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Of Women, Veils and Islam January 31, 2007

Posted by K in contemporary, Gender.

The world and all it’s defenders-of-the-rights-of-women have a field day when discussing the Islamic Veil and Women. Tasleema Nasreen was recently given ample space by Outlook to condemn the veil and make a case for all Muslim women to abhor and reject it. I have two problems with this. One, just like I disagree with people who enforce the veil onto other people, I have a similar problem with those who presume to bash it on behalf of All Muslim Women. One cannot ever presume for other intelligent human beings. Marriages are known to break because this essential commandment of life is frequently disregarded.

My second problem with this is how in this whole debate about the veil and muslim women, and why they don’t speak out against it etc etc, is how one forgets that the veil(ghungat in this case) is predominant in the Hindu way of life as well. Find me enough non-urban (mostly newly)married women who show their faces to the world, and I’ll show you Santa’s green beard. The veil in its Hindu context is less often discussed. I certainly do not recall any controversies about it on a scale to rival the Muslim Veil issue.

Admittedly the two cases are not the same, and the issue of the Muslim veil is given more prominence, but isn’t that a malady that plagues islam in any case? Is the world not guilty of constantly creating an Alien of Islam? Does the world not scrutinise and re-scrutinise things Muslim more than they do things-other-religion? Am I mistaken in this belief of mine?

If I’m not too far mistaken, the veil is a part of many cultures worldwide irrespective of religion. The Veil is an unfortunate construct of patriarchy, and as patriarchy is still very much the norm worldwide, is it surprising that it(the Veil) pervades all cultures? What is surprising is, however, how the Veil gets noticed only in the Islamic context.

My personal take on the veil: I don’t know much about it, except that it would obstruct my view(and I do so enjoy my View), cover my face(which I do like to air), and come between me and fresh air(come on: who doesn’t fall for fresh air?). The headscarf has, I think, certain sartorial appeal, but everything thus loses its appeal if overused. I would personally never adopt it as regular headgear.

I recognise the fact that my opinion is mine alone, and would never presume to say that my views on the veil ought be every bodies view on it. I also understand that many people like the veil and the headscarf. As long as both wearers and non-wearers accept the truth of each others beliefs there ought not be a problem, but that is a utopic ideal. The wearers and pro-wearers find time to insist its benefits onto others, and the non-wearers make an inordinate amount of time to foist their self-righteousness upon the former.

To each his own, and acceptance to all, what?



1. diana - January 31, 2007

Good post.

One, just like I disagree with people who enforce the veil onto other people, I have a similar problem with those who presume to bash it on behalf of All Muslim Women. One cannot ever presume for other intelligent human beings.
So… one can presume for unintelligent human beings? Then it is up to the individual to decide who is intelligent and who is not? lol, I’m just playing with you. Ignore that. I agree it is a great evil to presume things and take a stand on behalf of a group that has not expressed the view being taken. It’s inaccurate to say that “muslim women hate veils” when there has been no such declaration by implied or express consent. But other presumptions like “muslim women worship Allah” is alright because muslims, by nature of assuming the title of muslim, imply that they follow the Quran and so worship Allah. But I know you meant the 1st way, excuse my longwindedness tonight… 🙂

Marriages are known to break because this essential commandment of life is frequently disregarded.
Also for several other reasons. Sometimes for no good reason at all.

Is the world not guilty of constantly creating an Alien of Islam? Does the world not scrutinise and re-scrutinise things Muslim more than they do things-other-religion? Am I mistaken in this belief of mine?
The world has been looking for aliens since the discovery that the earth is not all that exists in the universe. I guess they think Muslims are as close as it gets. But actually I disagree with you. Nobody has ever hated any religion collectively as much as the world has hated the Jews. Jewish persecution is not spoken of as much as Islamic persecution because they are a smaller race and are not as much in the spotlight everywhere as muslims. Christian persecution also exists in vast volume. Muslim persecution and alienation is highlighted more because of terrorists who misuse Islamic texts and ideas, because of the political influence of non-muslim countries over and around muslim countries, and also in part because – at the risk of being judgemental – sometimes they say stupid things and they get coverage because the political balance is not in their favour. Had the US, etc been Islamic states, the alienation of Muslims would be non-existent and it would be people of other religions being highlighted in all the world’s news for saying stupid things.

Stupid views and loudmouthed attention-seekers exist everywhere. Public demand decides which ones get coverage. That does not amount to intense scrutiny of the religion of these people or alienation of the religion, but its just a matter of who gets the last laugh.

