Islamist movement.

_______________________________

To these women, donning the veil was a sign of modesty born out of the recognition that they were not sexually attractive because they had not married or in the case of a 60 year old, had been divorced.  “I cannot hope to be married, so why not wear the headscarf?” The significance is their implicit acceptance of veiling as a device that separates the sexually attractive from the sexually dead. 

Again, I see parallels in Western society, as older women certainly do not dress as do young women.  I'm not going to wear the shorter skirt I was comfortable with in my 20s and 30s (and high-confidence days in my 40s).  My dress today is much more that of a modest Christian than not.   Does not my choice of clothing also take me off the 'marriage market', to reflect something about my beliefs about my reduced sexual attractiveness at an older age?   

_______________________________

She had experienced the veil as a turning point in her life, signaling not only confinement but loss of femininity; the world had closed in on her.

This is what I would consider the most serious injustice of veiling (from what you've quoted so far) - imposing a modest adult dress on a young girl and also curtailing her activities.   Were I in charge of the world, the decision to wear a veil would be left to the girl alone and possibly include an 'age of consent', though that might be a bit beyond my progressive leanings.   :)

They would be lively, joyful, but as soon as they reached an age when they were made to wear the hijab, they would lose the spark in their eyes and become more self-conscious.  I suspect that the veil makes them at once more aware of their changing body and of the social limitations that such change entails for them as girls.

The bolded part is somewhat common to all girls, I believe - but in Western cultures, they can choose how to deal with it through their clothing, which may range from very shapeless clothing to "costuming" that identifies them with a sub-group.   Still their choice and not imposed as a result of some 'sign', like menstruation or a certain birthday. 

And while the veil in such places may be what encourages young women to feel that self-consciousness and shame about their body, in this culture the same effect is noted but, it's as a result of our society's focus on the female body in the media and our constant push/pull of dress sexy/don't be a slut.   If the veil in Islam is the cause of this for young girls, it seems a much easier 'fix' than a similar kind of issue here.  

I am not trying to be argumentative or to claim it's exactly the same everywhere, that Muslims/Christians/people are identical and none is worse than the other.   I just cannot help but draw comparisons between cultures.   

 

Edited by dialamah

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I noted last summer that there are young girls on my street who look to be no more than six or seven already wearing these headscarves, so It's not like they're given the option or allowed to grow old enough to make a thoughtful choice.

Also, the direction of the postings made from the book seem quite similar to a cite I posted in another topic on the religion forum, also from a Muslim woman's perspective, discussing the veil and why women wear them.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/muslim-woman-veil-hijab

Edited by Argus

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Letter 2 - Sexual Harassment

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If modesty were the main function of the veil, women would not be the objects of sexual harassment.  Yet it is common knowledge that sexual harassment is rife in stores, markets, in the workplace, and on crowded buses, among other places.  A number of women take up veiling because they feel this is the best way to ward off men’s advances.  They accept the notion that the veil “protects” women and they think that men who are not their relatives share in this understanding of the function of veiling.  Although there are men who value veiled women and treat them with deference, many do not.  Discussions with women reveal a serious situation that underscores the gap between ideology and real life.

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It brought back memories of my own childhood among veiled relatives who would warn one another about such and such a merchant who had a “long eye”, meaning a roving eye.  Some storekeepers would politely invite a veiled customer to step into a back room, purportedly to leisurely examine their merchandise in more comfort than standing at the counter holding their veils in place with one hand, being jostled by other customers.  However, the merchant’s considerate approach had less to do with being culturally sensitive and more with peeking at the woman under the veil and often groping her.  Fully veiled women would also report that an occasional merchant would thrust change into their hands in such a way as to rub his fingers in the middle of her palms, an unpleasant experience for a woman.

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If a woman with a face veil is not immune to harassment, why should anyone else be “protected”?  There are many ways in which a veiled woman can be harassed just like the woman who goes out veil-free.

The question is:  If women know about sexual harassment in spite of the veil, men who are advocates of veiling must know about it, too.  This situation of mutual belief in the veil as protection from sexual harassment when women as well as men know that it is not, is perplexing.  It is as if women and men are complicit in maintaining a farce at the expense of a woman’s dignity and sense of autonomy.

To be an effective shield against sexual harassment, the veil, especially in its hijab version that leaves a woman’s face bare, would need to be internalized by men as a deterrent of their desire for women.  Men have to be truly convinced that the veil is a moral deterrent to their sexual desires.  This is not the case.  It has to be conceived as the concretization of a moral ideal that very few men can realize.

