We need secularism, a degree of it at least, in most modern society to help establish the boundaries, of ones religion, and the will of the state. If State and religion are the one establishment, where is the rational in irrational religious (orthodox/devout/fundamentalist) writings?
In the West we are seeing a backlash against headscarf wearing women, we often see the scarf and not the woman, often labelling her, and making assumptions about her beliefs, class and her role as a second-class citizen in her religion, that will not necessarily be true. Secularist states such as in France see the headscarf as a threat to their values. Yes the French are extremely against religion, but this is seen as the common argument against the headscarf – that it is an oppressive practice and doesn’t fit in with western ideology.
More than likely though, is it the image and assumption that only poor people cover their hair, i.e. immigrants, or people who are at the bottom of the education pile? Making this about class, rather than the rich middle class Muslims, who want to appear westernised. In liberal Bangladesh, most women in the media and television will not cover their hair, in what is a largely Muslim country. Thus making the connection that is if you cover your hair in the West, you are visibly signaling you are a poor person, possibly unable to speak English, and not of her own autonomy and needs to be made aware of her oppressive dress or comply.
Is there an air of the middle classes who are keen to skip over their religion, while the working class, and immigrants of society hold on to their faith tighter?
I don't see a campaign anywhere, that visibly wearing a wig for religious reasons being thought of as against the liberal values of the West (although in France it's not hard to find anti Semitism). Orthodox married Jewish women who shave their temple hair and cover it from sight of the public, with expensive sheitel wigs, is seen as a seemingly less oppressive gesture than head covering with say a scarf? Is it? Poorer women can’t afford wigs and make do with kerchiefs, caps or headscarves. Sheitel wigs don’t go unnoticed, but they are more discreet perhaps (as realistic or profoundly unrealistic wigs can either be accepted or not depending on what your rabbi deems acceptable) as a means for Jewish women to cover their modesty.
I have a belief that religion does more harm than good, and I do side with the secularist view that people cannot carry on making excuses for religious groups, who keep teaching sexist, homophobic, and/or racist, views as part of their "Holy Book"/ "Culture"/"Core beliefs" as these beliefs do not lie alongside liberal and mostly secular Britain. What I do not want to dismiss, is the freedom of expression, of ones beliefs and faith. Your right to religious freedom. People - women and men - should be able to present themselves as they wish, and if that means honestly and modestly, let that be, not many complain of people not wearing any clothes at all. Headscarves don't hurt people's eyes. Skullcaps, turbans and Punjabi pajama don't either. This human need to eradicate or ignore people who look different to themselves needs to stop.
I would really like to unlock the meaning of this shadowy and historic practice, in many faiths around the globe. Because as much as I want religious freedom for women and sartorial freedom for everyone, I understand how many find it hard to disassociate head covering from some sort of form of repression.
When a garment has been used for female repression in the past, it is harder to separate its political and social meaning, from its initial function. Namely because so many women have suffered human rights abuses in say, Afghanistan, where by under war lords, and subsequently Taliban regimes, women were treated like they were in the same category of dogs. Forbidden to be educated, to be able to work, and critically, it was illegal to go outside with out covering oneself fully, with a burqa. If a garment has been used in such a way to cause so much degradation as part of an oppressive force against women, how do you separate the meaning? How do you stop viewing in black and white?
On the whole, women who choose to cover their hair with a hijab in the West have chosen to do so, within their community and feel they themselves are in comfort and are abiding by their desire to be modest, in Allah’s eyes. Many Muslim women in the West may say, they personally feel liberated by freely choosing to wear the headscarf, and see it as a defiant turn away from the sexual objectification that has become ubiquitous in the West, and whilst they have chosen to cover or not, they state women who are forced to wear a veil is not right. Neither is it right to be forced to not cover in public, in order to be allowed to work, have an education and leave the house. The key word here is choice.
The ban on headscarves in schools in France means, that Muslim girls are ghettoised in their education, because of their choice of clothing. Surely being a liberal person wanting freedom, means that you should have the right to dress yourself for your own reasons, and in no way do I think this is about people wearing skull caps, and nun's wearing habits in public. That stigma of covering your hair in a black head scarf, singles you out in modern Britain (blacklisted even) for being different, for being someone who is apparently happy to be "oppressed" or perhaps needs saving.
Something needs to be done, to turn this symbol of the opposite of everything western (and therefore opposite of good) a negative image into simple a piece of cloth. I want to propose the idea of head covering as a normal thing, as something that transcends religion, fashion, the inherent sexist values of countries, who have not had women’s lib yet (I am of a Muslim heritage and understand the shocking sexism that exists casually, as it did in the West perhaps seventy years ago, there are places that are better and have moved on a lot, but there is a lot for work to be done feminism wise is the South east, and not to mention Gay Lib too). But before I jump the gun, maybe women who cover their heads DO want to be seen as separate, as to be more modest, to rebuff the ladette culture of late, but they may not necessarily want to have the stigma attached either of being weak or second class. I think covering, is sometimes a means to get on with life, a compromise between family, heritage, and a working educated life.
There's not much representation of positive women who cover their hair in the media or elsewhere in the western world, as it's just seen as REPRESSIVE FULL STOP. No matter how politically correct a society or bumbling government is. There is this dancing tiptoeing about it all... I know because I've covered my hair in public, and the unease I feel with myself, probably comes within as I know the messages and marker it can be, but the irony is I don't cover my hair, ever for religious reasons. (Unless I'm in a religious place, country, where it is the Azan call to prayer) And suddenly I want to shout out the seemingly paradox, of "I am a free woman who just happens to cover her hair today!" And somehow I want to link this in with how ordinary practising Muslim women today feel, I want to find out the story behind the women we think are repressed and spoon fed.
Read the rest of the other FFB posts here