September 18, 2022

The History of The Veil And Its Political Weaponization In The Islamic World

An excerpt from, "A Short History of The Veil" The Young Catholic Woman, March 1, 2022:

The earliest record of the veil comes from 1400 B.C. when elite women in ancient Mesopotamia wore the veil as a sign of status. (And you thought this was going to be about modesty, didn’t you?)

Greece endorsed this hierarchical practice around 550 B.C., particularly among the matrons of its high society. Roman women, on the other hand, were expected to wear veils as a symbol of a husband's authority over his wife; a married woman who omitted the veil was seen as withdrawing herself from marriage. Young Roman women did not veil until their wedding day, when they donned a veil called flammeum “flame-colored,” which was the most prominent feature of the ensemble. This is arguably when the practice of wearing wedding veils began. Part of the veil’s purpose was to hide the bride from evil spirits that sought to prevent weddings. After a wedding, it was a social more√® for women to cover their heads in public.

Because the Kingdom of Israel fell under Roman rule in 63 B.C., Hebrew women picked up the custom as well, though only culturally speaking. Jewish women had been wearing the veil for religious reasons long before, which is referenced all the way back in Genesis 24:65 when Rebekah veiled herself before Isaac.

To set themselves apart, Hebrews fastened tassels on the corners of their garments, as instructed by the Torah. While both men and women veiled their heads in prayer, women remained veiled in public—although there is debate as to whether they did so within their homes—sometimes covering the lower half of their face. In turn, Christian women inherited this custom from their Hebrew ancestors.

In regards to Muslim veiling, this practice has been around since the seventh century, slightly predating Islam. There are different kinds of veils within the Muslim culture, including the hijab, niqab, burqa and chador. Each one of these articles of clothing has a varying degree of concealment – the hijab being the least covered, and the burqa being the most covered. There aren’t definitive reasons why or how this came about but it still represents a myriad of convictions today. For example, a Muslim woman may choose to veil to make a statement about her views on sexual modesty or as a rejection of western views of sexuality; others, however, may veil as a symbol of their piety.

Throughout history, the veil has taken on various shapes and forms, such as the medieval wimple during the Anglo-Saxon period of the latter 12th century, when the entirety of a woman’s head would (in some shape or fashion) be covered. Often, the intent of these veils was to exude certain characteristics that were deemed valuable for women during the time period, such as modesty, piety and submission.

An excerpt from, "Here's the truth behind the veil" Times of India, June 27, 2011:

These days the burqa, or purdah, is in the news. It is generally looked upon as an integral part of Islam, but this is not so. In reality, the burqa is a part of Muslim culture and not a part of Islamic teaching. There is a great difference between Muslims and Islam. If it is claimed that the burqa, or purdah, is a part of Muslim culture, then I would say yes to that, but if it is claimed that the wearing of it is a part of Quranic teaching, then I would say no. The source of Islam is the Quran rather than Muslim culture. Muslim culture is a social phenomenon, while the Quran is the Book of God as revealed to the Prophet of Islam.

According to linguistic history, the word 'burqa' was in use in Arabia before the advent of Islam in the first quarter of the seventh century. At that time the word 'burqa' meant a piece of clothing that was used as a protection, especially in winters. The well-known Arabic dictionary Lisan al-Arab gives us two examples of its use during the pre-Islamic period: the first, as a cover for animals during the winter season and the second, as a covering chaadar, like a shawl for village women. Although the word 'burqa' existed in the Arabic vocabulary at that time, the Quran did not use the word 'burqa' for women's purdah. History shows that the present veil or burqa first came into vogue in Persia. When Islam entered Persia, a complete civilisation was already in existence there. Many things were introduced into Islamic culture from the Persian culture. For instance, the word Khuda instead of Allah, the word Namaz instead of Salat. Similarly under the influence of Iranian culture burqa was adopted by Muslims. Gradually it was Islamised and became a part of Muslim culture.

At present Muslims use the term 'hijab' as equivalent to 'burqa' but the word 'hijab' is likewise not used in the Quran in this sense. 'Hijab' literally means curtain. 'Hijab' is used in the Quran seven times, but not in the sense that is prevalent among the Muslims today, that is, it is used in its literal sense of 'curtain'.

