Goddess

Questioning The Veil by Marina Lazreg

33 posts in this topic

1 minute ago, dialamah said:

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

Haha!  Yes, that's sometimes true.

My prediction is that within the next couple of generations, religion will go the way of the dinosaur.  It has waned a lot in the last generation, and the slight upturn these days in interest for religions of one's culture is merely its death throes.

Of myself and 4 other siblings, 3 of us are completely out of the religion we grew up in.  Out of 12 grandchildren, 6 are still in, but they are still very young and under their parent's direction.  The older ones have all left.

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7 hours ago, Goddess said:

My prediction is that within the next couple of generations, religion will go the way of the dinosaur.  It has waned a lot in the last generation, and the slight upturn these days in interest for religions of one's culture is merely its death throes.

 

Maybe in Canada, not so much in countries where religion is a larger part of the social fabric.   Even the States surprises me with the degree of their religiosity.

But I hope your prediction is accurate nonetheless and for the entire world.   At least those who seek to oppress will have to find reasons other than "Cause God", and it will be easier to see through their games.

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Not sure if anyone else in interested in this, but I will continue until I'm told to shut up: :)

 

 

Letter 4 – Conviction & Piety

The author begins with telling of a visit from her friend in Algiers in 2007.  She was wearing a hijab, which was surprising to the author.  Her friend immediately blurts out, “I am wearing it out of conviction.  You can well imagine that if I did not wear it when the Islamists were pressuring us, I would not be wearing it now that they are no longer a threat.”  The author says she was surprised by her quick invocation of “conviction” as the reason for which, in the nine months since she had seen her friend, she had donned the hijab.

After discussing it, her friend admits that during Ramadan, she had to wear it a lot (as is customary) and keeping the headscarf on was just easier and more convenient that taking it on and off.  When the author pointed out that that was not “conviction” her friend ended the discussion.

 

 

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A few days later, while riding a particularly crowded bus in midday heat, I made room for a young woman in a hijab who had just gotten on board.  She was sweating profusely and her cheeks were flushed.  As she took out her handkerchief to wipe the sweat from her face, we fell into conversation during which she revealed that she was new to wearing the hijab…….she was engaged to a man who had made it a condition of their marriage that she wear the hijab.  She was not too happy about it, but she loved her fiancée and was eager to please him.

As I mulled over the role of the veil in marriage, I had opportunity to chat with an irate young female handicrafts vendor, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, but wearing a headscarf artfully set askance on her head as a wickedly attractive little hat might sit on a Hollywood actress’s head in a 1940’s movie.  She took issue with a radio program the night before that had a female listener from France, apparently an Algerian immigrant, objecting to the veiling trend in Algeria.  The vendor felt strongly that the caller, living in France, did not understand that young women like her wore the hijab out of “conviction”.  She acknowledged that many wore it for convenience, to placate a father, brother, husband or even, as she put it, “to go out and have fun”.  But SHE was different.  Yet, I couldn’t help thinking that this woman was putting on an act, as if trying to convince herself that she was doing the right thing.

 

 

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These cases raise questions about the meaning of conviction.  Does it mean that a woman allows a fiancée or relative to persuade her with forceful arguments to wear the hijab?  Does it mean that a woman has listened to talks by religious leaders about the veil and discovered that by not wearing one she is in violation of a religious obligation?  Or does it mean that a woman has studied religious texts on her own and found sufficient and compelling grounds for taking up the hijab?  That some women wear it out of conviction is undeniable.  Years ago, I interviewed the wife of a member of AMAL militia in her home in Lebanon.  She forcefully argued that the veil does not represent inequality between men and women.  The veil reflects the natural differences between men and women.  From her perspective, it is the religious duty of a woman to display modesty in her dress.  The veil, in her view, is part and parcel of being a good Muslim woman; it is not an obstacle to a woman’s advancement, including working outside the home.

