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Hijab is older than Islam

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The History of the Hijab in East and West

 In the West, the veil symbolizes the refusal to integrate into society, and on the other hand, it symbolizes the self-search for a “third” path and the demand for justice between classes and between the sexes. Susanne Enderwitz, a researcher in Islamic studies, reviews the history of the veil in East and West

It symbolizes the veil in the West to reject the merger and refused to engage in society, as it symbolizes the other hand to search self by “third” and to demand justice between classes and genders. Susanne Enderwitz, a researcher in Islamic studies, reviews the history of the veil in East and West

The veil of women in the Near East is considered much older than Islam, and it spread in Europe in another form until the beginning of modern civilization. And because poetry was considered in ancient times a center of vitality, it received great attention, and this was not limited to women’s hair only, and the evidence for this is what is narrated by the story of Samson and Delilah in the Torah, that story that took multiple forms in the art of painting and European music.

But despite this, women’s hair throughout the ages had to be subject to special precautionary measures, and with the exception of the twenties, we find that conservative women did not go out to the city without the hat until the middle of the last century, and we find linguistic expressions that mean marriage – which gradually become extinct – It indicates the “taming” strategy that women were subjected to after their marriage.

The veil as a class symbol

Islam was not abnormal in its interest in the subject of poetry. Islam took the danger posed by women’s unveiling more seriously than Judaism and Christianity, and this is evidenced by its call for the wearing of veils and the establishment of harems (houses for harems), or perhaps this interest was due to the fact that the Islamic society in the Middle Ages enjoyed With great economic resources, to the extent that he could dispense with women in the field of workAnd they are a large part of society—and make their job only to reproduce?

On the other hand, the Bedouin and peasant women in the Islamic society did not wear the veil and did not live in the sanctuary. Wearing the veil was the preserve of the women of the city from the rich classes, and it was a distinctive symbol for them that caused the poor class to hate them..

new women

This phenomenon changed first in Egypt – that Muslim country that was subject to the influence of the West – and became considered subversive. In 1899, the reformer Qassem Amin published his article under the title “The Liberation of Women” and two years later he followed it with an article supporting his views under the title “The New Woman” in response to objections Hardcore Al-Azhar sheikhs. He believes that the deterioration of the economy is due to the dispensation of good labour, i.e. women, and he also believes that the harm that may befall future generations is due to the fact that they will be brought up by half-educated mothers..

As a result, upper-class women put on their headscarves for the next two decades, participated in demonstrations, and fought to get into college. After decades, especially after the 1952 revolution that made Gamal Abdel Nasser the leader of the Arab and Islamic world and the third world as a whole, programs were established to educate girls and set conditions to facilitate the work of women, and Cairo in the sixties was appearing as a civilized city in which the emerging workforce that was looking to the West as an example.

Back to the roots

However, the situation changed a lot with the death of Abdel Nasser after his heavy defeat in the war against Israel in June 1967, and it also changed with the adoption of Anwar Sadat, who succeeded him in power, a policy that created the atmosphere for the religious to help him overcome the Nasserist left, and opened the doors wide for foreign investors..

That is why the aspiring middle class – doctors, lawyers, and engineers – found it worried about its future, and then a “Islamic movement” emerged from among this middle class that was not among the clergy, calling for a return to the principles in order to get rid of the bad social situation, that is, to return to the principles and provisions Islam.

With the emergence of this movement, the veil of women appeared again, not only in Egypt, but also in other Islamic countries where the glow of civilization changed to disappointment. We find the civil war in Lebanon, the Iranian revolution, and the postponement of resolving the Palestinian issue, all of which contributed to shifting people’s attention to returning to Islam for salvation, and the slogan became “Islam is the solution.”“.

The return to Islam was, from the beginning, only a reaction to modern civilization and one of its phenomena, and it was not a return to the “medieval ages.” This also applies to the veil, which was not a new invention and was not a precedent in the history of Islam. ( The veil of women differed from one region to another and was seen as a substandard social phenomenon, and today we see it understood as the “Islamic” standard, but it has taken many forms. This modern civilization is reflected in the function of the veil, which does not suggest reaction, as the veil has a cultural, political and social importance in addition to its religious significance..

Hijab between West and East

On the external level, the veil symbolizes in the West and Western societies the refusal to integrate and the refusal to integrate into society, as it also symbolizes the self-search for a correct “third” way. Equity between classes and between sexes.

This is something that the West does not easily notice, because “Islamic dress”, for men or women, protects the one who wears it against expensive clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, and the like, and it also enables him to get rid of what appears to indicate his social upbringing that may disturb him psychologically. Moreover, Islamic dress helps girls and womenThose who are still governed by men – in protection from sexual harassment and the path to education and employment is opened for them.

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The veil has multiple functions, some of which may be understood as a symbol of civility, and some of which may be understood as a symbol of retrograde, so it is – for example – sometimes a tool by which the father prevents his daughter from continuing education, and at other times a means for the girl to persuade her father to continue her education. It is difficult to understand the function of the veil if we consider the Islamic concept that sees the veil as the focus of the struggle for true Islam and against the imitation of the West..

It is a completely new event in the history of Islam that the woman’s body becomes a stage for the outbreak of an imaginary civil war between Islam and the pagan West, while the West appears – from the point of view of Islam – in an ugly picture because of its misbehavior towards the sexes, generations, the family and all people..

On the contrary, true Islam lies in its “original” purity, with oppressive features, because the functions of the two sexes are defined and understood as ideal. But there are other considerations that do not help a Muslim girl when searching for her identity in this maze because of the different demands that await parents, school, friends, place of learning, religious community or residential neighborhood.

Written by Susanne Enderwitz, Qantara 2004
Translated by Abdel Latif Shuaib

Susanne Enderwitz is a researcher in Islamic studies at the University of Heidelberg



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