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Islamic Attitudes Towards Women's Bodies and Dress
Islamic religious practices require females over the age of nine to wear the hijab (pronounced "hee-djab"), which is both a form of modest dress and a philosophy of dressing and acting modestly. The exact practice varies from country to country and region to region. Sometimes loosely referred to as the veil, it may range a full-length robe (chadour) which leaves only the bare face and hands exposed to from a simple scarf tied over the hair and under the chin, concealing a women's throat.
For example, there is the all-encompassing burkha worn by most women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Covered from head to toe, the woman can only peer out through a lacy opening in her headdress. In other areas like Canada or France, hijab is satisfied if the woman wears a simple headscarf that completely covers her hair and neck, as Merve Kavacki tried to wear as a member of Turkish parliament.
Some thought the battle to liberate Afghanistan included liberating women from the burkha. Despite the portrayal by Western media of the burkha as a weapon of oppression used by the Taliban, it has in fact been worn by Afghani women for many years. And since the removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan, women in that country have not rushed to exchange their veils for bikinis. Some women in Afghanistan do not now choose to wear the burkha, but many still do.
Far from being an instrument of oppression or the exclusion of women from society, following the hijab is a mark of love and respect for the self and for the Quran. For Muslim women, wearing the hijab is a public testimony of faith. It testifies that the woman is choosing to lead a life of goodness and nobility, as the Quran instructs.
For a Muslim woman to walk in public with her hair uncovered is equivalent to a modern European woman walking the street naked. A Muslim woman whose scarf is torn off in public would feel the same as a Western European woman whose dress is torn off in the street: violated and exposed. Even in Western cultures, some young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose—to give women ultimate control over their own bodies. Ironically, this is one of the same goals of feminism.
Islamic leaders reason that, "This natural characteristic of woman and which makes her more able to attract, tempt and fascinate man towards herself, is the main reason Islam tackles this point through hijab... A woman covers herself to keep from showing off her body and the man cannot see anything which will stimulate him sexually."
Most Westerners assume that the Muslim women's prim public persona carries over into their private life. Despite the outward conservatism and plainness of dress, a woman may wear perfume, makeup, and even heels under the burkha. A Muslim woman does not wear the hijab in the company of her husband, family, or other intimates, or necessarily when solely in the company of other women. In fact, depending on the locale, Muslim women may often be together socially nude. A Muslim bathhouse known as a hammam serves as a public bath in many communities where families don't have showers or tubs at home.
In the prudish United States, women strive to achieve a bodily perfection yet are often uncomfortable in situations requiring nudity, like the shower at the local gym. An American visiting a Muslim bathhouse may be surprised by how much these supposedly conservative people are at ease with their bodies. For Muslim women, not usually seen in public, the hammam is a social center where they can catch up on each other's lives and socialize.
Vida Samadzai (left), 25, was born and raised in Kabul Afghanistan. A member of the Pashtun tribe, she came to the United States in 1996. She attends California State University Fullerton where she is pursuing a double major in Advertising and Speech Communication. She speaks five languages fluently. On Nov. 9 2003, she appeared in the Miss Earth pageant in Manila, Philippines.
At a meeting of The Afghan Supreme Court on state TV, judges condemned Samadzai's appearance. "Women who show their bodies without clothes in front of people are completely against Shariah (Islamic) law, against Islam and against the culture of the Afghan people."
"I know that ... it caused a lot of controversy and I didn't feel comfortable wearing it ... because it's not just my culture, But wearing the two-piece bathing suit was necessary to qualify for the contest, said Samadzai. According to an Associated Press report, a senior Afghan justice official said Samadzai could face persecution if she returned to her native country for parading in a bikini at the contest.
Contest judges announced that, for the first time, they were handing out a "beauty for a cause" prize. They awarded it to Samadzai for "symbolizing the newfound confidence, courage and spirit of today's women" and "representing the victory of women's rights and various social, personal and religious struggles."
Nonetheless, some conservative Muslim groups were upset that the occasion of an Afghani woman donning a bikini was the Western media's way to exemplify Afghan society's "progress." They ask, why not the fact that she is attending a university, that she speaks five languages, or her or another Afghani woman's position as a university professor, a doctor, lawyer, or successful entrepreneur?
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References and Sources | January 2004 | Comments