Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This is one debate which is always in the news in the Muslim countries: Should the veil be banned for being suppressive to women; or should the veil be allowed as a statement of religious freedom & secularism?

Personally, I wish women wouldn’t have to veil themselves, but I think every society comes with its box of ‘social taboos’. Many Indian women for example, wouldn’t be as comfortable wearing a pair of shorts as European women; because it would be considered too 'western' in their social circles. But these women might well be as little (or as much) subversive as the European women. Maybe the veil and feminism are two separate issues that could easily get confused. Or maybe these seemingly cosmetic shackles are closely linked to the bigger issues?


Kishor Cariappa said...

Indian women are comfortable wearing all kinds of western clothes when they are away from India :)

Prashant said...

I only believe in one thing
"Freedom of Expression"
But that should be in proper limit according to some standards followed by all.

As simple as that :)

Radha said...

Thats true :)

Hi, I believe in Freedom of Expression too. The question is: Does allowing women to choose veils give them more freedom of expression?

Kanishka Agiwal said...

Why look at it as a symbol of oppression? It is their way of life. Like the purdah is in northern Indian states. It's a part of their identity. They wear it more cos they want to and not cos someone forces it down on them. Yes, when dictated to wear it will count as oppression but otherwise it is the person's choice. Had several friends in Dubai who would wear the scarf not cos their moms forced them to but cos they wanted to and they were pretty proud of it.

Lotus Reads said...

When I was in Dubai I got into a conversation with some local women and asked them how they felt about the veil and the impression I got is that they really welcomed it. It gave them a sense of anonymity and they actually enjoyed peeping out at the world without worrying that people could tell what they were thinking...ya know? There were other points they made, too, how I wish I could remember everything they said, but I do remember coming away feeling a lot less burdened for women that wore the veil.

Nice post, Radha.

Radha said...

I know the girls aren't coerced into wearing veils; but isnt a social taboo also a form of force? Dont you think the women in North India are fine with the purdah system simply because they're raised to believe thats how women should be? Do you think they really have a 'choice' in that?

I like your interpretation :) I always thought the abayas were cool because one could get away with wearing rags underneath it & still walk into a fancy restaurant in style.
But seriously, I'm not saying that all girls who wear veils are subversive or shackled. I only wonder whether they really have a choice.

clickable said...

I agree with your last comment there, Radha. Even though women might be comfortable wearing the veils, doesn't necessarily mean that they were given any option to do so. I was particularly following the recent controversy where the Brit. MP wanted burqas banned. I do agree that it would be impossible to communicate with ppl w/o the basic facial gestures, but then isn't their right to wear them too? Good subject, and post.

Destitute Rebel said...

Good post Radha, something to ponder about, I personally feel it should be the womans right to choose if she wears a veil or not. Some people say women don't have a choice, I've met women who do it by choice and like it even in western cultures. It should totally depend on personal preferences (of the woman).

Moi said...

"freedom of expression" ....verbal/visual/'s always mootable coz it's so personal an issue and yet a social concern...and not just social..we attribute such moral values to it at times too......and as societies change, they'll continue to confound us more n more........

Prometheus said...

Prometheus has mixed feelings on the whole veil issue. Sure, there would be women who love it. But don't they love it because of the piety they think the viel provides? And logically speaking, the handsome males should be veiled too, if its about avoiding temptation. But then, it is a case of po-tay-to / po-tah-to, innit?

Thought-provoking post, Radha. The Moving (Middle) Finger links to thee. Well, Prometheus' been meaning to put the link for quite some time but the HTML was killing him ;-)

Radha said...

Yes, a legal ban on veils is a step too far; simply because its such a personal thing.

D Reb,
I totally support the stand that a woman should have the right to wear what she chooses. But again, the question is: Do all women really get that choice? Are the women in conservative muslim societies enjoying that choice? Will they enjoy this choice unless there is some positive action to empower them?

You've hit the nail on the head when you say that the blurry line between social concerns and personal space is about to get blurrier with cultures coming together the world over.

I share your mixed feelings on the issue. And thanks for the kind words :)

Destitute Rebel said...

Radha I totally agree with you, there are a lot of women who do not have a choice, and I'm sure they would like to choose. It is essential that every one gets a right to choose what they want to wear.

Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

Well I don't think that just because the possebility exists that women are not choosing to wear the veil by personal preference that one should ban the veil for greater good of people.

Just as we don't ban alcohol here in sweden eg, just because there are people who cannot handle it, drive over people drunk, beat their wives, or develop alcoholism.

I am for freedom of choice. It has to be the core of all societies. However, this freedom has to be in thought more than just in legalities.

One can have a society that says, "you can choose whether you wear or don't wear the veil", yet the social rhetoric or religious rhetoric can be such that indirectly one is forced to wear the veil because not doing so would result in many things like not getting married, not being respected, perhaps not getting decent work. In egypt today it is very much like that (atleast in Cairo).

That is dangerous but you will not solve the problem by banning teh veil because there are still very many women who wear it out of belief or personal choice. A challenege of ideas is needed and a revival of discussion to influence public opinion and social attitudes to freedom to wear or not to wear, which ultimately is backed by the quraan itself; La iqraha fi al deen, there is no compulsion in religion.

