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Hijab as a Political Issue

By Sarkash 

Women’s dress, especially the hijab, is a concept that Islamic societies have long struggled with. Today, it is more a political matter rather than a personal one as Islamic countries like Afghanistan and Iran apply “mandatory hijab” policies.  

Women’s hijab was included in Afghanistan’s government agenda seriously almost a century ago. In fact, government control over women’s life in Afghanistan, or at least the debate on how to cover themselves, has a history of at least 100 years divided into two dominant approaches. In the first approach, some argued that there is a conflict between the nature of women’s clothing and freedom, and they have considered the way for women to progress is by liberating them from the shackles of hijab. During Amanullah Khan’s decade as ruler of Afghanistan, the emphasis was on reducing the enforcement of women wearing the hijab. In the second approach, women’s freedom, including not wearing the hijab, is considered the main cause of corruption in society. Supporters of this approach want to Islamize society, including keeping women out of public view. The Taliban is a clear proponent of the second approach.  

As soon as the Taliban took power again in August 2021, they devoted a lot of time on the issue of the hijab, seeking to force it on women in schools, universities, and the media. Their restrictive policies have always targeted “individuals.” By interfering with personal affairs of individuals, the Taliban are trying to change people’s lifestyles as a whole. In an official decree, the Taliban called for enforcing Islamic dress. According to this decree, women must wear a burqa or full Islamic dress that covers their entire body in public places. Also, men are advised to wear traditional Afghan clothes. By interfering with the personal affairs of individuals, the Taliban are trying to change the lifestyle of a society as a whole. 

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The Taliban’s patriarchal values come from traditions and tribal structures. In tribal structures, a woman is not considered as an independent individual but rather recognized under titles or concepts such as “namoos,” which means women are considered incomplete, lacking free will, and in the possession of men. In this mindset, men own the public sphere and women belong in private spheres only. The Taliban regard women as the “most dangerous temptation of evil.” Their verbal justification for wearing hijab is “divine command”, and their rational justification are “landing a good husband” and “preventing corruption in the society”. This belief of the Taliban group is the main basis for requiring the people to dress up in a particular way.   

Standardization of clothing, especially women’s dress, is an effort by the Taliban to regulate bodies and reduce individualityThe Taliban’s idea of a chaste woman is a woman with a hijab. By binding the women to the burqa or black hijab, the Taliban seeks to impose their domination over Afghan society. In other words, the Taliban uses clothing as a means for distinction – a distinction through which citizens of Afghanistan are representatives of the Taliban and a model for Islamic society and the world. This way, the Taliban shows like-minded people that they have succeeded in consolidating their ideology in Afghanistan.  

In Taliban’s view, women are tempting and dangerous creatures who must become to keep the society safe and protected. All of the Taliban’s justifications regarding the hijab and other issues related to women originate from a mentality that considers women to be a temptation. Their solution to eliminating such corruption is to hide women away from the public sphere.   

The Taliban’s excessive emphasis on women’s dress is a way to insinuate to their followers that they have defeated democracy and implemented divine law. However, this also turns women into a political struggle between right and wrong, as witnessed when women who are often humiliated and sometimes beaten in public spaces for not dressing in accord to the Taliban’s code.  

In the book ‘Haqiqat-al Hijab and Haqiqat-al-Hadith,’, Muhammad Sa’id al-Ashmawi, one of the Muslim liberal thinkers, says that the hijab is actually a political slogan rather than a religious obligation. He believes that the intention of Islam as seen in the verses regarding the hijab was to create a distinction between the clothing of religious free women and slaves and unchaste women. That particular verse of the Quran means wearing a hijab to cover one’s back and chest. Ashmawi adds that, in Islam, “covering the hair also had a political aspect” and it was established to differentiate and identify believing women at that time.  

By enforcing mandatory dress codes and excluding women from the society, the Taliban group is trying to distinguish itself from other Islamic societies in an effort to show the world that they are the real defenders of Islam, to earn legitimacy in the eyes of their follower. and on the other hand, they want to gain legitimacy from their domestic followers. In the end, this is proof that the hijab is a political issue imposed on women by the current rulers of Afghanistan. 

Sarkash is an independent writer living in Afghanistan.   

Translation by F.S. Mohammad   

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