In the Middle East, many countries mandate that their women wear clothing that is deemed culturally appropriate. In Iran, this usually means that women are required by law to wear the hijab, an article of clothing that takes the form of a veil and is aimed at covering as much exposed skin as possible. This is a sample research paper on women in Iran and the ways in which women interact with and approach the issue of the required wearing of the hijab.
Iranian women and the Hijab
Most Middle Eastern countries require the women in there country to cover parts of their body. These requirements come in the form of laws of religious edicts which must be obeyed. The women will often wear items such as a hijab, which is a veil that covers the head and neck, or a Burka, which is a full body cloak. In the Western world these items are seen as demoralizing and punitive while Middle Easterners view these items of clothing as part of their religion and culture. The custom of wearing a hijab varies from country to country as each culture have varying rules or traditions for covering your body. An analysis will be completed comparing Middle Easterners and Westerners who wear these traditional articles of clothing from their culture.
According to the ethnographic research completed by Ludhog the practice of veiling, either by hijab or burka, holds different meanings for different cultures (786). Americans don’t understand a lot of things in the muslim world, including the burka. The burka was not created by men to repress women. In fact the burka was seen as a form of freedom as the burka would allow women to leave their homes and participate in the community.
Men in the muslim communities believed that for a women to have parts that were uncovered it would put her in danger and would also make it difficult for men to focus. The burka was a form of liberation for these women rather than the oppression that our Western society views it as. However the development of laws forcing women to wear the burkas has resulted in a different kind of oppression as women no longer have the choice to wear the burkas rather they are forced to conceal themselves.
Iran and the Hijab
One of the most prominent countries in which the hijab is worn is Iran. The history of Iran involves several invasions by Islamic cultures which resulted in the mix of both Aryan and Islamic cultures. For many years Iran was a constitutional monarchy which had a Shah as the leader. In the 1970’s Iran became an Islamic republic becoming a theocracy while driving out the Shah who had been ruling the country. The Islamic revolution was led by the Ayatollah Khomeni and his clergy. The revolution resulted in a theocracy being created which resulted in multiple laws which used religion to rule the lives of the citizens whether they abided by the religion or not.
The country of Iran is rich in culture as its rich history has provided the world with multiple works of art and literature. Iran was known as Persia before the 1930’s and the Persian language is the main language spoken in the country. After the Islamic revolution women were ordered to wear hijabs as a law. Exposing the head or face can result in a punishment of a whipping or imprisonment.
The hijab law coincides with other laws diminishing the role of women in the country. Women were restricted from activities that men were allowed to do. Women were not allowed to perform certain occupations. Married women were no longer allowed to attend school. Any women who was not wearing a hijab could not be in the public vicinity or near a man by herself as this was viewed as morally corrupt and going against the religion.
The hijab law is still widely enforced and women face harsh penalties for disobeying the law. They can face up to 60 lashes of a whip or imprisonment for disobeying the law. While some may consider wearing the hijab as a practice which respects their culture and religion, others are beginning to revolt against the practice. According to Petrossian, a campaign has started in the country against the compulsory law of wearing the hijab.
The campaign has started on facebook and is called “Unveil a woman’s right to unveil” (par. 1). The website has stories of women depicting the harsh treatment by law enforcement towards women who do not wear a veil. The campaign demonstrates that there is a growing movement against being forced to wear the hijab. While many of the women would like to be able to continue wearing the hijab, being forced to do so by law enforcement officials has become demeaning and degrading towards the women and their rights. As women are harassed and threatened in public places. Petrossian describes how many women have posted stories on the facebook campaign highlighting the abuse against these women (par 2.). These laws no longer liberate women as they only serve to repress them.
Pakistan and the Hijab
In contrast to Iran and its strict laws on wearing a hijab is the country of Pakistan. According to the CIA factbook Muslims comprise 95% of the population in Pakistan (par. 3),. Despite the large prevalence of Muslims in the country and the fact that Pakistan is an Islamis Republic, wearing a burka or hijab is not mandatory or enforced by laws of any kind. While the practice of wearing a burka was prevalent in the past it has declined over time. While certain localities in Pakistan will continue to require women to wear burkas, a law did not develop as it has in Iran. Women are given more freedom to choose whether or not they wear a burka or need to cover themselves.
The wearing of the hijab is not strictly enforced by every Islamic Republic or predominantly Muslim nation. This demonstrates Petrossian’s point which is that the muslim religion does not impose wearing a hijab as part of their religious teachings. Despite this fact many women are told that they must respect their religion by wearing the hijab. As the religion is not the main source for women being forced to wear the hijab, culture could be the dominant reason behind the use of the clothing. The cultures of Pakistan and Iran differ which results in different social policies.
