Polemics On Veiling Egyptian Women In The Twentieth Century

.. k Hefni Nassif’s opposition to unveiling, her ideas were re-published in 1976 by a writer called Abdel Aal Mohamed El Gabri. The writer selects what to put in the book, and comments on what she says, putting attractive titles that would appeal to a conservative reader such as The Corrupted Morals of the Educated Women, though what is written under this title does not denounce educating women but simply differentiate between learning sciences and being morally disciplined. He would also attract the misogynous type of a reader by a chapter entitled The Misbehavior of Women in which she criticizes some qualities that may be in the woman’s character such as ignorance or snobbery. Ni’mat Sidki wrote her book El-Tabarruj in 1975, she argues that God has punished her for immodest dress and use of make up by an inflammation in the gums. She writes: I am a sinner deserving this punishment and more, for the mouth which God has disciplined with illness and pain wore lipstick and did not command the good and forbid the evil..

(Hoffman-Lad P. 29-30). Sidki resorts to Harb’s interpretation of holy text concluding that God forbids women from displaying their bodies to preserve the society from the harms of el-tabarruj . In 1978, El-Gohari, in a book dedicated to Hassan el Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brother’s Group, illustrates that Hijab means covering the woman’s beauty (Ziena) and segregation from men. He puts two conditions for women’s education or work: sex dichotomy and women’s veil (El Gohari P. 43). El-Gohari asserts that there is nothing to argue about as far as the Hijab is concerned, women should veil, period.

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He quotes a Hadith cited by Fatema that when the Prophet was asked which is best for the woman, his answer was that She should not see nor be seen by a man (El-Gohari P. 44). (The same Hadith was discredited by Fahmi Houeidi in Al-Ahram article in 1996). He dedicates the biggest part of his book to denouncing women’s work and mixing with men. El-Bahi starts his book in a way similar to that of Talat Harb, the first half of the book is dedicated to denouncing the Western woman, drawing an image of a society rife with homosexuality, pre-marital sex, infanticide and adultery. The second half targets the feminist agenda articulated by groups during the first half of the century such as equality in inheritance, in taking her opinion (al shoura), in marrying without a wali, in having a judge to effect divorce and polygamy, and equality in testimony, concluding that Islam does not butter women with hypocrisy, but gives them all their due rights, and hence there can never be more rights to claim. The avalanche of such conservative ideas and the prevalence of the veil has alarmed secular feminists like Nawal Al-Saadawi who published in 1972 El Mara’a wal Gins (Women & Sex) denouncing the conservative ideas that disguise itself in religious jargon (Researchers of El Maraa Al Gadida, 1995) .

In another booklet, she argues that since rural women who constitute 80% of the population are never veiled, then, according to the conservatives’ logic, this majority of women are corrupt and immoral, a conclusion that can not be true (Hoffman-Ladd P. 35). In 1996, Al Saadawi published a short story in Al-Ahram newspaper, allegedly a true story of one of the cases who came to her as a psychiatrist, the story implies that the veil and the rigid patriarchal family authority lead to psychological distortion and sexual repression. Though, she never says these words, the story is full of metaphors implying the idea. The protagonist is a veiled girl who dreams of Noah arch leaving her out crying and agonizing her doom.

The girl would fall in love for a Pharoanic statue and the story ends with her throwing the statue away and falling apart. Whether it is a true story or not, it carries Al-Saadawi’s message and counter argument against the veil. The story was refused by all publishers and seems to have reached Al-Ahram after a long struggle. Prevalence of the conservative ideas of the seventies books made the veil question become as best described by Fadwa El Guindi’s statement: A woman in public has a choice: either looking secular, modern, feminine, and passive (hence very vulnerable to indignities), or becoming a religieuse (a Muslim Sister), hence formidable, untouchable and silently threatening (El Guindi P. 87) Mohammed Metwali el-Sha’arawi el-Sha’arawi is a popular Islamic thinker and vigorously promotes the veil in its modern sense. In 1980 he argues in his book Al Maraa Kama Aradaha Allah that when the woman is not veiled, she is displaying her beauty seducing those who can not afford to marry. Since those young men can not marry and have for example to wait till they finish their education, they will have to resort to sin to fulfill this desire. Hence, women’s unveiling pollutes the society and leads to immorality.

