The semantic strength of a fabric

My interest in the “Hijab” has never been a religious one. I don’t argue that a headscarf should be worn or should not be worn. It is not my concern what others do. I have always been more interested in finding out the history and development of hijab.

More than two years ago there was some good quality discussion on Muslimah Media Watch regarding “why the scarf gets talked about to the extent that it does”. Krista refers to Faisal al Yafai’s article on Guardian’s Comment that argues that by focusing on the veil we miss out on the bigger picture. Krista also proposes that there is

a resistance to admit that the victories of women’s movements in the west, although significant, remain incomplete; many of today’s feminists often seem to prefer to identify oppression elsewhere, rather than to admit that their own society still constrains them in so many ways. The headscarf ends up fitting well into this framework, since it is seen largely as affecting “other” women in “other” places, leaving western women to continue to see themselves as emancipated.

You can read the other comments and go to al-Yafai’s article from MMW here; I will only share with you my opinion here:

Hijab as a headcovering or even as a face veil has always been there in Muslim and non-Muslim societies. When one looks at hijab: which may be 1) a headscarf for some, 2) a face veil for a few, 3) or simply a loose, long dress for yet others, from this historical perspective then things change. Just like not-so-well-off Jewish women were culturally and socially not allowed to cover their faces, in early Islam slave women were not allowed to wear clothes that resembled their masters’. They were also not allowed to cover their heads in prayer even if they were Muslim. While today we may think that women who wear it are oppressed, in ancient Arabia it was women who were not allowed to wear it that were oppressed.

This is not saying that a headcovering has nothing to do with Islam. I personally think that hijab is a social requirement in Islam directly linked not to piety but to social arrangement of a given society. For example, I must wear a headscarf in societies where I will stick out like a sore thumb if my head is uncovered or where a social arrangement can turn awkward or dangerous for me if my head is uncovered. But one thing is certain to me that in Islam no matter which country a woman is in she has to cover her skin completely with loose garments so as not to seek attention. That is very sensible and safe.

There are many women who wear a headcovering on their own but I believe that hijab is not a personal choice. It is a religious choice. When a woman decides (through her own personal study) that it is required by God then there is no question of personal choice left for her. She must cover her head (or even her face if she thinks niqaab is compulsory) just like she must pray five times a day.

When Yafi thinks that Western feminists are obsessed by the veil, he may be right. And when Rawi says that we are using the agent as the oppressor, he may be right too. But this “visible fabric” has always been used to differentiate between women from different social, cultural and religious classes. Hijab has always been an issue with women. In the past it was an issue for slave women or women from poor families. It was used by early Muslims to differentiate between free and slave women. Clothes have always been known to carry that indicative significance. In ancient Greek and Roman societies women from prominent families wore very elaborate gowns and those who held religious offices wore expensive fabric. The fabric has that semantic strength.

What do you think?

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38 thoughts on “The semantic strength of a fabric

  1. Sara says:

    Great post! I really enjoyed reading it!
    It’s true, the hijab has always been an issue. It has probably become more of an issue at certain points in history when certain discourses were in power – Orientalism, for example.

    • Metis says:

      Sara, I used to believe that hijab debate is a modern phenomenon but I think it has been around for quite some time now like you point out. Sad that it has to be like that.

  2. Zuhura says:

    For me the problem with the hijab are twofold:

    1. There is no context in which a woman can decide through her own personal study without outside influence. The only way I could see this as a truly independent choice would be in an Islam where men and women stop lecturing women about wearing hijab.

    2. I simply cannot accept that God would expect women be more modest than men.

  3. Helene says:

    Metis,
    Your comment “There are many women who wear a headcovering on their own but I believe that hijab is not a personal choice. It is a religious choice” is important. It also harks back to some of your earlier observations about behaviors that are reflexive cultural habits, versus those that are “religious”.

    I was previously surprised when I started reading Muslim blogs, to discover that many of them were dominated by Anglo and African American women who have reverted to Islam, adopted the niqab, married into a polygynous marriage, and gone off to Saudi Arabia, stating that it represents the only truly Islamic society.

    Choosing to cover, when you don’t come from a culture that covers requires thoughtful consideration. And I don’t doubt the importance of religion in all of their choices. But it is too early for me to say that covering is a religious choice in these instances. I think infatuation with the “exotic” and the relief that comes from escaping from one’s own life into someone else’s situation factors in.