 

 

The author tells about being in the office of a businessman in Algiers who picked up the phone and asked his assistant to bring him a file.  The woman was wearing hijab but was very beautiful.  The author noted the “long eye” given her by the businessman. 

She continues:

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The point is not that this woman experienced sexual harassment, but that it was clear to me that her looks had an effect on the manager.  I thought of Assia, who had lost her job due to sexual harassment.  She had been blamed by her colleagues for being too “provocative” in spite of wearing a hijab and vociferously objected to unsolicited passes made at her on numerous occasions.  And she lost her battle to stay employed, as a result.  What her example suggests is that sexual harassment in the abscense of laws that prohibit it has no bounds, and to expect that the custom of the veil, even if infused with a religious meaning, makes it stop is a flight of fancy.  Unlike the younger generation of women who justify the veil by pointing out to its protective function, the older generation who wore the veil as a matter of fact and could not conceive of life without it, knew well it did not offer protection from sexual harassment.

The author then addresses the issue of the inordinate amount of interest men seem to have in women’s grooming habits.  She tells of several experiences where men denigrate women who wear a certain kind of “kohl” eyeliner or other things.

She continues:

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A woman’s’ desire to groom herself is perceived by men as playing up to them.  A woman cannot groom herself for the pleasure of it, to experience a feeling of satisfaction before her reflection in the mirror, to be proud of her appearance.   Everything a woman does for her body is perceived as a sign of sexual desire working through her.  Her body is perceived as existing for men.  In Western societies, rape is often seen as being provoked by the manner in which a woman dresses.  Similar thinking underlies the notion that veiling is protection against sexual harassment.

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The fiction that the veil is an antidote to sexual harassment is crucial to understanding the psychology of veiling.  There are a myriad of ways in which the veil works on a man’s psyche (as well as a woman’s).

She then relates experiences of women who have been forced by their young sons to veil, even in situations where they are not in public. 

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A man gets accustomed to the veil without thinking about its impact on the woman.  He sees the veil as part and parcel of being a woman.  He does not ask himself if she is happy wearing it, if it restricts her movements or if it affects her concept of herself and others.  The veil becomes as natural as the sun, the sky or the air.  The veil appears unquestionable, taken for granted, the reason for it self-evident.  The veil exists because it must be worn.  It must be worn because there are women.  Women are made to wear veils.  This process of naturalizing the veil, of making it second nature to women, conceals its ultimate justification from its advocates as well as from its wearers.  The veil becomes part of the physical environment in which one lives, a familiar object.  The reality of the person under it recedes before the symbolic meaning of it.  For a man, the veil is an integral part of his identity even though he does not wear it.  He is instinctively protecting himself, his identity as a male.  He has been raised thinking and seeing the veil as a marker of his own identity.  A person that does not have to wear a veil is a man.  They are caught up in a complex identity emotion in which the veil is the most visible trigger.  Masculinity, regardless of cultural or geographical context, is predicated upon notions of femininity…….I am reminded of a saying in the popular culture of Algeria attributed to a mythical male, “Every man can beat me, but I can beat my sister.”  In other words, a man’s identity, even if it does not measure up to expectations, is unquestionable because it is set up against that of a woman.  The veil then appears as thecrystallization of the difference between being a man and being a woman in addition to biology.  However, because the veil has traditionally been part of a cultural landscape that also shapes ones perception of the world, it is often onerous to the self to  let go of it.  But the shedding of their veils by a number of older women also testifies to their ability to claim an identity separate from that of their male relatives, splitting their assumed identity as “beings-naturally-in-veils” from the one they claim for themselves, namely beings as free as men to walk around under the sun with hands, hair, face, ears and neck free just like any other person.  These women seize their place in the human universe.  Theirs is an act of self-initiated liberation from uncontrolled mystifications of religious texts.  As mothers, they gave freely to society; as women, they understood, in spite of all the moralizing entreaties about their proper place in society, that the only way to achieve their full humanity is to claim it.  These women do more good to their religion than any male advocate of veiling who strains beyond credulity to translate and retranslate words to fit his problematic conceptions of women.

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Where does this leave the protective function of the veil?  When a man says that the veil prevents sexual harassment, he implies two things:  First, the veil protects HIS sexual identity by signaling to other men that his wife, sister, or daughter is off limits.  Second, although there is no guarantee that a woman will not be harassed, at least a maximal step has been taken, warding off a possible besmirching of his own identity.

