Rethinking the Veil

Pakistani Family

Today I’m honored to be a part of “Let’s Talk About Hijab” – a series that Rachel Pieh Jones began over a month ago. You can find Rachel’s work all over the web, but her home space is Djibouti Jones – Life at the Crossroads of Faith & Culture. She is one of my favorite writers so to say I am honored is an understatement. Enjoy and make sure to take a look at the excellent essays that have come before mine. 

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In May of last year Dr. Leila Ahmed, a well-known professor at the Harvard Divinity School published a book A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence from the Middle East to America. The idea for the book was born one evening in the late 1990’s when Dr. Ahmed was walking with a friend in her Cambridge neighborhood. As they passed by a park, they noticed a group of women, all in hijab.

Dr. Ahmed was raised in Egypt during the fifties and sixties. At this time in Egypt, the veil was rarely seen – not only in Egypt, but also in other Muslim-majority countries. That particular evening, she was shocked and disturbed to see the hijab, symbolic to her of patriarchy and oppression, fully alive; revived and walking in her neighborhood. More shocking was to see the hijab worn in a country that allowed freedom of expression in both speech and dress…… Read more here! 

Let’s Talk about  Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau

6 thoughts on “Rethinking the Veil

  1. The veil is something that is mostly seen as oppression by non-wearers. There of course are those factions in society that are oppressed. but this is true of any societal concept.

    Personally to me it’s just a choice we make. Just the way someone wears long skirt or short skirt, wears long sleeved or short sleeved, wears pants or shorts … its a choice. In almost all of the religions around the world, if you look closely at it it advices modesty in dressing. This certainly true for Christians … look at the most “pious” among them – the nuns. The media does not look at them as oppressed do they?
    But when a Muslim wears it, it is seen as oppression. I agree, there are reasons for this mis-association as there are some societies that forces it upon women.

    but yes back to me – I have traveled to quite a few places in the world and I always stick to my chosen dress code.
    The only time I was asked a question regarding my head scarf was a colleague from Australia asking me “It must be difficult to you I suppose. Are you forced to do it?”
    To which all I had to say was “It must be difficult for you to wear that formal shirt and tie. Won’t you rather wear a comfortable t-shirt in this summer heat?” To which he said “I am not forced. but it is the expected norm and I am OK with it”
    The obvious answer to that was “the same applies to me. it’s norm. but it’s my choice too”

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  2. Moving to Pakistan in the mid 1950s, not that long after the departure of the British, my understanding of the burkah and it’s significance evolved through the years. Living in one of the more conservative areas of the country, we foreign women needed to adapt to the modest dress of our neighbors. Very soon I was wearing the local dress – Shalwar, kameez, doputta (baggy pants, dress, head scarf.) Later for going outside my home, I added a large wrap-aroung shawl that covered my head. Most Muslims wore either a burkah which covered from head to toe, or the shawl with a face veil added over their other clothes. In the small cities where we lived, Christian women didn’t cover their faces except in unusual circumstances. To the vast majority, to cover one’s face identified her as a Muslim. I have to add that there were times in certain public places where I would have been quite happy to not have my “bare face hanging out!” as one younger new arrival put it.
    As I lived long in the Sindh Province, I came to recognize both the religious significance and the fashion aspect of the veil. Poor women of a lower social class wore inexpensive cotton, and often in the villages, didn’t cover their faces. Upper or middle class women wore silks and satins, and yes, there was definitely a fashion statement in the style of one’s shawl. And I needed to keep up to a certain extent with the current fashions.
    Thank you, Marilyn, and Rachel, too, for this conversation.

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  3. Reblogged this on Flung Forth Anew and commented:
    As a Christian in a country that is both officially Muslim AND welcoming to those of other faiths, I see the hijab as a beautiful item that is both a statement of modesty and a statement of fashion. I think of the teen I saw at our sons’ international school, winning a sprint race with her hijab swirling behind her in the speed she created – so strong, so beautiful, so willing to go out and engage her world. At the same time, as a Christian, I am pretty sure that I am NOT allowed to wear a hijab; at least, the Christians nearest me could be offended by my “trying on” the signal of another religion. It intrigues me that I am not free to wear what many Westerners scoff at as a sign of deference or patriarchy. As always, there is so much to learn, to absorb, to ponder, and to try to figure out how to gracefully ask about!

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    1. That is a really interesting point – that in some places Christians can’t wear it, like in Yemen (I think?). I’ve also heard that in some countries Christians aren’t allowed to use certain Islamic terms. Yes – very intriguing and something worth thinking on further. Thanks for this thought!

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