Moyra Dale discusses various forms of veiling among Muslim women, the origins of veiling in Islamic teachings, differing legal and social attitudes toward veiling, and the fashion and personal expression aspects of wearing the hijab.


 Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Moyra Dale Lecture: Muslim Women & Coverings


In this session, we’re going to talk a little bit about how Muslim women cover themselves and why. Often, Muslims ask us, Mary was veiled. They see that in the Jesus film, and I think that’s an accurate reflection of her culture at the time. Why don’t Christians veil now? The classic image of the Muslim world is a veiled woman, yet there’s wide variety of forms and interpretations availing right across the Muslim world.


Some theological, far more cultural. So there’s different forms. The hijab usually refers to just covering the hair and the neck, the body. The nakab covers the face completely. The burqa is used for the, more completely covering outfit that we see in Afghanistan often, and the chador is the, wrap around that the Iranian woman used, 1 big, piece of material to cover themselves.


So where does all this come from? Well, you may have looked at some of these verses in the earlier session on verses on women in the Quran. There’s 2 particular chapters, 33 where the wives of the prophets are told not to display themselves. There’s another section saying if you come and eat, eat and then off you go quickly and ask for the prophet’s wives behind the screen. And that said to relate to when Muhammad had just married Zainab and some of his followers were hanging around and talking, and he wanted to actually retire with Zainab.


So these verses were revealed. And then in verse 59, it goes on to talk about the prophet’s wives and the daughters and the women among all believers should draw their cloaks over their bodies. That will be better so they’ll be known as respectable woman so as not to be annoyed and God is ever forgiving, most merciful. So that extends it just from the prophet’s wives. Maybe they should be an example for everyone else, but it also belongs to all believing women.


One of the traditions mentions that when Mohammed married Safia or when he took Safia, the Jewish girl, people were wondering, is she going to be his wife or his concubine? And they said we’ll know whether he puts a veil on or not. If he veils her, then she’s gonna be one of his wives. So it was a sign of the more respectable women, women who could afford to be veiled, stay at home, didn’t have to go out and work in the field sometimes. The other chapter is Enur chapter 24 where the believing women again, all the women are asked to lower their gaze, cover their private parts, don’t show off their adornment, and draw their veils over their bosoms.


So 60 suggests there’s a bit more freedom if you’re past the age of marrying and childbearing, but you’re still encouraged to cover. So what should they cover? Well, that’s where a lot of a difference comes in. Some people say they should cover everything. Nothing should show.


Maybe just one eye so they can see where they’re going. Other people suggest that just the body and the hair be covered, not the face and hands. Woman’s hair, like women’s voices, is often associated with being aura or shameful or particularly distracting for men. Other people just say it’s about basic modesty, clothes that don’t emphasize the form. The most common is just the simple covering of the head and around the neck and shoulders, but you’ll see a wide variety.


Who do they cover in front of? Basically non related men, father, brother, son, men who they’re not in a potential marriage relationship with. And they also cover in front of God in formal prayer. So in Muslim understanding, when they kneel to pray, God is understood as unfamiliar or distant in relationship to the women. When do they cover?


Well, the consensus suggests puberty is the best time, but some people I know get their daughters into hijab a lot younger. Other young woman would say, when I get older, I’m gonna get more religious. That’s when I’ll cover. Often when women make the pilgrimage, when they come back, they’ll wear the they’ll wear the hijab and stay in hijab. In some countries, it’s compulsory, Saudi Arabia, Iran today, Afghanistan, Northern Nigeria, some of the Sudanese states.


In other countries, it’s forbidden. Iran under the Shah, it was forbidden. Turkey under Ataturk, France today. So some legalize for it, some against it. Others are content to give people a bit more freedom.


Some countries will say this particular form, maybe the all encompassing form, is forbidden. There’s a whole range of meanings. It’s not just about theology and the interpretation of these verses. Sometimes it can be a fashion statement. If I’m sitting in Southeast Asia in an airport, there’ll be advertisements on the television showing all the different stylish ways that young women can wear the hijab and look gorgeous.


Particularly, it’s a fashion statement when it’s worn with tight fitting tops and pants. But most people would say that’s not really a hijab. A hip hop journalist, Adisa Banjoko, says our deen, our religion, is not meant to be rocked. I see these so called Muslim sisters wearing a hijab and then a bustier or a hijab with their belly button sticking out. You don’t put on a hijab and try and rock it.


On the opposite side, wearing the hijab often means that a young woman is modest, and therefore, she’s marriageable, someone who young guys can look at and think about marrying. In many situations, it can be a protection against being harassed. As it said in Surah 33 verse 59, cover yourself so that you won’t be harassed. And in countries where women are subjected to a lot of harassment in public space, the hijab can be really important in in protecting against that. It can be part of identifying the self as a Muslim and then particular forms of hijab signal particular allegiances within Islam to different groups.


Or it can mean anti colonial identity. I am making a stand that I belong to this country not influenced by colonialism. It’s only a piece of material, but it carries a whole complex of meanings of identity and belonging. Don’t make too quick assumptions about what it means, but ask your friend about how she understands it, when she donned it, why she’s wearing it, if she is.