I want to express my total support to these women, who are victims of a medieval way of thinking. They must finally be able to be masters of their bodies, to dress as they wish, to take advantage of the achievements of modern thought. Especially since these women who demonstrate by removing their headscarves are in the right. I could read here or there that they were victims of mullahs who want to make them respect Islamic tradition. I don’t agree with this idea at all: They are victims of supporters of a patriarchal and ideological conception of Islam.
We must stop making the headscarf a symbol of Islam. For the past few decades, we have seen a movement in Muslim countries to go back to covering women up, which began with the emergence of religious fundamentalism. This movement has spread, not only within these countries but also to Muslim communities throughout the world.
Yet, a brief look back in history shows that the hijab has not always been the norm in Muslim societies. Reformist intellectuals and thinkers in the post-independence period called to abandon this practice in order to emancipate women. This was the case of the Tunisian theologian Tahar Haddad (1899-1935) or Huda Sharawi (1879-1947), pioneer of the Egyptian feminist movement.
How the headscarf became the norm
The rise of Islamist ideologies, accompanied by a process of re-Islamization of society with the ambition of giving a religious foundation to political and social life, bases its plan for society on a dichotomy between genders. This translates into a social normativity whose primary objective is the control of women’s’ bodies – considered sources of temptation and social disorder.
The idea of the veil as a symbol of Islam has become deeply rooted in our imaginations
During the 1980s and 1990s, I myself witnessed the Islamist resurgence in Algeria that made the veil its standard. As these ideologies gained momentum, the hijab, initially worn by women belonging to Islamist circles as a sign of militancy, gradually began to merge into the social norm in all Muslim spheres. Thus, more and more women, although opposed to Islamist movements, started to wear it, making it a generalized practice.
This trend is not unrelated to a religious discourse that emphasizes its compulsory nature. These movements have succeeded in their propaganda, because the idea of the hijab being “a symbol of Islam” has become deeply rooted in our imaginations. This is evidenced by the fact that non-Muslim women wore hijab in the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks in March 2019, as a sign of solidarity with Muslims.
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