Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Hijab: Beyond Oppression and Liberation

By Grace Mubashir, New Age Islam 31 January 2023 Reviewing the Book “The Islamic Veil: Beginners Guide” by Elizabeth Bucar Main Points · The Islamic Veil: Beginners Guide" is a book that examines the possibilities and impossibilities of the approaches in the light of new academic research. · The book consists of eight chapters containing debates related to the hijab and fashion. · The author discusses the hijab, veil, khimar, jilbab, and niqab, which represent the clothing of Muslim women living in different situations, and the turban and face covering used by Muslim men of the Tuareg tribe in Morocco. · In this book, Elizabeth Bucar adopted the word, Islamic Veil, taking into account the Muslim dress as a whole, including women and men. · For ease of understanding, the word "Hijab" is used in this article to refer to the head covering of Muslim women in India. .... Hijab helps Muslim women who choose hijab in situations where Muslims are in the minority, to stop their social, religious and gender differences. But it is my personal experience that if a woman wears a “hijab” in a “secular” place like Indian Universities, she is subjected to secular moral policing as either a “Kashmiri/traitor” or “oppressed by religious tradition”. In his book “The Islamic Veil: Beginners Guide” the author Elizabeth Bucar puts forward some subtle observations. Muslim woman's dress is widely discussed in the world today. The secularists leading this discussion are evaluating the role of the Muslim woman as a product of oppression, anarchism and irrationality. At the same time, this is understood as a religious problem within the Muslim community. Moreover, in modern times, as a response to secularism, a way of seeing Muslim women's clothing as a liberating agenda has also developed from the religious side. Unlike these two, many academic studies are now coming out related to the perception of Muslim women's clothing in different geographical-social-political-cultural environments. In such a religious and secular environment, “The Islamic Veil: Beginners Guide", published by Oneworld Publications in 2012, is a book that examines the possibilities and impossibilities of the approaches in the light of new academic research. The author is Elizabeth Bucar, an assistant professor in religious studies at North Eastern University in the United States. Her earlier Iran-focused studies of Muslim women and sexuality have been well noted. Her works on ethics, precepts, law, colonialism, education, work, and personality have provided a new structure to academic studies. The book consists of eight chapters containing debates related to the hijab and fashion. Throughout the book, the English word "Islamic Veil" is used for Islamic dress. She discusses the hijab, veil, khimar, jilbab, and niqab, which represent the clothing of Muslim women living in different situations, and the turban and face covering used by Muslim men of the Tuareg tribe in Morocco. In this book, Elizabeth Bucar adopted the word, Islamic Veil, taking into account the Muslim dress as a whole, including women and men. For ease of understanding, the word "Hijab" is used in this article to refer to the head covering of Muslim women in India. Three main reasons led Bucar to write this book. One) The role of the Muslim woman is in the first place in the debates related to women's freedom in the world today. That is why this issue needs to be subjected to serious debate. 2) An attempt to highlight the different approaches Muslim women take towards clothing. Bucar observes that Muslim women in the same situation still need to learn how to approach Islamic dress in different ways. In 2004, she spoke to women leaders of organizations fighting for women's political rights in Iran. Not one of them spoke of the Islamic State's compulsory dress code for Muslim women in Iran as a rights issue. Moreover, they adopted a very "conventional" dress code. But unlike them, Bucar observes that young women in the city who are interested in modern fashion are speaking out against the government's mandated dress code. 3) In the mainstream debates, there are very one-sided discussions regarding the perception of Muslim women's clothing. They reduce Muslim women's dress to an agenda of religious fundamentalism. This is a debate that does not consider what the Muslim woman says about herself and her dress. In these debates, secular male-female feminists and Muslim men often argue about what constitutes a "Muslim woman." Through this, a religious and social entity called "Muslim woman" is forgotten and rendered invisible. Although many field studies have been conducted to investigate what Muslim woman says about herself, it does not receive enough attention. Instead, the Muslim woman is relegated to being a product of wishful thinking shared by secular feminism and Muslim men. Hijab-related debates/controversies arise as a historical situation with the colonial conquests that took place in the Islamic world. Colonialism as a political practice and Orientalism as part of began to talk about Muslim dress. Bucar argues that the debates about clothing and Muslim women's clothing that we see today are formed when liberal feminism as part of elite women's rights politics in Euro-America surrendered to these agendas. Colonialism and sartorial rights of Muslim women The role played by Islam in the struggles and defences against the occupation in Muslim-majority countries was a major setback for the colonial powers. The colonial powers justified their invasion by saying that we do not want the land of the Muslims but that they should somehow be reformed and become good people. Saving the Muslim woman from the violent and sexually addicted Muslim man comes first in this reform agenda. Thus, "keeping the head open" was taken up as women’s emancipation agenda. But they never asked what the Muslim woman who had to be subjected to this reform would say about herself. In this way, women in the colonies became nothing more than a reception site for colonial reform agendas. The hijab has thus pervaded the Western imagination as a cultural symbol justifying colonial transcendence. Certainly, Muslim women's choices have lived in various forms in the Western imagination at different times. The ideas about Muslim women in the Romantic period were different from the Renaissance period. There is another side to this. Men in colonies who resisted colonial encroachment began to consider women's head coverings as a defence against