Behind the Veil: Veiling and Globalization in Morocco
In a country with limited freedoms, most women agree that veiling or wearing the hijab is in fact a matter of personal choice. This decision is primarily religiously based for those who veil, as many believe it is explicitly stated in the Qur’an and linked to being a practicing Muslim, although it is also culturally and socially based. In addition to the reasons why women choose to veil or not, my paper will discuss the construction of identity through this practice and the privileges and consequences associated with it. Furthermore, I will discuss the effects of globalization on the choice of whether or not to wear the veil or hijab.
In tune with religion, cultural influences also persuade the choice to veil. Hessini acknowledges on page 42:
The adoption of the veil is part of a widespread movement toward Islamic authenticity. For many Muslims this means searching for an identity in tune with their heritage and devoid of Western values. They are insisting on a revised, more genuine practice of Islam, one based on indigenous cultural norms as well as on the values inherent in traditional Islam.
With this, we see that religious and Western values conflict. Western influence is increasingly prevalent in Morocco today as a result of globalization. I found it nearly impossible to walk the streets of a major city (Fes, Agadir, or Casablanca) without seeing a Western brand being advertised—Calvin Klein, Honda, Nike, Prada, Disney, Activa, Coke, and so forth. In the advertisements depicting women, none are wearing the veil or hijab. In his book, Islam, Globalization and Postmodernity, author Akbar S. Ahmed states contrasting value systems (traditional Muslim vs. Western norms) leave Muslim women feeling powerless in an ever-changing society that forces them to rethink, renegotiate and reinvent traditional society with unique, modern tones. He further argues that the contemporary Muslim world at large is facing unprecedented internal and external challenges and cultural dilemmas (Ahmed 127). Women wear the hijab because they do not want to feel like “the type of woman you see on billboards” and in order to reject an imitation of the West (Hessini 51). As Jen'Nan Ghazal Read, author of the article To Veil or Not to Veil, explains on page 399, devout women veil as a symbol of “disdain for the profane, immodest, and consumerist cultural customs of the West….veiling is legitimated as an anti-imperialist statement of ethnic and cultural distinctiveness.” Some Moroccans believe that only Islam can create a functional society, while capitalism leads to chaos (Hessini 49). Thus, because of globalization, there has been a recent increase of the number of veiled women, as means of protecting and reinforcing their Muslim identities and refuting Western influences.
Another reason women choose to veil is because it allows them to enter “public” space (streets, cafes, work places, etc.) traditionally reserved for men. This is especially important today, because there in an increasing necessity for women in most Muslin areas, including Morocco, to earn a cash income--which requires them to leave the home (Ahmed 129). Women see the veil as a form of protection from the male gaze and a “symbol of interiority” (Hessini 47). It separates them from men, effectively maintaining societal equilibrium. However, the curtain separating the worlds of men and women is “slowly yet perceptibly opening throughout the Muslim world” (Ahmed 127). Wearing the veil or hijab also maintains society’s standards by ensuring women are not provocative, since attracting the attention of males in Islamic society is taboo. Sara claimed that veiling hides the whole body from men. Many women gain more respect for themselves and find that men have more respect for them and bother them less when they wear the hijab (Hessini 53). Others, such as Hafsa, veil due to social pressures. Hafsa, a woman from Agadir, wore the veil between ages 20 and 27. Hafsa described the veil as a form of a dress code and said that many girls feel like they should wear it. Jamila, an unveiled women from Sidi Ifni, agreed that social pressure to conform and behave in a certain way heavily influence the decision to wear the veil.
For some, the consequences of not veiling are numerous. Hafsa discussed how in the countryside, unveiled women are not appreciated or respected because they are considered too liberal. Her choice to stop veiling caused serious problems with her family, which does not accept her decision. She was critiqued and compared to her younger sister, who they claimed was a “good Muslim” while Hafsa was not. Meryeme feels that women who do not wear the hijab are not practicing their religion, and thus feels differently towards them (although not in a disrespectful or negative way). Increased attention and decreased respect from males is probable. Of course, the severity of judging and critiquing varies widely from cities to the countryside, seeing as fewer women are covered in the cities. Still, some women, such as Jamila, say they never had any negative experiences because they do not “cover up.”