He further argues that when the woman takes the veil, she protects herself from being compared to a younger or a more beautiful woman, and if the husband does not see any other woman but his wife, he will desire no woman but her. (Hoffman-Lad P. 31). So, according to el-Sha’arawi, women’s veil preserves the family and protects the whole society – nothing can be more important, and the price is not so expensive in comparison. Defying an argument that Hijab was introduced by the Mamluk to protect girls from being kidnapped, he says that even if this is the case, we still need to protect the girls from being kidnapped in the streets of Cairo by veiling them (Hassan, Akher Sa’a).

The same argument that a female’s dressing code is responsible if she is kidnapped or raped is echoed at an Al-Shaab article on 12/13/92, and later in Al Ahram on 5/16/97 by Abdel Wahhab Metawei in Barid El Gom’a, in reply to a mother’s problem whose daughter was raped because of her immodest dress. Sound Tracks Sold in front of Mosques (1997) Sheikh Kishk, died few years ago, starts his tapes with a prayer containing Ostor Awratena (God to cover our weaknesses / pudenda), the word awratena is a loaded term as the translation indicates, and whether he says it or not, the word has a notorious connotation with a woman’s body as explained in the vernacular section. He laments the good old days when things were cheap, when women stayed at home and obeyed their husbands, comparing it to women who (in a sarcastic tone) want to have the right to divorce themselves. Kishk puts four pre-requisitions for women to go to heaven: to pray five times a day, cover her hair, cover her pudenda, and obey her husband. He does not tell where he got this combination from, most probably, it is an outcome of his speculations. Kishk’s theatrical performance, audio dramatic effects, overwhelms the audience, leaving no chance to question his sources.

Wagdi Ghoneim, in a tape entitled Solouk El Okht El Moslima (The Behavior of the Moslem Sister), starts off the tape with a quotation Every new innovation is Bida’a, and every Bida’a is from the Satan, the new innovation he is referring to is women’s unveiling and leaving the house. That was just the introductory phrase. He then moves to the name of the tape: he says that he had wished to call the tape (The Behavior of the Veiled Woman), because unfortunately there are women who are still unveiled, and hence, are unworthy of advice. The tape is well focused and logically constructed (in contrast to Kishk’s which moves from one topic to the other) on the expected behavior of the veiled woman and her language in the street, in public, in family occasions, with neighbors, in means of transportation and at work. The number of do’s and don’ts reached at the end of the tape is alarming, one feels like the preacher wants to control and put constraints on every single move or word of the woman. His justification to these constraints is that the veiled woman is an ambassador of Islam.

This way he overweighs small errands and everyday activities turning them into representation missions that should strictly follow complicated protocols. The word awra is again used extensively, every unveiled woman has her awra seen by strangers. Even the veiled who is not orthodox enough, leaving her neck, ears, a part of her legs or arms seen, has her awra seen by others. This way every part of the body, except the hands the face is awra, the power of using the word is in its connotation with sexual organs, it may be acceptable that the arms be seen but if they are as sacred as the sexual organs, then letting them to be seen is a big crime. The hijab in Schools and the Nikab Universities In 1994, Dr. Hussein Kamel Bahaa’ El-Din, Minister of Education, fueled the battle on the veil with decree No.

113 preventing school administrations from imposing the hijab on girls. Given the symbolic importance of the veil, the decree mobilized many writers attacking or defending the Minister’s position. What made things more difficult was a fatwa issued by an-Al Azhar committee denouncing the Minister’s decision and considering it as an assault on the religious teachings. The thread was picked by the government’s opposition, and papers like Al-Ahrar came out with titles like: The Volcano of Anger sweeps Egypt because of the Minister’s decree . Parents beg to the Minister to have Mercy . The Minister is appealing to the lime lights with his decree ..

