|This is truly offensive.|
I vacationed in Greece and in Morocco this summer. While not my first time in a Muslim country, it was a real eye opener, especially since I was there during the holy month of Ramadan. Morocco is the most liberal of Muslim nations, but while you may see girls in shorts walking the streets, they are greatly outnumbered by women in the hijab, a kind of head scarf for covering the hair. Even more alarming was the number of women I saw in the burqa (more specifically a niqab) a loose garment which covers everything but the eyes. It was not a very common sight, but common enough so that my daughter and I played a game of burqa bingo. The worst display of sexism was in the northern city of Tangier, which is so close to Europe you can see Spain across the water. Dozens of boys in American-style bathing suits frequented the beaches and the park, kicking soccer balls around and jumping from piers, without a single girl among them. Having grown up around nude beaches, where the women are free to go topless and sometimes even bottomless, the sight of so many featureless, fully covered human beings was disturbing and offensive to me. If a woman honestly chooses to wear the burqa, it is not my place to criticize her choice or religious devotion, but when 99% of the female population is missing from places where you would otherwise find them, that isn’t choice, it is oppression. Much of this oppression is not religious, however, but cultural in nature. Morocco does not criminalize a woman for exposing her hair, as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan does. But as it stands, the Koran is pretty clear that people must dress modestly, and any exposure of the genitals is right out. Even a man seeing another man in a shower room is forbidden. Women especially must guard their “beauty” lest they go around tempting men into sin. While these rules might have seemed sensible in a nomadic desert culture hundreds of years ago, in our modern world, they simply do not apply. I often found my eye wandering toward women with head scarfs specifically because they were covered and would stand out in America. We now know that men capable of sexual violence will commit sexual violence; just look at Dubai, where a Norwegian tourist was recently arrested after she was raped (you read that correctly, not for raping, but being raped). Rape is common in all cultures, but only in Islamic countries do the women take the blame for it; this is what results from treating the female body as an object of temptation. In Christianity, the nudity taboo is vague if not nonexistent. In fact, there are numerous naturist Christians in the world, due to the many pro-naturist passages which can be found in the Bible, including the story of Adam and Eve, who only realize their nakedness after their sin, and who dress themselves out of shame (not God’s idea). Many Catholic cathedrals feature nudity, including the Sistine Chapel. As Pope John Paul II said, “The human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendor and its beauty … Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness … Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person … The human body is not in itself shameful … Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person.” So I got to thinking, if only there was a surah (the Koranic version of a Bible verse) dealing with burqas and hijabs, Muslim women throughout the world might enjoy greater freedom. While I do not presume to add to or alter the Koran in any way (being a writer myself, I have no right to edit another’s work), I think something along these lines would be helpful to Muslim women and the feminist movement in Arab countries.