Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Abaya: When the context is deeper than the obvious

I read with interest Karl Albrecht's book on "Practical Intelligence: The Art and Science of Common Sense". I'm starting to read it a second time now, sure is surprising the nuggets of knowledge that one can sieve when reading it the second time.

One interesting information that Karl highlighted, and I would like to quote from the book here is the seemingly 'restrictive' idea that the Islamic Abaya outfit worn by Arab females seems to perpetuate, to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

"(Taken from page 255) For example, many Westerners think of the veil, or the abaya...the head-to-toe garment that modest Islamic women merely symbols of represssion forced upon Islamic or Arab females. Yet when they are viewed in the complex context of family and clan relationships, as in Iraq, they are not isolated elements. The veil is an integral part of a larger gestalt of social rules and symbols, which many Westerners fail to grasp or appreciate. It cannot simply be abandoned or abolished without overturning other, centuries-old social dynamics connected to it.

In Iraq for example, and in many Arab countries, at least 50 percent of marriages are between first or second cousins. One effect of the veil, or any other form of modest attire, is to remove young women from the kind of social circulation that poses competition to their male cousins...the "marriage market". Not only does the veil have practical benefit for young men seeking wives, but many young Iraqi women are firmly comitted to marrying within the clan, and arranged marriages are still very common. Many of them see the modesty dynamics as perfectly natural and appropriate to the patterns of close kinship that shape their lives. The view of veiling as a form of a oppression is largely a projection of Western social values onto the members of a very different culture"

Now I am not an anthropologist nor am I an expert culturalist, but somehow or rather, the seemingly depth of explanation to the wearing of the Abaya as described above does have its validity. But at times, sadly or otherwise, even Muslim women that are not in an Arabic cultural context fail to see its contextual significance and have blindly followed its wearing. Not that I am against it, but I guess, I personally thing that there should be some deeper understanding of one's own assumptions about one's actions before doing something at all.

1 comment:

LOH Kwai Yin said...

This is an interesting aspect of Muslim women with veils that I'm not aware of... Thanks for sharing :D

Hey, going to create a link from my blog to yours!

Cheers, KY