(Al-Ahrar Sept. 5, 94). The whole issue was turned into a political issue, it was not a matter of wearing the veil or not, the Minister’s decree did not say that girls should not wear it, he said that parent’s approval should be obtained first. Yet, given the political tension between Islamic groups and the government, the decree was considered as an aggression on the later’s domain specifically within the administration of the schools which impose the hijab sometimes on girls who are six years old. The Minister had earlier problems when he insisted that Monakabat are not allowed inside university campuses unless they show their face to security.

This decision has stirred the many of opposition groups who took it into their shoulders to write the story of any Monakaba who was denied the right to get into campus with great sympathy in their papers. Abdel Azim Ramadan, a historian with many publications, takes part in the debate. In an articles published in October Magazine on September 4, 94, Ramadan took the Minister’s side, against the fatwa. He starts (a bit on the defensive) by saying that he was a graduate of Al-Azhar, is indebted to this educational institution and has nothing against it whatsoever. Ramadan treats the Azhar fatwa as a political act inciting the people against the Minister and embarrassing the government, putting a precedence to counterfeit any other minister’s decision and threatening the government’s autonomy.

For the rest of the article, Ramadan tries desperately to put the veil issue in its place as a personal religious decision, arguing that it is only one aspect of religiosity that can not substitute the other aspects, he reiterates that the decree did not prevent girls from wearing the hijab, it just prevented the administration from imposing it by putting the condition of the parent’s approval. Finally, he argues that the Islamic groups’ opposition to the decree is because they want to have the authority to impose a dress on girls that would even transgress the parent’s authority. On August 24, 94, and within the same context, Akher Sa’aa presents a book review of The Responsibilty of the Muslim Woman in Structuring the Family and the Society by Mohammed Bahy el Din Salem. The title of the article (written in a big font) was All Religions have called for the Hijab . Unveiling is due to Ignorance of the True Teachings of the Religion. The book as reviewed by the article is full of quotations from the Bible, the Old Testament and of course the Quor’an, concluding with what is in the title.

Saied Ashmawi and Tantawi (August 1994) Within the great commotion caused by the Minister’s decree, Saied Ashmawi wrote in Rose-al-Yousef an article declaring that the Hijab is not mandated by Islam, interpreting three Qur’anic verses: Ayet El Hijab, Ayet El Khimar, Ayet El Galaleeb, and some of the Prophet’s Hadith, and concluding that the hijab phenomenon is an expression of politicized Islam and is being used as a tool by the leaders of Gamaat Islamia. Tantawi, then Grand Mufti of Egypt replies advocating Hijab interpreting the same verses, and denying its connection with whatever is called politicized Islam as he puts it. The debate goes on, but unfortunately ends up with the two sides discrediting each other, and that was the sad end of the debate. Ayat El Gelbab: O ye who believe! Enter not the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless permission be granted you. But if ye are invited, enter, and when your meal is ended, then disperse, Linger not for conversation. Lo1 that would cause annoyance to the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth.

And when ye ask of them (the wives of the prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts Ashmawi interprets this verse as binding only to the wives of the prophet and not to any women. It even does not include the concubines he took giving the Hadith told by Anas Ben Malek that when the Prophet married Safia ben Yehia, people knew that he is taking her as a wife not a concubine when he veiled her (put a curtain is the literal translation). Tantawi argues that Ashmawi’s interpretation is wrong and that the Hijab applies to all women, it is a religious doctrine (Hokm Share’ie) Bibliography Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam.

Cairo: The American University in Cairo, 1992. Amin, Kasim. Tahrir El-Mara’a. Cairo: Oriental Library, 1899. Ashmawi, Saied. El-Hijab Lais Farida. Rose-al-Youssif 6/13/94 1994: 22-25. Ashmawi, Saied.

Al-hijab Lais Farida Islamiah. Rose-al-Youssif 6/27/94 1994: 81-83. Ashmawi, Saide. Lagnet el Fatwa el Shara’ia bel Azhar Gheir Share’ia. Rose-al-Youssif 8/22/94 1994: 28-31. Badran, Margot. Feminists, Islam, and Nation. Princeton, New Jersy: Princeton University Press, 1995.

El-Bahi, Mohammed. El-Islam Wa Itigah El-Moslima El Moa’sira. Cairo: Dar.


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