Audrey Hepburn wearing Kerchief

With all of the controversy lately about head scarves, full and partial face coverings has caused me to discuss it here in the Blog. When I was growing up in Cape Breton in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s it was customary for most women to wear a scarf over their heads and especially if they entered a church but mostly to keep warm and comfortable and protection for the cold Atlantic winds. In fact it was common practice to find or borrow a scarf if an unplanned entry to church occurred to tie around their heads. Regular and planned attendance of course all or most all wore hats. Then the more liberated tourists from the U.S. started arriving and attending church without hats and soon the practice changed where now you rarely see a hat in church regardless of denomination.

The Burka

(there should be a law against  women having to wear this)

And now we hear the outrage from across the non Islamic world about wearing the veil, the hijab (covering all of the hair), the head scarf, full-face veils and of course the most despicable and oppressive garb of all the burka. France has passed a law against wearing a full-face veil in public. Britain has a private member’s bill that would make it illegal for people to cover their faces in public in Britain. (Of course neither bill has mentioned Muslims by name.)

Full-Face Cover

It is interesting to note that the veil is not Islamic at all. The wearing of a veil pre-dates all the Abrahamic religions. They all come from the Middle East, and that’s why they all – Jews, Christians and Muslims – used to be obsessed with female “modesty.” Now if you research this issue you will find that the principle of “modesty” was a way of controlling the behavior of women who had the power to upset the social order, so how poor women behaved didn’t matter. The early Mesopotamian laws ordaining the veiling of women applied only to the wives of powerful men. Several thousand years later, Greek, Roman and Byzantine upper-class women still went veiled, while their poorer sisters moved freely with their faces uncovered.


We don’t know what percentage of women in seventh-century, pre-Islamic Arabia went veiled, but until quite recently poorer and rural Arabian women, and especially Bedouin women, covered their hair but otherwise went unveiled. It seems a safe bet that the situation was not much different during the time of the Prophet.

Version of Burka

I don’t for a moment believe that I have the ability to interpret the Quran, but I sincerely believe that claims in it, on veiling were simply an endorsement of the existing social customs of the times. I also believe that most Muslin communities through history have interpreted these customs as requiring the concealment of a woman’s hair but not her face. One therefore wonders why in non-rich Muslim families living in major European cities have now taken to wearing full-face veils or even burgas – the death-black, coal-black, pain black tent that some women either choose, or are forced to choose, to wear is not intrinsic to Islam and there are orthodox Muslim scholars who condemn it.

Prison Indeed

Not a lot of women to be sure in France estimates that only 2,000 women go about fully veiled, and the real numbers for Britain are unlikely to be much different. But why are they doing it all? Certainly their grandmothers almost certainly did not. Probably one reason is fear on their part or on the part of their husbands. The fear that the majority society’s values are so powerful and seductive that good Muslims must be completely isolated from them. Probably the reason you see little girls as young as two or three wearing hijab in Paris and London and now some North American cities. The second reason may be defiance – sort of “we are out and proud, so get used to it.” It is estimated that about half the fully veiled women in non-Islamic countries are actually recent converts to Islam who grew up in the dominant post-Christian culture. In other words, converts often get carried away. We have seen that in our own culture where converts to Catholism and Protestism often become more Catholic and more Protestant then those born into the faith. So far we have mentioned France and Britain but what about Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland, where similar bans have been or are being discussed at the national level? Legislators in our own Province of Quebec are even making noises about banning the veil. A recent across Canada survey indicated that 54% of Canadians would ban the Burka being worn by women.

Another Kerchief Version

(Liberally quoted from Gwynne Dyer)


One response to this post.

  1. […] The busiest day of the year was December 6th with 492 views. The most popular post that day was KERCHIEFS, VEILS AND HIJABS. […]


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