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Muslim women wear the hijab ‘as a right’

Publish Date: Monday,7 April, 2008, at 01:29 AM Doha Time

Staff Reporter


By adhering to the new gender discourse, Muslim women are wearing the hijab (veil) as a right and not as part of a command, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, professor from University of London, told a panel-session ‘Theology and Politics of Fiqh’ on the last day of ‘Innovation in Islam’ conference yesterday.
“This new position is part of evolution of their intellectual thought and the democratic vision of Islam. For the first time Muslim women are taking part and defining the juristic position themselves,” said Ziba, who is a legal anthropologist, specialising in Islamic law, gender and development.
“In doing so, they are not only challenging the Islamists, but also the Orientalist version of the hijab as well,” she added.
The conference was organised by the Centre for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar (SFS-Q).
“Since the ’90s the hijab – one of the most visible Islamic sights – has been the battleground between the traditionalists and the modernists. For the Islamists, the hijab became a religious symbol, while feminists looked at it as a symbol of oppression,” she said.
“However, the Islamic legal discourse doesn’t contain a single or clear-cut notion of the hijab. There are assumptions – and have always been there – based on the readings of the holy text in a social context,” said Ziba.
According to her, the notion that a woman has an active sexuality and should confine it was the real bone of contention.
“And while some Islamic scholars defend the notion of confinement, others have defined the hijab as means of ‘protection’ – set on a premise that women are participating in the society of course,” remarked Ziba.
“Within Muslims there are those who follow the dogma, while there are others who take the democratic and participatory discourse of Islam. This struggle between the two has always been existent. What we should understand is that the hijab is no longer a religious mandate, and is in fact a socio-political mandate,” she said.
The director of CIRS, Mehran Kamrava also spoke and focused on ‘Shia Fiqh’ in his presentation, while Omaima Abou-Bakr, from Qatar University talked interpreted women’s biographies in medieval Islamic writings.

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