    • Metis says:

      “But it is too early for me to say that covering is a religious choice in these instances. I think infatuation with the “exotic” and the relief that comes from escaping from one’s own life into someone else’s situation factors in.”

      I agree and to add to that I would say that sometimes that escape is given a religious twist. I think converts are hardly ever told the truth about hijab and what they learn is very different from the reality of born Muslims. But many born Muslims are also increasingly wearing hijab now because they think it is a religious duty/right.

  4. susanne430 says:

    Really enjoyed this! I think you summed it up well with this:

    “But this “visible fabric” has always been used to differentiate between women from different social, cultural and religious classes.”

    Hijab is a statement. In the past it stated that you were freer and/or more prosperous than those lowly slaves around you. And now it states that you are identifying either with God (if you wear because you believe God wants you to wear it) and/or community (if you mostly wear it because to not do so would be “awkward or dangerous” or you’d stick out like a sore thumb.)

    What came to my mind is parts of Africa where women walk around topless and the people seem to think nothing of it. But to show your thigh — wowie…that is scandalous! So I guess my going with my head uncovered could be like my walking around topless (which is quite awkward where I live) or showing my thighs in some people’s eyes.

    When you said your not wearing a head scarf might be awkward or dangerous – especially dangerous! – I was thinking that is so wrong. But then when I applied this to maybe my walking around topless in my area, I could see your point better.

    And I agree that

    “When a woman decides (through her own personal study) that it is required by God then there is no question of personal choice left for her. ”

    If she wants to obey and please God, she will wear hijab if what you said there is true.

    Enjoyed this!

    • Metis says:

      Excellent comment, Susie! You always add great ideas to the discussion. I agree with your examples and that clothing takes on many meanings in different cultures.

  5. When a woman decides (through her own personal study) that it is required by God then there is no question of personal choice left for her.

    This point of view is interesting. I used to wear hijab but don’t any longer for several reasons. I find the history of head coverings entirely fascinating. So in the past slave women prayed with their hair uncovered? It seems somewhat unimaginable.

    • Metis says:

      That is what I have heard/read, ECC. The ‘awrah’ of female slaves was different from free women’s awrah. Their awrah was the same as free men’s and male slaves’ awrah. The ‘sitr’ for free men and all slaves (men and women) was from the navel to the knees. It is unimaginable because we don’t hear it often enough – or not at all.

  6. Becky says:

    Very thought-provoking post!
    “When a woman decides (through her own personal study) that it is required by God then there is no question of personal choice left for her. She must cover her head (or even her face if she thinks niqaab is compulsory) just like she must pray five times a day.”

    I both agree and disagree with this statement. I agree that if a woman, through her studies, believe that hijab is a requirement from God, she must put it on if she wishes to fulfill her religious requirements. However, she still has a personal choice to NOT fulfill her religious requirements (just like many Muslims don’t pray 5 times a day, although they sincerely believe they are required to). If that makes sense?

    Like I argued in my post on hijab, I think in Western societies, wearing hijab (aside from a way to show your religious affiliation), is more likely to put you in danger and estrange you from the society. But also, I don’t believe hijab is mandatory, only that dressing modestly is (and modestly is defined through your culture and society).

    • Metis says:

      “However, she still has a personal choice to NOT fulfill her religious requirements (just like many Muslims don’t pray 5 times a day, although they sincerely believe they are required to). If that makes sense?”

      Yes, that makes sense.

      “I think in Western societies, wearing hijab (aside from a way to show your religious affiliation), is more likely to put you in danger and estrange you from the society. ”

      I definitely agree with that!

  7. Helene says:

    Eccentricyoruba,
    Consider this. At one time, only upper class Chinese women had bound feet. It was a sign of not having to work. (Are we are so busy looking for what others have, that we don’t realize how blessed our situtation actually is?)

    I do agree with Metis’ assessment, that many women, born Muslims, who did not wear hijab previously, are doing so now.

    I don’t very often have the opportunity to hear why a woman would first wear hijab, and then stop. Would you be willing to share with us why you stopped wearing hijab?

    • (Are we are so busy looking for what others have, that we don’t realize how blessed our situtation actually is?)

      This seems to be the case.