 

 

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……the veil reduces a woman’s professional achievement to something for which she must apologize, “I am only a woman,” she seems to be saying. “I agree with you.  But I am a decent woman who wears the veil, and as such I hope you will let me carry out my functions.”

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I frequently wonder why it is necessary to engage in these games and invest a great deal of energy in them that could be directed to more useful endeavors.  Why cannot a man just accept that a woman need not be veiled, just as he is not?  And if a woman’s veil protects her from sexual harassment, why do men not show their modesty in their behavior toward women by refraining from harassing them?

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2 hours ago, dialamah said:

And while the veil in such places may be what encourages young women to feel that self-consciousness and shame about their body, in this culture the same effect is noted but, it's as a result of our society's focus on the female body in the media and our constant push/pull of dress sexy/don't be a slut.   If the veil in Islam is the cause of this for young girls, it seems a much easier 'fix' than a similar kind of issue here.  

 

26 minutes ago, Argus said:

I noted last summer that there are young girls on my street who look to be no more than six or seven already wearing these headscarves, so It's not like they're given the option or allowed to grow old enough to make a thoughtful choice.

Also, the direction of the postings made from the book seem quite similar to a cite I posted in another topic on the religion forum, also from a Muslim woman's perspective, discussing the veil and why women wear them.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/muslim-woman-veil-hijab

I know this meme oversimplifies (as memes often do) but the point it makes is valid.

 

image.jpg

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4 minutes ago, Goddess said:

I know this meme oversimplifies (as memes often do) but the point it makes is valid.

I would disagree only in that it understates. Bear in mind the child being sexualized in the photo is not representative of how we treat girls that age, and that the photo in question caused an uproar. Even for the girl in the picture being dressed and made up like that was a one-time event. The girl on the right shrouded in a black robe, however, will be required to endure it in all manner of heat for the rest of her life. She will never be permitted to personalize her wardrobe or make any kind of statement about herself as a person, for indeed, the purpose of the robe is to de-personalize her and make her anonymous and invisible. It is part and parcel of cultures which give women few, if any rights, and legislates their inferiority.

Edited by Argus
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Just now, Argus said:

Bear in mind the child being sexualized in the photo is not representative of how we treat girls that age, and that the photo in question caused an uproar. Even for the girl in the picture being dressed and made up like that was a one-time event. The girl on the right shrouded in a black robe, however, will be required to endure it in all manner of heat for the rest of her life.

Definitely, I agree.  Both manners of dress sexualize young girls.  But yes, the "Western" one is not the norm, not accepted in general, and not how most 8-10 year old girls dress.

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I find both of these pics quite disturbing, but don't know if the reasons are all that different in that both kids  have adult issues imposed on them.   I think both girls are prone to some psychological issues as a result, and the girl in the Islamic dress may also be subject to physical issues, since her body is unable to obtain vitamin D from sunlight, which I believe is a very common ailment among women who are always veiled?

I'm uncomfortable with grown women who are dressed as is the girl on the right, but do not believe I have the right to judge her for it, or to assume I know her reasons - any more than I would have the right to judge an adult woman dressed in a very revealing outfit, even if it made me personally uncomfortable.

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Just now, dialamah said:

I find both of these pics quite disturbing, but don't know if the reasons are all that different in that both kids  have adult issues imposed on them.   I think both girls are prone to some psychological issues as a result, and the girl in the Islamic dress may also be subject to physical issues, since her body is unable to obtain vitamin D from sunlight, which I believe is a very common ailment among women who are always veiled?

Again, I believe the issue is the scale of it.  As Argus made the point:

7 minutes ago, Argus said:

the photo in question caused an uproar. Even for the girl in the picture being dressed and made up like that was a one-time event. The girl on the right shrouded in a black robe, however, will be required to endure it in all manner of heat for the rest of her life. She will never be permitted to personalize her wardrobe or make any kind of statement about herself as a person,

I've known families who allow their young girls to dress in ways that I would consider too  provocative for their age.  But that is their choice.  And again, it's fairly rare.  Not the norm.

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Being the nasty progressive type that I am, I do not want to remove *choice* from people,  nor do I want their *religion* to be targetted as a reason to judge, disapprove and legislate against.

However, given the very real health issues from the wearing of full Islamic dress, that would seem to me to be a valid reason for criticism.  I don't know if it would ever be able to be outlawed entirely, but perhaps as a health issue for young girls.   We do remove the rights of parents who fail to seek proper health care for kids, so could not this be another aspect of providing proper health care?   It would also highlight for adult women that their choice is perhaps not the best.

