Veil by Rafia Zakaria is a study of one of the more controversial cross-cultural issues of the day. Zakaria is an attorney and political philosopher. She is a regular columnist for Al Jazeera America and Dawn Pakistan and has written for many publications around the world including The Hindu, The Calcutta Stateman, China Daily The Korea Herald and Le Monde. She is the first Muslim American woman to serve on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA for two consecutive terms.
The object lessons presented by Bloomsbury Academic are usually mundane and ordinary item we see in our daily life like bread, golf balls, hair, and phone booths. This edition contains a more controversial issue of the veil and its connection with repression. Countries have tried to ban the wearing of a veil or niqab — the full head covering. It is a mixed subject and speaks to both repression and religious freedom. Just because some people in the West see it as a repressive symbol does not mean that the women who wear the veil see it that way.
I grew up in an ethnic Polish neighborhood and headscarves or “babushkas” were worn by many women outside of the house and especially in church. Historically, through the Renessiance, European women wore head coverings out of modesty. Even in the traditional marriage ceremony, the bride wears a veil that only the groom can remove. In religious texts, the veil is brought up:
“For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.”
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers…
The first quote defining the covering of a woman’s hair is from 1 Corinthians. The second is from the Koran. While Paul tells women to cover their heads, the Koran simply states they must guard their modesty. What it boils down to is interpretation and in many Muslim countries where women do not have a voice, the interpretation comes down to men’s interpretations. Telling a Muslim woman residing in a Western country that she cannot wear a head scarf contradicts one of the key Western aspect of freedom of religion. Banning it merely reinforces others to wear it.
Zakaria does present some Western concerns, not so much for a head scarf but for the niqab. Security and identification in travel present one issue. We are a culture that focuses on the face — “Look at me when I am talking to you.”, selfies, portraits, and Skype. We identify by face. In a lesser degree, the same was said about wearing a hoody — you have something to hide, you are a thug, you are up to no good. Zakaria also presents some interesting court cases on the matter of the veil and how it is used and possibly abused.
Veil is different from other object studies because it is controversial and not really something we take for granted. Dust, eggs, and cigarette lighters of previous object studies do not touch on deeply held beliefs or fears. This is one that will create some controversy in what was until now a level and secular series. Like it or hate it, it will give the reader something to think about.