Iran’s culture has been governed by religion for many years. While this may be beneficial in areas of art and literature, for women the culture has been stifling. The leaders of Iran’s theocracy utilize the religion for their own means of suppression. These leaders will claim that to not wear a burqa is an insult against the religion. Laws governing whether women can drive, work or attend school follow the same reasoning of needed to abide by religious laws.
However when the religion is analyzed very little material is found as proof that these practices are based on religious views. Rather they appear to be edicts to control women. For women who move away from Iran and live overseas they rarely continue to adopt the style of wearing a hijab. Women within Iran also continue to fight against the compulsory wearing of the hijab as an impending sexual revolution has resulted in women exposing parts of their body regardless of the results of these actions. As the country becomes more exposed to Western culture, the compulsory requirement to wear the hijab may be waning as well as the leader of the nation will soon find.
Pakistan’s culture on the other hand has developed from political causes rather than religious ones. Pakistan is relatively new nation compared to other countries. Pakistan was created after the British gave India its independence. As part of the independence agreement Muslims of India were given their own nation of Pakistan. This resulted in turmoil as the country was divided and families were separated.
This rift has also been the source of tension between the two nations and multiple conflicts over territory and resources. As the nation began to develop its people have to adapt the customs and culture of India to their own nation. Although Pakistan is a Muslim nation the views governing wearing the hijab and treatment of women can be viewed as being more progressive than other nations. While Pakistan continues to build as a nation it needs to maintain ties to other countries and to demonstrate it is a leading country in the global arena.
As Pakistan was once a part of India, a democracy, and the country does not follow religious laws as fervently as other countries may. Pakistan also has close ties to Western nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom where strict laws towards women would be frowned upon. While the Pakistani people are mostly Muslim, they still have origins from India and other countries which lead to a more mixed culture than Irani culture.
Pakistan is also more forward thinking than Iran as it has already had women in key positions in the Pakistani government. Pakistan has had a woman prime minister while other Islamic nations do not even allow women to hold positions within government. This also demonstrates why Pakistan may have more lenient policies towards women as women have a say in their government and the policies instituted.
When westerners view the burqa they see an instrument of repression of women. For westerners the burqa is the epitome of what is wrong with Islamic culture and they view the War on Terrorism as a crusade against the oppression of Muslim women. Lughod counteracts this argument stating that people will dress in the way that is appropriate for their social customs. Rather than view the burka as an instrument of repression, Lughod views it as just a form of dress to conform to the society’s standards.
Western women must also ascribe to certain styles of dress as they must wear certain items of clothing for different occasions or wear their hair in a style that fits the occasion. While Westerners are quick to judge other cultures for their “repressive” beliefs it is difficult for westerners to identify the way in which our culture may repress women.
Western Fascination with the Veil
Ludhog argues that the Western fascination of the veil and freeing women from it only serves to disparage Muslim women. (p. 787). Ludhog proposes accepting the cultural differences that exist between the nations. As women have found who go onto live abroad, their repression continues in foreign countries when it comes to the hijab. Muslim women have found that in nations such as France or United Kingdom there are laws or beliefs which force women to not wear hijabs. Although these nations reason that these laws are for national security it could be argued that they are discriminatory and just as repressive as laws which force these women to wear hijabs.
By denying Muslim women the right to choose what they can and cannot wear we will continue to oppress them. It may be difficult to change the culture, views and laws governing Middle Eastern countries however we are able to change Western views and understanding around the hijab and burka. By providing an education as to the purpose of the garments and its positive role within the religion we can strive to end the discrimination that is faced against these women.
Efforts also need to be made to support campaigns like “Unveil a woman’s right to unveil” especially in the social media age in which support comes from just the click of a button. By advocating for the rights of women nations away we can continue to advance the progressive movement forward for women of every nation.
Cultural differences need to be accepted when analyzing the practices of other nations. Rather than ascribing to our views of what is repressive we need to formulate an understanding of the reasons behind other cultural practices and norms. This understanding can result in a more open discussion surrounding the wearing of the burka or hijab in not just Middle Eastern but also Western nations.
Abu, Lughod, Lila. “Do Muslim women really need saving? Anthropological reflections on cultural relativism and its others.” American anthropologist 104.3 (2002): 783-790.
Petrossian, Fred. “Iranian women saying no to compulsory hijabs.” Global Voices. (2012). Retrieved from http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/09/06/iran-unveil-womens-right-to-unveil/
LiPuma, Edward. “Culture and the concept of culture in a theory of practice.” Bourdieu: critical perspectives (1993): 14-34.
Central Intelligence Agency. “Iran” cia.gov. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2011.