      Wrt to why I stopped wearing the hijab, it’s a long-ish story that I have no problems sharing except I tend to get my thoughts mixed up when talking about it. To summarise, my reasons behind ‘de-hijabing’ have to do with culture (I’m glad Metis addressed the issue of culture in the post published immediately after this one). Hijab to me is part of a culture that is not mine and I don’t want to feel obliged to wearing it because I’m a Muslim. I also don’t want my identification with Islam, and by extension Arabic culture to uproot my indigenous Yoruba culture. As it is, both my names are Arabic, when speaking the Yoruba language with family words such as ‘prayer’ are referred to using Arabic words, we don’t even greet in our language these days with the preferred greeting being ‘salam’. It can be difficult to draw the line between what one believes is part of the religion or just plain influence from Arab culture.

      Yoruba culture is important to me and this has grown moderately in recent years. A few African ethnic groups can claim hijab as part of their culture, I can’t say the same for mine. We have gele (headwraps) which I wear often but I cannot bring myself to wear the hijab daily without feeling as if I’m adopting a culture that is not mine in the name of religion. To me, I can be a Muslim strongly rooted in my culture without having to adopt Arabic culture even though my name is not Yoruba.

  8. Lat says:

    Enjoyed the post very much! And I agree with you,

    “I personally think that hijab is a social requirement in Islam directly linked not to piety but to social arrangement of a given society..”

    But I’ve seen women who pray covering their hair and not most of the time when they don’t do the ritual prayer.Isn’t that personal choice?

    ” Clothes have always been known to carry that indicative significance.” because I think,of the thought that women have to be protected from their own class or others.No such indicator is necessary for men,like the visible hijab because men can protect themselves?

    • Metis says:

      “But I’ve seen women who pray covering their hair and not most of the time when they don’t do the ritual prayer.Isn’t that personal choice?”

      I guess it is personal choice of the type Becky mentioned, that those women know that it is required like for example during prayers but they still don’t wear it. When Islam started women prayed in mosques and so prayed with their coverings on. Praying in mosques was somewhat discontinued for women by the Caliph Omar but I can’t say for sure why even praying at home began requiring full hijab. I can’t imagine Khadeejah praying like that, for example. But then again if you HAVE to cover during prayer that is not a personal choice anymore. On the other hand, more and more women are beginning to pray without hijab like Mona Eltahawy. They are not always met with praise but it is happening.

      “I think,of the thought that women have to be protected from their own class or others.No such indicator is necessary for men,like the visible hijab because men can protect themselves?”

      Interesting thought. I also think men show their status and prestige through women – collecting many women in their harem or covering them up. In the modern world this has extended to their cars – rich Arabs black out their car windows because they are too good to be seen sitting inside. They have expensive number plates in 2 or 3 digits. That is all part of the status and when women come out of such cars they are always covered from head to toe.

      • Lat says:

        ” Praying in mosques was somewhat discontinued for women by the Caliph Omar but I can’t say for sure why even praying at home began requiring full hijab”

        I’ve read about Caliph Omar not wanting women to pray in the mosques as well.I think if I can remember the reason given was that women were treating the mosque as a social venue to meet up and do their things.Is that right? But why discontinue women’s prayers in mosque for whatever reason? Sometimes I don’t understand such rulings these caliphs make and then for later scholars to allege that it came from the prophet.

        maybe praying with hijab at home gave women the comforting thoughts as if they were praying in the mosque,since now they’ve been disallowed to go there? Or maybe wearing it in the home helped women to distinguish to ON the piety switch and so to behave properly? And so to be aware of their prayer seriously? I don’t know the real reason either except as I’ve said before about the hadith narrated by Aisha.Telling women to cover their hair when in prayer.It could also be as you said, it could be followed from Christian women who also covered themselves during prayer in those times.

        I think it’s possible that men’s clothing also underwent some form of adjustment to fit in the piety and moral mode when praying in the mosque.I’ve read in hadith that women were told to stand up after sujud a little slower after the men cuz if not men’ s nakedness would become apparent to them if they don’t.

        • Metis says:

          Lat, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about the possibilities. I guess any one of them could be right.

          I found the hadith you cited in your final paragraph to be very intriguing. I haven’t read that one. So if men’s nakedness could become apparent, why weren’t men asked to cover their bodies appropriately rather than ask women to stand up slower? That is strange, don’t you think?

          • Lat says:

            Yes it’s strange.Perhaps men just came by and stopped to pray in the mosque.Or it could just be referring to some type of clothing the men wore and so women were to take note.

      • Zuhura says:

        “it is required like for example during prayers”

        Are you suggesting wearing a scarf during salat is required? If so, on what basis? The only thing I’ve been able to find on the subject is a hadith in which the Prophet supposedly said that a woman who prays without her head covered will not have her prayers accepted.

