Politics Behind the Hijab
17 Feb, 2009
- Hijab as an Islamic icons
- There is little doubt that hijab has become as much a symbol of Islam as the Crescent. The irony is that both of these two so-called Islamic icons, widely believed to be Islamic, are, in reality, not parts of Islam. I do not want to spend much time discussing the origin of the Crescent as an Islamic symbol, but it certainly was not introduced or suggested by Mohammed or any of his successors; neither is there is no evidence that the later the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties have ever used it. What matters now is that the Crescent does symbolize Islam and that Muslims like it. It sits on top of every mosque and minaret and at the centre of flags of many Islamic states.
The Crescent may symbolize Islam but it doesn’t say much about it; this explains its remarkable absence from the Saudi flag. As we know, Saudi Arabia follows the teachings of Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703–92), the founder of movement that carries his name, who put Islam back on track. The core of the teachings of Abdul Wahhab was to filter Islam from the impurities that gathered on it over the centuries and bring it to its original form as Mohammed left it behind. Abdul Wahhab’s strategy was not to compromise, because it’s only Allah, he had to fear. He succeeded in bringing Islam back to it originality by purging all the impurities, which he called ‘dalala’. The Saudi flag is an honest expression of what the country and Islam stand for: that is, to spread the word “no God but Allah, Mohammed is his messenger” by the sword.
Hijab and headscarves
The word Hijab is currently used to refer to headscarf that covers the hair of a Muslim woman. In this article, both words will be used to refer to a woman’s head-dress. Until recently, many Middle Eastern Arabs used the word ‘Isharb’ as a name for women’s head-dress, but that foreign name is rapidly becoming obsolete in favour of hijab.
Contrary to what most people think, hijab is a fairly recent
innovation in Muslims’ societies; it started gaining popularity only
in the 1990s. In fact, the popularity of hijab in the Middle East
came about so swiftly that the Arabs were not sure which word to use
to describe it. They had a selection of words including hijab, niqab,
burqa, khimar, and more. So it was left to the press, and it’s
usually ignorant journalists, to make their choice. Of these words,
namely 'hijab', has the most precise and clear definition in the
Arabic language; it means a total barrier between two things.
Hijab is a purely political issue
I do not want to bore the reader by discussing the sharia validation of hijab, or the lack of it, because this is NOT the issue. The important fact to know about hijab is that it is purely a political issue, promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The hijab to the Muslim Brotherhood is like the "red flag" to communists.
Our understanding of what the Quran and sunna say about women’s
dress is irrelevant, because what matters is what Muslims and their
scholars understand. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of Sunni Muslims
and their scholars—the Muslim Brotherhood
scholars, the wahhabis and the Taliban included—agree
with the well-established sharia rules regarding Islamic dress-code.
Women’s dress-code in Islam, just like anything else, is open to many interpretations. It is possible to argue that women dress can be anything, or almost anything, that appeals to the mind, and still be able to support the argument from the Quran and the sunna.
It is possible to argue that women should be covered from head to toe, which in my opinion, is the most honest and straightforward understanding of Islam. This is the view of all devout Muslims, who never compromise on anything to ‘appease’ their desires and wouldn’t change Islam to fit modernity but rather change modernity to fit Islam.
It is possible to argue that women are allowed to display only one or both eyes.
It is also possible to argue that women are under no obligation to wear any special Islamic dress. This is my favourite argument, which I often use to defend my position when I happen to be in a Muslim community. Some Muslims, even in the West, are rude enough to ask me (as a Muslim) why I do not ‘order’ my wife to wear hijab.
However, it is rather difficult to argue that women can expose their faces and cover their hair, which a hijab does. Nothing in the Quran suggests that! This Islamic fashion has no foundation in Islam and is prohibited under proper Islamic rule, such as in Saudi Arabia and formerly in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Against all these odds, the headscarf has risen to become the most popular Islamic dress; it also oddly assumed the name hijab, even though a headscarf doesn’t act as any kind of barrier between a man and a woman.
The Muslim Brotherhood (ikhwan in Arabic) are happy with the widespread use of headscarves, even though, in their writings and teachings, they clearly project an Islamic dress-code akin to that of the Wahhabis.
What makes the Muslim Brotherhood happy with the headscarf? Why are they satisfied with half-measures?
