The Economics of Hijab

Hijab is surely one of the major social issues in discussion these days particularly in the West. Is this issue merely an indicator of the growing feelings of hatred against Muslims after 9/11? Is it merely because the Hijab is believed by many to have become a symbol of Islamic revivalism and assertion of Muslim identity? If…

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Hijab is surely one of the major social issues in discussion these days particularly in the West. Is this issue merely an indicator of the growing feelings of hatred against Muslims after 9/11? Is it merely because the Hijab is believed by many to have become a symbol of Islamic revivalism and assertion of Muslim identity? If people tend to think that to be the case they are awfully mistaken. It can be true that the campaign against Hijab has gathered momentum after 9/11. But the truth is that Hijab is a constant thorn in the flesh of the corporate world. Recent events have only given it a fresh reason to press the campaign against modesty with a renewed vigour. But the real motive behind this campaign remains economic, not the religious or political.
With the beginning of Industrial Revolution and its capture at the ideological level by what I call economic fundamentalism, the feminist movements in the West and elsewhere spawned a socio-cultural milieu that encouraged women’s participation in social activities. Feminism imbued their minds with a falla­cious sense of euphoria over their newly found liberty and free­dom. Freedom was too fantastic a slogan to resist and the prospects of riddance from the ennui of routine menagerie was a dream come true. Hardly did they realise that the freedom they were being made to achieve was but a mirage and the movement for women’s liberty was a calculated move initiated or supported by the cunning merchants. Having excelled in misusing fascination between men and women to further their business, it was now time to sexually abuse women for money.
The economic fundamentalists had pretty well recognised the big potential of sex as market. The desire for cars, scooters, fashionable garments and other items of luxury could be wanting in a number of human beings, but sex is a universal human urge and even the most pious tends to succumb to sexual advances of a member of the opposite sex. Man longs to have as many partners in bed as he can lay hands on. The immanence of this human tendency throughout the world is an irrefutable fact of life. The commercialisation of sex there­fore was expected to generate massive dividends, unparalleled in any other business.
Furthermore, sex could be used for boosting other markets as well. A number of stumbling blocks in the path of merchandising of sex had already been crushed or made defunct. The women were now willing to be active participants in any dispensa­tion. Their longing for luxurious life was rapidly intensifying; they had smelled economic independence. Unfortunately however, women failed to exercise their wisdom in distinguishing between true freedom that would elevate their social and economic status without turning them into victims of savage exploitation and fake freedom that was advertently inculcated in them by the merchants in order to expand their financial empires. Little did women understand that their personal rights would be used as instruments for their abuse.
The first necessity for the commercialisation of sex was that women must get accustomed to revealing their anatomy before others. This could not be accomplished overnight. The first step in that direction was popularisation of ‘fashion’ which soon became a word most dear to men and women of all ages and groups. Fashion as an industry developed by leaps and bounds; and corresponding to its growth, the size and volume of clothes adored by women got shortened. Covering the heads had always been regarded both by men and women in almost all the faiths that flourished anywhere on the globe a sign of virtue. It indicated the decency of personality and righteousness of character. Head-kerchief was the first casualty of the storm of fashion. This led to the display of dozens of attractive hairstyles. Then the arms and shoulders were bared and the neckline started descending. Skirts began to shrink, and miniskirts and shorts steadily marked their presence on the fashion scene. Swimming suits were then popularised through sports – women had the right to play – and films. Within a short period of time the topless blondes and brunettes could be seen on hundreds of beaches all over the world. The business through beaches reached great heights. The nude poses of women – even an ugly woman could be made sexy by an expert photographer – started regularly appearing in some maga­zines and newspapers. The films excelled in showing them taking bath or changing clothes. The portrayal of sexual acts was soon to follow.
In this background, it can be easily understood that Purdah or Hijab (veil) was the most abomi­nable sight for the economic fundamentalists donning the garb of feminism. It must be clarified here that purdah (covering of body) was not limited to the Islamic world, as is often believed. Almost all the races, communities and sects, except some tribes, insisted on covering most parts of the body. Women, especially belonging to the upper class, usually covered their heads and put an extra cloth on their bosoms. The difference in the case of Islam was that it had assumed the shape of burqua. The campaign of the pseudo feminists was therefore directed against all such societies that prescribed some code of dressing. How a woman reluctant even to show her face and hair could be persuaded to bare her breasts, thighs and buttocks! The unholy war against the ‘veil’ in the countries, where it was still in practice, got intensified. It was condemned as the greatest obstacle in the development of women. Acrimonious debates ensued in newspapers, magazines, social circles and public platforms. Army personnel and policemen could cover their bodies with thick uniform and head with heavy helmets, and yet the heat in the atmosphere and density of clothes would not interfere in their normal functioning; advocates and judges could don jet black robes, even at the height of summer, and yet the travails of weather would not impede their work; doctors could put thick white aprons without feeling uncomfortable; nurses and nuns’ head-kerchiefs would not hinder their movements; bishops could perform all their celebrated duties wearing extra robes and covering their heads; but women’s freedom of movements would be severely jeopardised, as the feminists believed, if they covered their body with some additional piece of cloth. If women wore a hat to cover their head, it was not unwelcome, as it normally did not indicate a desire on her part to practise some piety. Hijab on the other hand was not acceptable as it demonstrated a conscious conviction and effort on the part of the woman to lead a chaste life. Chasteness was and is not acceptable to the economic fundamentalists; chasteness does not bring money.
