Explanation: what the Islamic veil shows and hides


“As much as the veil is a fabric or a garment, it is a concept. It can be illusion, vanity, artifice, deceit, liberation, imprisonment, understatement, divination, concealment, hallucination, depression, eloquent silence, sanctity, ethers beyond consciousness, the hidden hundredth name of God, the final passage in death, even the biblical apocalypse, the lifting of the veil of God, signaling the so-called end of time. Writer Jennifer Heath, in her massive edited volume, “The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics,” written entirely by women, describes the highly controversial piece of fabric in these words.

The veil, as scholars have noted, has symbolized different things to different people throughout the centuries. Why and how his practice began in the first place is difficult to determine with certainty.

As Heath notes in his work, “the idea of ​​the veil began when humans began to observe the mysteries of nature.” In ancient societies, however, the veil was most often associated with rank, religion, marital status, or a marker of one’s ethnicity.

In modern times, as the veil has become most intimately associated with Islam and Islamic societies, it has had the effect of polarizing opinion globally. The Sri Lankan government on Monday banned face coverings with veils under emergency regulations put in place following the Easter bombings in the country that killed more than 250 people. In recent years, the veil, especially the form in which it is worn by Islamic communities, has been banned in several countries.

First origins

The earliest evidence of the veil is believed to be in ancient Mesopotamia where it was worn as a sign of rank and respectability. “Rules about wearing the veil – especially which women must wear and which cannot – have been carefully detailed in Assyrian law,” Islamic studies scholar Leila Ahmed writes in “Women and Gender in Islam “.

Therefore, wives and daughters of “lords” had to veil themselves while prostitutes and slaves were forbidden to veil themselves. “Those caught unlawfully veiling themselves were liable to the penalties of flogging, having pitch poured on their heads and having their ears cut off,” she wrote.

Similar traditions were also followed in other parts of the ancient world. Ahmed writes that in classical Athens, “respectable” women stayed at home and “their clothes hid them from the eyes of foreign men: a shawl was worn which could be pulled over the head like a hood.”

Judith Lynn Sebesta, editor of The World of Roman Costume, notes that in ancient Rome women were required to wear a veil as a symbol of her husband’s authority over her. “Indeed, the black headscarf worn for centuries by women in Greece, Corsica, Sicily, Sardinia and other countries of the Christian Mediterranean is almost indistinguishable from that of rural Turkey, Egypt or Iran,” writes Heath.

modern world

In the contemporary world, the veil is most often associated with Islamic communities. A wide variety of headdresses worn by Muslim women in different parts of the world are called the veil. While most Islamic traditions do not mandate the wearing of the veil, some such as the Salafist movement, a reformist tradition within Sunni Islam, consider it obligatory for women to cover their faces in front of men. unrelated.

The burqa is banned in public spaces in several countries and territories, including Austria, the Canadian province of Quebec, Denmark, France, Belgium, Tajikistan, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chad, Republic of Congo, Gabon, the Netherlands, China and Morocco. . The Sri Lankan ordinance mentions the prohibition of covering the face, but is silent on the headscarf.

A public debate had emerged in France over the burqa ban in 2010. Arguments for and against the law centered on issues of nationalism, secularism, sexuality and security. Supporters of the ban see the veil as a security risk and an emblem of gender inequality. Those who oppose the ban, meanwhile, see it as an attack on the religious freedom of individuals.

The veil’s intimate association with Islam was underscored again recently when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern donned a black headscarf during a meeting with members of the Muslim community after the Christchurch shootings in March.

In large parts of Europe and America, the Islamic veil is seen as an object that separates the West from Islam. In much of South Asia, on the other hand, the veil is seen as the marker of Islamic identity and values. Under the Taliban, Afghan women were required to wear a burqa at all times in public.

Pakistan does not require women to wear the veil. However, the Council of Islamic Ideology, which is a constitutional body in Pakistan, maintains that it is best to cover the face, hands and feet.

India has seen intermittent protests for and against the wearing of the burqa. In August 2016, a college of pharmacy in Mangalore banned a freshman student from wearing a hijab or burqa on campus. Soon after, a group of Muslim students began protesting the ban, citing the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. A group of Hindu students then protested by wearing saffron scarves in class.

The judiciary, however, has repeatedly upheld the personal choice of Muslim women to wear the hijab or the burqa.


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