This Islamic irony is not unprecedented. In the past, the Muslim
Brotherhood had accepted temporary solutions in hard times, just
like Prophet Muhammad did fourteen centuries ago. Accepting
half-measures is only a waiting tactic to eventually achieve the
full-measure they seek to implement. This explains why the Muslim
Brotherhood leaders and the female relatives of some of them did not
follow proper Islamic dress-code from 1928 to the beginning of the
Islamisation of Europe in the 1980s.
The Islamic Dress-Code
According to sunni Islam, the entire body of a woman is considered ‘awra’, an Arabic word that refers to private parts and shouldn’t be seen by other men. Therefore, a Muslim woman should be completely covered with loose-fitting clothes to completely obscure the outline of the female body, which can also be a source of sexual arousal. A woman’s voice is also considered as awra, because it has the potential to cause sexual arousal; therefore, women should be careful with their tone when they speak to men.
On the other hand, some scholars consider the genitalia to be the only part of the male body to be awra, but the general view is that men need to cover from the waist to the knees. Muslim men should grow beards, but not moustaches, and should wear garments that do not reach the ankles.
The above is the proper Islamic dress-code, which will be enforced in societies once the Islamists assume political control. It is already applied in Saudi Arabia and the Taliban controlled areas.
Muslim women’s dress before the hijab
Before the current hijab fashion, Muslim women (at least in Middle Eastern countries) used to be covered to various degrees, on a cultural rather than religious basis. In some societies, women were covered head-to-toe; in others, they just followed latest Western fashion. In general, women in cities were more likely to wear Western clothes than those in rural areas, but it had nothing to do with the degree of their adherence to Islam.
In the 1920s, two important Islamic movements appeared in the Middle East, the Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The two groups have very similar understanding of Islam, as reflected in their teachings and writings. They were basically two sides of the same coin. However, they had to adopt a completely different strategies that suited its own environment, but without departing from the guidance of Mohammed’s sunna.
The Wahhabis were allies to the Saudi clan, who managed to subjugate entire Arabia by force. Spreading the Wahhabi Islamic teachings was straightforward; Arabia was simply forced to adopt Wahhabi Islam. The situation sharply different in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928. There were signs of secular trends in the Middle East; Egypt was more open to the West than other Middle East countries. The Muslim Brotherhood had to work in a hostile environment, because neither the government nor the people were in a mood to listen to them. Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood was like Mecca to Mohammed in the early part of his prophetic mission. The leaders of the movement, therefore, had to adopt a careful strategy similar to that of Mohammed’s. On the other hand, Arabia to the Wahhabis was like Medina to Mohammed from where he unleashed the full force of Islam against Arabia.
While still weak, the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy is to move
slowly and carefully without upsetting the society by showing them
the full picture of Islam. However, implementing the full Islamic
sharia including the Islamic dress-code has always been a central
demand; they only needed to wait for the right time.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s demise of 1952–70
The Muslim Brotherhood believes that the most practical way to implement sharia in a country is to take control of that country, through jihad, and force the Islamic rule. This is a well-known Islamic strategy that worked well with Mohammed and his followers; the success of the Wahhabis in Arabia is a living a reminder. The brotherhood movement had serious problems with its chronic hunger for power, which lead the movement to infiltrate the army and government departments and to indulge in a series of political assassinations.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s dream nearly came true in 1952, when a
group of army officers, some with sympathy to the Muslim
Brotherhood, staged a military coup in Egypt. The leaders of the
Muslim brotherhood approached the new leader, Gamal Abdul Nasser,
offering him support if he applies the Islamic sharia; they
specifically mentioned the Islamic dress. Nasser reportedly pointed
out to them that their own daughters go to university uncovered, so
why do they want all Egyptian women to be covered. Nasser, however,
had different plans in mind and was too powerful to need their
support. It became clear to the Muslim Brotherhood that the new
leadership refuses to be influenced by them; therefore they reverted
to their assassination policy. After a failed assassination attempt
on Nasser, the Egyptian government responded by a crack down on the
movement and imposed total ban on its activities.
