Monday, June 4, 2007

Hijab in the News

Some articles about veiling have cropped up in the news recently: In Iraq a letter being circulated demanding Christian women to veil up; A reply to that and a report on the Christian community in Iraq; In Gaza, female reporters are being threatened by beheadings; maids in Saudi Arabia and veiling laws; and a designer who will be showing updated hijabs for the runway. But, first, an editorial about the veil and Islamists, which I think really strikes at the heart of the issue for me and my ruminations about the hijab renaissance. But, as evidenced in the other articles, the argument by extremists in favor of veiling, are accompanied by violent threats. Thus making the veil a symbol of submission, and feeding the fears of reactionaries and Islamophobics everywhere.

Islamists, women, and the veil!

The dilemma is such - the rise in bearded men and veiled women is supposed to correlate with an increase in morals and values that are clearly enshrined within Islam. That unfortunately isn't the case, and hence one has to question the validity of the rise of such Islamic fervor, at least at the attire level.

The debate at this point will center on two notions: Is the veil just as much as the beard and the short dishdasha (long white robe men wear) symbols of religiosity? Are people supposed to judge other people's submission to God, based on their attire? Furthermore is religion something physical or is it rather a metaphysical belief system that emanates from within as opposed to an expression that is visible from the outside?

In analyzing both the veil and the beard, I have noticed that there are many forms of 'Islamic' veils available, some more 'liberal' than others, some that are purely decorative in nature (a cloth covering one's hair, with spandex-type of dress that doesn't even seem to be a perfect match!), while others perhaps are more 'religious.' The question that I would like to ponder upon is the following: If the purpose of the veil is to simply cover a woman's hair then perhaps a wig would perfectly do the job, for it would also cover a woman's hair, yet inherently a wig would seem to beat the purpose of the veil (i.e. hair covering) for it reveals a new set of hair instead of the real hidden one!

This leads me to the next question - is the veil something visual or rather something symbolic? The question, should a women be veiled or not, is a purely an individual choice in nature and hence a matter that is up to the individual person (a notion that fellow Islamist brothers would completely disagree on)! The same notion is applicable to the beard. In coming up with a conclusion I believe that deeds will outweigh attire any day; for attire without deeds just doesn't seem quite right and I believe that what is to be emphasized is that as long as decency is achieved in both attire and action, veiled or unveiled, bearded or not, only God has the capacity to judge our actions on the day of judgment.

Islamists to impose the veil on Iraqi women

A letter is circulating the capital, warning Christian women to wear the veil in accordance with domestic segregation. The letter is signed by the Mahdi army, linked to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Iraqi Shiite cleric, who the US considers the greatest threat to security in the country. Upon till now the Sunni group of “the Islamic State in Iraq” was the most violent threat to the Christian community: from their imposition of the jizya – the “compensation” demanded by the Koran from non Muslim subjects – to their expropriation of property and forced conversions to Islam.

Iraq Sadr Spokesman Denies 'Veil For All' Edict
"Moqtada al-Sadr has never issued such an order neither in private nor in public" he added.

"The Sadrist faction, in line with its religious role, urges Muslim women to wear the veil as prescribed by sharia (Islamic Law) but does not force them to do so, just encourages them"

"As for non Muslims, it is a personal question, but they must not approach holy Shiite sites.

Abu Zahra went on to underline that "there have never been any incidents involving a Sadr member towards a non Muslim in the areas of Iraq where the group is present."

A responsible for the Waqf office (in charge of Sunni religious heritage) speaking on condition of anomymity, told Adnkronos International that "Islam does not force anyone except its own followers to adhere to Sharia law and is nto responsiblefor those of other religious faiths. This is contrary to our faith, which obliges us to look after non Muslims who live in Muslim countries without forcing them to embrace Islam."

The Sunni official said he could not rule out "a link between this episode [the letter], if it really did occur and the systematic campaigns currently underway to drive Christians out of Baghdad and of other Iraqi cities,forcing them to go abroad or to other areas of the country."

Iraq: Christian population dwindling due to threats, attacks

Insurgents laid siege to the Al-Durah neighborhood of Baghdad earlier this month and demanded that Christians living there pay jizya, a head tax on non-Muslims living under Muslim rule, to the mujahedin or else convert to Islam. The Islamic State also hung posters throughout Al-Durah calling on Christian women to veil their faces. Locals report that nearly 200 Christian families have fled the neighborhood recently with just the clothes on their backs.

