April 24, 2006 Special Dispatch No. 1144

Yemeni Reformist Writer Urges Muslim Women to Take Off the Veil

April 24, 2006
Special Dispatch No. 1144

Reformist Yemeni columnist Dr. Elham Mane'a, who writes regularly for the reformist website, espouses improvement of women's status, freedom of thought, a rationalist approach to the religious sources, and the right of humans, as rational beings, to decide their own futures. In a recent article, Mane'a urged Muslim women to exercise free thought and to decide for themselves whether to wear the veil.

The following are excerpts from the article: [1]

Take Off the Veil, Sister

"I call on you, my Muslim sister, to take off the veil. This is an honest call... Its intention is not to defile you, nor to encourage you to [moral] lassitude. I call on you to exercise [free] thought and to use your own mind.

"You and your mind are sufficient. There is no need to search in books and in history, and there is no need to consult the opinions of the commentators... I request that you listen to my words and judge them without suspecting my intentions. After that, you are free. Free to choose [for yourself], to [shape] your own fate, and to do as you wish. You are your own master. You alone. No one but you has custody over you. After [you consider my words], don the veil or take it off - I will respect your decision. Ultimately, the decision must be yours...

"The wearing of the hijab in the Islamic world actually began with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which made the veil obligatory for women - after the clerics succeeded in turning the tables on the middle class and the leftist groups, who paid with their blood to end the rule of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Since this revolution was the first true awakening in the region, it was considered by many to be an example worthy of imitation - both [the revolution itself] and the garb that the women began to wear...

"Another well-known factor is the increase in oil [sales], which enabled Saudi Arabia and wealthy Saudis to provide financial aid for the dissemination of Wahhabi Islamic religious propaganda, and to set up a gigantic media network which emphasized daily that the veil was obligatory. This religious Islamic propaganda meshed with the thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood and with the [thinking] of the Arab and Islamic parties that grew out of it. As a result, a new and strange kind of thinking spread through Muslim society, changing many [previous] behaviors and perceptions."

The Veil is a Political Issue

"The veil is, therefore, a political issue. In two countries [Iran and Saudi Arabia], the political elite rules in the name of religion, and strives to propagate its own model [of Islam] - while at the same time [using religion] to guarantee the legitimacy [of its rule]. Both these countries imposed the wearing of the veil on women, presenting it as a sign of piety, whether the women wanted to [wear it] or not.

"[It is should be noted that] the sole aim of Muslim Brotherhood's way of thinking is to take political power. However, since [this movement] uses religion as its justification, it also has to provide an example of [proper] 'Islamic behavior'..., and '[Islamic] dress' is a central part of this.

"The veil, then, is a political issue... yet the arguments and the methods used to convince women that there is an obligation [to wear the veil] have taken three forms... The first argument claims that when a woman wears the veil, she covers up her feminine curves and protects men from licentiousness. The second argument claims that when a woman wears the veil, she helps to establish a good society. The third argument claims that it is, in essence, a religious [duty].

"The first argument is based on the assumption that the Arab man is a lecherous animal that cannot control its urges, and therefore, one must be on guard against it. [The Arab man's] thoughts are controlled by sex, and therefore he cannot be relied on, and the woman's [seductive] parts must be covered in order to protect him from the devil inside him. This premise is unfair to the Arab man, whom we know as a brother, as a father, as a husband, and as a human being. He is capable of treating a woman as a human being, and not as a commodity to be used for pleasure. He is capable of controlling his urges - even though they exist and he is aware of their existence - just as a woman is capable of doing so..."

A Woman Can Elicit a Man's Respect by Her Behavior, Not by Covering Up

"This first argument also includes a humiliating premise about women, since it portrays the woman as nothing more than a sex tool - not as a human being but as [a collection of] private parts. She isn't [considered] a noble or thinking being, but rather a being whose every body part arouses urges, and which consists entirely of sexual parts - [including] her voice, her hair, and her body... This argument disregards the fact that a woman can cause a man, and anyone [else] around her, to respect her through her behavior and her attitude towards others, and not by covering her head and her body..."

The Religious Argument for Wearing the Veil is the Weakest of Them All

"The second argument is based the premise that there is a connection between wearing the veil and the establishment of a good society. According to this logic, a good society is one in which no intimate relations take place out of wedlock. However, this premise is at best mistaken, since, as a matter of fact, the societies that mandate the wearing of the veil and insist on segregation of the sexes are not those in which sex out of wedlock is least common. On the contrary, the forced segregation [of the sexes] has led to homosexual relations, as indicated by studies which show that the wearing of the veil in Arab and Islamic societies has not prevented some of the girls from having [sexual] relations out of wedlock. After that, they usually have surgery to reconstruct the hymen.

"The third argument rests on the premise that [Islam] has a firm position on the issue of the veil, while the fact is that there are many [different] religious texts on the subject. This abundance [of religious texts] has always existed. You, [the Muslim woman,] can read the texts for yourself, and need no intermediary. [When you read them] you will see that not only is there an abundance of texts, but that they also have numerous interpretations....

"As a matter of fact, the third argument, which claims that it is religion that imposes wearing the veil on women, is the weakest argument, since we never heard it before the late 1970s, and we didn't see it implemented until the orthodox interpretation of Islam became the most prevalent interpretation in the Arab and Muslim world.

"This is the rationale upon which I base my call to you. I implore you to consider my words and my request. I am not calling on you to stop praying, fasting, or believing in Allah. I call on you to take off the veil... I will respect your decision, whatever it may be. But ultimately, be yourself - a woman, and not [a collection of] private parts."

[1], April 4, 2006.

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