Posted tagged ‘ban’

Veil Does Not Oppress Women

September 28, 2010

BY AYESHA RASHID It’s about time to unveil the veil controversy. Recently the French senate passed the full-face ban, citing the veil’s alleged offensive nature to French cultural identity and tradition and its alleged oppression of women. In reality, this ban only infringes upon the basic human rights of women. Moreover, the veil itself is not a foreign concept for non-Muslims or for French culture and tradition. Assyrian women voluntarily practiced the veil as early as 1300 B.C. For the Assyrians, the veil was exclusive to highly dignified women. Likewise, ancient Greek women of higher status covered their heads and faces. Even among Persian elites, Anglo-Saxons, and Anglo-Normans, women gladly wore the veil. From its very inception, the veil promoted an aura of honor and prestige, not oppression.

Abrahamic religions prior to Islam also required women to wear the veil. Early Judaic references laud the veil as a symbol of esteem for Jewish women, its very purpose to prevent recognition of her features. During the Tannaitic period, a Jewish woman’s failure to cover her head was considered an offense to her modesty. The most prominent incident is that of Rebekkah who covered herself when she caught sight of Isaac before their marriage (Genesis: 24:64-65). The Virgin Mary, the most revered woman in Christianity, is customarily depicted wearing a headscarf and, incidentally, loose flowing clothing similar to a burqa. Mary’s dress was not without reason. The New Testament commands women to cover their heads out of modesty, while those who refuse face the consequence of a shaven head (1 Corinthians: 11: 5-6). With this understanding, the Vatican implemented the Code of Canon Law of 1917, mandating universal veil observance during church service, only to repeal it in 1983. Yet, to this day, even French nuns observe this clear biblical injunction. Likewise, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a French female icon of modern era, earnestly adopted the veil after she was highly impressed with the veil of Veronica — the biblical woman who wiped Jesus’ forehead with her veil. Ironically, while other societies and religions are guilty of repudiating this noble practice, Islam is being stigmatized for maintaining tradition. As the youngest of the Abrahamic religions, Islam makes the head covering a self-imposed mandate for Muslim women as a means of protection and dignity. Like the Torah, the Quran advises Muslim women to cover themselves so they are not recognized and are not molested (33:60). However, Islam does not prescribe any punishment (e.g., shaving of head) for women who choose otherwise. Contrary to the assertion that the veil is oppressive, Muslim women from Islam’s inception proudly wore the veil and maintained a high level of authority in their respective societies. For example, Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was the CEO of a large and thriving trade business. Unhindered, Muhammad’s wife Ayesha taught Muhammad’s male companions after his demise, while exerting immense political influence throughout her life. According to The Worldwide Guide of Women in Leadership, most of the 250 Muslim women leaders proudly ruled from behind the veil and did so with great success. Women like the Regent Dowager Princess Syun Beka (1549-51) of Russia, De-facto Ruler Empress Nur Jahan of India (1611-28), and the Grand Khanum Regnant Toragana of the Qagans of China (1241-48) are but a few examples. The diversity these women portray additionally demonstrates that the veil is not exclusive to “Arab” culture. If the veil was truly oppressive, it is impossible that these women would have been the honored leaders of their respective societies. Indeed, Muslim women are not the only world leaders who ruled while wearing a veil. A closer look at European women rulers illustrates that up until the 16th century, many preferred lose clothing with a modest head cover, with French women as no exception. French women rulers such as Regent Dowager Queen Nanthildis (639-642), Regent Queen Dowager Clothilde, Joint Ruler Queen Alais d’Aquitaine (987-996), and Regent Queen Isabeau Baverie (1392-1419) are depicted with the allegedly oppressive Islamic style head covering. Other European empresses such as “Holder of the Royal Authority” Dowager Queen Dorothea zu Brandenburg of Denmark are proudly depicted with their face covered in the Islamic style veil. Contrary to what President Nicolas Sarkozy and the French parliament assert, the veil and burqa are not exclusively Islamic, nor oppressive, but are deeply entrenched in Christan and French tradition as symbols of pride and dignity. With their irrational veil ban, Sarkozy and French leadership, not Muslim women, are the true offenders to French cultural identity, tradition, and a woman’s dignity. Ayesha N. Rashid is a staff writer for The Muslim Sunrise, the oldest and longest-running Muslim-American periodical. Contact her at First appeared at:


Ayesha’s response on French legislation on Burqa (published in NY Times)

January 31, 2010

To the Editor:

France does not cease to amaze. A French parliamentary committee has recommended a partial ban on full-body veils, citing them as a threat to the “values of the republic.” Is it possible that the 1,900 French Muslim women who choose the veil are a threat?

This intrusive ban takes away their right of using public transportation, hospitals, schools and government offices while wearing the veil, or niqab.

In other words, it infringes on the basic human rights of those 1,900 women whose personal choice is to cover their faces.

Ayesha N. Rashid
Richmond, Va., Jan. 27, 2010