The world, from the Afghan Burqa to a magazine cover

National Hijab Day is celebrated in Iran on July 12. This celebration has been met with defiant demonstrations from women driving without headscarves.

The American glossy Allure featured a hijab-wearing model for the very first time on its cover. Hamali Aden, a Somali beauty who is a fashionista and a model, shows how stunning Islamic style can look.

Why is this versatile fabric so controversial?

Global hijab

As an anthropologist who studies the lives of women in the Middle East and Afghanistan, I am particularly interested in their dress. I’ve been following the ongoing debates in Europe about the hijab that young Muslim women wear.

Even the terminology is confusing in France, where I currently live: the term Voile (veil) covers everything from modest hijabs or headscarves to robes such as the Burqa.

The origin and size of Muslim women’s coverings vary greatly. The Burqa is a blue-colored covering that is common in Afghanistan and Pashtun, Pakistan. In the Gulf States, the all-encompassing Abaya and black Niqab are mandatory.

Young Muslims and converts around the globe who adhere to a strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic texts are increasingly wearing a version of this.

Carol Mann presents a fashion show at a French fair for ‘Muslim Women’ in Pontoise.

These groups have adopted a jilbab that is all-in-one. They have adapted to Indonesia.

In former British colonies with large Muslim populations, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, looser versions of the garment are worn.

In the Middle East, people wear colorful hijabs, but in Iran, they also use the stern chador, which covers the body and the head but (unlike the Sunni niqab) reveals the hands and face.

France has enacted rigid laws that have drowned out these different garments and their connotations. The public is whipped up into a frenzy about anything that might be mistaken for Muslim clothing, as it could pose a threat against the founding Republican principle of laicite or secularism.

The “burkini” outrage of last summer is symbolic of the confusion that governs the issue in France. It has now banned swimwear on Lebanon’s beaches.

Emblem of repression or a symbol of oppression?

The clothing of Muslim women has no fixed or singular meaning.

It is a symbol of repression against women in many countries. Saudi Arabia, for example, and Afghanistan are examples. In Malaysia, Iran, and ISIS-dominated areas, a special Vice Squad controls the way women dress. Surgery.

A public garden in Kabul – the capital of Afghanistan. Carol Mann

Fashionistas are famous in Tehran for transforming compulsory clothing into a statement.

In France, for example, the full-face niqab is not mandatory.

Amnesty International and the League of Human Rights protested France’s 2014 ban, saying it violated human rights. These are the human rights organizations that declared, after 9/11, that the Burqa is emblematic of patriarchal repression against women by the Taliban.

The two meanings of the word “strange” and “conflicting” are difficult to reconcile in one article of clothing.

To a “globalised Islam”

It may be possible to explain how and why the unexpected rise of religious practice is happening among young people from the Middle East and Europe.

In his new essay, The Fracture, French sociologist Gilles Kepel argues that Muslim youth are increasingly turning to religion.

Faith fills a void for them, and while young people widely accept digital consumerism, it allows them to express their disdain for the hegemonic Western Neoliberalism. This reminds us of historian Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, which offered two grim options for the future: nationalism and religious fundamentalism.

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