Monthly Archives: December 2012

A feeling of connectedness to home, spiritually speaking, would appear to make sense as a reason for wearing the veil and subsequently make it all the more dreadful to those seeking to police an othered citizenry. The veil constitutes a marker of divinely ordained and radically differentiated space, which is collapsed through the premise that one is always under God’s law from the ultra-orthodox Islamic perspective, but it is also the case that the veil actually can and might be liberating for those seeking spiritual solace in police states, both literally and figuratively. Coupled with the fact that the veil does not have to be worn inside the space of one’s home, it becomes evident that the symbolic value and meaning of the veil is an affirmation of the radical division of space requisite to Allah’s law, which is itself an interpretation as the Koran offers little guidance as to how women are to dress in public space aside from the injunction in Sura 4 to cover their “ornaments” and to dress “modestly.” The varieties of hijab derive primarily from the Hadith, an extensive collection of secondary writings attributed primarly to the prophet Muhammed and his followers, which actually challenges the clear distinction between the sacred and the profane evident within fundamentalist Islamic theologies. In other words, the diagnosis for hijab is Koranic, but the prescription derives from other sources, which thwarts any attempt to locate various forms of hijab as divinely ordained or, at the very least, Koranically-based. However, the radical division between the sacred and the profane within Islamic theology, which is shared amongst the foundational narratives of all Abrahamic traditions, is precisely what the veil is meant to overcome from the insider’s perspective, even if the veil differs according to the spatiality of its cultural capital, which is only part of the issue at stake in the French veil ban. Summarizing the findings from a qualitative analysis of veil-wearers in contemporary France, Hussain notes, “[…] in most cases, the women interviewed said they adopted the full-face veil as part of a spiritual journey. Many desired to deepen their relationship with God and draw on the actions of the Prophet Mohammed’s wives for guidance. They recalled their feelings of extreme joy and well-being on the first day of wearing a niqab/seetar.”(31) Building on this sentiment, Afshar’s work comments on the relational tensions brought about by the veil for women wearing it in non-Muslim countries and for converts. She observes:

For Muslim converts the decision to wear hijab in the West is a public political assertion of the right to belong to the community of Muslims, but, particularly for convert women, it is not a rejection of home and hearth and kinship relations with their non-Muslim families and parents. Within liberal democratic states and feminist contexts their decision to wear the hijab is a matter of faith and identity and a political act of solidarity, but not one that alienates them from their kin and communities.(32)

The multiple allegiances that Afshar maintains are critical for making sense of the veil-wearer’s sense of self are exactly what have drawn such sharp theological and political attacks from all sides, even if the purported intent of the veil-wearer is spiritual, and it is problematic to divorce the cultural capital invested within its varieties. On the other hand, critics remain skeptical of the collusion between politics and religion that are embedded within the veil and see such spiritual justifications as a sign of the institutional interpellation that is a necessary component of a totalizing Islamic identity, which is also seen as transforming public space into a theo-national space—one where women are inhrently second-class citizens. Arguing against the theological homogenization of identity, Berger contends that “the contemporary use of the hijab seems to ignore or negate sexual difference in the theological order by helping to define and assert a single, overarching Islamic identity, while at the same time firmly establishing women’s specific role in the process: it is as though the particular invisibility of the hijabwearers enabled Islam to stand: in their place.”(33) Berger’s combative assault on the ideology underlying the veil alludes to Žižek’s take on the veil within ultra-orthodox Islamic theology while raising the fundamental question at the heart of the veil debate: have the particularities of female identity been thrown out with the veiled bathwater of having one’s identity always-already mediated within the (public) space of Islam? How might these contending perspectives be reconciled?

— Burqas in Back Alleys: Street Art, hijab, and the Reterritorialization of Public Space by Joan Sweeney