Text and Context of Religious Veil

The controversy surrounding the use of Veil for women is not new, but this time it got another new dimension. There seems to have a conflict between those who forcefully introduces women’s veil and those who forcefully bans women’s veil. Not sure if it’s a choice between two doctrines and Campaigner for and against veil are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place.

1. Problem one: Men?
An orthodox verdict that asks women to put on one-eyed veil because two eyes are too seductive; or calling unveiled women abandoned-meat in front of animals actually tells us where the problem is.
If men suffers from such “chronic seduction” and are really animal-like, as the clerics suggest, then why not focus on men? Probably society was not a position to address the problem before, but haven’t we passed the medieval age?
Arguments of logicat, sara et al at the UV blog appears convincing on this ground.

2. Problem two: State?
At the same time, imposing ban for the politics with veil that instigate Islamophobia is not only diminishes the rights , it can also derail the campaign for the very cause. Here arguments of Irene Khan make sense.

Campaign for or against veil “for human rights” becomes counterproductive when “doctrine”, AKA benevolent dictatorship, becomes the only way.

3. The entwined issue
Recently the discussion has been mostly from the perspectives of religious verdicts, human rights and security issues. Though all three perspectives are inter-related, arguments from one perspective often try to avoid the other two.

Though veil is predominantly a religious doctrine, most discussions on veil from the perspectives of religious texts remain controversial. Sometimes controversial interpretation of religious texts are offered; sometimes the use of religious doctrine in universal human rights are questioned; and some find it a taboo to discuss religious texts. But one need to look up the whole picture to come to a conclusion.

4. Text and Context
Most religious texts depend on interpretation and “context of the revelation”. While the interpretations of both texts and contexts are disputed in most religions, in many cases the doctrine has changed as the context is not the same anymore. For instance, reference to slaves in religious verses are not applicable to people who do not poses slaves anymore; or use of dinosaur’s fat remained outside religious jurisprudence since reference to dinosaur is not there.

It is irreverent to discuss which religion ask for head-veil and which religion ask for face-veil. First, the purpose remained the same- women. Second, clerics often refer to veil in one religion to justify the use of veil in another religion and argues that most religion ask women to put on veil. Without considering the “text and context” of the doctrines, it is hard to make an argument convincing for everyone.

With that note, here are some relevant texts from various religions just to understand the “context” of this “gender-specific nature”.

From the Holy New Testament:

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. (First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians; I Corinthians 11:3-10)

From the Holy Quran:

O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. (Surat Al-Ahzab, 33:59)

And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed. (Sura An-Nur, 24:31)

From the Holy Rig Veda:

Indra himself hath said, The mind of woman brooks not discipline, Her intellect hath little weight.
His pair of horses, rushing on in their wild transport, draw his car: High-lifted is the stallion’s yoke. Cast down thine eyes and look not up. More closely set thy feet.Let none See what thy garment veils, for thou, a Brahman, hast become a dame. Book 8 Hymn 33:17-19

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One Response to Text and Context of Religious Veil

  1. Pingback: Can human rights be de-religionized? « চর্যাপদ / Chorjapod

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