        • Metis says:

          I guess anything and everything to do with the technicalities of salat are derived from hadith and sunnah, aren’t they? I mean why do we pray witr after Isha if it is not mentioned in the Quran? What does the Quran say about how many times to pray, how to pray, what to utter during salat, when and how many times to send blessings upon the Prophet? Ruku, sujood, qiyaam, the number of units in the salat – these were all structured by God knows who. We assume the Prophet established all this but there are scholars who claim this was all laid down in the Abbasid period. Maybe that is when hijab during salat was also made compulsory, but it has been believed to be compulsory by majority of Muslims for centuries. If there is hadith to support it then it becomes more difficult to argue against it.

          • Zuhura says:

            It’s one thing to develop a ritual based on hadith and other to develop discrimination against half the population. I find it hard to believe that the Prophet would really claim to know whose prayers are accepted and whose are not in a literal way, and if he did that only makes me question hadith even more than I already do.

            It rubs me the wrong way when I hear people say something is required in Islam, when they really mean some scholars in the Abbasid period decided it was compulsory. I forget that not everyone makes a distinction between Islam as the term is used in the Qur’an and all the stuff that male people later decided was Islam.

            • Metis says:

              I know what you mean. That was my frustration for a long time as well.

              • Zuhura says:

                It’s not anymore? How did you get past that frustration?

                • Metis says:

                  I just accepted that I will never be able to know the Islam as the term is used the Quran which is also the result of deep sociological and political constraints of that time. And Quran is read by everyone differently so it will always mean something to me and something else to someone else. I was thinking about writing on this theme last night. I don’t know if I will have the time.

  9. Asma says:

    Great post!

    It’s interesting how both ‘being seen’ and ‘not being seen’ can be regarded as marks of status. I love the point you make about the rich men with blacked out car windows, who are in effect veiling themselves as a kind of status symbol; and I bet that the very same gentlemen sometimes go to high-class restaurants or other elite public spaces in order to be seen there. And I have a few niqab-wearing friends who love the feeling of being completely covered, as they feel that it gives some kind of status and power; but when they go to all-female parties they want other women to see what cool clothes they have and how stylish their make-up is.

    Everything depends on the interpretation of (in)visibility. Maybe women who wear the full niqab are being symbolically excluded from public life, or maybe it gives them a kind of power; Tuareg men also cover their faces, because it’s considered ‘manly’ not to show people what you’re feeling – nothing to do with ideas of protection or modesty. I suppose it’s all about the way those around you interpret an item of clothing, combined with the ability to make a personal choice based both on your own beliefs and on that social interpretation.

    I agree that in the west people often focus on the veil – as applied to Muslim women – too much, thus missing the bigger picture. I also absolutely agree that it’s important to look at the history and development of the veil, because I think it’s important to look at the way clothes are seen as signs, more than just ‘things to keep you warm/cool’ in different societies. Not ignoring men’s clothing! There always seems to be less discussion of this, but it can be interesting too. My favourite example of this is of a male Yemeni friend of mine who tells me that he often gets criticised for going to the mosque wearing trousers, where other men tell him that trousers are un-Islamic and make prayer invalid – maybe because religion is so intertwined with other aspects of social identity. But there seem to be fewer dress rules which are accepted as applying to all Muslim men, regardless of the society they live in, in the way that covering the hair is to women. So are women themselves still seen as symbols as much as the clothes they wear, in a way that men are not?

    • Metis says:

      Thanks Asma for your wonderful comment. I found your second paragraph full of interesting ideas and information. My husband told me that once he went to the mosque from work with his tie on and a man asked him to take it off because it “resembles a cross”! I agree that men too are often criticised and scrutinised. Maybe we talk about women more?

  10. sana says:

    in india not only muslims but many non muslim women too are required to cover their heads and sometimes their face.”ghoonghat” is what they call it. it may not be required by their religion but its really important in their culture. But , as you pointed out the difference between religious choice and personal choice- a choice not influenced by anything other person or factor, many women are just abiding by it and i am yet to see anyone practice the hijab happily for their own sake. Either hijab or niqab or ghoonghat, they seek to attract attention by any other way possible. Like showing off brightly dyed hair through hijab, showing off their through their niqab by donning heavy make up and eyeshadows, coloured lenses etc. and those who wear ghoonghat make a point that their saree blouses are skimpy enough to show off their midriff and cleavage. I am not exaggerating here, these things were witnessed by me for as long as i can remember.
    Personally, even I wanted to wear hijab but not because of religion, it’s because I really loved colourful hijabs and beautiful swarovsky diamonds studded burkhas. But now thanks to you, I know the difference between a personal choice and religious/cultural one.
    When it is really required, i wouldn’t mind wearing hijab.
    great post. thanks!

