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Veiling in Africa

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The tradition of the veil, which refers to various cloth coverings of the head, face, and body, has been little studied in Africa, where Islam has been present for more than a thousand years. These lively essays raise questions about what is distinctive about veiling in Africa, what religious histories or practices are reflected in particular uses of the veil, and how styles of veils have changed in response to contemporary events. Together, they explore the diversity of meanings and experiences with the veil, revealing it as both an object of Muslim piety and an expression of glamorous fashion.

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9 Chapters

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ONE Veiling, Fashion, and Social Mobility: A Century of Change in Zanzibar • LAURA FAIR

ePub

“The Veil” has never been a static thing, nor have its use and meaning been firm. In this chapter, I explore changes in veiling habits in Zanzibar over the course of more than a century, illustrating both how and why the veil has changed over time. Though “the veil” is often condemned in the West as a sign of women’s subordination, here I illustrate that in Zanzibar women have often used the veil to assert both their freedom and their economic might. The bulk of this chapter examines changes in veiling fashions over the course of the twentieth century, but I begin with a brief discussion of a more recent trend to illustrate that the uses and meanings attributed to the veil worn by women in the Isles of Zanzibar—which includes two large islands, Unguja and Pemba, and several smaller ones which came to be known collectively as Zanzibar—are often completely hidden from casual observers in the West.

At the turn of the twenty-first century a new veiling fashion was increasingly seen on the streets and in the markets of Zanzibar. Suddenly, it seemed, growing numbers of women were donning the niqāb, choosing to cover their faces entirely when in public rather than wearing the more common buibui, which left their faces open, or the more casual kanga,thrown over the top of the head and draped over the shoulders and chest. Where did this new style come from, I wondered? And what was the impetus for this change? (Plate 1).

 

TWO Veiling without Veils: Modesty and Reserve in Tuareg Cultural Encounters • SUSAN J. RASMUSSEN

ePub

In this chapter, I analyze the power and vulnerability of a gendered cultural value that not only involves the literal wearing of veils, but also incorporates a more general respect, shame, and modesty, called takarakit in Tamajaq, the local Berber (Amazigh) language of the Tuareg residing in oases and towns of Niger, Mali, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso. This concept conveys several related yet distinct sentiments or attitudes. Most Tuareg are Muslim, semi-sedentarized, socially stratified, and until recently, predominantly rural and nomadic, but now semi-nomadic.1 Local mores permit much free social interaction between the sexes, and most women enjoy high social prestige, can independently own property, and are not secluded or veiled; rather, it is men who are veiled. During evening festivals, social occasions, and courtship between the sexes, takarakit and “veiled” sentiments with indirect expression are traditionally encouraged, albeit with some social license. In the pre-colonial stratified, endogamous social system, persons who were forbidden to marry were allowed to flirt at the evening festivals. Despite some degree of relaxation permitted under cover of darkness, takarakit has long been particularly important there, with highly stylized etiquette, stricter for men than for women. More generally, men are supposed to always respect women, whether during informal sociability, in courtship conversation, or at the evening musical festivals, and are not supposed to boast of or discuss openly their relations with women. Men ideally should be modest, even self-effacing, in women’s presence. They should not be aggressive or coercive toward women. Thus there is some coincidence between takarakit and respectful conduct more generally. There is also an overlap between takarakit and some other values, such as imojagh (dignity or honor) and eshshek (decency). As anywhere, not everyone follows this ideal conduct. Takarakit is both asserted and violated, a “flashpoint” for debate.

 

THREE Intertwined Veiling Histories in Nigeria • ELISHA P. RENNE

ePub

Hijab is my pride”

 

—Packaged hijab, sold at Oja’ba Market, Ibadan, 31 May 2011

 

 

“God instructs us to wear hijab, is it not the Prophet who said we should wear it?”

—Woman interviewed in Zaria City, 25 April 2001

Veiling in Nigeria—a practice which consists of wearing a cloth which may cover the head, body, and at times, the face, feet, and hands—reflects a complex set of social relationships that have religious, political, and historical dimensions. In Nigeria, Muslim women with different ethnic backgrounds wear a range of veiling styles. In the southwest, some Yoruba Muslim women wear the all-encompassing black burqa-like garment worn by women known as ẹlẹẹha (Plate 3) while the majority wears the more common stole-like iborun over gele headties. More recently, some have worn different styles of hijab. In the north, Hausa Muslim women are more likely to wear the hijab worn in a range of styles, including the recent “fashion hijab,” although some still prefer the style of headtie and gyale style similar to those worn in the southwest. In both the north and south, women’s thinking about veiling and their decisions about what types of veils they wear reflect the specific histories of Islam and of Islamic organizations in Yorubaland and Hausaland respectively.

