By: Dr. Sharif A. Azim

Finally, let us shed some light on what is considered in the West as the greatest symbol of women's oppression and servitude, the veil or the head cover.

Is it true that there is no such thing as the veil in the Judea-Christian tradition? Let us set the record straight. According to Dr. Menachem M. Bayer (Prof. of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University). The Jewish women in Rabbinic literature, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering, which sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free. He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying," It is not like the daughter of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered" and "Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen�a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty ". Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessing or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman's hair is considered "nudity".

Dr Brayer also mentions that "During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman's failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred Zuzim for this offense." Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the Jewish woman was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The Veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman's inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband.

What about the Christian tradition? It is well known that Catholic Nuns have been covering their heads for hundreds of years, but that is not all. St. Paul in the New Testaments made some very interesting statements about the veils:" Now I want you to realize that the head of everyman is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head-it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover head��..Among the Canon laws of the Catholic church today, there is a law that requires women to cover their heads in church. Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the present day. The reason for the veil, as offered by the Church leaders, is that "The head covering is a symbol of woman's subjugation to the man and to God", which is the same logic introduced by St. Paul in the New Testament.

From all the above evidence, it is obvious that Islam did not invent the head cover. However, Islam did endorse it. The Quran urges believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty and then urges the believing women to extend their head covers to cover the neck and the bosom:" Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty�.And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms�". The Quran is still clear: "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested"

This is the whole point, modesty is prescribed to protect women from molestation or simply, modesty is protection. Thus, the only purpose of the veil in Islam is protection. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil of the Christian tradition, is not a sign of man's authority over woman nor is it a sign of woman's subjection to man. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil in Jewish tradition, is not a sign of luxury and distinction of some noble married women. The Islamic veil is only a sign of modesty with the purpose of protecting women, all women. The Islamic philosophy is that it is always better to be safe than sorry. In fact, the Quran is so concerned with protecting women's bodies and women's reputation that a man who dares to falsely accuse a woman of unchastity will be severely punished:" And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and will produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations)-Flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors"


Compare this strict Quranic attitude with the extremely lax punishment for rape in the Bible:" if a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty skeles of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives�. One must ask a simple question here, who is really punished? The man who only paid a fine for rape, or the girl who is forced to marry the man who raped her and live with him until he dies? Another question that also should be asked is this: which is more protective of women, the Quranic strict attitude or the Biblical lax attitude? Some people especially in the west would tend to ridicule the whole argument of modesty for protection. Their argument is that the best protection is the spread of education, civilized behavior, and self restraint.

We would say; fine but not enough. If "civilization" is enough protection, then why is it that women in North America dare not walk alone in a dark street-or even cross an empty parking lot? If Education is the solution, then why is it that a respected university likes Queen's is has a "walk home service" mainly for female students on campus? If self restraint is the answer, then why are the cases of sexual harassment in the workplace reported on the news media every day? A sample of those accused of sexual harassment, the last few years, includes: navy officers, Managers, University professors, senators and the President of the United States!

It is one of the great ironies of the World today that the very same headscarf revered as a sign of "Holiness" when worn for the purpose of showing the authority of man by Catholic Nuns, is reviled as a sign of "oppression" when worn for the purpose of protection by Muslim women.

About the Author:

www.the-islam-way.com


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