By Che Ambe
Veils and scarves are traditions of several cultures even before the origin of Islam. Till date, covering the head is central to many religions including Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism.
Some like the Burqa covers the entire body with vision possible through a mesh screen. The Nigab also covers the entire body, but some openings left for the eyes. Others like Chador cover the full body with closing at the neck with a pin or hand.
With ISIS-inspired carnage in certain countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria, caused by hidden bombs in veiled humans, the full veil is under scrutiny. According to Sociologist Caitlin Killian, Associate Professor at Drew University in New Jersey, USA, veiling over the years apart from being influenced by different religious interpretations, is heavily dictated by politics.
The Quran and Hadith (attributable words of the prophet) she says does not mandate veiling apart from reference to Mohammed’s wives using veils. The debate then is whether it should only be the prophet’s wives or all Muslim women. She however affirms the holy book’s emphasis on modesty with the area to be covered depending “on the source and ranges from the bosom to the whole body except the face and hands”.
The veil in Islam also serves to distinguish men from women, and as a way of checking sexual urges of men. An immodest female brings dishonor to the family. Veiling in pre-Islam she said was a “status conferral” with rich women able to afford it while those who till the fields altered their veiling.
As Islam spread, veiling reflected local cultures, with countries such as Iran mandating veiling for all women. Same for the Taliban government in Afghanistan (1996-2001) that required the burqa. The ISIS regime in February, this year disfigured the faces of 15 women with acid in Mosul for improper veiling. The punishments were administered by the all female ISIS brigade called Al-Khansa. Five Iraqi men were also executed at the city’s square because their wives were identified with violating the dress code – the Nigab.
Veiling in the West has often steered controversy with some governments like in France saying it poses security challenges. Some Moslem women have defended the veil as a sign of their religious or cultural identity, while critics point to the fact that most women are coerced into veiling by male chauvinist, as a check on their sexual escapades. Whatever the veiling in Moslem tradition, its use in Sub-Saharan Africa is posing a challenge to fighting Islāmic extremists who are hiding behind the veil to hit soft targets. Its use is in check now in Chad and parts of Cameroon (following veiled suicide bombings). Gabon and Congo Brazzaville have also banned veiling for pre-emption.
Veiled persons too have hit targets in Nigeria, the epicenter of the extremist group Boko Haram, but banning the veil or some sort of it is likely to steer controversy, but the current president Mr. Buhari, a Moslem remains the only person who can pre-empt an uprising if he decides to restrict its use. For now, extremists no doubt are exploiting the sacredness of the veil to undermine the war against them.
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