The traditional argument against veiling is that it is a form of submission by women to men in a heavily patriarchal society, and that veiling reinforces gender barriers and strengthens the power of men over women. Feminists argue that veiling is not historically rooted in Islam, but actually originated in the ancient Near East and Arabia prior to the rise of Islam. Additionally, the ambiguities in the Qur’an are discussed: how the word “curtain” is used but the word “veil” is not, and who that particular verse was intended for—Muhammad’s wives as opposed to the general population (Read 401). However, these particular arguments did not come up in any of my conversations. Of the women who do not veil, many simply reiterate the fact that it is one’s own choice. I found that the younger women seemed more indifferent about it than the slightly older women. One student said she might veil someday, just not right now, but perhaps after she was married. Another student, Zeenip, said she just did not want to veil, that most women at the university did not, that no one in her family did (except her grandmother) and it is her choice. Hafsa and Jamila were both more adamant about the topic. Hafsa said she realized the veil was not for her, and that to cover her hair with a piece of cloth limits her mind and puts it in jail. Notably, both women consider themselves “culturally” Muslim. None of the women I talked with held any disrespect for unveiled women, and claim to accept all women. I also witnessed a lot of mixing; unveiled women and veiled women together, seemingly friends.
Globalization has had impacts on veiling aside from the rejection of Western ways. When I asked Jamila how globalization affects how women view veiling, she replied that it made it into a sign of resistance to Western cultural imperialism and a sign against the objectification of women’s bodies (in advertisements). She explained that women are trying to reject the notion that they are objects of sexual desire. In Ibrahim Kuran’s article New Normalcy And Shifting Meaning of the Practice of Veiling In Turkey, he calls attention to the interpretation of the veil in terms of the consumer market influenced by globalization, which highlights consumption and converts the veil into a market symbol. This commodification of culture has shifted the meaning of the veil from its religious origins to the “axis of consumer culture,” realized through the forces of an increasing presence of capitalism abroad (Kuran 368). Indeed, the veil is no longer a one-style-fits-all-ordeal. Many women, such as Meryeme, buy veils to correlate with their outfits. Similar to having designer brands in the West, some women will only buy veils from certain expensive (but high quality) companies—a sign of higher social class and status (Kuran 369).
The practice of veiling in Morocco deviates widely from how it is perceived in the West. Whereas the majority of the Western world views the veil as a symbol of oppression and male domination, many women in Morocco perceive it as a means of gaining freedom, protection, and equality. The choice to veil or wear the hijab is predominantly religiously based, as many believe it is clearly stated in the Qur’an and tied to being a “good” (practicing) Muslim, yet it is culturally and socially based as well. There are many privileges (for example, being able to enter the public space and greater respect from men) and consequences (some feel it limits women) associated with it. While globalization has had many effects on the practice, it has made many women reject Western ways in search for a more authentic Islamic identity through the wearing of the veil or hijab. It has also increased the concept of consumer culture by commodifying the veil. Despite Western influences, I am pleased to report that Muslim women in Morocco hold one another in high esteem, regardless of whether or not they veil.
Ahmed, Akbar S., and Hastings Donnan. Islam, Globalization, and Postmodernity. New York: Routledge, 2005. Accessed May 30, 2011. http://books.google.com/ books?hl=en&lr=&id=jypdNS5nJyoC&oi=fnd&pg=PA141&dq=globalization,+veil&ots=G7ms3n1Asj&sig=Hqv-sArTnO65TdoDnbdsXHv7SwE#v=onepage&q=globalization
Kuran, Ibrahim. "New Normalcy and Shifting Meanings of the Practice of Veiling in Turkey."
Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences 2 (2010): 364-379. Accessed May 30, 2011. www.japss.org/upload/18._Kuran__Opinion_Paper
Leila, Hessini. "Wearing the Hijab in Contemporary Morocco: Choice and Identity. Chapter Three." E Reserve. Accessed May 30, 2011. http://web.rollins.edu/reserves/antphi
Read, Jen'Nan Ghazal, and John P. Bartkowski. "To Veil or Not to Veil? A Case Study of Identity Negotiation among Muslim Women in Austin, Texas." Sage Publications, Inc.
JSTOR. Accessed May 30, 2011. Last modified June 2000. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0891-2432%28200006%2914%3A3%3C