hijab

As Muslims are facing increased threat in several countries, like the unending public lynching and the recent open call for genocide by the Hindutwa militia in India, some sections of them are shrinking into their shells. Hijab or veil  is one expression of this shrinking phenomena. This uniform, often black, lose covering over one’s dress, known as purdah in south Asia and hijab or abaya in west Asia, has been spreading fast among Muslim women in the recent years. Even in places like Kerala- the southern Indian coastal state where the Islamic theology first landed on the subcontinent- where it was unheard of thirty years ago one can see the public spaces doted with black veil wearing women, and occasionally those who cover even the face.

The veiling of women is a great challenge that Islam faces today next only to the escalating Islamophobia. Veil comes from a grotesque distortion of the Quran and it reflects a world view that cripples the Muslim societies in its move forward and a marked departure from the historical period it had been a society seeking and generating knowledge. It is surprising that the veil has reached, though limited in scale, places like Jakarta where I could not find a woman wearing it in any form in the late 1980s, much like Kerala.  The proscription of veil in public places in countries like France and Switzerland creates a new level of distrust between their Muslim societies and the respective States.

It is therefore interesting to see what exactly the Quran says and does not say about the veil. This is important especially since Muslims call themselves the ‘people of the book’, meaning they follow this single book on religious matters. However, the Quran says nothing about the veil. It does not even use the word hijab (veil) anywhere to mean any form of dress. The Quran’s view is the opposite of veil. It asks men and women to ‘wear your beautiful apparel’ in chapter 7 verse 31, and in the next verse it asks the reactionary men as to who has given them the right to forbid the beautiful things god has given men and women, which also marks a negation of asceticism. A few verses earlier in the same chapter the Quran says that god has bestowed raiment upon men and women not only to cover their nakedness but also as an adornment. Interestingly, even this dress is not taken as too serious a thing, let alone an obsession, as the verse says, ‘but the raiment of righteousness is the best.’  The focus of the Quran is righteousness and virtue, not any kind of dress. And yet, dress has come to become the defining factor of identity for a section of the Muslim society. Iran has made hijab mandatory for women, though interestingly women were penalised for wearing it by the Shah regime in the 1930s. After long years of hijab imposition Saudi Arabia has recently lifted the ludicrous requirement of hijab.

The Quran advises the women folks to wear a ceremonial cloak (jilbab) as a mark of social honour when they travel outside (chapter 33, verse 59). This is similar to what Arab men also wear, which was imported to Europe during the latter period of crusades and subsequently turned into a ceremonial attire for city mayors and students at convocations, and found its way to several colonies including India. Can god be so insensible as to suggest women to wear hijab/abayaya/purdah and a cloak over it? Orthodoxies and patriarchy are devoid of logic and reason.

A standard practice of the hijab champions has been to remorselessly contort a Quranic verse that asks women to cover their bosoms, and to follow etiquette when they have visitors.

The Quran asks women to cover their bosoms (24.31) as women were not covering bosoms in non-winter months in many societies those days, not only in Arabia but in Kerala too where the simple right of covering the torso was given to ‘lower’ caste Hindu women against a ‘breast tax’ imposed by the local king until a century and a half ago when this tax was abolished. The catch is here, while the Quran asks women to cover the bosoms with any piece of cloth the pathological distortion says that they are asked to cover the bosoms with their ‘face cover’, falsely suggesting that the Quran mentions about such a despicable covering of the human face, which amounts to blasphemy. The patriarchy even makes the asinine argument based on the later part of the same verse  that the Quran dictates  women not to display their ornaments in public, criminally undermining that the reference is only to the inner ornaments worn under the cloth- like the waist chain- and categorically exempting ordinarily worn ornaments. These men have scant respect for the book they claim to be holy.

While the West African women of various faiths wear beautifully styled, colourful head gears and most south Asian women still wear a graceful, flowing shawl on head, the recent practice of wrapping the head with a scarf that almost looks like a bandage is devoid of any sense of aesthetics. It is hard to imagine how Muslim women have got such a practice of head gear.

