Sunday, April 06, 2003

Women, Islam, Iran and Hijab
Afghan woman

Veil, Modesty or its Arabic term Hijab has been a challenging issue in many Islamic societies particularly those run by Islamic regimen like Iran and Afghanistan [in Taliban Era]. Here I shall discuss two different cases:
1- Non-Muslim woman 2- Muslim woman.

Hijab for Non-Muslim woman:
As a human being, we have the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights. According to the Article 18 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I think that Freedom dressing is a basic right of every human being.

Article 18:Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

If every woman has the right to freedom of thought and religion, so she can chooses her dressing as well. If we have agreement on this right, I think that we do not need to discuss it anymore. Such an issue also leads us to another important topic in political philosophy. Secular state vs. Islamic one in an Islamic society to answer this very important question whether an Islamic state has this right to force its citizens (non Muslims) to wear a veil.

Arab woman
Hijab for Muslim woman:

First, Let’s briefly review its history, cultural and textual basis:
It seems that Quran (the Holy book of Muslims) does not mandate veiling; rather this religious doctrine is based on the Sunnah. Sunnah , the "tradition of prophet Mohammed” is the teachings of the Prophet to believers. Surah XXXIII, Verse 59 of the Qur'an is most often cited in support of veiling. It states "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close around them. that will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever forgiving, merciful.

Interestingly, the veil is not a uniquely Islamic convention; it has a long history in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Catholic nuns engage in the practice. If I am not mistaken, it is said that the representation of veiling in the Bible is much more problematic than those in the Qur'an or the Hadith, because the Judeo-Christian sources imply that women should be covered because of their inherent inferiority. Indeed, it is said that Iranians had worn veil in pre-Islamic era. Therefore, Hijab can be considered as cultural matter with historical background. In other words, I think Hijab is not originally an Islamic custom and is not an essential part of Islam. As you see Quran does not have a crystal clear definition in this regard.
Many Muslims try to prove the necessity of Hijab as a rational religious rule and give various reasons to justify its necessity. For example, they say that the veil is a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women. They say that Hijab allows women freedom of movement and control of their bodies. So Hijab protects them from the male gaze and allows them to become autonomous subjects. This group believes that Hijab can strength the structure of family and it can decrease the rate of divorce.
 Turkman woman

Personally, I think that some religious rules necessarily do not have any social benefit. If one accepts a religious system to follow, she /he must respect its customs and recommendations. This idea may sound fundamental. But I think this is the only way. I know this is a challenging talk and many religious people do not agree with me since they believe that always there is a rational and justifiable reason for every religious rule. However, I think to prove a certain thing, we cannot use an uncertain fact (paradoxical phrase!!). I mean whatever reason we bring to prove our claim; it may be falsified by another reason. As we see some ridiculous reasoning to support the benefits of some religious customs. I have read many articles written by Muslim scholars about the physical advantages of praying !! or the hazardous of drinking Alcohol and eating pork which are religiously prohibited.
If I cut my discussion here, you may come to this conclution that I am a fundamental or what westerners ironically call their oppositions: Extremist. But this is not all the story. Firstly, we should answer this question whether religion (Islam or other religions) is an individual or social matter. Religion is an unquestioning faith. You believe in God because you believe it. You cannot prove it. However, it is not falsifiable as well. If we consider religion as an individual and private matter, fundamentalism is meaningless. (Sorry I have circumstantiality in writing. I would like to say all my thought).

