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Roots of Islamic Hijab

Reader comment on item: Ban the Burqa - and the Niqab Too

Submitted by Jahanshah Rashidian (Germany), Aug 2, 2007 at 15:52

Islamic hijab is a tool of preventing contacts between "non-mahram". "Non-mahram" describes the men or women with whom an Islamic adult can marry, marriageable. Therefore, for Muslims, there are two groups of people in the society:

The first group called "mahrams" is a little group of non-marriageable closed family members - parents, grand-parents, children, brothers/sisters, uncles/aunts, grand-children, stepchildren, parents-in-law and stepparents.

The second group, called non-mahram, is the rest of society. A Muslim woman should wear hijab in front of all adult males of this group to prevent any sort of contact with them.

Non-mahram is the most determinant factor of character formation in an Islamic society. It has created a solid base for collective conscious or unconscious culture, traditions, norms, and identity. Non-mahram not only created hijab, but In extension, a range of typical aspects in the socity. It is cumbersomely present in any Islamic society. For example, we can retrace its footsteps in Islamic architecture:

A typical Muslim house is built around a central, mostly rectangular, courtyard. To respect the dogma, the interior space is important, not the outside. Therefore, a part of the house is separated for females. The men's reception (or guest) room tends to be located next to the entrance lobby of the house so that non-mahram visitors do not see the females. The windows are inside not outside of the house so that eye contact between non-mahrams does not occur. In the big house, where several generations can dwell together, measures are imposed so that the contact between non-mahrams like cousins or brother/sister-in-law of opposite sex dwellers does not lead to an eventual sexual temptation.

Stricter than a traditional Islamic house, we see marks of the non-mahram culture in the imposition of gender segregation in Islamic palaces; no access to the harem area of palace, except for castrated servants, was possible.

Such palaces had to conform to the taboo rules separating non-mahrams from each other. Woman's body is the red line of visual and acoustic fields. Therefore, not only the interrelationship between the dwellers but any activity in these places is influenced by the norm of non-mahram. Paintings, frescos, music, theatre, ceremonies..., are all male domains. From these palaces an official, normative style was generated and then extended into the whole society.

"Madrassas" (traditional schools) were built mostly for male Muslim children. Such a school had to respect the dogma of non-mahram by imposing gender segregation as a moral requirement. It taught the phobia of sexual temptation to little children.

All of those measures which allegedly lead to the sex segregation are reflected from deflexion of non-mahram in the Islamic societies. This is even more present than its religion permits. In fact, it is deeper established than religion itself.

Since in the Islamic view of morality, touching women may lead to temptation and immorality, a Muslim woman should not show her beauty, adornment and dress to a non-mahram. Therefore the form of head-to-foot hijab with a black cloth, which is not transparent, is recommended for Islamic hijab.

One of the main components of Islamic hijab's dogma is misogyny, which is older than hijab itself. It is a primitive tradition of social hierarchy, when the strong sex had the upper hand.

The dominant idea in Islam -- not completely different from other established religions -- considers that women, by nature, desire to be looked at, adored and cherished, while the man is inclined towards non-mahram women. Therefore, Allah warns women about their nature, which may lead men astray if women do not exercise caution and take necessary safeguards.

Hijab in its different forms began to disappear with the adoption of Western culture, but the Islamic regime in Iran gave it new life in recent decades. It is alleged to be the only safe guarantee for the women's protection against the danger of brazen indecency of western culture.

Effects of sex segregation have left crucial results in social backwardness. Under the strict conditions of Islamic hijab, work conditions, education, sport, and entertainment are particularly difficult for women. Women's non-participation in the economy and production of social needs is another reason for backwardness.

Today, islamic society seems to be so amalgamated with the Islamic hijab that it represents an obvious norm for such societies.

Islamic hijab is today an important blockade to woman's freedom in the Islamic world.


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