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Expert says there is no theological justification for the wearing of the veil

Oct 16 2006

Western Mail



The question of whether Muslim women should wear a veil or not has been debated for centuries.

There is no consensus when it comes to the rule of wearing the veil according to Dr Haifaa Jawad, senior lecturer in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Birmingham.

She said, 'There is no theological justification for wearing the veil. The Koran does not say explicitly that you have to cover your face.

'The wives of Mohammed had to wear veils because they have a special status.

'In the past the upper classes used to wear the veil to distinguish themselves from others.'

Dr Jawad, who has been studying the topic since the 1990s, said that some Muslim women wear the hijab - a headscarf - but only a small minority wears the veil - or 'niqab' in Arabic.

Dr Jawad said that out of a class of 45 Muslim women from the second and third years of her course, 10 wore a veil. None of the Muslim women in her first year class this year wears the veil.

She estimated that about 1% - or about 2,000 - of Muslim women in the UK wear the veil.

'The girls who have adopted the veil are second or third-generation British but I think this is mainly due to an identity crisis,' she said. 'They go back to discover their roots. Some women think that wearing it may make them a better Muslim.'

During the 7th century the Islamic empire expanded from Syria where it had taken over Damascus to beyond the Middle East.

During the expansion the empire took over land which had been controlled by the Byzantine and Persian empires.

Akil Awan, lecturer in contemporary Islam at Royal Holloway, University of London, said, 'Face veils were worn by women in the Byzantine and Persian Empires before the emergence of Islam. It was a sign of the aristocracy. Pagan Arab women wore the veil before Islam appeared.

'Whether women should wear a veil has been debated for centuries.

'The Koran refers to modesty but does not say explicitly that women should wear a veil.

'Scriptures from the more puritanical forms of Islam say that the face must be covered.'

During the 14th century the Islamic empire declined and by the 19th century 'a lot' of Muslim women were denied their rights to education and confined to their homes, Dr Jawad said.

'Women were unaware of the rights Islam gives to them. Some were forced to wear the veil.

'The current Islamic revivalism has seen the rise of the hijab but not the veil,' she added.

Islam requires women to cover their bodies with loose-fitting clothes according to the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab, which campaigns against bans such as that in France, and the Muslim Council of Britain.

In different cultures the requirement is interpreted in different ways, ranging from simple headscarves to the full length Burka seen in Afghanistan.

What not to wear, by the Muslim Council of Britain

The Muslim Council of Britain lists on its website these guidelines on what to wear:

Is there a code for women?

There is no recommended style, so a young girl's/woman's wardrobe can be as varied as one would like it to be.

A bit of imagination would not go amiss in choosing the appropriate clothing and the right dress and right color for the right occasion;

Modesty needs to be observed at all times;

The dress worn in public must not be transparent;

It must be loose-fitting and not body-hugging;

No plunging neck-line that will show cleavage;

All parts of the body other than hands and feet need to be covered;

For schoolgirls three-quarter length sleeve is fine;

The headscarf commonly known as 'hijab' is required to cover the hair, neck and bosom. 'Hijab' actually means barrier - it is meant to be a barrier between the public and the private domains or between good and the unwholesome;

There is no mention of the face-veil anywhere in The Qur'an (Koran) or from the tradition of the Prophet of Islam;

If the particular head dress does not cover the bosom then a separate cloth/scarf/jacket etc could be worn to cover the bosom;

Trousers with long tops/shirts for school wear are absolutely fine;

A Muslim schoolgirl's uniform does not have to be flowing or of such length that there will be a risk of tripping over and causing accidents;

Islam is a very practical/pragmatic religion;

Islam recommends a moderate approach to things ('to follow the middle path') and not to go to any extreme;

It allows flexibility within its prescribed tenets.



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