The Veil: Modesty, Fashion, Devotion or Statement?
She was 9 years old and getting ready for school. After she got dressed, she laid out a few scarves of different colors and patterns on her bed, trying to pair two of them to match her jeans and shirt. A doll was hanging out of a drawer, a sweet reminder of an age she recently outgrew. She tried on scarves, layering them, braiding them, and switching colors, then repeated the same scenario all over again with a few more scarves before settling on a light blue scarf layered with a white one. I was thinking of my daughter, about the same age, who spends about the same amount of time every morning fixing her hair.
When I was growing up in Lebanon in the seventies, very few women wore the hijab or veil. Over the years, however, many Muslim women and girls have embraced the veil for different reasons. In Lebanon Muslim women do not have to wear the veil by law, but wearing it is rapidly becoming a decision of choice among many, young and old, modern and traditional.
Due to its location, its internal conflicts, its kaleidoscope of religions, and its politically vibrant population, Lebanon provides a microcosm of what is going on in the world today, reflecting both the growing differences and the existing inter-dependencies between the West and the Arab world, Christianity and Islam. While a large segment of the population is Western-oriented in its outlook, lifestyle and education, a growing segment, mostly Muslim, has its sights pointed eastward toward the rest of the Muslim world. In Lebanon these two apparent opposites coexist side by side, and their lives are intertwined on a daily basis, providing different interpretations of female beauty and fashion, and a juxtaposition of the veil and Islamic traditions with a Western dress code and lifestyle.
Muslims are increasing as a percentage of the population due to a higher birthrate. Feeling threatened in a world that sees any Islamic display of piety as suspicious, many Muslims are finding refuge in the overt symbols of Islam, and comfort in belonging to the worldwide Muslim community. The veil, almost nonexistent a few years ago in Lebanon, is making a comeback, even among younger generations and some women with a Western education. Some women described actually feeling liberated and at peace when they wore the hijab. It has different undertones – from religious devotion, to self-assertion vis-à-vis the West, to a fashion accessory – all leading to an underlying social pressure among Muslim women of all ages to wear it.
– R. M.