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Why dress code is an important issue in Afghanistan?

Though the Taliban has said that it would respect the rights of women, it also asserted that women will have to wear the hijab in public. To explain the issue better, Amjed Jaaved, a freelance writer talks about the new dress code for women in Afghanistan and how women are repressed across the world for their right to wear what they want.

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There is a worldwide outcry against possible repression of Afghan women at the hands of the Taliban 2.0. The critics have foreboding that the Taliban would not allow the women to go to educational institutions or make up in beauty parlors. The critics talk of a setback to women’s empowerment.

The US spent about $ 2 trillion on Afghanistan. Very little of this hefty amount was spent to open schools, colleges, vocational centers, and universities throughout Afghanistan. The talk of women’s empowerment remained mere rhetoric. The West considered beauty parlors synonymous with women’s empowerment.

What is the new dress code?

The Taliban are being criticized for enforcing a strict dress code for working women. But, history tells, that the est itself had been stricter than the Taliban in this respect. For a major part of Western history dating from before the birth of Christ, the women used to wrap up their bodies in heavy fabric.

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Looking back at chastity belts

The Christian crusaders used to make their ladies wear chastity belts until they returned from the battlefield. The Taliban crusaders do not follow the footsteps of Christian crusaders in this respect.

The Taliban only stress requires ladies to cover their bodies in fabric and ear hijab. A chastity belt is a locking item of clothing designed to prevent infidelity in women. According to modern myths, the chastity belt was used as an anti-temptation device during the Crusades. When the knight left for the Holy Lands on the Crusades, his Lady would wear a chastity belt to preserve her faithfulness to him.

Evolution of women’s dress from 51 BC to 1920

History tells that most parts of history, beginning from the period before the birth of Christ, used to wrap their bodies in heavy fabric. In World War II too many male soldiers were killed. In later periods, the Industrial Revolution need a labor force to run machines. The Women’s emancipation movements were started to attract women into the factories. Their dress style changed to suit factory requirements.

Headscarf vs turban

In Europe, France spearheads abhorrence to voile, scarf, burka, niqab (call it by any name). The Sikhs’ turban (or the Jews’ kippah also) has quasi-religious significance. But it is not an object of derision. During his meeting with Manmohan Singh, the French president assured the Indian premier that there is no ban on Sikhs’ wearing turbans in his country (Sharm el-sheik, Egypt, July 16, 2009, IANS). His attitude marked contrast to his consistently hostile stand on voile.

The French presidents, for political expediency, keep lashing out at burka as “a sign of subjugation and submission that deprives women of their identity and hinder their social participation”. They consider it a “cultural tool of male oppression”. He had appointed a 58-member commission for the burka probe, but no commission for the turban (or kippah) probe.

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John R. Brown points out that “French public figures seemed to blame the headscarves for a surprising range of France’s problems, including anti-Semitism, Islamic fundamentalism, growing ghettoisation in the poor suburbs, and the breakdown of order in the classroom”

He observed that legislation against headscarves was portrayed as support to “women battling for freedom in Afghanistan, schoolteachers trying to teach history in Lyon, and all those who wished to reinforce the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity”. The voile was considered a “symbol of mounting Islamism and decaying social life”.

Brown denudes the political motives of the Stasi commission. He reminds that ‘the Commission was forced to work quickly so that a law could be passed before the spring regional elections. In such a short period of time, banning the voile was the only way to show that the politicians of the “sensible center were responding to France’s new enemies”.

Brown reminds “The Stasi Commission had proposed banning political signs as well and many observers commented that Nike symbols had no place at school, either”. But, follow-up action is awaited, ad infinitum.

Why the dress code is a nonissue?

The European legislation on the dress code proved to be counterproductive as were the past legislation in the Muslim and non-Muslim world.  The Fourth Council of the Lateran of 1215 ruled that Jews and Muslims must be distinguishable by their dress (Latin ‘habitus’). Pope Paul IV ordered in 1555 that in the Papal States it must be a yellow, peaked hat, and from 1567 for 20 years it was compulsory in Lithuania.

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In 850, Caliph al Mutawakkil ordered Christians and Jews to wear a sash called ‘zunnah’ and a distinctive kind of shawl or headscarf called ‘taylasin’ (the Christians had already been required to wear the sash).

In the 11th century, Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim ordered Christians to put on half-meter wooden crosses and Jews to wear wooden calves around their necks. In the late 12th century, Almohad ruler Abu Yusuf ordered the Jews of the Maghreb to wear dark blue garments with long sleeves and saddle-like caps. His grandson Abdallah al Adil made a concession after appeals from the Jews, relaxing the required clothing to yellow garments and turbans.

In the 16th century, Jews of the Maghreb could only wear sandals made of rushes and black turbans or caps with an extra red piece of cloth. Ottoman sultans continued to regulate the clothing of their non-Muslim subjects.

In 1577, Murad III issued an edict forbidding Jews and Christians from wearing dresses, turbans, and sandals. In 1580, he changed his mind, restricting the previous prohibition to turbans and requiring ‘dhimmis’ to wear black shoes; Jews and Christians also had to wear red and black hats, respectively.

Observing in 1730 that some Muslims took to the habit of wearing caps similar to those of the Jews, Mahmud I ordered the hanging of the perpetrators. Mustafa III personally helped to enforce his decrees regarding clothes.

Read more: Why America lost its way in Afghanistan?

In 1758, he was walking incognito in Istanbul and ordered the beheading of a Jew and an Armenian seen dressed in forbidden attire.

The last Ottoman decree affirming the distinctive clothing for ‘dhimmis’ (non-Muslims taxpayers) was issued in 1837 by Mahmud II. Discriminatory clothing was not enforced in those Ottoman provinces where Christians were in the majority, such as Greece and the Balkans.

Obviously, the European ban on Muslim scarves or burkas is a tit-for-tat for Muslim ruler’s behavior in their heyday. That’s why it does not encompass non-Muslim/Jewish kippahs or turbans also. Interestingly, wearing a scarf or a kippah is a custom with a common meaning: recognition that there is someone ‘above’ human beings who watches their every act. For instance, most theists cover their heads with a piece of cloth or wear a cap during prayers.

Those sympathizing with the Afghan women did little to improve their literacy or impart skills to them. It is no use continuing to criticize the Taliban without doing anything tangible for the Afghan women.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing freelance for over fifty years. His articles are published in dailies at home (The News, Nation, etc) and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, et. al.). He is the author of eight books including Kashmir: The Myth of Accession. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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