Anyway, some, however, believe that the veil is not just another kind of clothing; and opposing it is not just defending the right to freedom of clothing. They say that Veiling internalises the Islamic notion in women that they belong to an inferior sex, and that they are sex objects. It teaches them to limit their physical movements and their free behaviour. Veiling is a powerful tool to institutionalise women's segregation and to implement a system of sexual apartheid. They think that veil is a reactionary movement and it has been the political and ideological symbol of political Islam in Iran and other Islamic states and Islamic movement in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

Some researches show that Hijab for girls in Iran has deprived them of a happy, equal and active life because they cannot participate in physical activities as their male counterparts do. The higher rate of depression and physical deformities in Iranian girls supports this hypothesis. As an Iranian woman says that Hijab didn't give me good character, it didn't make me think well about myself. Instead it took my pride, my dignity and my best friends.
Another point that should be considered in this regard is the gender inequality. Even though it is said that holy Quran supports the notion of gender equality, there are gender inequality in Feqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and implementation of the Shari ‘a in the aftermath of revolution proved this concept. After revolution Islamic dress code was applied and the Islamic veil became compulsory. After 24 years, it seems that there exists a massive social movement of resistance and defiance of women in Iran against imposing the veil on women.
 a woman in the South

Regarding the above-mentioned points, there is not any certain rule about the Hijab in Islam. So every woman is free to respect Hijab or the Islamic code of dressing. As I mentioned before, there is a debate on his issue whether an Islamic state can mandate its citizen to wear Hijab. On the basis of the conventional interpretation, Muslims should establish an Islamic society according to Shariah like what we saw in Iran or Afghanistan (though there are big differences here). Some Muslim scholars have been trying to draw a modern interpretation of Islamic rules. They also ask whether our understanding of Islam is true. If so, can we force other people to respect them? This debate ends up to this challenging topic. Islam vs. democracy and a secular state in a Muslim society.
Regarding non-Muslims including atheists and other religious minorities in society. The question is whether other citizens who are not Muslims and do not respect Islamic code of dressing should follow Islamic rules. In Iran, all citizens, regardless of their religion or political affiliation, have to respect Islamic law. Even foreign people who travel to Iran must wear Islamic dress.
Talking about this issue may be dangerous in Iran. You may know Mr. Eshkevari an Iranian cleric who was once sentenced by a court of first order to death for "waging war against God and apostasy" as well as to be defrocked. He had said that women should choose for themselves to respect Hijab or the Islamic code of dressing . He is in jail now.
Iranian teenagerHere is another real case in Iran. Though her opinion may have political basis, talking about this issue is important in a society that Veil is taboo. She is Zahra Eshraghi. Her grandfather was Mr. Khomeini, who overthrew a king and led a revolution in 1979. Her husband's brother is the reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. And her husband, Mohammad Reza Khatami, is the head of the reformist wing of Parliament.
Quoted from NYTimes via Hoder
She hates wearing the black veil known as the chador. "I'm sorry to say that the chador was forced on women". "Forced - in government buildings, in the school my daughter attends. This garment that was traditional Iranian dress was turned into a symbol of revolution. People have lost their respect for it. I only wear it because of my family status. ". Those are the words of a rebel. Ayatollah Khomeini called the chador the "the flag of the revolution" Ms. Eshraghi's frankness is emblematic of the changes today in Iran, where the values and promises of the revolution have given way to an intense, even dangerous debate about whether religion has a place in politics and society…. Nothing symbolizes the revolution more than the ankle-length black chador that covers all but a woman's face. But the attitude toward the chador in Iran today has become so negative that some merchants - particularly in northern Tehran, which is more secular, Westernized and wealthy than the rest of the city - refuse to serve "chadori," as chador-wearing women are called. Chadori"… "We have only ourselves to blame. People are not happy with the establishment, and the chador has become its symbol."…Asked if she would ever want to throw off the headscarf in public, she asked, "Do you want to issue me my death sentence?"
. Iran is a society with high walls between public and private life, walls that are even more impenetrable among the clerical class. "I am sitting here, and I feel I cannot be myself," she said. "It's not the true me. I have to wear a mask."
…Now she has abandoned hope that the political reformers will defeat conservative clerics who want to keep a rigid political system in the name of Islam. In a blunt criticism of her brother-in-law, she said, "I feel President Khatami's speed has been like that of a turtle."
.Iranian girl
Anyway, I think sometimes modesty is beautiful. What do you think?

(posted by Iman)

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