Many people are curious about the status of women in Islamic countries, and even Muslim women living in our own western countries. It tends to be intimidating for westerners, or non-Muslims, to interact with women at Walmart or Carrefour wearing a head covering.
Indeed, France outlawed the public wearing of head coverings in 2003. Ostensibly, this is due to the perceived restrictions on women imposed on them by the men of their family.
But is that how Middle Easterners interpret it? How are women viewed by their own culture?
Through a series of articles I'll be linking together as I write them, we'll get to know Muslim women better - as we foreigners become more comfortable with them, we can build bridges of friendship and possibly help bring peace to our world.
As I've written in other articles, no one generalization is true for all of the Middle East. Muslim women from different Middle Eastern countries will experience vastly different lives due to the educational and socio-economic status of each woman.
- In Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Jordan, and Egypt, women are educated and commonly found working at all levels of society.
- In the Persian Gulf States, most Muslim women do NOT work. The few who do, are found in all-female environments, like schools and banks, with the exception of those in medicine.
- Men and Women following traditional Islam, do NOT see the Islamic customs as restrictions; but rather as protections for the women
- Traditional Muslim societies are Patriarchical. This means the most senior male is usually the head of the family, and decisions are made by the men.
- Islamic feminism is on the rise all over the Middle East: This may be interpreted with a growing wave of concern on the part of Muslim women and an increasing number of men to seek improvement in the areas of women's rights, gender equality, and social justice.
- Most all Muslim women cover their heads - it is necessary to be modest and to protect the honor of the family.
This last generalization has frequently been politicized, and become the prevailing benchmark for the low status of Muslim women. The Syrian government placed a ban on the hijab (women's covering)in the
1980s, Turkey and Tunisia persecute women who wear the hijab since the early 1990s, Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to enforce the hijab, and France outlawed the hijab in late 2003.
The rest of the world looks on Muslim women being required to wear a head covering and modest clothing as part of the "suppression" of their "rights." Many countries have sought to "liberate" Muslim women.
Hmmmm, I suppose I have a right to wear a bikini to church. I certainly could do that. But I wouldn't feel very comfortable, and nor would my husband and children walking next to me.
Some of my Afghan female friends do not want to wear the burqa (same thing as Hijab), but they still do wear a chadar (head coverng), and they dress modestly when going on the street. The head covering, even the Hijab, affords a woman the anonymity and protection from unwelcome stares when out in public.
The covering of women in some ways heightens the mysteriousness of women, and makes them all the more desirable for men to look at. Covering up certainly helps make life easier, and brings honor and respect to the men of the family: their women are known as modest women. Far from being suppressive, it IS protection and unfortunately is one of main issues raised by non-Muslims.
Wearing a headcovering, or Hijab or Burqa, does NOT lower the status of women, but helps them accomplish their work and even succeed in their professions, and help improve their own societies.