The wearers and pro-wearers find time to insist its benefits onto others, and the non-wearers make an inordinate amount of time to foist their self-righteousness upon the former.
Oh right, this was about the veil. Sorry. Longwinded tonight like I said… hehe. *sheepish grin*. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to persuade another person of your view but when they say back off, you back off. Conviction is one thing, harrassment is another. That is what I have learnt. You are free to call me an unintelligent person and label me unfit to have this viewpoint. lol.

Good to read your thoughts on this, I think you have a similar pattern of thoughts in a lot of things. You rely a lot on individual intelligence and ability. You have always been a strong thinker, that I know of.


2. Manas - February 1, 2007

Other things apart, madam Nasreen has basically lied about many things Islam. She (deliberately?) used wrong translation of the Qur’an and the Hadith. Rather than saying the same old thing over and over again, check Shariq’s post: Not that I agree with him fully, but we have some common grounds.

3. fahad - February 1, 2007

everyone should have the right to practice there own beliefs, anyways nice article

4. Rashad Salim - February 1, 2007

A very good post, you raise interesting and pertinent points regarding media fixation on the veil in Islamic society. This phenomenon, both the media coverage and veiling itself increased dramatically with the very real and literal propaganda assault upon Muslim countries. Its interesting to note that the history of veil takes one to the Western Mediterranean, and styles of veiling such as the (relatively) new introduction of the black full veil one sees in the Arabian Peninsula owes its origins to Byzantium and was a mark of upper class distinction. “Aphrodite’s Tortoise” The Veiled Women of Ancient Greece by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones is a fascinating book worth reading.

Your point about the silence on other cultures use of the veil when compared to Islamic use can be extended to the complete silence on male veiling. Aside from cultures like the Tuareq of the Sahara where it’s the male that veils if we consider that the objection to veiling is in that it masks the face, what about (to pick a few examples) the balaclava, hood, sack and face masks that is so much part of the culture of death squads, the paramilitary, military and criminality? There was absolutely no such headgear worn even in the worst of times in Iraq under Saddam and these forms of male headgear are alien to Islamic culture. They appeared with the invasion of Iraq and spread particularly with the Ambassadorship of John Negroponte. Notably these forms of male veiling headgear became epidemic in Central America during the same Negroponte’s term of office there. It seems that extremism of all types mask and it is past time that the veiling of men be looked at with the moral vigour as that of women.

5. pr3rna - February 1, 2007

I tend to agree with most of your posts. This one particularly articulates my thoughts. Your post on Mallika contradicts this one. She knows what she is doing. She knows she is a star because of her boldness.Protima Bedi(Pooja Bedi’s) mother was also from the same background and she also rebelled against the society she belonged to, in the same way(you can read her biography).I would have had a problem if she was forced to do that but she seems to enjoy all the attention and she is a big girl and as long as she is not harming anybody let her do it. Ekta Kapoor is spreading much more filth than her.

6. pr3rna - February 1, 2007

Sorry I misunderstood your last post about Mallika. I didnt notice the link, I thought you were talking about Mallika not about the man who is angry with her. Now I find it is not contradictory and like always I agree with you on both posts.

7. sporadicblogger - February 1, 2007

Ah, Di,
1)Long-windedness excused(especially since I can be accused of it myself 😉 ) No, one cannot presume for unintelligent human beings, because none exist. Okay, maybe a few exist, but that would be my opinion only, and anyway, one cannot presume thing about and for other hman beings. Anumals, maybe, but then, I have no great love for animals; I eat them, :p

2)True. I just felt like inserting that psycho-analytical-y sounding sentence there. Pompous longwindedness. Guilty as charged!

3) I agree with you largely. I was actually speaking particularly in the modern context, and I dont think the jews get much hatred aimed at them today, do they? I also agree that the scrutinising of Islam has much to do with who’s in power.

4) Persuasion is fine, only I feel that only of the subject invites it should one go ahead, but then, thats just me 🙂

4.b) He he. The last sentence, thank you, i think 🙂 I can almost see the dis-agree-al on your face. Heh heh. Caroll can invent words. so can I 😉

8. sporadicblogger - February 1, 2007

@ Manas- Thank you for stopping by. Thanks for the link
@Fahad- Thank you for stopping by and liking the post 🙂 Very generous of you.

