Polemics On Veiling Egyptian Women In The Twentiet

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Polemics On Veiling Egyptian Women In The Twentieth Century

.. so much energy has been expended by Muslim men
and then Muslim women to remove the veil and by
others to affirm or restore it .. (Ahmed 167).
This paper explores these efforts in two specific stages: the first and the last
thirds of the twentieth century. Through an analysis of some of the various
arguments on the veil, I will try to induce some general characteristics of the
debate on the issue and on women during these two specific periods of time.
The starting point will be Kasim Amin's Tahrir el Mara'a (Liberation of
Woman) and the counter argument of Talat Harb's Tarbiet el Mara'a wal
Hijab, (Educating Women and the Veil). The debate between those two
protagonists which has become a prototype of the debate on the veil
throughout the century (Ahmed P. 164). Malak Hefni Nassif's and Hoda
Sha'arawi's attitudes towards the veil represent an interesting insight to two
different interpretations of the hijab issue by feminist activists that prevail
throughout the century. The whole synthesis of this early debate is then put
in juxtaposition to the debate later in the century as represented by the
avalanche of literature on the topic in the seventies, the views of some
famous sheikhs like Mohammed Metwally el Shaarawi and others, and the
heated debate initiated by the Minister of Education's decree of 1994 to
prevent school administrations from imposing the hijab on girls as part of the
The Early Debate
Kasim Amin's Tahrir El-Mara'a (Published 1899)
It may not be an exaggeration to say that Amin's Tahrir al-Mara'a was one
of the most controversial book in Egypt's modern history. It has ignited a
strong debate and prompted more than thirty reaction articles and books
either to defy or assert his argument against the veil (Ahmed P. 164).
The ideas of the book were not totally new, they echoed the writings of some
writers like Mariam al-Nahhas (1856-1888), Zaynab Fawwaz (1860-1914),
Aisha al-Taymuriah (1840-1902), and Murqus Fahmi's (a Coptic lawyer)
four act play Al Mar'ah fi al-Sharq or (The Woman in the East) (Badran P.
19). Yet, Amin's book double-scored for coming from a Muslim judge and
for his overt proposal to unveiling women's faces. His words were not the
only challenge to the existing notions of the hijab, it was his caliber as a
Moslim judge that has vocalized his call to unveil women and gave his book
After an introduction loaded with emotional phrases on the degradation of the
Egyptian woman and an exaltation of the European woman, the book is
divided into four sections: Educating women, Women's veil, The
woman and the nation, and Marriage and divorce.
Amin starts his argument calling for the Hijab Shara'ei stating that the
Hijab in its form then (covering the face, the hair and the whole body) was
not mandated by the Shari'aa. He further adds that he was not calling for the
extreme of the West which makes the woman liable to seduction (Amin
P. 65). The argument against the veil is in two sections: The religious section
which is mainly text interpretation and some Hadith that prompt women to
cover the hair and the whole body except for the hands and the face; and the
social (practical / everyday life) perspective. The later section includes
social ideas such as the inconvenience for women with their faces covered
to dwell in business, to testify in courts or to get engaged (as the groom
should see her face first). Furthermore, he argues that unveiling would make
women watch their behaviors as they could be recognized and hence their
reputation would be at stake if they did any wrong. Still, from the practical
social point of view, the flimsy bourqo' (face cover) used was more
tempting as it makes the viewer curious to see what was intended to be
hidden. He further argues that, if women are imprisoned in the hareem (part
of the house where women are secluded), then even if they did not commit
any shameful act, it would not be due to any virtue in them, but to the fact
that they did not have the freedom to do otherwise.
Amin accuses the veil of being a barrier to women's development and
education (P. 85), arguing that it deprived her from interacting with the
society and learning how to live. He illustrates by comparing the ignorant
peasant with the elite urban lady who can speak French and plays the piano,
and concludes that the ignorat peasant would be

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