However, although many women claim conviction as their motivation, they also use the veil for strategic reasons to pursue various goals.  The elasticity of “conviction” as an argument for wearing the veil is best illustrated by Amina Wadud, an American convert and advocate of gender equality.  After carefully studying the Quran text, she reached the conclusion that the hijab is not a religious obligation.  Nevertheless, she wears it as “part of my more public participation and do so whenever I dress for campus, for professional or public engagements, business meetings, community affairs and interfaith forums”  She removes the hijab for gardening, running errands and after a conference “to avoid a rigid stigma”.  This apparent masquerade is carried out in the context of lectures praising the Quran for its egalitarian message.  Wadud thinks that “reinvesting new meaning into an old symbol is a necessary part of Islamic progression”.  I am at a loss to understand what new meaning could be imparted to a symbol of gender inequality.  Unlike other customs, the veil cannot be infused with meanings other than those that have historically been invested in it by its advocates, and without which it wouldn’t exist.  Admittedly, a woman runs the risk of not being heard by faith-conscious men should she not wear the hijab when she discusses gender issues with them.  But it is also true that there is no guarantee that she will be heard when she wears one.  She may be listened to politely, or opposed less politely.

The strategy of donning the hijab to bring about change (this would include making the hijab redundant) means that a woman is still ambivalent, unsure that the hijab is not really an obligation.  No male advocate of the veil is fooled by a woman who, wearing a cover on her head, argues for equality based on religious texts.  The illusory nature of the strategic use of the veil by women advocates of change is best exemplified by the currently unhindered revival of veiling in Muslim as well as Western societies.  The veil has no intrinsic emancipatory value.

 

 

 

The author returns to her friend who recently took up the hijab, and their conversations about it:

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Her use of conviction is a misnomer, an excuse she put forth to hide her embarrassment at wearing a dress (in front of an old friend of her’s) that she was not thoroughly convinced she should be wearing.  A number of considerations need to be taken into account to understand her strategic use of “conviction” as an alibi for her use of the hijab.  Her husband had shown increased signs of religiosity over the years.  They had 2 daughters and worried about their safety in Algiers.  Her friend had also been teaching a group of adults, many of them women in hijabs.  She perceived the prescence of these women as diminishing her own status in the eyes of the male students.  From her perspective, wearing the hijab killed two birds with one scarf: she preemptively allayed her husband’s diffuse anxiety and she gained additional status among her adult students.  The all-female family that her husband headed was safe and secure.  And it was in harmony with the reveiling trend that swept their city.

It is important to note that she was not coerced by any man.  Nor was she under any threat or danger.  She sized up her situation and that of her family and deliberately took up the veil.  She acted preventatively.  In this context, she was not entirely wrong when she told me that this was her decision and that she took it out of conviction.  Yet, a religious conviction  might be expected to follow an examination of religious texts and a discussion of the role of the veil in religious dogma and ritual, the otherworldly consequences of wearing it, and so forth.  This is not what happened.  Her decision to don the hijab was the result of considerations that were more social than religious.  It won’t do to say, “But this is exactly what Islam is – a religion and a way of life”.  Her decision to don the hijab was divorced from any concern for religious duty.  It was more a rational choice based on a maximization of potential gain and minimization of loss; it had not stemmed from concern for her salvation or spirituality.  It reduced religion to a formal act of pleasing others who had not made any explicit demands on her.  Her case points to the manner in which individual women manage social pressure.  Because she is the one who made the decision, it appeared to her as free and unconstrained.

In this case, “conviction” is invoked to mean she convinced herself that she should follow the reveiling trend, she exercised her agency to conform to it, not any inner certitude.  Thus, social conformity trumps religious duty and the external side of conviction is substituted for the internal side.

I do not intend to impugn her integrity or accuse her of bad faith.  Nevertheless, her use of “conviction” to mean conformity to a certain practice, veiling, as a marker of gender reflects an understanding of piety as a matter of convenience.

 

 

 

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How can one tell the difference between a woman who wears a hijab out of conviction and one who does so for conventional reasons?  There is no way of telling.  Besides, a woman may not reveal the complexity of emotions, thoughts, beliefs that lie at the core of veiling.  This is why it is important that a woman knows in her heart of hearts why she has decided to take up the veil.  Considering that the reasons for wearing hijab vary with different women in different circumstances, conviction and piety cannot be said to be the main reasons.  Veiling lends itself to justifications on religious as well as purely conventional grounds.