And I do not think a mere scarf over a woman's head, while the rest of her outfit is essentially Western counts - which I have seen more often than I've seen what's depicted above.   

 

Edited by dialamah

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1 hour ago, dialamah said:

We do remove the rights of parents who fail to seek proper health care for kids, so could not this be another aspect of providing proper health care?

I would put this in the same category as parents who allow their kids to veg out in front of the TV, or dine at McDonalds. Yes, they are all health issues. Vitamin D can be provided through supplements, I think inactivity and excessive sugary foods is a far more serious issue. Once we start throwing parents in jail for the latter two, we can talk about this one.

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14 minutes ago, ?Impact said:

I would put this in the same category as parents who allow their kids to veg out in front of the TV, or dine at McDonalds. Yes, they are all health issues. Vitamin D can be provided through supplements, I think inactivity and excessive sugary foods is a far more serious issue. Once we start throwing parents in jail for the latter two, we can talk about this one.

 

Good point, although i wasn't thinking this was a jailable offense.   More along the lines of kids who are truant from school; they're followed up on by school authorities/social workers, and the parents talked to.   Although not sure this still happens, it's been a few years since I had anything to do with kids and schools.

Anyway, just a thought.   

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3 hours ago, dialamah said:

Being the nasty progressive type that I am, I do not want to remove *choice* from people,  nor do I want their *religion* to be targetted as a reason to judge, disapprove and legislate against.

Sooo, we shouldn't judge people who hate gays and think all women who don't cover themselves from head to toe are whores?

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21 hours ago, Goddess said:

These women do more good to their religion than any male advocate of veiling who strains beyond credulity to translate and retranslate words to fit his problematic conceptions of women.

 

:)    

Other than that, most of what you've written there makes me too sad and angry to comment.   

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55 minutes ago, dialamah said:

:)    

Other than that, most of what you've written there makes me too sad and angry to comment.   

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by this, but it makes me sad when women participate in their own oppression.

I think it would be different if it were just the headscarf and it was strictly cultural.  The religious spin on women's covering makes it difficult - most people will suspend logical thinking and go against what their "gut" tells them is right or wrong when it comes to religious things.

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Letter #3 - Cultural Identity

 

The author begins with the story of Amina, a senior at a NYC college, who began veiling and wearing the long coat in 2003.  She was critical of the treatment of Muslims in the media and felt that wearing the hijab would show that she was proud of her Muslim heritage.

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She told me that when she wore the complete hijab, she did not experience any “emotional gain”.  In addition, although she had noticed that some people looked at her inquisitively in the subway, by and large she had not encountered any offensive reactions.  It was as if she had anticipated some exciting struggles with strangers during her daily commutes but was disappointed when none materialized.

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In the post 9/11 era, experimenting with the hijab (because for many, it is an experiment) has emerged as an increasingly attractive method for young women from Muslim communities to display pride in their culture.  A young woman wishes to tell the world that she is not afraid to diffuse hostility towards Muslims, that she’s willing to confront it head on by sporting her identity.  What better way to do this than by wearing a hijab – one of the most recognizable, tangible signs of difference other than skin color? The veil has traditionally been the object of contempt for Muslim cultures as well as a stereotypical symbol of the assumed backwardness of Islam as a religion.  Conversely, in times of political crisis, not wearing the veil is sometimes seen as a rejection of one’s cultural background.

The author relates the story of Qama, who similarly took up the hijab to “make a statement, to say that you don’t have a hold on me and tell me what to do.  Given the circumstances, I’m going to do what you don’t like me to do and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

She continues with Qama’s story:

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Wearing the headscarf allowed her the insights of a participant observer of prejudice, which the hijab invokes in people.  The hijab contributed to a paradoxical sundering of her self-identity; “It is a part of me; yet it is not me.  Many parts of me went against it.”  In the end, Qama felt the hijab “is a reactionary response; it asserts an identity that was questioned, and I thought I was creating my own identity, but in a sense, I did not create anything.  I took up a challenged identity and made it my own.”

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With the rise of the new fundamentalist movements in the 80’s, young men eager to revive and restore old practices sparked discussions as well as concerns about what it means to be a Muslim, to live one’s life as a Muslim man or woman.  The veil appeared one more time as a marker of differences, claiming to be a means of asserting and protecting cultural identity.  In an age of rapid communication, responses of Muslims living in one country affect Muslims living in another.

