The Veil as a Political Metaphor
Colonialist Period & Post Colonialist Period & the Struggle over Hijab
Taken from HIRU

During the colonialist occupation of much of the Muslim world, Islam began to be attacked by those wishing to crush the spirit of the occupied people. There are many personal and government documents of this time that clearly equate Islam with the veil & recognize that the spirit of the people could not be completely controlled without controlling the obvious symbol of Islam---the veil.

"it (the veil) lies at the root of all the most important features that differentiate progress from stagnation. In Arabia before the advent of Islam it was customary to bury female infants alive. Muhammad improved on the barbaric method and discovered a way by which all females could be buried alive and yet line on----namely the veil." Our Moslem Sisters, A Cry of Need from Lands of Darkness, by A Van Sommer and S. Zwemer.

"In general, the woman of Arabia in the early Muslim era was in subjection either to her nearest male kinsman...or to her husband, whose right over her was regarded in the same way as his right over any other property." p. 94, Stated by Ruben Levy.

The colonialist government officials, utilized the influx of Christian Missionaries and Orientalists who came to "teach" the Muslim masses. Of course at first it was only the upper class families that these "scholars" had access to or interest in. Through their observations of these elite families, it was determined that Muslim women all over the world were suppressed.

It is ironic, actually, that Victorian Orientalists, in their tightly laced & disfiguring corsets would label the flowing veils of Islam to be oppressive. And that their male counter-parts would claim that the Muslim male was oppressing their women folk. For back in the Victorian world of Europe and America, their own women folk were closed behind the doors of the home, with no political voice, right to divorce or right to inheritance. Often, it was the greed of colonialists to increase productivity that it encouraged that Muslim women leave their homes and become "liberated" and take outside employment. This tactic has been used & continues to be used by corporations today, to control the economic market & superimpose it's own agenda.

By removing women from their homes and displacing men, who by nature are more aggressive and confrontational with a more docile work force, colonialists of all time periods have found they can become wealthier with little overhead or worker demands.

Colonialists encouraged political leaders to adopt "civilized" behavior prescribed by the dominating Christian European social structure. Those greedy leaders desiring to emulate Europe, quickly adopted the trappings of Europeans, at the cost of their fellow countrymen & Muslims.

French colonialists, in the 1950's, in Algeria used the issue of the veil to win the support of Muslim women & thereby defeat the Algerian Nationalists. Their tactics however included turning younger people against their own culture by "liberating" them from the traditions & their cultural dignity.

The veil was abolished, by the government, in 1920 in Afghanistan. Then was reinstated in 1929 by the government. Yet, again in 1959, the issue of the veil turned again when the wife and sisters, of Afghanistan's Prime Minister appeared in public unveiled and set a new precedent & once again women began to go out of their homes uncovered, in an effort to illustrate their "modern" & "progessive" fashion.

Then, in 1992, the new interim government of Afghanistan decreed that women must immediately adopt "Islamic Dress".

In Iran, the veil was formally abolished in 1936 by Reza Shah. Yet though it was outlawed by the Shah, women still chose to wear it. In many of the rural areas, outside the immidiate influence of the Western influenced aristocrats, Muslim women still chose to cover themselves in a modest manner. Even in the urban centers, some women continued to veil, despite laws against it. Yet in 1978, Iranian women demonstrated in the streets against the Shah wearing the traditional chador. With the end of the Shah's rule, Iranian women returned to wearing the chador not only for religious reasons, but as a sign of solidarity of their cultural identity. {Later however, it must be noted that extremist behavior overshadowed the Islamic laws governing public behavior}

In Turkey, the practice of veiling also was under attack. Ataturk abolished the veil in the 1920's. In 1997 a university woman was expelled from architectural school for wearing hijab to class. In today's educational system in Turkey, Muslim women are DENIED an education if they wear even a simple headscarf, which is ordered by Allah! Yet NO Feminist organization fights for the freedom of Muslim women to choose their own form of dress, nor their right to an education. What has happened to these champions of women's rights? Why have they gone so silent? Do the Capitalists have their tongue?

In Egypt too, the veil is being attacked. Women wearing traditional face veils are threatened with arrest and even rape by government officials who claim that wearing the garment is a symbol of terrorist activity.

Now, Muslim girls and women are being forced to choose between Islam and their educations, yet none of the Women's organizations, who's voices have been previously claiming to be concerned with Muslim women's rights seems to demand the rights of these religiously conscience women. While Political conscienceness is applauded in the West, religious conscienceness appears to be an alien concept!
Yet constantly we here Western media & political leaders talking about morality and family values. Doesn't it seem like they are being a little bit two faced?

Though there is no concise detailing of the similarities and differences between Muslim clothing styles around the world, this has not stopped feminists from making sweeping assumptions about the suppressive nature of Islmaic dress code.