colonial agendas. They said their culture was women sitting at home. In this way, the burden of culture literally fell on women's heads. This made it easier for men in the colonies to adopt modern clothes and live without the burden of culture, while women in colonized societies became the bearers of culture. So women's clothing in the colonies became part of the conflict between the colonial powers and the colonized men. A particular reading suggests that women in colonized societies were reduced to mere “objects” or “reasons” for men to fight in this struggle. A classic example of this is Algeria, which was a French colony. During the colonial period in Algeria, the French saw the hijab as resistance to their cultural assimilation agenda. Algerians, on the other hand, resisted imperialist domination. This is not to say that these two approaches are the same. Nor is it derogatory in the sense that those who fought against colonialism are oppressors of women. Orientalism Orientalism first defined the East as Islamic and distinct from the Christian West. It ignored other religions and cultures of the East and propagated that Islam was the common characteristic of the East. They propagated that Islam can only be understood through Quran and Hadith and their interpretation is still correct. They argued that Islam is only a text and that the practice of Muslims should not be accepted. Thus, they made people believe that hijab is only seen and understood through Islamic principles and the whole world is accepting it in that single way. Thus, erasing the various socio-historical backgrounds of the hijab, its distinctiveness is denied. Second, Islam is a fundamentalist ideology. They argued that the actions of Muslims should be reformed as they are backward. In that, they undertook the historic task of saving a Muslim woman from the hands of a Muslim man as soon as possible. Thus, the wearing of the hijab was judged as a low and degenerate practice and redefined the female condition by making the white Western woman's dress a symbol of global women's clothing freedom. Liberal Feminism: Liberal feminist debates are formed in Euro-American countries against gender discrimination and oppression. Liberal upper-class/white women's arguments, which saw all women's issues as one, failed to understand women's issues from different social backgrounds. These are also reflected in discussions related to Muslim women's clothing. Moreover, the influence of the colonial Orientalist discourses mentioned earlier continues to be very evident in such women's arguments. Liberal feminism views Muslim women's clothing in two ways. The first group argues that Muslim women are intelligent and capable, but Muslim men oppress them by wearing the hijab. The second section argues; women who self-select hijab are judged as unintelligent and brainwashed idiots. Liberal feminism reduces Muslim women to either oppressed victims or less capable of thinking, less fortunate human beings. This book deals not only with perceptions of Muslim women's dress created by colonialism, orientalism and liberal feminism. She also analyses the representation of Muslim women in the public sphere in great detail. They investigate how Muslim women's clothing is represented in the fields of employment, education and other time and country conditions and what are its problems. Most discussions about the representation of the hijab seem to be trapped in two approaches: hijab-liberating or hijab-repressive. Such a dichotomy often fails to fully explain the dilemmas posed by Muslim women's clothing. In the first half of the twentieth century, many social scientists hypothesized that the increasing privatization of religion in the modern world would lead to a decline in the use of religious symbols in the public sphere. But in contrast to this, the use of the hijab increased in the 1980s and 90s, observes Egyptian Islamic feminist and feminist historian Laila Ahmed. Hijab women who entered the public sphere in this way were generally educated young women from the upper class. They saw the hijab as a gateway from the religious family context into the public sphere. Working outside while wearing a hijab was allowed in some families. In such a situation, Muslim women started wearing hijabs to be model housewives and good workers. Wearing the hijab was read as belonging to the family and religion, as well as facilitating employment outside the home. They mainly overcome two arguments through hijab. One is the secular argument that hijab is a hindrance to women's progress. Two, the specific Islamic approach that women's place is in the world. Through these two observations, Elizabeth Bucar makes very clear the social presence of the Muslim woman who wears the hijab and her agency in society. This approach also challenges the dichotomy of the Hijab being either oppressive or liberating. They see the hijab as a garment that changes women's lives from within the religion/family, in contrast to these oppressive/liberating hijabs. Workplace conditions that have generally been described as secularly “liberating” have regulated, influenced, and constructed the hijab in many ways. For example, capitalist economic growth in Muslim countries such as Egypt opened many job opportunities. Thus, the Muslim national governments of the post-colonial era promised education and employment to all citizens. Thus, many women started working in various industries and jobs under the government. This created a female working class. There were private capitalists whose men had rams. This is how the government and private capitalists built women's labour forces. Whether or not to wear a hijab around the shoulders is only a reason to protect the interests of male bosses. In short, the secular reading that the workplace as a public space is liberating is highly problematic. The capitalist economic system that controlled the public sphere accepted women in low-wage jobs to their advantage, wearing or not wearing the hijab. This women's emancipation that took place in Egypt was really a “liberation" from the "fences" of religion in the capitalist order. Second, the book criticizes the use of the hijab in some secular state settings as a cause of discrimination and promotion of barriers. It is mainly contributed to areas where Muslims are in the minority. There are Muslim women who have lost their jobs for not wearing hijab. Secular law courts have ruled that this is an Arab dress and does not violate religious freedom. Thus, they were forced to choose between faith and life, between work and religion. This