Moroccan women, the veil and a deeper dilemma

10 08 2009

Velo I am absolutely a big ignorant about the Arab world. As an ignorant, there is something that has really surprised me when I travelled to Morocco last week:

In Morocco, some women wear the veil, some don’t; some women cover their bodies with long robes (Djellaba) and full headscarves, others wear T-shirt and jeans and other women sunbath in bikini by the swimming pool. All of them seem to live together in the same neighborhood and there is no problem at all.

This wonderful example of tolerance is something that in had already seen in Malaysia. But the difference is that virtually all women are Muslin in Morocco while in Malaysia only half of them are. The rest are Buddhist, Taoist, Hinduists or Christians and, as a result, do not wear the veil.

I enquired some local male individuals about this variety of clothing and I found out that:

  • Both western clothes and burka-like clothes are considered the result of recent foreign influence, either from the West or from more traditional Islamic countries. However the djellaba and the headscarf are tradional Moroccan clothes.
  • Many people are critical to burka-like clothes
  • Many people are open to western clothes and define them as “modern”, which is a very positive definition indeed.
  • Headscarves are not only a religious symbol. They tell you a lot about the political ideas of people wearing them, who are usually conservative.

These different kinds of fashion not only show different kinds of women and different kinds of thinking, but also reflect the debate in Moroccan society about women’s rights, about what means to a woman and what is women’s role in society. Not long time ago, there used to be a very similar debate in western countries. I think it is good this debate arouses also in the Islamic world.

The Moroccan government is worried about a possible expansion of Islamic fundamentalism in Morocco and therefore promotes moderate interpretations of the Islam, like for example showing women with and without headscarves in textbooks. But some conservative people consider this is undermining Morocco’s Islamic traditions.

Headscarves are only a small part of a much deeper dilemma:  should Morocco take laic democracies as a model or should it get inspired in more traditional Islamic countries? Burka-like clothes and bikinis are just a small side effect of these two huge foreign forces influencing Morocco and other Muslim countries in North Africa.

References:

Image: I found the image on teh blogLa Suerte Sonríe a los Audazes


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