Questioning the Veil

Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women

Marnia Lazreg
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Questioning the Veil
    Book Description:

    Across much of the world today, Muslim women of all ages are increasingly choosing to wear the veil. Is this trend a sign of rising piety or a way of asserting Muslim pride? And does the veil really provide women freedom from sexual harassment? Written in the form of letters addressing all those interested in this issue,Questioning the Veilexamines the inconsistent and inadequate reasons given for the veil, and points to the dangers and limitations of this highly questionable cultural practice. Marnia Lazreg, a preeminent authority in Middle East women's studies, combines her own experiences growing up in a Muslim family in Algeria with interviews and the real-life stories of other Muslim women to produce this nuanced argument for doing away with the veil.

    An incisive mix of the personal and political, supported by meticulous research,Questioning the Veilwill compel all readers to reconsider their views of this controversial and sensitive topic.

    Lazreg stresses that the veil is not included in the five pillars of Islam, asks whether piety sufficiently justifies veiling, explores the adverse psychological effects of the practice on the wearer and those around her, and pays special attention to the negative impact of veiling for young girls. Lazreg's provocative findings indicate that far from being spontaneous, the trend toward wearing the veil has been driven by an organized and growing campaign that includes literature, DVDs, YouTube videos, and courses designed by some Muslim men to teach women about their presumed rights under the veil.

    An incisive mix of the personal and political, supported by meticulous research,Questioning the Veilwill compel all readers to reconsider their views of this controversial and sensitive topic.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3092-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In my previously published work, I have consistently objected to the manner in which Muslim women have been portrayed in books as well as the media. On the one hand, they have been represented as oppressed by their religion, typically understood as being fundamentally inimical to women’s social progress. From this perspective, the veil has traditionally been discussed as the most tangible sign of women’s “oppression.” On the other hand, Muslim women have been described as the weakest link in Muslim societies, which should be targeted for political propaganda aimed at killing two birds with one stone: showing that Islam...

  5. LETTER ONE Modesty
    (pp. 15-40)

    When I was a child, growing up in a colony, one day my maternal grandmother noticed two small swellings on my chest that slightly raised my blue silk dress. Concluding that I was becoming a woman, she said that it was time for me to wear the veil, the white piece of cotton or silk that women wore then in Algeria. My grandmother’s argument struck me at the time for its bluntness. “A woman should hide her ugliness or her beauty. That’s the way it should be. You must protect yourself!” she said, to my dismay.

    Forty years later, in...

  6. LETTER TWO Sexual Harassment
    (pp. 41-52)

    If modesty were a main function of the veil, women would not be the objects of sexual harassment. Yet, it is common knowledge that sexual harassment is rife in stores, markets, in the workplace, and on crowded buses, among other places. A number of women take up veiling because they feel that this is the best way to ward off men’s advances. They accept the notion that the veil “protects” women, and they think that men who are not their relatives share in this understanding of the function of veiling. Although there are men who value veiled women and treat...

  7. LETTER THREE Cultural Identity
    (pp. 53-66)

    Amina, a senior in a New York City college, wore the hijab, a long and dark-colored flowing robe and a layered scarf wrapped around her head and draped over her shoulders, for a year in 2003. As a second-generation immigrant from Southeast Asia, she was critical of the treatment of Muslims in the media. She felt that wearing the hijab would show that she is proud of her Muslim heritage while at the same time asserting her right to be different and to be respected in her differentness. A year later, she took her long garment off, keeping only her...

  8. LETTER FOUR Conviction and Piety
    (pp. 67-96)

    I was in my home in Algiers in 2007 when a friend, Anissa, rang the bell. I opened the door to a woman with her head tightly wrapped in a blue and white scarf, wearing a loose, long-sleeved tunic hanging below her hips over black slacks. I was surprised that Anissa had taken up the hijab as I knew that neither she nor her three daughters had ever worn it. As she entered the hallway, she immediately said, in anticipation of my question, “I am wearing it out of conviction. You can well imagine that if I did not wear...

  9. LETTER FIVE Why Women Should Not Wear the Veil
    (pp. 97-132)

    My previous letters have shown how justifications for wearing the veil are often more mundane than religious. There are a number of reasons why women should not wear a veil. These include the need to recapture the historic role that women have played as agents of change; doing away with the physical and psychological effects of veiling; awareness of the effect of the veil in the workplace; and demystifying propaganda that portrays women’s desire for progress as mimicry of the “West” and thus an offense to their culture and religion.

    The history of Muslim societies is fraught with instances when...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 133-146)
  11. References
    (pp. 147-152)
  12. Index
    (pp. 153-156)