The Hijab & the Burka in Morocco

I come from a society were women are almost encouraged to wear less clothing. In western society, especially in Latin America, women are frequently categorized as sexual objects and their sexuality is often exploited as a means of marketing. I can very clearly remember this one billboard in Santo Domingo that advertised female lingerie on an elevated highway that passes next to residential buildings coming from the airport. The women on that billboard were basically naked, displaying an enormous bosom, perfectly smooth skin and that look in their face–a look characteristic of advertisements–where the woman seems to have no other thought in her mind than sex.

megan-fox-emporio-armani-lingerie-billboard
The kind of overtly sexual billboard that I refer to.

I haven not seen a single advertisement of that nature in Morocco. It is to be expected of course, given that this is a much more conservative society because of the Islamic influence. Religion forms part of the daily lives of Moroccans and 98% of them are Muslim. Since it is a Muslim country, throughout the day you will hear the Adhan and in the streets you will see people rushing to the mosques to pray. In conversation with Moroccans, I often hear quotes from the Koran or the Hadidths. In the streets, you will see women wearing Hijab and the Burka.

I think that I am very culturally aware and so I wasn’t taken aback by women walking around fully covered all day. Yet I did start developing contrary feelings about a week into the program. I began to wonder if women actually felt oppressed by wearing the Hijab. I believe it is a valid question. Given that you hear in the news that women wearing burkas are oppressed, I wondered if it was true for women wearing the Hijab. It felt weird seeing women hiding themselves all around me and I wondered if they actually felt oppressed. Moreover, it gets really hot here and Air Conditioning is not very common… Why would anyone want to cover herself up that much? Once you begin to get acquainted with the culture, however, it becomes clear that it is not a sign of oppression, and in fact, informing myself about the Koranic verses that suggest that women veil themselves actually made me feel a little disgusted about myself.

“Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed.” (Qur’an 33:58–59)

Ironically, the veil exists to protect the women from the harassment that they receive from men and not to hide them because they are “shameful” or “looked down upon.” A couple of days ago I was on the tram with one of the girls from the IQP team and she was sharing how she was ready to return to the US so that she would not have to deal with the catcalling anymore. The difference between her and the Moroccan women? She does not wear a veil (she is also a tourist and foreign women always attract more attention and thus more catcalls).

funny-picture-my-eyes-are-up-here-bird
^ Up there ^

Now a truth that few men will ever acknowledge: the eyes drift unavoidably. You may try hard, but in the end, whenever you let down your guard down your eyes will also drift down. This is when I really began to appreciate the Hijab. I consider myself a respectful man, and I try to avoid it, but I can’t help it sometimes. It is just part of male nature.

Following that line of thought, is it therefore sad that women have to wear the Hijab? Is the Hijab a sign of how weak we men are? The fact that women have to actually cover themselves up so that men will not be distracted and taken less seriously because of their beauty is straight up pathetic. Where is the self-control?  Of course this is a generalization. I am sure most men will agree with me that women are on the same level as men and perhaps many times above us. Any man in a relationship knows who the true jefa is😛 (Binky)

Before the revealing of the Koran the veil was used mostly as a sign of status rather than to avoid harassment. With the Koran came the recommendation, NOT THE OBLIGATION, for women to wear the Hijab so that they could avoid the harassment of men and the classification as sexual objects. During those times male chauvinism was stronger than today in Arabia and so Allah made those recommendations.

Nowadays the Hijab in Morocco is entirely optional and it is up to the woman to decide if and how she wants to wear it. I met a couple of college girls who decided not to wear it and had a friend who had only recently decided to wear it–mostly as a fashion statement. Often I will board the tram and there will be women wearing no Hijab. On the rare occasion, mostly inside bars, women wear no Hijab (if you are in a bar you are not really Muslim–that is just haram), but short sleeves and shorts. Morocco is a very progressive country, unlike certain other Arab countries where women would be obliged to wear the Hijab or the Burka.

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Burka

I respect the Hijab, but I am against the Burka. I disagree with its use, but I still respect the decision of the women who wear it – who am I to say that they can’t wear it?

I think that the Burka takes the protection from harassment too far. It strips the woman of her identity. She becomes another one in the crowd. There is nothing, NOTHING, left to identify who she is. Furthermore, if you were to have a conversation with a woman wearing a Burka, you would never really fully understand her opinion because you are missing out on all the subliminal messages that are conveyed by her facial expression. Now that is oppression. She becomes a voice with no identity. It is much like chatting on WhatsApp. Although, even chat services like it acknowledge this lack of contextual messages by including emoji ( 🙂 😉 😛 ) to help the users convey the emotions that accompany their messages. Some may argue that it allows you to truly understand her because you only have her voice to listen to – but then we return to the previous question: Isn’t it pathetic that she needs to become nothing but a voice before you, as man, will listen to her?

Furthermore, I don’t understand why anyone would go to those lengths when the Koran says “that they may be DISTINGUISHED and not be harassed.” For her to be distinguished then you must be able to tell who she is, right? I understand that at the time when the Burka was popularized women were truly harassed and as a result they weren’t even allowed to leave the house alone. Yet times have changed and the Burka has lost its purpose not only because that level of harassment no longer exists, but because the act of wearing a Burka actually endangers the user. With the anti-islamist movements around the world, the Burka puts that woman under the spotlight bringing negative sentiments her way. Thus, I believe that women should choose not to wear it anymore.

I have to disagree, however, with France’s decision to ban the Burka because it still is the woman’s decision (although not in all countries) to wear it. I believe that it is okay to prohibit its use in certain spaces such as government offices for the obvious security risks that accompany someone hiding under a robe that covers their entire body, but to ban its use altogether is being culturally insensitive. Muslims also form part of the French society meaning that their opinion and their choices should also be considered when taking a decision.

Anyways, I now think that Hijabs are actually quite beautiful and fashionable pieces of clothing.

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