 

 

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In times of political turmoil and economic hardship, movements that urge women to focus on the minutia of their everyday lives also result in taking women’s attention away from participatory engagement in the lives of their countries and help to reconcile the poor and vulnerable among them to their social condition.  It further blurs the line between the sacred and the profane, din and dunia.  It is a force of social conservativism regardless of its occasional benefits for individual women.

 

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To return to conviction as motivation – it seems as illusive as modesty.  What is it that a woman is convinced of?  Is it that the hijab is a pillar of Islam?  It is not.  Is it that the hijab signifies commitment to Muslim ethics?  It does not.  Nowhere in the Quran is there an indication that the veil is a condition of a woman’s acceptance of faith.

It is emerging as a tool for engaging women in a concept of religiosity that serves the political aims of various groups scattered throughout the Muslim world, who are eager to demonstrate the success and reach of their views.  The organized character of the revival of the hijab needs to be emphasized as it raises doubts about a number of justifications offered by women for veiling.

I do not question these women’s faith.  I believe it is genuine.  However the context of information, knowledge-sharing and a support network inflects its meaning and undermines its significance.  If agency signifies acting under one’s own power, it follows that decisions to don the hijab are those of free agency.  But if agency means making decisions in full knowledge of ones’ motivations and the consequences of one’s acts, after weighing pros and cons and considering alternatives, then the choice is not free.

Conviction is more than just resigned acceptance of the inevitability of the veil. 

 

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Safya, a 22 year old woman from S. Asia and living in New York explained, “If you are a Muslim you have to assume your religion in its entirety; you have to wear the hijab.”.  This statement was not based on an informed judgement.  The veil becomes something to be endured. 

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Saida, very active in the movement to bring an end to other forms of discrimination against French Muslims, sees her turn too the veil as a way of “reminding men that women are human beings, she is your equal and thus deserves your respect”.  Conviction in her case is tangled up with 2 very mundane pursuits: gaining respect from Muslim men and opposing (illegal) discrimination against women who wear the hijab at work.  This use of the veil is problematic for 2 reasons:  First, it legitimizes the veil by using it as a cultural weapon for the expansion of civil rights.  Second, it presents the use of the veil as a RIGHT conflated with freedom of religion.  The right to wear the veil is used as the right to live by one’s religious principles.  Female advocates of the veil wish to make the veil stand for religion.  They thus lend support to the state policies that mandate veiling in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.  The veil is singled out as the most significant sign of the newly reclaimed religion.

I must confess my skepticism of this justification.  The lives of older women who were forced to veil and mistreated for it, are dismissed in the same manner as the Turkish or French states have dismissed veiled women.

In addition, it is difficult to see how the veil can be a constitutive part of citizenship, as has been claimed.  It is as frivolous as arguing for the constitutional right to not eat pork or drink alcohol.  Protection of the right to practice one’s religion does not mean the right to legitimize the veil as STANDING FOR religion.  Since the religious status of the veil is still undetermined, law cannot legitimize it in one way or another.  The veil is not a substantive right, just as its prohibition by law lacks compelling substantiation.

There is little that is substantively new about reveiling.  And the young women who take up the hijab are no pioneers.  They are my grandmother’s virtual contemporaries.  Had they become the architects of a new conception of social change centered on women, or found a way of making problematic texts related to veiling redundant, they would have indeed earned their claim as innovators.  But they have not.  The veil remains an issue.

It is a fact that a number of young French women resigned themselves to the hijab in order to put an end to battering by a father or brother, or sexual harassment in the ghetto, and to be able to go to school in peace.

 

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I've decided that I'd rather read the book myself.   Thanks for letting me know about it.   

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22 minutes ago, dialamah said:

I've decided that I'd rather read the book myself.   Thanks for letting me know about it.   

I hope you enjoy it :)

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16 minutes ago, DogOnPorch said:

I've read "Beyond the Veil" by Fatema Mernissi by in Anthropology or one of those classes way back.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatema_Mernissi

Familiar, Goddess? Seems similar in some respects.

Yes, quite familiar.  It's nice to see women tackling this issue in a respectful way.

 

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On 2/7/2017 at 0:08 PM, 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.

I know lots of people when I was a kid that were forced to go to church, because they were children and parents make the rules.

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