The next story is quite long but it's very enlightening, so I'll post it all:

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A few hours earlier, I had tried to enter the mosque of Sayyida Ruqayya, a great-granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad's.  I had been properly dressed for the occasion, wearing loose slacks, a wide long-sleeved shirt, and a white scarf.  I was stopped at the entrance of teh mosque by a small man who advanced toward with arms outstretched, holding a large piece of cloth, grayish from dirt and use.  He intended to cover me with it.  I instinctively stepped back, surprised by the man's brashness, and pointed out that I was properly dressed and would  not wear such a dirty piece of cloth.  He shot back, "It's cleaner than you!"  This put an end to my ability to visit a mosque built in honor of a woman.  The day before I had had no problem visiting the Ummayed mosque.  I could  not help thinking that this man, the keeper of moral hygiene, seemed to have a very long arm.  This incident convinced me, if I needed convincing, that he veil is a man's affair before it's a woman's.

When I reflect back on thisincident, I feel mortified that a complete stranger would take it upon himself to assault me verbally, exercise his power over me and expect me to comply with his will.  And all this was done in the name of Islam to another Muslim, me, a woman. Even the policeman whom I had the receptionist call was nto able to help.  I had expected him to perhaps admonish the man, but he was as powerless as I.  He did however, walk me outside the mosque and explain to me that although the mosque was in damascus, it was controlled by the Iranian government, which claimed its spiritual ownership.  He went on to tell which other mosques to avoid as they too were in the hands of Iranian guardians.  I wondered why the stranger at the Sayyida mosque thought he had power over all the women who sought to enter, be they pilgrims, Syrians, or foreigners, like me.  The sense of helplessness I felt before this keeper of the faith was bottomless.  It rankled that he derived power from humiliating a human being, his face exuded not only contempt for me but also defiance.  My misery butterssed his power and arrogance.  The denial of my humanity was the foundation of his.  That he could get away with this action even when a policeman came around hurt me more.

The receptionist had looked at me with a mixture of surprise and excitement.  He had called the police at my request when he could have eaily refused to do so.  The scene was surreal - a woman saying she was terribly wronged by a man holding his dirty veil in his hands as some sort of evidence of her wrongdoing.  All this happened becasue a man decided that a woman, a fellow Muslim was worthless.  For him, I had no identity except the flimsy one he sought to make me wear.  As I walked away, I wondered why any woman should wear a veil that would help this man or anyone like him assert himself over her.  The liberty that the guardian arrogated to himself to define me as "dirty" was an act of teh will that spoke volumes about his fetishistic conception of teh veil, as well as his contemptuous dismissal  of women.  He did not ask himself whether I might be a good person because he did not see me as a person.  He was unconcerned by his less than modest behaviour in both his act and his word.  He wought to crush my resistence to his will, my rejection of his dirty cloth, brushing me aside as dirt.

Sayyida's guardian was empowered as a man to assert his conception of MY identity regardless of his lack of expertise in religious matters.  He knew better than I how I should dress, and how (his) Islam defines me. I had only one choice, to wear his veil or get out of the mosque.

 

 

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To return to the women who voluntarily take up the hijab to make a statement, a few points need to be clarified.  Feeling comfortable in one’s culture and asserting its worth is one thing.  However, reducing the essence of that culture to the veil is another.  A woman who lives in a non-Muslim society but does nto wear a veil is no less proud of her culture than the woman who wears one.  She may express her pride in writing or speaking publicly about her culture.  She may leave her mark as a Muslim woman by achieving fame and honor.  I am not convinced that wearing a hijab on one’s head or wrapping one’s body in a long garment in New York or Paris helps reduce prejudice against Muslims or elicits greater respect for them.  It may, it is true, get people used to the idea that there are people among them with different habits.  But I suspect they know that already.  And is this reason good enough?  Is the veil the best response to anti-Muslim prejudice? Is abstaining from drinking alcohol not just as good as wearing a veil?  Is abstaining from eating pork not an equally important way of asserting one’s difference from others?  How about wearing a pin representing the star or crescent if one truly needs to display one’s religious affiliation?  There is no compelling reason why the essence of Islam should be reduced to a veil, and women singled out as its embodiment.  The veil intrigues and beguiles; it shocks and repels.  However, it also trivializes and objectifies religion.  In this context it is important for women to know the pros and cons of the veil and demystify its meanings before making up their minds about wearing it.  And only a woman should be able to determine whether the veil sums up her commitment to her religion.