In other cases, families have been given 72 hours to pack their belongings and leave. Some have fled to Kurdistan, but the majority have left for Syria and Jordan, Christian leaders say.

Shi'ite militias have also targeted the Christian community. Fighters loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr this week warned Christians in Baghdad to wear the veil or face grave consequences, reported on May 30. A statement issued by al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army rationalized that since the Virgin Mary wore a veil, present-day Christians should too. The statement claimed that the militia has formed committees to monitor Christians and enforce the veiling decree.

The statement, signed by the "People's Foundation for the Master Al-Mahdi Army," referred to the writings of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (Muqtada's father) who the group claimed ruled, presumably through a fatwa, that women who did not veil themselves were adulteresses who should be locked up by their husbands if they refuse to veil their faces.

There is little question that the targeting of minority communities has had an adverse impact on Iraq, a country that historically was known for its diversity. Already by some estimates, only 200,000-400,000 of the 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq in 2003 remain. For Iraq's Christians, many of whom trace their presence in the country to their Assyrian ancestors, the impact of such displacement is immeasurable.

'Wear a veil or we will behead you,' radicals tell TV women

All 15 women presenters reported for work at the official Palestine Television station in Gaza yesterday, in defiance of death threats by a radical Islamic group that is believed to have links with al-Qa'ida. The Righteous Swords of Islam warned that it would strike the women with "an iron fist and swords" for refusing to wear a veil on camera.

"It is disgraceful that the women working for the official Palestinian media are competing with each other to display their charms," it said in a leaflet distributed in Gaza at the weekend. "We will destroy their homes. We will blow up their work places. We have a lot of information about their addresses and we are following their movements."

The fringe group threatened to "slaughter" the women for corrupting Palestinian morals. "The management and workers at Palestine TV should know," it warned, "that we are much closer to them than they think. If necessary, we will behead and slaughter to preserve the spirit and morals of our people."

About half the women TV journalists wear the traditional hijab head covering, but all show their faces and wear makeup. They mounted a vigil yesterday outside the Gaza City office of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, demanding protection and respect.

Lana Shaheen, who heads the station's English-language programmes, told The Independent: "Of course we are afraid. Previously this group threatened Internet cafes and video shops, then burned them. We will protect ourselves."

She insisted the women would continue working. "We will not change... our lives. We've worked through Israeli bombardments and attacks, just like the men. It's a national obligation."

In recent weeks, militants campaigning against Western influence have also vandalised an American school and a Christian bookshop. Bassam Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, accused the radicals of behaving like the Taliban in Afghanistan. "Gaza has become Hamasistan. They are trying to drag Palestinian society back to the dark ages."

As the prospect of peace recedes and poverty spreads, Palestinians have become more traditional. Bars and cinemas have closed. Many educated, middle-class women now cover their heads, but hardly anyone, even in the villages, wears the niqab veil.

Forcing Maids to Wear Veil

Laila Al-Hilali, a Saudi researcher, referred to a contradiction in the way that some families oblige their maids to wear veils in public and ignore other “priorities.” “A maid’s appearance in public attracts the attention of the families they work for, who tend to ignore other serious issues such as how committed the maid is to her work, or how she treats the kids when the parents are away,” said Al-Hilali.

Shariah expert Dr. Suhaila Zain Al-Abedin, told Arab News that the Kingdom’s domestic work force make up a quarter of the expatriates living in the Kingdom. “This huge work force needs to be educated about our culture, society, religion and the whole point of hijab, which is a symbol of modesty and has been prescribed to protect women from molestation in public. Women have never been forced to wear it,” she said.

“A maid should be treated like a human being by her employers, not like a slave. She should be given the freedom to choose if she really wishes to wear the hijab without being obliged... Housewives must treat their maids with respect and not terrify them. This may lead them to hurt their employers,” she added.

Tanveer unveils dodgy veil

Glodwick resident Tanveer Ahmed is in his final year at Northampton University and has gained coveted catwalk time at the annual Graduate Fashion Week at Battersea Park, London, on June 3.

The 21-year-old said: "My stance is not to remove the veil as such but modernise it and make it more fashionable.

Tanveer also knows he will receive criticism from many quarters of the Muslim community.

"I’m also frustrated with fundamentalists who tell you what to do. I’m trying to show that there is another side to the coin," he challenged.



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  2. Thanks. I'll check it out. The blog "saudistepfordwife" sounds pretty interesting!

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