The obsession with covering the body of the female is not exclusive to Muslims. In rural north India married Hindu women cover their head and face, not only in public, but also in homes where other men like a father in law are present. This is a practice known as Ghoonghat. Religions, nearly all, consider the female hair as a kind of sex organ to be covered at least during worship as in churches of some denominations and in gurudwaras, while the burden of head cover in Sikhism is otherwise on men. The secular state too had the obsession with the female dress, it was not too long ago that some US beaches had policemen with measuring tapes to measure the length of the shorts worn by women to make sure that they follow the prescribed minimum length.

Religious people do not actually care what the scriptures  say even as they hold it solemn but follow what they have been conditioned to believe. The lynching and hate campaign in the name of beef is happening in India when Manusmrithi, the vedic law book, in its section called Mamsavidhi says if a person who is officiating or a guest at a sacred function does not eat meat he will be reborn as a beast twenty one times as a punishment. That is the case with hijab too. Even as Muslims claim they have a single book, they actually follow the several books by central Asian chroniclers who claim that their works are the sayings and deeds of prophet Mohammed, collected from hearsay a good three centuries after the death of the prophet, many of which are incompatible with the Quran and often negating the Quranic teachings. However, even in this body of Hadith one cannot find a reference to the veil as a religious mandate.

It is important that Muslims reclaim the Quran, discarding the distorting interpretations by patriarchal men. That will be a key step in the struggle against Islamophobia.

The author an ecologist based at Trivandrum, India specialising in international policy issues.

s.faizi111@gmail.com


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5 Comments

  1. Shamsul Islam says:

    This informative piece based on facts is a must read for all those who care for rights of women.

  2. S. N. Murthy Ch says:

    Even if it is there in Quran, the progressive and democratic men and women of Muslim communities would certainly be successful in their struggle against this kind of patriarchy. Patriarchy is not limited to one or some communities. People of all religions and castes should fight against practices of patriarchy in their respective communities in stead of just pointing out such practices in other religions and castes which only helps communal and divisive forces.

  3. Red Robbo says:

    ‘It is important that Muslims reclaim the Quran, discarding the distorting interpretations by patriarchal men. That will be a key step in the struggle against Islamophobia.’

    In an interview for Index (September/October 1994) Taslima Nasrin was asked if she wanted to revise the Quran. She stated:

    “The Quran can no longer serve as the basis of our law. A thousand years ago it may have been useful for fending off barbarism. But we live in modern times, the era of science and technology. The Quran has become superfluous. It stands in the way of progress and the way of women’s emancipation.”

    On 9 August 2007 she was in Hyderabad to present the Telugu translation of one of her novels, Shodh, when she was allegedly attacked by a mob, led by legislators from the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, an Indian political party. A week later, on 17 August, Muslim leaders in Kolkata revived an old fatwa against her, urging her to leave the country and offering an unlimited amount of money to anybody who would kill her.

    More recently, the UK-based journalist and commentator Khadija Khan wrote:
    ‘The reality is that the hijab is not a benign item of clothing in Muslim societies. It symbolizes a social structure where any demand that women be treated equally to men, in any respect, is seen as a rebellion against divine law—and such demands are often met with harsh repercussions. Wearing the hijab has always been presented as a religious imperative, a symbol of modesty, and one of the indications of a woman’s pious character, along with unconditional submissiveness to men, and complete compliance with cultural norms that treat women as second-class citizens. Women who refuse to comply are stigmatized, ostracised and tortured’ (Areo magazine, 29/11//21)

    ‘Thirteen countries, all of a Muslim majority, punish apostasy (the renunciation of a particular religion), or blasphemy with death….
    Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen are the relevant countries. All of these countries, except Pakistan, allow for capital punishment against apostasy, while Pakistan imposes the death penalty for blasphemy – including a disbelief in God’ (Indy100, 7 May, 2017).