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A number of women in Muslim communities in North America and Europe are not allowed by their parents to attend school unless they wear at least a headscarf.  These women avail themselves of the language of cultural identity to explain their compliance with their parent’s wishes.  One justification is as good as another in c climate of revivalism, willed or imposed.  The political uses of the veil by states have called out in women responses that are equally political.  But should women bow to these pressures by asserting an identity that rests on a piece of clothing?  Is the reduction of Muslim culture to a garment the only way to force respect from Western nations?  In thinking that it is, women in reality ask for sympathy on the grounds of religious diversity, while at the same time demanding special treatment that increases their differences from others in a way that marginalizes them.

The author mentions briefly some of the lawsuits brought about by Muslims for their rights, including the "private swimming times for Muslim women" one:  (But it reminds me of the woman who sued the Canadian government for the right to wear the hijab during the oath of citizenship.)

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What appears to be a successful act of cultural identity assertion should not obscure the less evident meaning: it sanctions practices and customs that are usually presented as religious and that have harmed women.

Is it possible that the movement back to the veil signals a change in the meaning and function of veiling?  After all, a number of women have taken up the hijab against their parent’s wishes and claim that they feel empowered by it.  At first glance it seems as though women in various hijab styles, some less “modest” than others, have brought about a change in the manner of wearing them.  It might be argued that perhaps, in the long run, the headscarf will lose its significance and its length.  In due time, it might even be discarded altogether.  The veil could just wither away as a useless custom.  Forty years ago, city women in a number of ME countries thought that they had entered the post-veil era.  Little did they know that their daughters and granddaughters’ generations would bring back the veil as a badge of pride.  The veil remains the least elevating and most politicized custom, which does little to move women forward toward human freedom.

It will not do to argue that young advocates of veiling have no uplifting philosophy, system of ideas, or ideals to embrace in a globalized world bent on dissolving primordial ties and erasing group solidarity and identity.  I believe on the contrary, that these are challenging times requiring inventive ways of carving out a space for meaningful action in a world rent by war, social injustice, torture and poverty.  Looking backwards to the veil and seeking to rehabilitate it does not transcend the history that burdens it and without it would not exist, namely that biology is social destiny

 

She tells of an interesting personal experience and her thoughts on it:  (Bold parts here are mine)

This part struck me because I don't think Muslim people are aware of the feelings the shrouding evokes in others.  They may fell that Western objections to hijabs, burkas, etc.  is  nothing but racism and Islamphobia, but I think it is mostly just a natural concern for other human beings when we see them being mistreated.

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n occasion I have seen women clad from head to foot in black, coat-like garments leaving only enough space for the eyes from which to see, crossing the street in New York.  I do not know whether the woman is the wife or fiancee of a man who insists that she wear it, or whether she has decided to take it up on her own.  I must admit, however, that the sight always startles me.  I was similarly taken aback when, upon entering a shop in the old city of Damascus, it took me a few seconds to realize that there were two human forms in black sitting near the counter.  Their faces were covered with black cloth, with no opening for the eyes.  I felt crushed by their anonymity and the obliteration of their being.  The shopkeeper explained to me that the women were not Syrian, but had come from Iran to visit.  

The feeling I experienced bothered me for two reasons:  First, I come from a veil culture and should not have been surprised.  So why was I?  In my defense, I had never seen this style of veiling before.  Second, I wondered whether this was the feeling that veiling evokes in non-Muslim people.  Upon reflection, I realized that my surprise at the two forms - because they were seated I could not make out what they were exactly - was due to my reading the black shroud as an assault on my being as a woman.

 

 

 

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2 minutes ago, Goddess said:

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by this, but it makes me sad when women participate in their own oppression.

I think it would be different if it were just the headscarf and it was strictly cultural.  The religious spin on women's covering makes it difficult - most people will suspend logical thinking and go against what their "gut" tells them is right or wrong when it comes to religious things.

 

The illogical imposition of rules and expectations, especially on women, is frustrating and the way in which women are blamed for men's lack of self-control, and expected to go to extraordinary lengths to protect men makes me sad and angry.   What is a more disturbing is that this trend appears to be spreading, not just within Islam, but also outside of it.     I recently read of a Coptic Bishop exhorting women in Egypt to 'dress as our Muslim sisters ' who exemplified modesty, and the wearing of the "Frumqa" by the Haredi Burqa, a sect whose members have grown from around 100 in 2008 to several hundred in 2011.

Religion in general just makes me mad because it so often imposes stupid and unnecessary rules on people and especially women.  

Coming to this forum has convinced me that it's not just 'religious things' that can suspend logical thinking, but also 'partisan things'.   

 

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