    • Metis says:

      Sana, that is some great info! Thanks. I knew about the ghoongat but I didn’t know that women mostly try to still look attractive and * visible* through it. So do you think such women are forced to veil?

  11. sana says:

    I am sure they are pressurized and maybe forced to veil. as i have seen them wearing any attire of their choice whenevr they are out on a vacation away from the family. So that goes to show they really want to get rid of it or atleast a break. lol.
    They just want to keep the family happy and not get into trouble.

  12. sarah k says:

    I think that the contextual history of the Hijab is significant. 300 years ago in many places in Europe women did not go out with their hair or body uncovered. Covering the hair was a norm for many women in the world. It is just that nowadays this is no longer the case and covering the hair is not always the norm now.

    The question is, for me, to what extent should Muslims adapt to this change? To what extent is it a cast iron rule of the Qur’an that the hair should be covered? Is it a rule which is flexible?

    Personally I feel that it is required as the act of covering has more benefits than drawbacks. But I am not of the opinion that covering the hair is the only or the most important indicator of righteousness or spirituality. I would like to think I am more complex than just being defined by what I wear.

    • Metis says:

      “Personally I feel that it is required as the act of covering has more benefits than drawbacks. ”

      Sarah K, thanks for your comment. I have been thinking about your sentence and wanted to ask you if you think that is true for every society? And I’m not referring to modest clothing but a headcovering, a scarf. The “the act of covering” as in modest clothing is definitely beneficial and I don’t think any sane woman would deny that – they shouldn’t deny it! I have failed to see the benefit in revealing clothing and can’t understand what women get out of exposing. But I think the headscarf has become a symbol far more complex than we acknowledge consciously and I think in some societies it can become dangerous for women to stand out with it. Would you agree?

      “But I am not of the opinion that covering the hair is the only or the most important indicator of righteousness or spirituality. I would like to think I am more complex than just being defined by what I wear.”

      Amen!

  13. Coolred38 says:

    Clothing has always been a means of identifying a person/culture etc. Uniforms in particular distinguish a specific group from others. You see a man in police uniform you know his standing and authority his uniform gives him. I have always viewed the hijab as a uniform for mulsim women in that it is meant to convey to others what group they belong too and therefore how they should be treated (according to muslims…men in particular) But I also believe that while uniformed police officers can be easily seen and due respect given (to the uniform if not the man) ..undercover officers still have authority and still deserve respect, they just arent displaying it at that moment. Muslim women are similar in my eyes…whether or not they wear the culture specific hijab in an open display of uniformed conformity or they choose to go undercover and not wear it, respect should still be given. Why unhijabbed muslim women are not afforded that same level of respect by other muslims I will never understand. At the end of the day muslims are told in the Quran (as if its not a human trait anyhow) to treat others with respect and honesty. Funny how that means nothing depending on the appearance or absence of a piece of cloth.

    I have also never understood why Muslim women are the ones that are required to display the uniform of their religion…while Muslim men can always choose to go undercover if they want without so much as a raised eyebrow?

    sarah k
    “To what extent is it a cast iron rule of the Qur’an that the hair should be covered?” Are you saying that the order to cover the hair IS a cast iron rule in the Quran or asking in a indirect way in regards to what many Muslims believe? Just wondering because if it was so cast iron…we wouldnt have this centuries old debate about it even being a rule to begin with.

    • Metis says:

      I love your comment, Coolred!

      “Why unhijabbed muslim women are not afforded that same level of respect by other muslims I will never understand. ”

      Bingo!

  14. Helene says:

    Coolred, your comment is so astute.

    “whether or not they wear the culture specific hijab in an open display of uniformed conformity or they choose to go undercover and not wear it, respect should still be given”

    Becoming aware of how we treat people, becoming conscious of the assumptions we make about others based largely on their attire, or other collective attributes is a process that never ends, and never ceases to bring surprises.

