To Burqa Or Not to Burqa
There is a fairly awesome discussion going on over at Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish about hijab, the traditional dress of Muslim women including things like the chador, burqa, niqab, etc. This is an interesting topic here in Lənkəran and southern Azerbaijan because there actually are women here who partake in the full shroud, covering everything except their faces. It’s not the prevailing fashion, and the women who do subscribe to hijab are an extreme minority. Yet, from other other regions, Lənkəran has a far stronger population of covered women. Most people around here attribute it to our closeness to Iran. It’s not uncommon for us to see the large black shroud gliding toward us on hot, sunny day.
Over at the Dish, though, there’s a discussion about what that covering implies: is it another form of gender oppression implemented by religious patriarchy, or a choice by women to express their religious beliefs? Or is it just a fashion statement? I think the personal accounts are the most illustrative, and Andrew has quite a few contributors throwing them his way.
I’ve jumped around, reading a few things. First interesting tidbit is that the hijab style comes from pre-Islamic times:
Fadwa El Guindi, in her book on the history of hijab, locates the origin of the Persian custom in ancient Mesopotamia, where respectable women veiled, and servants and prostitutes were forbidden to do so. The veil marked class status, and this dress code was regulated by sumptuary laws…This custom seems to have been adopted by the Persian Achaemenid rulers, who are said by the Graeco-Roman historian Plutarch to have hidden their wives and concubines from the public gaze.
Another interesting piece of information:
Although certain general standards are widely accepted, there has been little interest in narrowly prescribing what constitutes modest dress for Muslim men. Most mainstream scholars say that men should cover themselves from the navel to the knees…the opinion that Muslim men must cover themselves between the navel and the knees is predominant, and most Muslims believe that a man who fails to observe this requirement during salah must perform the prayer again, properly covered, in order for it to be valid. Three of the four Sunni Madh’hab, or schools of law, require that the knees be covered; the Maliki school recommends but does not require knee covering.
I’ve never heard about anything regarding men when talking about hijab, but there it is. It’s not much, but at least there is a requirement for men. Maybe this explains why we really don’t see men wearing shorts much in Azerbaijan. It’s hard enough for me to find shorts as it is, and shorts that cover my knees are nearly non-existent.
Since I’m not really part of this culture, and I have a hard enough time putting myself in the position of a Muslim person, I can’t really speak to what it must be like to adhere to hijab. Some of the things I’ve heard around here, though, speak of hijab as something more liberating. You don’t have to worry about what other people are saying, or if someone is looking at you. You are all covered up. For the women here who cover their heads, they seem to embrace it more than detest it. Talking with a few younger men, they say they like when women cover their heads. On the other hand, I’m curious whether these women would be allowed to be seen in public without the covering, the chador, niqab, or burqa. Lastly, I find that striking steel blue chadri of the Afghanis fairly awesome-looking. Much more enjoyable than the drab black you’ll see here.