Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Beauty, Modesty and natural matters

David an American blogger writes
Yesterday I read an article about veiling in Iran. Hat Tip to Uncertainty Religious Vs Culture kind of article. It concluded by asking, "don't you find modesty attractive?" I thought about that, and I'll give you an older mans view. Too many modern women worry about their appearances. Guys get tired of someone asking if their outfit makes their butt look fat. What if you really liked me (sorry, I'm married, but this is all hypothetical anyway) but you found out I was blind. Now you still like me, but you can't rely on your appearance or your clothing to appeal to me. How do you attract me to you? Perfume? OK, if you smell nice it's better than smelling all sweaty, but what about your tone of voice, your choice of words, your attitude towards yourself, the world, and of course me. How about a gentle touch. Would you like to discuss something that interests me? Give this all some thought, because this is how I would discover someone's true inner beauty. Now I'm not blind, and I'm biased against certain physical characteristics, but you would never guess which ones. The veiling thing though, the modesty, not from a religious standpoint but from a social or cultural one, maybee that makes sense. Maybee it ensures that a man can choose a woman based on the most important qualities, and not just the one with the cutest belly button. What do you think? Maybee a westerner could learn something from the Muslim culture, even if it has nothing to do with religion.
I am glad that such a socio-cultural issue in my country is interesting to a westerner. Anyway, in my post about Modesty in Islam and Iran, I tried to explain its cultural roots and historical background and whether this is an Islamic mandate or not. Hijab, which means to hide from view, is the long dress and veil worn by many Muslim women with the function of distinguishing them from non-Muslims, reminding them of their Islamic faith, and concealing them from the public view of males. I remarked that there is not any crystal clear definition about code of dressing in Quran. However, in Islamic society there are two schools of thought concerning this way of dressing. One says (like Taliban) the whole of the woman's body should be covered including the eyes. In this school women are totally covered and segregated from all men except their husbands. Another states that, the face can be seen because that was the case of ordinary Muslim women at that time of the prophet.
So it seems that mostly is a cultural custom. Many non-Muslims particularly westerners even who convert to Islam think that Arabic dressing is Islamic and whatever Arabs do is Islamic or whatever Muslims do is Islamic. You see modesty in the Catholic nuns and Orthodox Jewish women as well. Indeed, it is said that hijab is originated as a Persian (Iranian) elitist fashion to distinguish aristocracy from the common masses. In fact, in ancient Iran men, not women, donned the veil. Moreover, Muslim caliphs and kings sat behind a curtain (hijab) to avoid the gaze of members of their court.
Therefore, I think modesty is not an Islamic mandatory and its styles vary according to the cultures like Iranian Chador, the Saudi Abayya the Pakistani Salwar, the Senegalese, the Jalaabs and other various other designs.
Dave gives us several interesting comments about modesty. Those are his personal experience. He says Modesty can be attractive but to truly be attracted to someone you have to know the person. Physical beauty can get your attention, but you can't really develop an attachment to someone until you get to know them. . For a long time, I have thought about this question whether attractiveness merely has sexual meaning. Is BEAUTY a sexual matter? Some Muslim women say when they are covered not only they are freed from concerns about painting their faces for male approval, they are hidden from the often oppressive intrusion of the male gaze. Some Muslim scholars say that Hijab is not oppressive but liberating! and hijab frees women from being perceived primarily as sex objects. In other word, they believe that hijab is a form of dressing that liberates a Muslim woman from the corrupting oppression of the society.
But I think we can look at this issue from completely different point of view. I think in such a society they just look at women as a sex object because they believe that women are sexually attractive and society should put them in a veil. We can discuss whether women are sexually objects or not. However, we cannot draw this conclusion that women should wear veil since men are exited when see a women. I think, though I cannot prove it, many men who are always turned on by seeing every woman are mentally sick. I have seen men who said that even little girls can be attractive!!
Some say behind the veil the woman is a mystery (David gives us a good example, Blind woman). Behind the veil the woman need not concern herself with her hair or makeup before she goes out. Underneath her hijab she can remain if she so wishes, simply herself: All this without having to worry about what others think of her. As Dave says in this way, women’s physical part plays no role in social interaction. Because the appearance is not subjected to public scrutiny, her beauty, or perhaps lack of it is not matter.
OK. Every body is free to think and do whatever he or she likes, but if we try to force other people to follow what we think is problematic. My question is that why Hijab should be liberating and why we should ask women to wear veil because men are sexually exited or they cannot control their gaze.

Women as human beings have the right to choose this kind of dressing. Personally, I think that we should look at women as human beings who like to enjoy the real life. Women should struggle to control men instead of avoiding real social interactions. I cannot communicate with a faceless person. I remember a reporter called Iranian veiled women as UMO (Undefined Moving Object)!!.
Though I respect many above reasons, which are mostly personal beliefs and attitudes, what I see in my society is that Hijab has caused many problems including lower social interaction, low self-confidence, psychological and physical disorders. If you assume these thoughts as facts, you may try to ask people to follow them as what we see in Iran.
Meanwhile, I cannot ignore reasons about the necessity of modesty. Regarding my experience in Europe,. I saw everywhere that women’s beauty was sued as a commercial tool. So many big pictures of a naked or semi-naked women every where, in shops, metro, Airport and… I would like to know what western women think about this sexual atmosphere in their countries and what their feminists say in this regard.

As a personal idea, I think modesty can be beautiful. Beauty is beauty and it does not necessarily mean sexually attractive. I think this is a natural feeling that women or men enjoy their beauty. There is no doubt that fitness is more beautiful than overweight. Many westerners may think that Iranian women (and other Muslim women) do not use cosmetics. However, Iran and many other Arabic countries are main costumers of these materials in the world!!.

(posted by Iman)

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