The issue of head coverings for women is becoming increasingly contentious in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, with even the manner in which such Islamic attire is worn revealing trends in worldwide Islam.
The Economist (May 12) reports that the controversy covers the spectrum–from Turkish secularists protesting the possibility of a Muslim candidate being elected because his wife wears a head scarf [see MayRW], to Iran enforcing stricter enforcement of head coverings and attire (for men as well as women). In Iraq, a fissure has opened in the Sunni resistance between “al-Queda-minded” militants who want women to wear gloves and the niqab (which is similar to the burqa but has slits for the eyes) and those more “moderate” who allow for the simpler hijab covering the hair and neck.
Among most Muslims who live between the extremes of Turkey and Iran, two broad trends have emerged. The first is a general movement toward overt signs of piety, including “Islamic” attire. Modern forms of head covering have become standard fashion in such Islamic countries as Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Sudan and Yemen, “replacing both traditional country scarves, and the exposed coifs that were inoffensive to an earlier generation of city dwellers…wearing the hijab is now so popular that it has ceased to be a statement.”
The other trend is an “undercurrent of rebellion against sartorial rules of any kind,” the article adds. This can be seen among trendy women in Saudi Arabia who sport their traditional black overcoat with flashy strips of color, or the use of heavy makeup in cities as far apart as Casablanca and Damascus.