Nudity is an antidote to chasteness. Nudity needed glorification in order to be popularised; the shame attached to it was to be mercilessly ravished if society had to “develop”. The “Operation Nudity” began with the glorification of nude paintings and graffiti. The artists who marvelled in eroticism were admired as some of the greatest ar­tists of all times for the reason that their compositions were portrayals of “reality” and “beauty”. Films also started presenting woman in her full naked glory in the name of art or reality. The opponents were spurned as the enemies of truth and art. When the money poured in as the result of depiction of truth, truth was eulogised; when it required falsehood, it was adored as a work of fiction or creative imagination. With the beginning of the globalisation, which meant that now Muslim countries too would be globalised, the forces of the corporate world have realised that the true picture of globalisation cannot emerge unless the Islamic practice of Hijab is challenged and abolished.
During the life-time of Prophet Muhammad and in the early part of the Post-Muhammad era, the dress code that was applicable to men and women did mean neither a specific type of dress like burqua for women, nor total segregation. Women, with their heads covered and their bodies adorning simple, non-provocative, decent garments and their bosoms further protected by chadars, used to offer congregational prayers in mosques along with men. Their participation had been remarkable in almost all the battles that Muslims had to engage in. While some women took arms and fought valiantly at the battle front, most of them worked behind the ranks nursing the injured with religious fervour and passion. The advent of Muhammad (PBUH) brought education at the top of the agenda of the activities of his followers; women did not lag behind. They used to furnish themselves with knowledge along with men in the classes conducted by Ali, the most acknowledged expert of the religious sciences. But all these assemblies stuck to certain regulations to prevent any mischief. In the mosques, women’s row would be behind those of men and children; they would be the first to leave mosques, and when all of them had left; men would come out. In the classes, women would sit on one side and men on the other. With the passage of time however, the provisions of purdah took the form of a specific robe, burqua, for women going out of their houses; their participation in congregational prayers was forbidden by the latter clerics and segregation became too impervious to allow any scope for their participation in educational and other pursuits that could require going out of their houses. Islam has wonderful counterpoise in its social system; it has no scope for feminism or male chauvinism. It gave women extraordinary rights and at the same time took extremely effective steps to safeguard them from all types of exploitation. It bestowed on them economic rights comprising the right to inherit (in proportion to their economic obligations), share in the properties of their fathers, mothers, husbands, sons and daughters, made a provision of dower for them (in consideration of their marriage) that was obligatory on their husbands to be given before consummation of marriage and the right to own properties. It awarded them, like their male counterparts, the right to earn but did not make it obligatory for them, thus giving them not only the choice to earn but also the choice not to earn; in that case, the husbands were duty-bound to maintain them in a way befitting their status. Besides the economic rights, Islam also excelled in giving them equal rights in social life, such as the absolute right to choose their spouse, the right to seek from their husbands or sue them for divorce, the right to receive maintenance from husbands till their divorce was formalised and maintenance for their children till they were looked after by her, the right to remarry after divorce and after her husband’s death the right to have or not to have children in consultation with their husbands, and the right to look after their children, in case they are divorced, till a certain point of time. Islam not only endowed women with the right to learn, equal rights in religion, education and prayers were made obligatory on them, just in the same way as they were on men. Of still greater social significance is the fact that Islam imposed such restrictions on men (and women) as would ensure physical and mental security of women. These include total ban on alcohol, gambling and adultery. Purdah was not obligatory, as is commonly understood, on women alone; men also could not reveal most parts of their bodies and would preferably cover their heads. Unfortunately however, several of these rights were compromised with in successive Muslim societies. This provided the economic fundamentalists an opportunity to malign Islam as anti-women. Their aim was obviously to incite women against their religion. The game-plan met with partial successes, especially in those countries that either had either a foreign rule or rulers influenced by the West or Westernism. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many governments in Muslim countries including Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon strove to impose western values on their people. The purdah was forcibly abolished, and the women of these countries, willingly or unwillingly, started participating in the same form of activities as the western women were engaged in. At one time, night clubs flourished in Tehran, Cairo and Beirut. But the roots of faith were too strong in Muslims to allow it to continue for long. Within half a century, men and women in these countries in increasing numbers developed aversion for the new values. The on-going nakedness stopped, and women again started wrapping themselves in the garb of purity; they continued to engage in the educational and other social pursuits in a way as would not make them vulnerable to exploitative practices. In some countries however, like in Taliban’s Afghanistan, the Islamic Shari’ah was interpreted too rigidly to allow women to get higher education.
I have been advocating for several years that if Deen is to be established, Muslims should wage an aggressive ideological war against the ideology of economic fundamentalism, Westernism being its most visible face in today’s world. We should stop just keeping on defending Islam and Muslims. We must attack the false ideologies. If Hijab is to be protected, the only way to do is to wage a full-fledged attack on nakedness and all forms of its commercialisation. Women of the West must be made aware of the designs of the forces of economics. This has to be done through a well-orchestrated collective effort, which has been missing now. I find it very hard to get my books published and distributed, as they attack the designs of the market forces. I have also not got the support of the Muslim organisations. When my book, The Killer Sex was published, several American women who read it via Net opined that every western girl of more than 12 years must be given this book to read. But how? I had no answer.
To sum up, Hijab is a “grim” reminder to the West particularly the corporate world that a lot has to be done if the expansion of the global sex market is to be intensified; and Islam will be hard to beat if Muslims and Muslim countries are to be trapped. This cannot be done without manoeuvring the psyche behind Hijab.