 

FOUR Religious Modesty, Fashionable Glamour, and Cultural Text: Veiling in Senegal • LESLIE W. RABINE

ePub

By its metamorphosis from austere religious symbol into fashionable adornment, the veil in Senegal illustrates the power of fashion to transform social polarization into dialogical process. This process began in the 1990s, when Islamic sects from Iran and Saudi Arabia, quite foreign to the Sufi brotherhoods that compose most of Senegalese Islam, gained a foothold among young people. Although the population of Senegal is 95 percent Muslim, Senegalese women have historically not worn Middle-Eastern-style veils. But for young women in the orthodox movements, hijab-style veils symbolized a “purer” form of Islam, in part as protest against a complex conjunction of historic forces. These included economic crisis, immense unemployment, out-of-control political corruption, and the post-colonial dominance of Western powers, as well as disillusionment with Sufi leaders. Through orthodox Islam, young people rebelled against the local “traditions” of their elders, and identified with a powerful anti-Western global movement (Augis 2009:217–219).

 

FIVE Modest Bodies, Stylish Selves: Fashioning Virtue in Niger • ADELINE MASQUELIER

ePub

You must cover your body because it is God’s command. God will send angels to light up the graves of women who cover their heads with veils.

—Izala preacher, Dogondoutchi, 1994

According to a hadīth, the woman who does not veil will never smell the smell of paradise. [ . . . ] Every time she comes out of her home uncovered, she shares the sins of all the men who look at her.

—Izala preacher, Dogondoutchi, 2006

In the early 1990s a wave of religious fervor swept through Niger, promoting the development of a “heightened self-consciousness” (Eickelman and Piscatori 1996:39) about what it meant to be Muslim. The sharpening of Muslim identity in turn translated into an unprecedented focus on dress codes and the fashioning of modest personae. Members of an emerging anti-Sufi reformist movement known colloquially as Izala1 insisted that local male and female garb be modified. While they urged men to shed their voluminous riguna (robes) in favor of the jaba—a tunic worn over short-hemmed pants, they were especially keen to ensure that women concealed their bodies from head to ankles. Women wearing “skimpy” attire were harassed, and occasionally attacked, for exposing their state of undress and by implication, their lack of religious engagement. The modesty of a “true” Muslim’s attire was a measure of her virtue, Izala preachers declared, as they grew beards and put on turbans.

 

SIX “Should a Good Muslim Cover Her Face?” Pilgrimage, Veiling, and Fundamentalisms in Cameroon • JOSÉ C. M. VAN SANTEN

ePub

The issue of veiling in sub-Saharan Africa has received little attention. Perhaps that is because most women as well as men, Christians as well as Muslims, have used various types of head coverings as indicative of social distinctions as well as protection against the sun. However, in recent decades in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa, veiling as a form of religious expression has emerged in juxtaposition with modernity, politics, and laïcité (Van Santen 2010b). Veiling is now associated with particular ideas, events, and actions that link important aspects of social life and can alter during the course of a woman’s life (Van Santen 2010a). In this chapter, I explore one such change in women’s veiling practices, namely the pilgrimage to Mecca, the (hajj), one of the five pillars of Islam. What influence does going on hajj have on women’s veiling practices in Cameroon?

Globalization and increased cash flow have meant that more Muslim women are able to go on the hajj. On their return, these women are allowed to carry the prestigious title of alhadzja. Although Saudi Arabia does not allow Cameroonian women to make a pilgrimage to Mecca on their own (meaning without a husband), organizers of the hajj have found ways to bypass this rule. Thus women from various ethnic backgrounds and social classes arrive in Mecca and are confronted with new notions of what a “good” Muslim should look like. Some female pilgrims return home with a black face-covering veil (niqāb), intending to begin wearing it on their return. Others consider their usual way of veiling sufficient. In the past non-Muslim women wore a simple headtie, and Muslim women would add an extra piece of cloth in the same color as their gowns. However, after women go on hajj, the choice of veiling can become a significant issue and a topic for discussion.