shows that the secular public sphere "controlled" the access of women in its own way as well as religion. The modernization that took place in the Muslim world gave great importance to education. The consideration given to the education of girls is noteworthy. As many feminist studies argue, modernizing women is highly problematic. For example, what consumer citizenship really does through education is part of a government agenda. Because of that, modern governments have forced some clothes to protect their interests within the market interest and some have been banned (for example, check the actions of secular governments in countries like Egypt and Turkey). In a social structure where religion plays a central role, the hijab is seen as a "veil". Religiously speaking, Islam has commanded believers (male and female) to acquire knowledge. But the males and females are also determined to be careful with each other when they grow old. This has led some Muslim communities to assume that the spaces of men and women are different. Some considered the hijab as a “cover” to educate in the modern context. Thus, women were admitted to schools by wearing hijabs. Here the hijab gave the woman the opportunity to gain knowledge in a “restricted” way. But beyond this, by denying entry to a girl who does not wear a hijab, governments like Saudi rule that such women are not entitled to study in the said Muslim countries in any way. Hijab and Religious/Secular Regimes Regimes have mandated hijab as part of their unique politics. Iran's American-British-backed autocrat Riza Shah Pahlavi banned the hijab in 1938. Women wearing it were ordered to be arrested if they left the city. The 1979 revolution against the Shah forced the hijab in retaliation. We were able to see that France, Turkey and Belgium, which are said to be democratic secular countries, are also banning the hijab. Visibility of Hijab: The representation of the hijab is its “visibility” in the background of the conflict between the secular state concept and the visibility of religious symbols (specifically the hijab) in the public sphere. In other words, the secular administration began to assume that the use of religious symbols in secular public spaces was a threat to the status quo of the nation's “secular structure”. Such secularism has reduced religion to a mere belief in private space. The 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Palestinian Intifada and the events of 9/11 were read as the arrival of Islamic statehood on a global scale. This has worried Western secular nations. Around the same time, girls wearing the hijab began to appear in public places (especially schools) as part of the Muslim migration to the West. This has led to the hijab being easily read as an Islamic religious symbol and thus an adjunct to political Islam. Thus, many secular governments have banned the hijab in schools and public spaces. This led to conflict between hijabi women and the secular regime. In situations where the hijab is banned in schools, Muslim women have argued that the concept of hijab should be protected under religious freedom. In this way, the secular government expelled the Muslim women who covered their heads from the schools by justifying their side of the liberal women's arguments. Here, secular colleges give freedom to anyone to study without any “mask”. But they form "restrictions" so that a Muslim woman can wear the clothes she wants to be seen in college. Briefly, Bucar shows that there are specific “regulations” around women's bodies and clothing in both religious and secular contexts and that the approach of one as liberating and the other as oppressive is problematic. This book debunks the dominant view that Muslim veiling is caused by women and that it is due to a repressed female identity. In some special situations, Muslim men also forget their heads. For example, the men of the Tuareg Muslim tribe in Morocco forget their heads and faces. Moreover, even women who wear hijab suggest that there are many reasons that motivate them to do so. Hijab as a choice has many interesting historical contexts. Hijab was seen by Egyptian secular feminist 'Huda Sharavi' as a defence against imperial power during British colonialism. Later, when the country became independent, the hijab was abandoned. At the same time, Islamist women who were fighting against French colonialism in Algeria ditched the hijab and disguised themselves as European women to smuggle weapons through the French checkpoints. Thus, women use hijab as a choice in many ways. Those are areas of study that require a lot of close reading and special contextualization. Relevance of the book: Hijab has many meanings in many situations. It cannot be simplified in the sense of either liberation or oppression. Sometimes a personal choice can be surrender in a structural sense in another situation. Conversely, an apparent capitulation may also create a large opening in a structural sense. Or as 'Saba Mahmud' observes, oppression/liberation can be another way of working/living that makes them irrelevant. Discussions about the hijab are often framed through the lens of liberation/oppression. Only the hijab, the garment of the oppressed woman, and the Muslim woman standing with her face down in a single way are seen in such analyses. Elizabeth Bucar tries to say that 'the hijab is part of a symbolic system that produces multiple meanings. The prevalence of hijab in different socio-cultural political contexts is quite different. Even Muslim women living in the same social environment (same houses/offices/workplaces/educational institutions/streets/places of worship) have different opinions about the hijab. Thus, this book tells us that the hijab is not an issue that can be easily manipulated by comment, but a very micro-political garment. This book underlines that the modern-secular logic that the hijab can be easily defined does not take into account the extremely pluralistic approach of the Islamic community on this issue. From medieval male Islamic scholars to Islamic feminists Amina Wadud, and Laila Ahmad, this book shows that they hold different opinions about the hijab and that these define Muslims as a group in many ways. Moreover, this book demonstrates that the secular rationale for policing the hijab is not entirely immune to colonial-orientalist stereotypes about Muslims. ... URL: https://newageislam.com/books-documents/hijab-islamic-veil-beyond-oppression-liberation/d/129001 New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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