Veiling has long been described by feminists as a means for men to control women. In Gender Roles, by L.L. Lindsey, it states:

"Islamic law is nurtured by a code of ethics which sees woman's role as providing legitimate male heirs. This role may be compromised if women are not restricted in their activities especially during childbearing years...Therefore, Islam assumes that woman is both potentially powerful and dangerous." (p 222)

Such broad strokes, this author makes!!! Shame on her for suggesting such ironious claims. Quran clearly states that daughters and sons are to be equally welcomed. So I must ask you, where is this "scholar" getting her infomration?

Islamic law comes from Quran and hadith, not the practices of ignorant people. To suggest that the actions viewed amongst the masses IS the religious law, is no different from suggest that murder & warfar is promoted in Chistian Laws. However, as a consciencious writer, one has to acknowledge that the acts of some Christians is not necessarily the religous Laws that their religion dictates.
This practice known as veiling has long been left unchallenged in Western sociological or anthropological journals. Those in the Muslim world who do attempt to challenge it are often brushed off by fellow academic professionals as "ignorant" or "biased".

It should be acknowledged that much of what has been written has been heavily clouded by cultural, political and religious biases which are rarely addressed by the authors, book reviewers or publishers.

As with the previous citation, the typical interpretation of veiling has been that of a form of victimization of women or the political manipulation of them.

"The effect of these garments is the same, though, for the woman is rendered anonymous,a non-person, unapproachable, just a silent being sulking along, looking neither to the right or left. To those who do not know her personally, she is nameless and faceless." (Jeffery, 1979)

Frank Viviano stated in his article, "The scarf that split a nation" in the Nov./Dec '94 issue of Weekend, "...a head scarf worn by Muslim women to demonstrate allegiance to fundamentalist Islam. "

Viviano goes on to say, "...nearly two dozen high school students here Paris)...have been expelled for wearing the hijab to classes." and that "...feminists and leftists from North Africa itself...want the scarf banned from public schools. The issue is not liberty, they say, but equality------the flaunting of an item of dress that symbolizes sexual oppression."

January 1999: French Teachers Strike Over Muslim Headscarves, RENNES, France (Reuters) - Tensions between Muslim fundamentalists and France's lay school system bubbled to the surface Wednesday as teachers at a junior high school in Normandy refused to teach Muslim students wearing headscarves. Teachers at other schools in and around the northwestern town of Flers announced plans for a mass demonstration and strike Friday in support of the teachers who have refused to report for work at the College Jean-Monnet since Monday. The majority of the school's teachers walked off the job after education authorities ordered the school to take in a 12-year-old student of Turkish origin whose family insisted that she wear an Islamic headscarf to class. Tuesday a second Muslim student sought to be enrolled after presenting a letter from her parents saying she too planned to cover her head with an Islamic-style scarf in school. Segolene Royale, junior minister for secondary education, sent a government mediator to Flers Wednesday morning. The current controversy has divided Flers, with a minority of teachers favoring the Muslim girls' enrollment and the town's association of Turkish residents criticizing the girls as isolated cases. Islam is France's second largest religion after Catholicism, estimated at four to five million people, most of them from former French colonies in North Africa. Controversy has simmered in France for years over the extent to which the school system had to accommodate Muslim students. But the dispute in Normandy marked the first time the issue had flared up since the current leftist government took power in mid-1997. In 1994, the conservative government then in power issued rules banning "ostentatious religious symbols" from secular state schools. It said the ban applied only to Islamic-style headscarves, however, and not to similar religious symbols like crosses worn on necklaces or Hebrew skull caps. Over a hundred girls were subsequently expelled from their schools while several hundred others defied the ban. The girls and their families said they were merely observing the Muslim religion but the French government and many teachers argued the scarves, as symbols of Islamic fundamentalism and the repression of women, were preventing their wearers from becoming integrated into French society.

If this is truly an issue of equality, as the opponents of hijab claim, then why is it that the Muslim girls have the right only to wear what the opponents feel is appropriate?

Schoolgirls in France have been expelled and harassed since Feb 1989 for donning the hijab. The French hijab issue reached a crisis point in September of 1989, when French Minister of Culture, Francois Bayrou issued a decree calling for the scarf to be forbidden as "an ostentatious religious symbol". The issue of hijab in France is nothing more than a remnant of the colonialist mentality that dictated the lives of Muslims, when France controlled its neighbors to the south.

Though many of the opponents of hijab are of Arab Muslim origin, their ideology is no different than their Christian colonialist counter-parts-----to subjugate Islam and Muslims to the secular ideology of the day. Today this is done through negative labeling of those who adhere to their religious values and who choose to openly practice their chosen faith.

Yet there are some voices beginning to be heard over the clammer of leftists and Euro-centric feminists.

One such example is found in "Behind the Veil Debate" in which it states:
"For many Algerian women the hijab represents a rejection of Western influence, liberation from unwanted male advances, and the right to promote their own social status through education and self-appointed professions."
[Women and Islam] [Mainpage] [What's New?]