Interfaith Women Don Veil as Common Heritage

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The veil is a polarizing symbol for France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Outside that fraught context, Hajer Naili finds an enlightened New York forum where women peacefully discuss the ways this cloth forms a common religious heritage.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--The veil has contemporary society all stirred up.

In France and Turkey, where it is banned in public spaces, several women wanting to wear a headscarf because of their religious beliefs have found themselves in violation of the law.

In the 1990s, several controversies around the Islamic veil arose in France after students wearing headscarves in public high schools refused to take them off and were suspended. In March 2004, a law, sometimes referred to as "the veil law," was voted in by the French parliament forbidding the wearing of any "ostentatious" religious articles.

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In Turkey, although over 95 percent of the population is Muslim, women cannot wear a veil while working in the public sector and other professions, such as law and journalism. The headscarf, also banned at universities, has started to be allowed since September 2010 after the ruling AK party brought its support for veiled female students.

In some Muslim-dominant countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, every woman is required to wear a veil, including non-Muslims. In those cases, the veil becomes an oppressive cloth and women must wear one unless they are ready to face the Mutawwa (or religious police in Saudi Arabia), who often challenge women on this point.

Against this polarized, Islamic backdrop, a recent event at the Interchurch Center here helped bring a more universal and enlightened sense of the veil and the women who wear it.

The panel discussion about veiling accompanied an exhibit of 30 striking photographs-- conceived by Lebanese American University's Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World--showing various types of veiled women from the 19th century to the present who belong to the monotheistic religions.

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Hajir looks very pretty in her veil, and modesty is a worthy characteristic, often not recognized as such. That said, I disagree with Ms. Naili's argument for veils. They are not required in the Koran. Most people in hot nations used to cover their heads to protect from wind and heat. There is nothing evil about the hair on a woman's head that is different from hair on the head of a man, including his beard. So, this is a specious way to repress women, that feels good for a woman who is trying to be holy, but, is not an expression of holiness unless it is practiced equally and consistently by all men and women in that religion. You can teach and learn holiness, but, you cannot force holiness, and there are many very holy people who do not cover their heads on a daily basis. There are many priests, imams, ministers, pastors, who cover their heads and who recommend this to their followers. That is a good place to begin to understand what practice, for men and women together, is helpful to understand a potential connection to head covering and religious respect for God. That is what needs to be explored, not this 'women cannot help themselves' attitude by males who do want to repress women and not themselves. It is an insult to women who are often much more faithful to their religion than are men. Men cover their faults by concentrating on potential faults of women.