Regarding women's purdah, two words have been used in the Quran: jilbab (33:59) and khimar (24:31). But again these words are not used in their present connotation. It is a fact that both words have a similar meaning, that is, chaadar or duppatta, that covers the body of a woman and not her face. So it is very clear that the present 'burqa' or 'hijab' are not Quranic terms; both are part of Muslim culture and not part of Quranic commandments.

An excerpt from, "The Hijab's Progression To Symbol Of Political Oppression" By Avik Roy, Forbes, March 15, 2017:

Many predominantly Muslim countries observe the traditions of wearing hijab, especially in the Middle East; in that region, the ancient nation of Iran is no exception. Even before a majority of its population came to follow the Islamic faith, some form of head covering has been traditional for Iranian women as a matter of fashion for thousands of years, though it is the arrival of the Muslim tradition that elevated scarves to a religious obligation often enforced by culture. By the early 20th century, in fact, there was virtually no element of choice in the wearing of hijab; women who refused were ostracized and might even have cause to fear for their safety.

Tired of this immense social pressure on the female portion of the population, the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, issued a decree in the 1930s banning the wearing of hijab. Though he employed tough enforcement tactics to ensure that his edict was obeyed, his ultimate goal was to remove the obligation of women to wear the traditional scarves, as well as to update Iran’s overall dress code to a more progressive, Western mind-set.

The Shah’s actions instituted into Iranian culture by fiat the notion that hijab was not mandatory clothing for women, and with this job done, Reza Pahlavi’s successor to the throne—his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi—substantially relaxed his father’s prohibition. The new Shah removed all legal sanctions against hijab and made its wearing strictly voluntary. For the first time in a long time, Iranian women were truly free to decide whether they wanted to wear it or not.

This, however, like so many other examples of progressive Iranian cultural evolution, changed with the coming of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. When that event installed an absolute Muslim theocracy in power in Iran, new Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini brought hijab back. At first he merely spoke favorably of the “duty” Muslim women had (in his opinion) to wear it, but over the course of several years he gradually made it mandatory that all Iranian females must have traditional Islamic coverings in public. In doing this, Khomeini turned hijab into something it had never been as a fashion statement, cultural requirement or even enforced taboo under the Shah. Now, hijab was a symbol of government oppression and tyranny.

An excerpt from, "Hijab: An empowering choice in U.S., a symbol of oppression in Iran" By Jacqueline Saper, The Seattle Times, June 28, 2019:

Women in the United States are wearing hijab proudly to identify with their Muslim faith. However, while women in America wear hijab by choice, for the past 40 years, women in Iran are fighting for the choice not to wear one.

Hijab, meaning barrier in Arabic, refers to a strict code of dress that covers both the hair and the curves of a woman’s body in the presence of men who are not close relatives. Some examples are the burqa and the chador that completely cover the body; head coverings such as the maghnaeh or a large headscarf; or the niqab, which hides the face but not the eyes. A woman who wears hijab is referred to as Muhaajaba.

I grew up unveiled and later wore hijab for eight years while living in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The history of hijab in Iran is complicated and interesting. In 1936, Reza Shah, the first Pahlavi king to modernize the country, imposed a decree that legally banned women from wearing hijab, who, until that time, had been veiled for centuries. Simply, being covered in public became a crime that would get a woman arrested. During the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, the second Pahlavi monarch, the prohibition against wearing hijab was lifted. Women could choose to wear hijab but were encouraged to dress as their American counterparts.

In the months preceding the civil unrest that led to the Iranian revolution of 1979, some women started to wear a stricter form of hijab as a political statement of empowerment to protest the Western-leaning monarchy. These same women cheered when the Shah was ousted, and the clerical establishment assumed power.

Shortly after assuming power, however, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, imposed a decree that forced women, who had been unveiled for decades, to wear hijab. Now hijab had become a visible political symbol of oppression instead of empowerment, curtailing many of the rights women had achieved under the previous regime.

Video Title: Gamal Abdel Nasser laughing at Muslim Brotherhood hijab requirement in 1958 (subtitled).