Unveiling Part Three: Freedom of Choice

After writing at length about the empowerment that I have found since beginning to dress modestly, I would like to write a short conclusion on the issues of forced covering AND uncovering, as they are both very relevant to the topic.


To begin, I know that in my experience with male colleagues and fellow university students, hijab has added an extra layer of respect and space to our relationships, and while this is typical of personal relationships I also understand that hijab is not a one-size-fits-all solution to things like street harassment and sexual assault.


Not only in Algeria, but also in the U.S. and U.K., street harassment is a huge issue. Even I, walking around in drapey fabric from head to foot, get whistled at and catcalled in the streets of London, and men still undress me with their eyes in the markets of Annaba. These types of issues are deeply rooted societal, political, and cultural issues with sexism, and though I am a strong proponent of modest dress, no amount of covering will change this until there is a shift in society itself. I would highly recommend Laura Bates' Everyday Sexism for a very in depth study of types of sexist issues.


This is one reason why I, as a covered Muslim woman, will never judge or force by beliefs upon any other woman, covered or otherwise. To combat the sexism that is so deeply entrenched in our societies in both the East and West, it is more important to stand together as women to end men's policing of women's bodies. Many laws on women's bodies are passed by all male governments who, while they probably have wives and mothers, will never personally feel the effects of their policies. This includes not only things such as abortion, contraceptives, equal wages, and street harassment/assault, but also the very widespread issue of policymakers putting themselves in control of what women should and should not be wearing.


In countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, this can be seen in the forced covering of women. In Iran (the case I am more familiar with) legally it is required for a woman to have her hair covered and her body to the wrists and ankles covered while in a public space. Being uncovered is punishable by law, and applies even to tourists, non-Muslims and those coming to work or study in the country. Women can also be punished for such things as wearing bright nail polish, or too much makeup or obvious jewellery.


I know that in recent years the rules have been lightened a bit, but it is still an issue of severe oppression of women's rights, that has absolutely nothing to do with Islam.


Yes, I firmly believe that it is 100% obligatory in Islam to cover yourself modestly, for men and women. But I also firmly believe in God's statement in the Qur'an that there “is no compulsion in religion” (Qur'an 2:256). Though it is mandatory, it is up to every single woman to choose whether or not to practice this rule. Just like it is up to every single Muslim to make the choice not to drink alcohol or eat pork, or to fast during Ramadan and pray the five daily prayers. One individual aspect such as this cannot be used to judge whether someone is a good or bad person/Muslim.


Everyone is on a journey, and I myself can remember a time when I wasn't ready to dress as modestly as I do now.


By forcing women to cover in a certain way, you are forcing them to do something that has no meaning to their religious beliefs, and may in fact even be turning them away from Islam.


On the other side of the same coin, we have the forced uncovering of women. Many see this as less of an issue, or even a non-issue because you are “liberating” them, “modernising” them, or “freeing” them from their fathers, husbands, and brainwashed ideas. But there is absolutely no liberation for a woman in being forced to wear clothes she is not comfortable in, and making it illegal to dress the way she chooses. In the name of “freedom” or “Westernization” you are, in fact, becoming as bad as the oppressors that force the hijab on women.


I am speaking mainly here about bans on veils in public spaces such as those in place in France and Germany, which make it nearly impossible for Muslim women to dress the way they are comfortable, hold on to their beliefs, and simultaneously live their lives by going to school/university/work/etc., but this also applies to harassment and assaults on Muslim women because of how they are dressed that in turn lead to them living their lives in fear.


A friend of mine recently posted a quote on Facebook, and though I unfortunately cannot remember who the author is, I think it sums up the point quite nicely:


There is nothing inherently liberating in being uncovered, nor is there anything inherently liberating in being covered. The freedom is in the choice.


Published by Ashley Bounoura

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