As I sit here near the Southernmost tip of Africa wearing shorts and sandals, my sister still perches north of the Arabian peninsula and dons her headscarf to go out shopping.
When I first heard about my sister’s conversion to become a newborn Muslim, if I may use the expression, I was fuming with anger. How dare she, I thought. It is the ultimate betrayal of women’s rights and liberty to bend to the needs of society and cover one’s head. It is absurd, since the head and the face are neutral parts of our anatomy and cannot be considered seductive. Not even the thickest and most bouncy hair can be considered sexually alluring, or am I thinking again in the logic of western societies?
I grew up in an Arab country, where Christians and Muslims live side by side. The increasing religious zeal was apparent as I grew up. It has resulted in clear distinctions between the so-called secular or non-practicing Muslims and the orthodox faction. The absolute majority is orthodox and their pressure on the rest is very strong. After all they have the voice of Allah on their side and literally the threat of hell.
If you couple this with the prevalent misogynist view of society, you come up with a situation where the morality of society is dependent on the way women dress. I have been brought up to the tune of : “Men are creatures of lust and they cannot control it, it is a woman’s duty and obligation to put a stop to their advances”. Women kindly dispense of such advice to their daughters and female charges, while turning a blind eye to the dalliances of their sons. I think it is ridiculous to expect women to carry society’s morals on their shoulders, as if they do not have feelings and desires like men. Men are secure in the knowledge that they aren’t the ones to get “caught” and therefore, and in true male fashion they just pass on the responsibility onto the female.
The society I was born into does not give evenhanded instruction to young men and women when it comes to sexual knowledge. Women are prohibited from any sexual adventures prior to marriage, yet it is acceptable for men to have such an experience. It is purposely overlooked that this sort of experience will only come about with willing female partners. Whether these are frustrated married women or poor girls who are willing to go loose for a new item of clothing, or just girls who have slipped once and no longer need to preserve their image of purity. Regardless of what sort of woman gives the man his first initiation into sex, her existence makes this patriarchal society even more distrustful of women. Therefore men try to enforce veils on their women, to prevent other men from ogling them. This is another one sided solution that does not require or expect the participation of men in enforcing morals. Women are forced, coerced, or convinced to cover up in the manner of the last century, while their husband walk alongside wearing the latest fashion. They would never dream of wearing the ‘dress’ of the prophet and his ilk except to prayer. And while their own women are safely covered there are hundreds others whom they can freely ogle. The fact that they are not covered up labels them as available and willing prey for flirtation and maybe more.
Women need to carry the weight of children and family, in addition to keeping the integrity of their marriage. They are also responsible for the immorality, women are the root of all evil. Meanwhile, men can contemplate this sad state of affairs while watching scantly clad women on satellite television, or while conversing with other buddies over tea and bubbly (water pipe). What a wonderful life.