    ‘I do not believe in God, because I believe in man. Whatever his mistakes, man has for thousands of years past been working to undo the botched job your God has made’ (Emma Goldman).

  4. Nadia Sindi says:

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    The most Criminal Official of Oregon late A.G. Dave Frohnmayer had deleted and removed all the record from Lane County that shows I’d changed my name to Nadia Sindi then he lift my old name Faika M. Sindi and changed the first letter of my name made it Saika Findi!! and trapped me with a Criminal record since 1987!!

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    https://uomatters.com/tag/dave-frohnmayer-uo-president?fbclid=IwAR1qI1qm6ta1TnXfI9F1r-vjv9XMemLhurXjKptJsvUPHiDJJaFcdmriLhM

    https://www.wweek.com/portland/article-21195-reputation-for-rent.html

    https://www.wweek.com/portland/blog-30283-u-of-o-prof-files-bar-complaint-in-long-v-kroger-case.html

    https://www.dailyemerald.com/archives/uo-president-faces-ethics-complaints/article_de9248c1-bf32-53ea-9a2b-8b67c4c08ad1.html

    https://www.thefreelibrary.com/University+president+faces+ethics+complaint.-a0153374882?fbclid=IwAR1lSXHpNvxvFW0TxkLDBhjELusnbonQkvyk8I3L7Ovt2UnNodwONa0nD2o

    Late Oregon A.G. Dave Frohnmayer and Both D.A. Doug Harcleroad, Alex Gardner with the Lane County Sheriff, trapped me in a criminal record since 1987. They have changed first letter in my first name to “S” So I couldn’t expunged it!!

    http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/justice-for-nadia-sindi…

    My life with Liberal Klans in Oregon!

    Arab/Muslim Americans are treated less than animals! We are called Sand N…

    We are being prosecuted in a daily basis! High tech lynching, institutionally racism! Especially for Arab women!!

    Oregon late A.G. Dave Frohnmayer had my SS# blocked & prevented me from getting employed, made me homeless and jobless!

    Dave Frohnmayer was the one who started & initiated the fraud of Foreclosed-houses & taking over our homes!

    His bank robber Rep.Bob Ackerman, Doug McCool, UO Prof. Margaret Hallock. Hired Scarlet Lee/Barnhart Associates. Forged my family’s signature. Gave our fully paid Condo to the thief Broker Bob Ogle, his mom Karen Ogle was working in the USA Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She administered the power of attorney to have my sister signature, added her son to the deed. Sold without my signature!

    Bob Ackerman had never responded to the Summon from the Court, and the sheriff never served me or arrested him either!!
    ThIs is what kind of criminal government we have in Oregon!!

    Arrest Rep. Bob Ackerman, Doug McCool, Broker Bob Ogle, his mom Karen Ogle, Scarlet Lee/Barnhart Associates, UO Prof. Margaret Hallock, Wells Fargo

    Both D.A. Doug Harcleroad, Alex Gardner told me they have NO JURISDICTION on Frohnmayer! Oregon criminal Officials are complicit with these crimes against me!

    Both EPD, Lane County Sheriff Dept. and the FBI had been told to step down from investigating the bank robber Rep. Bob Ackerman & the rest of Lane County Criminal Officials are complicit with him!!

    I ran five times for public offices! Voter Fraud & Sedition by Lane County government to protect & cover up for the two criminals Frohnmayer & Ackerman!!

    Oregon government is complicit with their crimes!!

    https://facebook.com/groups/justice4nadiasindi…

    http://davefrohnmayer.com

    Please sign petition.

    https://change.org/petitions/a-g-eric-holder-sent-jeff-merkley-gov-john-kitzhaber-investigate-abuse-of-power-and-criminal-forgery-by-former-oregon-a-g-david-frohnmayer-and-lane-county-government#share….

    Dave Frohnmayer was going to kill me by sending some fabricated story after he called the manager where I used to live to tell her he was waiting for him to pick him up from the Airport! Then Frohnmayer sent me a team of Doctors for Mental health to Evaluate me!