  15. sarah k says:

    Metis, I do think that the benefits of covering can be applied in all cultures. The extent of the covering can differ according to the place. Fopr example, in Saudi I dont mind covering my face although I didnt always choose to but I wouldn’t do that in the UK. I dont think it’s one size fits all.

    My grandmother lives in a small village in the UK and she feels that I stick out like a sore thumb. Her argument is that I am actually drawing attention to myself by my clothing. I can certainly agree that in that environment I do attract attention but it is then that the scarf becomes my uniform – it shows people I am a Muslim and it then becomes a method of me being able to discuss my religious ideas with them. I find that I am always given respect and not approached in an inappropriate manner. If I do get a negative reaction it is usually confined to a look or a glance and is not more than that.

    The fact is that amongst non-Muslims when wearing my scarf I am usually treated with courtesy and respect. It is a strength of British society that I am allowed to choose what I wear. As a teenager if you are alone in wearing a scarf you can feel self conscious and awkward but then you grow out of that phase – as almost all teenagers do about their appearance. In my experience it has been Muslim men, seeing me as a white woman in a scarf – that think it is an invitation to ask me totally inappropriate personal questions. I certainly don’t think it is dangerous to wear a scarf.

    @Coolred – I personally do think it is clearly mandated in the Quran to cover your hair. However, I do not advocate forcing anyone to cover nor do I think women who do not cover are immodest. Neither are hijabi women spiritually better because of the scarf. Amongst the companion women of the Prophet I don’t think it was debated. The prophet advocated covering and that is enough for me. But I feel Islam is open to interpretation in so many areas. We are judged as a sum of our whole actions in our life and to me it is far more important that people think about the WHY of religion and are not just robots. I hope every woman who wears a scarf knows why she is doing it and doesn’t just do it because someone said so.

    A scarf can neither save or condemn you but it 1) tells others of your principles regarding gender mixing without you having to verbalise it and 2) creates a physical and mental barrier between your private and personal behaviours. It allows me to mix freely in public but lets me retain something private for myself. Perhaps this is the division which is a core part of modesty. It gives me the choice of what I share when and with whom – not just physically but emotionally as well. In this way I think the advantages outweigh the negatives.

  16. Coolred38 says:

    Sarah…I can agree with you in many ways but I dont agree when Muslim women say they are afforded respect because people see them in hijab or something along those lines. How can you be so sure it is that hijab that is creating a sense of respect from others and not just them being respectful because they are respectful people? I ask this because I spent 17 years wearing hijab in a Muslim country…the amount of disrespect I was shown by non other than Muslim men while there is a book unto itself. So, the hijab did not afford me any respect because the men themselves were not respectful men. Interestingly enough, when I eventually took the hijab off…some of those same men suddenly were shy and unable to meet my eyes in quite the same way again. Of course I am not saying all the men there were like this, of course they werent, but enough were that the experience was lasting and distasteful.

    I might add that the Muslim women were almost the complete opposite. While I wore the hijab they afforded me plenty of respect but once I removed it I was virtually blacklisted among those I had known for years and my relationships with others were strained beyond repair. So once again, the respect I got from them was apparently due to a piece of cloth but it did not extend to me as a person. Once the cloth was gone, I was suddenly fair game for disrespect.

    Now, my experience is not every Muslim woman’s experience…but I have heard enough similar stories to tell me it is quite common. Funny enough, more Muslim women will admit theyare more respected by nonMuslim men, with or without hijab, then by Muslim men. Go figure.

  17. Helene says:

    Sarah, your comment is at the core. You said that hijab-

    “creates a physical and mental barrier between your private and personal behaviours. It allows me to mix freely in public but lets me retain something private for myself”

    However, hijab is not the only vehical that provides for this separation. All social interaction is supposed to protect a sphere of privacy, for self, and from others. This is why we listen when others speak, and don’t speak until they are finished, dress in clean clothes, get to appointments on time, don’t steal, etc etc… Also, in my opinion, looking straight at someone is more respectful to self and to others, than lowering your gaze. But I’m not Muslim, I happen to have other ideas.

    This separation, a space for privacy, is being eliminated in public life, especially in the west, and I believe this why so many women are returning to the hijab. They think it replaces a lost value.

    I lived in London in 1970, before the Islamic revival, and I can tell you that the full body veil was used in some situations to steal stuff from stores. Figuring out how to deal with it was a big problem for retailers.

    If hijab helps you to respect yourself and respect others, then that’s great. But it is not the whole story.

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