Saturday, October 07, 2006

Muslims covering up

Yesterday Jack Straw decided to spark the debate over the Muslim headscarf-veil combo. News reports were saturated with young Muslim women invoking the ideas that clothing is the realm of personal choice, and/or that their clothing is the expression of a moral choice, implying in both cases that it is not within the scope of politicians to place limits upon them. (Fortunately the cloth that covers the women’s faces is not mentioned in any scripture, so I didn’t have to sit and listen to chauvinistic theology).

But I want to leave all these concerns behind, and say that, with all of this as it may be, there is an issue so important that it dwarfs all discussion on the topic to date and by reflection on which alone we shall come to the most solid agreement.

Women are beautiful. This is the positive account that deserves genuine and careful thought, that it is beauty itself that is at stake here; that we are allowing beauty to be suppressed and removed from daily life. Covering up the faces of women and the shapes of their bodies – with the result that they look more like tumours than human beings – is an assault against the value of life itself. For, you see, I am convinced that it is beauty and the potential for beauty that makes life worth living, and I will argue to the ends of the Earth that it is proper that you believe this too. And by simple observation, should we accept that the meaning of life is beauty, I say that the most crucial aspect of real beauty – the beauty of women – is the most piercing and central concern of our lives.

It would constitute a very major disaster to those who love women if we should find ourselves no longer preoccupied by pretty faces and elegant movements, quirky expressions and seductive gestures. And to degrees and mixtures beyond the requirements of any banal sexuality, for it is in their subtle combination of these behaviours and others, in their delightful intelligence, charm and good nature that women are so deeply beautiful and utterly irreplaceable. To hide their hair and their skin, their shapes and very faces, is to banish elements from the most magical formulae, the discoveries of which rend our hearts from our bodies, take from us our hopes and fears and do with them we know not what, set light to our souls and bid us never to recover.

Unfortunately, as the moral arguments in favour of covering women go, it is said that it is done to avoid the sexual attention of men. And while we know that this is a chauvinistic concern about the availability to other men of a man’s property (his wife), the women on television these days seem to want to present this as a way of stepping outside of mainstream culture where women are sex-objects. We must resist this. To do away with women’s bodies because of the way pop culture treats them is akin to destroying great art simply to avoid letting idiots look at it.


Blogger News is Good said...

The more common, and more potent, argument for covering up is that it stops a woman's own vanity - not that it keeps men from looking at them, but it keeps them from looking at themselves. Many have said this improves their self-esteem, because they are not under pressure to look a certain way.

This, of course, again says that beauty is wrong. But it mostly says that women are wrong. It disturbs me most that Muslim women are supposed to cover up, to disappear, and to not really take part in society. They are the hidden ones. They don't matter. To me, people should be allowed to cover up if they wish, for I have no claim to see their beauty. This represents itself to me more as a feminist issue, and I would not be anywhere near as concerned if muslim men had such pressures to hide themselves too. But I guess they don't have to hide their vanity, because they're not vain in the least, and if they are it quite simply isn't as bad as a women's vanity, because they're women, and not as good as men. Men are great. Let's celebrate men. That isn't vain whatsoever.

1:41 PM  
Blogger hazma said...

Interesting observation, but one must look beyond what you see to understand. As far as i have understood the texts, Islam never speaks about hiding women. As far as the viel is concerned, it is written that men and women should cover what is different about them, This stands for both sexes and not just women. There is no question of vanity here, and no question of hiding. Muslim women are allowed to go out in the world as much as a man is.
Now we must also consider History when we look at how such "norms" came about. If you look at the history of any civilization of the period, we see women not as mothers, not as wives, not as daughters or sisters. Whether you talk about the Romans, the Greeks, The Bryzantines, The egyptians or even the Chinese or Arabs, we see women as objects of desire. They served as hookers and mistresses, They served as Court room dancers and slaves. We hear of harems of women but never men. They served the patriachal society for their pleasure alone. Even the great Cleopatra`s claim to fame has been her seduction. islam preaches purity of the mind of the soul. Its easy to sit back at home and make comments about what should be and what shoudlnt be. But to actually understand in depth the reasons behind such behaviour is very necessary before we ignorantly pass judgement about women behind hijabs looking like tumours or them trying to subdue their vanity. I`m myself a student, and wont be able to say much in front of your educated comments, but its a shame that in a world which claims to be so "modern" and free thinking, that women have been reduced to "pop star" figures. To say that a women is being chained because she refuses to reveal herself to those other than her kin, is simply stupid. If one feels that a woman can only express herself by the way she looks, by the make up she applies or by the skin she shows, then i`m sorry to say, limited is your thinking. And the very thought that the hijab is to protect manliness is ridiculous. After all, a man is nowhere in this world without a women. When hawas(Eve) was created for Adam it was to find him his perfect companion. Even by going by the texts, a women exits as a part of man, she is equal. Maybe in physical strength weaker and needs to be protected, but her emotional strength far surpasses any man.

I understand i`m going slightly offtopic, and apologise if anything which i might have said might be untrue or have hurt anyone`s sentimentality, i repeat, i am myself a student and extremely ignorant about the holy texts. But it would be a nice change to see people taking a more liberal look at beliefs, and not pass judgement over what they feel about missing out on eye candy.

Thank you
May allah bless you.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Atum said...

Thanks for your clear and interesting thoughts Hazma. As you rightly note there are manifold and I daresay possibly even interesting reasons why women cover themselves in these ways, but I'm certain that my argument surpasses all those I have heard on the subject - if only we have the sensitivity to it. It is a shame that there is less eye candy in the world, and this lends some weight to my argument, though I understand that if this is what I am trying to get across it will simply annoy and not be a very good argument at all. I am speaking more roundly of love, and how our physical bodies are inseperable from the human reality of love, and how the subtle appreciation of human form and movement is something to be cherished and even fought for. It is a shame that people are dogmatically putting forward Jack Straw's view - that interpersonal communication is very difficult when you can't see someone's face - without expanding it somewhat to include concerns other than economic or political expediency. This, I feel, is where my argument can take over.

Thanks for your thoughts on the relationship between the sexes, Cleopatra et al, but such observations tend to muddy rather than clear the waters, as everyone tends to have views on sexual history and there's just too much involved in actually presenting an iron-clad perspective to bother taking any of them seriously enough. This said, I do agree with you that women have been sex objects (or sexual subordinates) for much of history. I would add that this has never hindered the reality of love even though it has had to find morally irksome expressions (and ones that we rightly hate). We are in danger of disabling the conditions for love and that is just going too far I think. But as I said, let's leave these kind of analyses alone (my amendment looks more than a little shaky I must admit) and have a crack at the immediate problems.

Again, thanks for your comments, I was kind of hoping to see an erudite muslim as yourself offer a different persepctive.

5:12 PM  

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