 

SEVEN Invoking Hijab: The Power Politics of Spaces and Employment in Nigeria • HAUWA MAHDI

ePub

The fact that changes in dress styles are taking place in Nigeria reflects perhaps the normal processes of change which occur in all societies. Yet these transformations, at both the macro-national and micro levels, differ as each reflects a unique experience. In Nigeria, women’s dress has increasingly become an object of contention at the macro level, more so in the last three decades than it had in previous years. State actors and some civil society organizations (CSOs) alike have become active in the discourse of and attempts to legislate how women should or should not behave as a moral imperative. In 2007, Senator Ufot Eme Ekaette, one of only nine women in the 109-member Senate chamber of the National Assembly, gained some notoriety for her proposed bill, which in the light of Nigerians’ penchant for nicknames soon became known as the Nudity Bill (Adaramola 2008). There are other politicians who share the title of morality police with Ekaette. The senator and former governor of Zamfara State Ahmed Sani introduced the death penalty on sexual offences during his governorship, on 27 January 2000. (He later went on to enhance his moral authority by his marriage to an Egyptian girl in her early teens.) Second, some twenty-six senators (two of whom are women) sponsored the Same-Sex Bill, which prohibits sexual relations and marriage among same-sex partners in Nigeria (Obende et al. 2011). In all these morality bills female and male senators of all backgrounds have come together without a sectarian—religious or ethnic—hitch. In the last thirty years, an era of increasing economic hardship in Nigeria, women have been blamed for anything from droughts to a rise in delinquency among children. Public discourse in the media is filled with debates and arguments that support curtailing women’s rights and freedom, often in the name of religion or tradition. The “Nudity Bill” and other morality legislation must be seen in the context of the general social disorder in Nigeria and attempts by the political elite to grope for answers to unfulfilled yearnings for basic human rights and demands for “progress,” particularly in such things as the provision of electricity and running water.

 

EIGHT “We Grew Up Free but Here We Have to Cover Our Faces”: Veiling among Oromo Refugees in Eastleigh, Kenya • PERI M. KLEMM

ePub

The adoption of the veil among Oromo refugees living in Eastleigh, Kenya, one the largest urban refugee communities in Africa, is a recent phenomenon. Women feel increasing pressure to cover their heads and bodies in accordance with the practices of their Somali neighbors and fellow refugees. More and more, as instability and violence escalate, Oromo women are choosing to adopt full hair, head, and body covering as a kind of urban camouflage with which to conceal their ethnicity. As one female resident acknowledged, “We grew up free but here we have to cover our faces” (B. B. H., personal communication, September 2011).1 Yet, just five years ago, Oromo women in Eastleigh proudly wore their cultural dress in public. For refugees with little in the way of material heritage, women’s dress, hairstyles, and jewelry have served not only as a vital marker of Oromo identity in their home country of Ethiopia but also as a fundamental assertion of Oromo nationalism in the diaspora.

 

NINE Vulnerability Unveiled: Lubna’s Pants and Humanitarian Visibility on the Verge of Sudan’s Secession • AMAL HASSAN FADLALLA

ePub

Journalist Lubna Ahmed Al-Hussein traveled to France to sign a book based on her story on the 23rd of November, 2009. Internet sales of her book . . . reached half a million copies, each selling for 18 Euros, 6% of which will go to Lubna. Lubna told reporters that the book will be translated into various languages.

—Reuters (Paris), 2009

In July 2009, the transnational media circulated news about yet another grave human rights violation perpetrated by Sudan’s Islamist regime, the latest in a series of violent crimes against humanity.1 Lubna Al-Hussein, dubbed “the pants journalist” for wearing pants in public and hence countermanding the prevailing dress code of modest body covering, was sentenced to flogging after an arrest by the public order police in Sudan. This case became one of the most widely reported narratives about the subordination of Muslim women in the world.2 Lubna was arrested, along with twelve other women, in a public restaurant in Khartoum and charged with disturbing public order by dressing indecently. Lubna contested the immodesty charge by addressing the media and arguing that at the time of her arrest she was wearing baggy pants, a long blouse with long sleeves, and a headscarf.

 

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