Obligatory Hijab Post: Ye Arab Feminists, Get Out of Thine Boxes

Baby Hijabi

   Reading a  little Post-Colonial-Feminist theory this morning, I came across a sentiment I have heard all too many times, but has never been my truth nor The Truth. The fallacy is that the hijab (scarf) is an Arab thing, this being said by Arabs. Then I must be some naive convert who bought the Arab-Muslim package, right?

   As an American revert to Islam, I had no doubts about the historical nature of the veil. Though I wasn’t raised Christian, when I first read about the Islamic interpretation of veiling I immediately saw in my mind’s eye the Christian iconic image of The Virgin Mary–in her veil. My Post-Colonial-Arab-Feminist scholar leaves out Mary and all other cross-cultural references to The Veil. In high academic hypocritical form, this scholar’s (like many others) biased view of her own culture is taken as Word and propagated and spread wide and reiterated and swallowed and regurgitated and uff.

   If you are Muslim, it is likely you have heard this erreouneous theory before: The hijab is an Arab custom and was only commanded to the wives of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alayhe wa sallam). If you are non-Muslim you may have heard this too. Consider: Why then did/do Jewish women have various customs of hair covering? Why did Christian’s keep/adapt the traditions? And what about ancient Roman women? And Hindu women?

Roman Woman

   There are plenty of academic ideas applied to why various cultures sport the veil and most of them blame patriarchy and of course reject the possibilty of Divine Decrees.  That last part should go without saying, but my frustration is with the problem of the Academic Truth being unquestionabley excepted as The Truth, even by people who are religious in some form or another.

    My own approach to The Veil was one that grew out of an open-mindedness to look at a cross section of world religions while searching for my truth. Look at the Buddhist monk  in his saffron robes or the pilgrim on hajj in his white robes. They are rejecting worldliness and vanity. I attempt to do similarly on a daily bases. I resist the urge to flaunt it while I got it and instead cover it up. Yes, my hair too. Years of styling, coloring, teasing and torturing my luscious locks were done in an absolute vanity (and submissiveness!) that I now resist.

 Katherine Bullock

I just ordered the text Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil and am eagerly looking forward to a different view, one that speaks to my Truth.

* Got Katherine Bullock’s book–great, masha Allah!

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5 thoughts on “Obligatory Hijab Post: Ye Arab Feminists, Get Out of Thine Boxes

  1. This post was moved here from my old blog, here are the comments:

    Itto:

    salam alaikoum sister brooke,
    thank you for the post. I agree. and I am happy to wear hijab, alhamdulillah, as I feel much more pure, protected, respected, following Allah’s order, Muslim, feminine, fullfilling my duty… since I wear it.
    xxx

    Samira:

    Assalamualaikum-
    exactly! One of the great things about Bullock’s books is not only her thorough deconstructing of anti-hijab polemics (beginning by looking at how post-colonialism creates an inferiority complex that must always work its way towards Western supremacy) but also the way in which she shows the multiple perspectives on hijab from those who wear it.
    I think my favorite recent treatment of the topic of hijab was in Ingrid Mattson’s The Story of the Qur’an. Why? Because it is short and sweet. She looks at the ayah in Suratul Nur and says quite succintly “those many Muslim men and women would come to dress modestly and many Muslim woman would wear some type of headcovering.”
    So basic.

    Br00ke:

    Thanks for your comments!

    Samira – I kind of doubt I will get to Mattson’t book too soon, so quote away I should probably read a good review of it at least. Colonial Fantasies by Meyda Yegenoglu is an excellent read. It named many things I have believed only viscerally–which is always nice and reassuring.
    Love and Peace

    Ginny:

    Assalamu alaikum, it’s not only some Arabs who say that hijab is just an “arab thing”, I’ve also talked to many west african (mainly gambian) Muslims who will also tell you the same thing. “oh hijab is just what the arabs do, it’s not part of our culture” and really it isn’t. Not that you don’t have modest dress and all, but not as much covering as, well, perhaps in North Africa. I actually reember someone saying to me that “hijab was not condusive to our culture as traditionally women were out in the fields working and hijab just wouldn’t have been condusive to that kind of work”. Interesting…

  2. […] This head-covering, or veil, is commonly thought to be an isolated feature of Islam, but rather has …. These New Testament passages should be understood in terms of contemporary Roman society. These teachings were directed at actions “on the boundary between the private and the public, the house-church, and the outside world.” Id. at 145. In Roman society, veils were symbols of a woman’s marriage and some writers identified them as required clothing.  B.W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women in the Pauline Communities, p. 78 (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2003).  The veil marked authority of a man in marriage, and removing it in public was interpreted by society as rejection of that authority. Valerius Maximus writes that a Roman man named Gallus told his wife: “To have your good looks approved, the law limits you to my eyes only.  For them assemble the tools of beauty, for them look your best, trust to their closest familiarity.  Any further sight of you, summoned by needless incitement, has to be mired in suspicion and crimination.” Id. at 82. Removing the veil in public was grounds for divorce; however, Valerius considered divorce over this issue an example of “frightful marital severity.” Id. The Roman veil was tied up in concepts of modesty, which were probably related to Paul’s discussion of “the angels.” Paul was probably concerned about outward appearances and chose to instruct his churches to err on the side of Roman societal conservativism.  MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion at 146.a.  Rather than arising from an ideology within the church, customs of sexual bias seems to have been superimposed from without by Roman society.  The Christian requirement of the veil was probably an attempt to remain above criticism from non-Christian Romans by exemplifying the Roman society’s virtues in addition to the morality imposed by the Christian religion. Early Christian groups as well as Roman society at large required women wear veils. This is a practice not isolated to Islam. […]

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