Although banned in Egypt, the Muslim brotherhood was still active
outside the country, thanks to the generous support from America and
its friendly allies like Saudi Arabia. However, all that political
and financial backing was no consolation to the Brotherhood
movement, which remained helpless against the powerful Egyptian
propaganda machine. Its members were branded, quite correctly, as
terrorists who use religion to achieve their goals, and for nearly
two decades, they failed to gain any significant popularity in the
Resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood
The political picture in the Middle East changed dramatically after Nasser’s death in 1970 and the appointment of Sadat as his successor. The new president allied his country with the America, and pursued a policy that was a virtual reversal of that of his predecessor. In an attempt to overpower the political groups that opposed his policies, Sadat lifted the ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, released their prisoners and encouraged the movement to go into action. The gates of heaven opened wide to the Muslim Brotherhood who, for the first time, enjoyed the backing of the governments of their home country, and other Middle Eastern countries, as well as America and the west. They wasted no time and took control of the mosques, the universities and the media. Lifting the lid on the Muslim brotherhood was probably one of the most doomed decisions of recent times. Sadat paid the price of his decision with his life when he was assassinated, by the Muslim Brotherhood, in 1981. Joining forces with their Wahhabi brothers, the Muslim brotherhood became an international force to reckon with; their evil activities spread in lightning speed claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. That was the beginning of the current wave of Islamic jihad that started, by the Muslim Brotherhood, in Afghanistan then moved to the Middle East causing civilian unrest in Syria 1981 then swept Algeria and Egypt in the early 1990s and the rest of the world since then.
The Muslim Brotherhood seeks dominance through intimidation, just like Mohammed did fourteen centuries ago. They dominate the Muslims’ societies by using religion as a tool and intimidate the politicians by using the people in the streets as indicators for their influence and power. There is no better indication for the public support than the scenes of streets full with women with headscarves and men with beards. The current Islamic dress, although not yet properly Islamic, serves as a living opinion poll that sends a powerful message to the authorities.
The Muslim Brotherhood cannot rely on forcing men to grow beards
because this is only a sunna (preferred) duty, but they can force
women to wear hijab because it is a fard (obligatory). Unlike a full
veil, a head scarf is a compromise that appeals to modern women and
doesn’t cause resentment of those not so religious women or
societies. The headscarf serves as an introductory hijab for Muslim
women, who once put it on cannot take it off. In Egypt and the West
Bank, women are virtually forced to wear the hijab by the aggressive
advertisement in the streets and public transport depicting women
who do not wear hijab as prostitutes.
It is noticeable in Muslim countries that an increasing number of women who used to wear headscarves have upgraded to full veil. Those women were initially told they only needed to cover their hair to become good Muslims, which worked as the bait to enrol them to fundamental Islam and those after prayers lessons. They soon discover they are way behind in their religious duties and there is more to be done and more to be covered. Eventually, all women who live in an Islamic state will be asked to wear full body covers, willingly or by force, which is the stated plan of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The full veil has caused some antagonism from the public in western countries because of well justified security concerns. However, I think hijab poses even more threat to our national security than the veil because of its acceptance by the society. Most radical women, including those who carried out suicide bombing, only wear headscarves with no material veil. With such a mask of innocence and moderation that conceals her real intentions, a radical Muslim woman can infiltrate deeper into the society to unleash the evil of Islam.
The difference between a woman with a veil and a woman with a hijab is like the difference between an enemy in uniform and an enemy in disguise. The Muslims’ uniform is a thoub (a dress) and a beard for men and a full veil for women. The Muslims I fear most are those who are disguised in moderation because they are the darlings of the western governments, which select them to key positions. These eloquent and moderate looking Muslims can do immense damage to our societies, and their strength lies in their disguise.
Muslim women are often asked to wear hijab from a young age; of course they had no choice but are educated to believe that was their choice! In western societies, Muslim girls develop an image problem and become self conscious of their unusual dress. Muslims tend to be aggressive in propagating hijab; those girls who would rather not wear it fall under immense social and moral pressure, or rather intimidation, to do so. This is true even in western countries, where Muslims tend to live in Muslim neighbourhoods and socialise mainly with other Muslims. The Muslim brotherhood strategy in spreading hijab in small societies is the same they use in Muslim counties, which is to associate hijab with good conduct and bare hair with prostitution.
There are Muslim women, who live in the west, and would rather not wear hijab at all. In theory, they have full rights to be able to make their choice but they are denied this basic human right. It is sad that nobody rises to defend the rights of those women, who are so intimidated that they cannot ask for help or express their free wishes.
Mumin Salih is a Middle Eastern ex-Muslim.