Radha said...

Hi SS,
Thx for stopping by! I absolutely agree that to create a real 'freedom' or 'choice' social change is required. A legislation banning the veil is a step in the wrong direction.

burf said...

it would have a different meaning everytime we look at it - given that particular moment and the environmental variables

but going by the popular stigma, veils are good [and shorts too]

nahid said...

Hi Radha,
I happened to stop by at you blog and found this interesting blog on “much talked about veil”—I thought maybe I could provide a first hand account to your understanding on this subject considering I graduated from being a non practicing Muslim to someone who loves and wears the veil and is today a 100% practicing Muslim.
Like you i used to think that veil is a social taboo however after reading the Quran and understanding Islam I changed my mind:
Firstly as Muslims we believe in the day of judgment with certainty and heaven and hell and we also believe in all the prophets from Adam to Ibrahim to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad (Peace be upon them all) and as Muslims we don’t consider religion as a part of our life but our life as a part of this religion.

So my point is: We can only strive to get into Paradise by piety of heart, mind, body and soul. and therefore we view the abaya and the veil as a part of comprehensive Hijaab (Modesty) as a means of getting there.

So what is Hijaab?
Complete ‘hijab’, besides the criteria of modesty in clothing, also includes the moral conduct, behaviour, attitude and intention of the individual. A person only fulfilling the criteria of ‘hijab’ of the clothes is observing ‘hijab’ in a limited sense. ‘Hijab’ of the clothes should be accompanied by ‘hijab’ of the eyes, ‘hijab’ of the heart, ‘hijab’ of thought and ‘hijab’ of intention. It also includes the way a person walks, the way a person talks, the way he behaves etc

In Quran, before the Hijaab was ordered for women it were the men in Islam who were commanded to be modest in their attire and behavior. So modesty in Islam is prerequisite for observant men and women alike. The Qur’an says that Hijab has been prescribed for the women so that they are recognized as modest women and this will also prevent them from many other social evils.

For me personally, it is very liberating and feeling of oneness with my creator!!

Though I know that there are many women who are forced into wearing a veil by their men (& i don’t agree with it as Quran clearly states that “there is no compulsion in religion”), there are also many women in the west who fear losing their jobs if they decide to cover themselves and they want to.

Being a feminist I detest the immense pressure on women to look good all the time as if there is nothing beyond her physical body. Not to forget the usage of her body parts to sell any product!! What is more liberating: being judged on the length of your skirt and the size of your surgically enhanced breasts, or being judged on your character and intelligence? In Islam, superiority is achieved through piety -- not beauty, wealth, power, position or sex.
stay blessed,

Radha said...

But isn't "modest dressing" a culture-specific concept? Salwar Kameez is modest is some parts of the world, pant suits are modest is some parts of the world. Why is it required for a woman to cover her face to prove her modesty? Is a woman's face really an 'immodest' feature of her body?

Also, I think of the veil as a shackle for women, because they've got little choice but to wear it. Not always because the men in the family force them to; but because of the social pressure to -- to find good marriage prospects, to be seen as someone with a 'good upbringing'. Really, how many women choose to wear the veil with complete freedom?

Personally -- and this is just my personal preference -- I love colours too much to be wearing black all the time.

Nahid said...

Women's dress in Islamic culture is based on a principle of female modesty. Customs of the time, place, and culture of the woman influence what she might wear. thats y in Kashmir for instance muslim women still wear shalwar kameez with a duppatta and in Europe/USA muslim women wear western attire with a head scraf. Though a lot of practicing women prefer abaya all over the Islamic world simply because its so convenient—though the covering of the face isn’t mandatory in islam but some women choose to do so…
I feel in today’s day and age there is more pressure on shedding clothes than covering up. Glossy magazines tell us as women that unless we are tall, slim and beautiful we will be unloved and unwanted. The pressure on teenage magazine readers to have a boyfriend is almost obscene and there is a multi billion $ industry which is dictating how we need to be size zero otherwise we will find no men! Western women are still treated as commodities, where sexual slavery is on the rise, disguised under marketing euphemisms, where womens’ bodies are traded throughout the advertising world.
You think by covering up there is prospect of getting better marriage proposals ---nothing is further than truth. Where are the men who want to marry women who choose to cover up, these days men want sexy looking bodies on their arms. At the same time if a woman is observing hijaab under social pressure or to attract better grooms than its wrong. Period.
By no means have I given up on colors…no I haven’t taken sanyaas yet. I love dressing up but not to attract clients (eg: citi NRI) but to celebrate my feminity whenever I want to.
Personally I really hate to judge anyone and I really wish people would learn to see beyond the apparent……In the matter of hijab, the conscience of an honest, sincere Believer alone can be the true judge, as has been said by the Noble Prophet: "Ask for the verdict of your conscience and discard what pricks it."
Lastly how many women make a personal choice – DON’T KNOW !! While there many backward communities who don’t question the culture there are also educated multi talented women who choose to do so (refer facebook group: I Love Wearing Hijaab...and No I am not Oppressed)….