@Rashad salim- thank you, as well, for stopping by and commenting. It is an interesting comment, it made me think. However I’m unclear as to what you are saying towards the end of it; are you saying we ought to view the male veil(and you draw an interesting parallel between the religious veil and masks to hide identity by social outcastes, of sorts) in a similar manner as to how we view the female veil? I’d be very glad if you would clarify..

9. sporadicblogger - February 1, 2007

@ aunty, I agree with you; Ekta Kapoor is spreading much more filth than the likes of Sherawat. Sorry, my linking ought to have been made more clearly.

10. Diganta - February 2, 2007

The argument with the veil should be bothways. There are countries where veils are discouraged and wearing veils is projected as an offence. There are other countries, where veils are forced and women who do not want to wear veils get punished. I think we need fair share of attention to both these sets of women.

Moreover, Ghoonghat comes in the same category of veil. Whoever denies that, is basically a fundamentalist.

11. diana - February 2, 2007

You always make me grin.

About Jews, yes they get hatred lots of people hate Israel. It’s just not that big an issue because 1) Israel is not a US enemy 2) they have a small population as compared to Christianity and Islam 3) they dont go public with (or get coverage for) as many stupid comments and misinterpretations as people of the “bigger” religions have.

This is just a small example but I once went to a Jewish chat room on Yahoo looking for some answers to the Jewish faith. If there were any real Jews there, they were quiet- all I could see was “Jews (insert insult)” followed by “Islam (insert insult)”. Mindless fighting. I was expecting people to mention Christianity also but I guess our main point is Jesus and the Crucifixion, neither Jews nor Muslims agree that that is important. So… Christianity was kept out of it. But it was still dumb. I don’t know if it’s like that everyday though.


12. Sharique - February 2, 2007

I was more than surprised to read your views in veil and Islam. I must admit that your analysis is free of any prejudice, a thing rarely seen these days, and a very rational one. The bottom of the matter is that let veil be a choice rather than an imposition. And why it should be seen as a religious symbol? Why not as a dress as a salwar kameez is or even another (anti)bikini 😀

Yahoo chat rooms are full of bigots and people who are frustrated in life. They vent out their anger by cursing religion under anonymity. It isn’t a big deal to rant under anonymous names!

13. diana - February 2, 2007

Fair enough. I’m not a regular there so I did say “I don’t know if it’s like that everyday” anyway I guess I should be looking for Jewish blogs instead of Jewish chat rooms.. 🙂

14. sporadicblogger - February 4, 2007

Diana- glad that I provide amusement 😉

Sharique-hello 🙂 I agree that the veil should be a choice rather than an imposition. But I think the (Muslim)veil will never be seen independant of its religious context because it is mentioned in the Quran. I’m not very educated in the religious texts department so I don’t know whether the ghoonghat gets a mention in the Gita, but i doubt it.Probably gets a mention in the conduct books though..

15. diana - February 4, 2007

Does hinduism have conduct books? I doubt it but am curious…

16. sporadicblogger - February 4, 2007

conduct books as in the manusmriti which sort of amounts as one 🙂 I dislike the manusmriti.Intensly. From the excerpts I’ve read.

17. diana - February 4, 2007

from what i know the manusmriti was a trendsetter and lots of hindu traditions probably came from it, but its not recognised by hindus as a religious authority of any sort. am i wrong? i have never explored the conduct codes of hinduism chiefly because i was under the impression they did not officially exist. hmmm

18. Manas - February 4, 2007

Indeed manusmriti is not known to many except in the a few. Normally in a Hindu family traditions and cultures are important. Manusmriti is something (almost) nobody reads or follows.

Otherwise, Hinduism is not one single belief system. It has many many beliefs. For example the Hinduism that you find in the Geeta is intensely different from the Hinduism practiced by Kali bhakts.

By the way the Qur’an does not mention the burqua. It merely emphasizes that men and women should dress modestly so as to hide their shame and beauty. People often quote the verse for women. The verse directing men to be modest comes before that for women.

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do.”(Al-Qur’an, Chapter ‘The Light’, verse 30)

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.” (Al-Qur’an, Chapter ‘The Light’, verse 31)

19. sporadicblogger - February 4, 2007

Manas-thanks for correcting me.

Diana (and Manas)- the manusmriti may not be known by name to many hindus, but many of its ‘codes’ are used, especially to justify the caste system and treatment of women. Again, I’m not much of an authority on this. My source is the many Dalit writings we had last year. Dalits are being treated precisely the way its recommended by manu.Hm.

20. Manas - February 7, 2007

No no, it is I who should thank!

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