To Veil or Not to Veil?
To veil or not to veil? That is the question facing many Arab women and policy makers across the globe. The issue of whether veiling is oppressive has prevailed in media, state policy, and Islamic discourse since colonial times. However after doing some research, I realized that the overarching problem is not the veil itself but the inability for women to choose whether they wish to wear the veil. The hijab, the Arabic word for covering as a form of modesty in their religion, is not always a form of oppressive masculinity but rather a symbol of a culture different from the West and a religious identity. The veil has been banned in some states, part of high fashion in others, and continually being used as a preservation of culture for some Arab women on an international scale.
In many countries the restriction for veiling has become a hot civil rights topic. In France, the veil has been banned and is very controversial in the global media atmosphere. BBC covered the situation saying that “France banned the public wearing of most face coverings in 2011, setting fines for offenders of up to 150 euros”(BBC). This was and is a big deal because 8% of France’s population is actually Muslim (BBC). In more recent news, Turkey has amended their veil on the ban so that middle and high school students can wear the veil in the public school building. The discourse for and against the veil is happening across the globe and it is interesting to see which way the ban goes. (RT) As part of the same legislation the “ban on hijabs for state university students and female civil servants was also previously lifted.” (RT) Secularism and Islamism are clashing and the policies of states are reflecting governmental ideas about Islam and its culture.
In different spheres of Islam, the enforcement of the hijab varies. In some places Muslim women do not veil and in others women wear the ‘burqa’ a full outfit of covering. Many women are not forced to wear the hijab and often use the hijab with a sense of style. Scarves have actually become a popular merchandise item since there are so many Muslims who take hijab globally. Off the beaten path of mainstream media, there is a trend for fashion conscious hijabs. An article in Marie Claire claims these new age fashion conscious Muslim women are “hipsters in hijab”. Many women find the hijab trendy and believe the media is responsible for much of the misconception of the veil. Marwa Atik, a famous scarf stylist, said the she tries “to keep pace with fast fashion” (MC). A growing industry for scarves really challenges the dull Western standard most Western media portrays about the hijab.
For Areej Ahmed, established professor of Arabic and working on her Ph.D. in linguistics, the veil is not some political symbol but a personal, religious, and cultural part of her very identity. In interview earlier this month, she explained that her form of veiling, the headscarf, was “Something I (she) grew up with, part of my (her) culture and religion. I can’t tell you I am so attached to it as a symbol. I am a Muslim and proud to be a Muslim.” She sees the veil instead as a form of her Arab culture rather than an oppressive tool for Islam. Something the Western media fails to recognize. Professor Ahmed shared her some of her experiences with veil in the United States versus Saudi Arabia. She said that “In Saudi Arabia everyone wears the veil, I’m not an outsider but in the States some villages.” So perhaps the veil is only alien to United State because we are unexposed the other culture. Professor Ahmed is a leader I look up to not only in her smarts but in her ambition. She is not held back by the veil and teaches Arabic at a well established University here in the United States. She stands up to stereotype and is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.
Veiling can be perceived as oppressive but after much reading and an interview with such a successful Arab woman who lives here in the states, I am skeptical of the Western perception of the veil. I understand that the oppression lies not in the hijab but in the idea that women often do not have a choice. The problem is not the veil but the men who force the veil, the burqa, or the nikab onto women. To veil or not to veil, should always be a personal and self-sovereign decision. Shouldn’t all women have the religious freedom to take the hijab?