Demystifying the Islamic Veil | Here Now



It sounds like a simple question: “Why do some Muslim women wear a veil?” But the answer is anything but simple.

For some, the veil is a symbol of religious observance. For others, it has cultural significance. And for some women, it’s a way of showing solidarity with women who are forced to wear a veil. There are those for whom he makes a political statement, while others simply like the convenience.

Author Sahar Amer examines the veil and all its religious, political, social and cultural implications in his new book “What is the veil?

The veil is not explicitly stated in the Quran

She says Here Nows Robin Young that there is a misconception that the veil is required by the Quran.

“As many scholars have recently pointed out, the word ‘veil’ is never used in the Qur’an,” said Amer. “There are verses that speak of women’s clothing. However, in none of these verses is it explicitly stated that women should veil themselves. This is an interpretation that was imposed on the Qur’an several centuries later.”

When is the veil oppressive?

Another misconception about the veil, says Amer, is that it is necessarily oppressive. Very few countries and regions, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia’s Aceh province, require women to wear the veil.

I decided that you could be modest without wearing a headscarf, and that you could be an equally good Muslim no matter what you wear.

Sahar Amer

“Certain veiling practices are certainly oppressive for women,” said Amer. “However, women who fold up on the veil and are very afraid to go out are often the result of war, and not the result of particular regional practices that could have lasted for centuries.”

Most often, women choose to wear the veil to express their religious and cultural identity and challenge repressive forms of the veil.

“Islamic fashion is part of how Muslim women express their modernity and cosmopolitanism, showing that they can be actively engaged in the world while being respectful of their religion and cultures,” said Amer.

Choose to reveal yourself

Amer grew up in Egypt but attended Bryn Mawr College in the United States. She started veiling in Egypt but chose to unveil herself in college.

“I was the only one in Bryn Mawr who was veiled at the time, and I felt extremely lonely,” she said. “The only thing that mattered to me was what I was wearing on my head.”

The experience made her wonder if she was modest if she was the center of attention because of what she was wearing.

Book excerpt: “What is the veil?

By Sahar Amer

Muslim women, we just can’t get a break. We are oppressed, subjected and coerced into arranged marriages by men with big beards.
Oh, and let’s not forget, we all hide explosives under our clothes too. The truth is, like most women, we are independent and stubborn. And the only one the things that hide under our clothes are hearts that yearn for love.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Muslim women, even those – especially those – who have never met one.
—Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, introduction to Love Inshallah:The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women


What is the veil?

Islam did not invent the veil, and the veil is not a practice unique to Muslims. On the contrary, the veil is a tradition that has existed for thousands of years, both in the Middle East and far beyond, and long before the birth of Islam in the early seventh century. Throughout history and around the world, the veil has been a custom associated with “women, men and women.
sacred places and objects. “

Few Muslims and non-Muslims realize that Islam has appropriated the veil practices already in place at the dawn of the 7th century around the Mediterranean basin. Islam inherited them from the major empires and societies of the time, as well as many other patriarchal customs and traditions.
traditions linked to the status of women. To understand the meaning of the veil in Islam today, one must recognize the important but neglected history of veiling practices in the pre-Islamic period and appreciate the continuities and similarities between cultures and religious traditions.

Given that the veil has been practiced over the past two millennia by Christian, Jewish and Muslim women, why does the veil continue to be associated primarily with Muslims and how has it become one of the most important signs? more visible of Islam as a religion? Why is it that when Muslim women wear a veil, many non-Muslims and some secular Muslims tend to assume that someone coerced these women to dress that way?

Why do many people believe that veiled Muslim women are oppressed, ignorant, extremely pious or politically militant? Why not consider Muslim women in neutral terms, as women who choose or wear the headscarf? How has this garment become so emotionally and politically charged for Muslims and non-Muslims?

My goal in What is the veil? is to offer an overview and appreciation of the complex history and meanings of the Muslim veil. Approaching the questions posed above from the multiple perspectives necessary for an understanding of the veil will lead us to see that the practice has never had a singular meaning for all Muslims.

Throughout this book, I also aim to give a voice to veiled Muslim women and to highlight the variety of Muslim veiling practices in Muslim majority and Muslim minority societies. I examine the main reasons why so many Muslim women choose to wear the veil today and why others in a handful of nations and only recently have been forced to adopt a particular style of dress.

Mainly, my goal in What is the veil? is to show that while the veil is one of the most visible signs of Islam, it is also its most debated and least understood practice.


Sahar Amer (Elisha Walker)
Sahar Amer (Elisha Walker)

“Veiling” today is not just a descriptive or neutral term. It is also a judgmental term, especially when associated with Islam. The Muslim veil is a notion that often evokes fear, anxiety, and a growing sense of threat, especially in the aftermath of September 11, the start of the war in Afghanistan, and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The veil is a practice that sparks heated debate among ordinary citizens and policy makers in North America and Europe, as well as in many predominantly Muslim societies around the world. It has become a surprisingly powerful symbol.

The veil can symbolize a number of perceived threats. For some, the veil represents the rise of fundamentalist Islam around the world, a constant reminder of the Iranian revolution and the plight of women in Afghanistan. For others, it demonstrates the subordination of Muslim women to Muslim men and the impossibility of assimilating Muslim immigrants into secular Euro-American societies. Others still see the veil as a threat to national security, a potential cover-up for suicide bombers and a worrying reminder that the world is not safe at the turn of the new millennium. The appearance of the veil in most public spaces has been seen as proof that Islam is par excellence opposed to women’s rights. The veil has even come to replace the ultimate otherness and inferiority of Islam.

Given the intensity of the emotions that arise in discussions of the veil, however, the obsession with the veiling practices of Muslim women is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is only since the 19th century that it has been an integral part of Euro-American discourse on Islam and the Middle East.

WHAT IS VEILING? by Sahar Amer. Copyright © 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used with permission from the publisher.


  • Sahar Amer, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Sydney.



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