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May 6th, 2010, by Slimane Zeghidour

Slimane Zeghidour

View Slimane Zeghidour’s GEF profile here

Supporters and enemies of the burqa are opposed on everything except one essential point – they all agree that it might be a canonical obligation. The former, as true believers, legalists or fully fledged fundamentalist activists, view it as an expression of faith that ennobles and frees the female believer from the male leer. For the latter, as staunch feminists and, sometimes, indubitable Islam haters, it flags Islamic obscurantism.

What does the Koran, ‘the word of God’ and source of Islamic law say? Few – and rather evasive – things. To see more closely, a gap is obvious – the overwhelming weight of the quarter-of-a-century-old issue of the veil on one hand, and its little room in the Scriptures corpus on the other hand. The Book of Allah, which has no less than 6,219 verses, devotes not more than… two (33, 59; 34.31) to woman’s veil. Moreover the text is too terse and not explicit enough to give a practical idea of the size, shape or manner of wearing the “hijab”, the “curtain” dedicated to “preserving the modesty” of the believer.

In fact, the holy book lays more emphasis on the need – for the Prophet’s wives first – to appear to men outside the family “looking down” and “tipping their veils over their bosoms” in order “not to be offended.”

roi afghan voile 232x300 Burqah, chador, haik...This uncertainty as to the curtain of chastity has given free rein to as many versions of veil as there are Islamic countries – hijab, jilbab, chadri, haik, niqab, tarha, chador, kichali, tudung, ibadou, all these names give testimony that there were a thousand ways to hide woman’s attire… Just take a look at the Arab and Persian miniatures or Mughal paintings to find that the female believer is depicted with her face uncovered.

As early as the dawn of the twentieth century, Muslim heads of state moved to give a new face to Islam, by uncovering that of the female believer, starting with the king … of Afghanistan, Amanoullah Khan! Since then the Kabul Taliban have imposed the wearing of the burqa. Once the preserve of the Pakistan and Afghanistan Pashtun tribes, the “especially-full” body covering has eventually emerged as the rallying sign for fundamentalists of all stripes well beyond the Pak-Afghan “tribal areas” to reach up to Europe through the Middle East.

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