A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
As author of “The Jewel of Medina,” published by Beaufort Books last fall, and its sequel, “The Sword of Medina,” debuting in the U.S. in October 2009, I’ve done quite a bit of reading on the topic of veiling.
Veiling debuted in Byzantine Christian society long before Islam came along. Aristocratic Byzantine women did not choose to wear the veil but were required to by their husbands to screen them from contact with other men and thus ensure paternity of their children — another example of hegemonic practices endured, and in many cases endorsed, by women over the centuries.
Veiling is believed to have originated in Arabia after the Prophet Muhammad had a revelation placing his wives behind a “curtain,” after the reception celebrating his scandalous marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh, his adopted son’s ex-wife. According to the feminist Muslim scholar Fatima Mernissi, he dropped the curtain to separate his private from his public life.
Later Muhammad required his wives to cover their faces because his enemies harassed them, then claimed they didn’t know their victims were married to the Prophet. The veil served as a marker to rob them of this excuse.
As the controversy rages over the wearing of burqas in France, we seem to be asking ourselves the wrong questions.
If women need to hide from the world in this way today, we should be asking, “Why?” Is there a better path to women’s empowerment, one that promotes their active engagement and not their retreat from society?