To Veil or not to Veil: Iraqi Women Face Scrutiny

This statement by Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority is widely considered an order that cannot be misinterpreted or contested. It is in line with the strict orders of the different religious authorities, such as Muhammad al-Sadr, who have all stated the necessity of wearing the veil. As a result, more women have agreed to wear the veil and niqab, a clear indication that religion and conservative thought are spreading in Iraqi cities for both Shiites and Sunnis.

In this conservative environment, “It has become commonplace to advise unveiled women to wear the veil,” said Najaf teacher Suha al-Tarihi, who chooses not to. “If they do not comply, sometimes this advice then becomes coercion to wear the veil. Some teachers in Najaf have been forced by the school administrations to wear the veil,” she told Al-Monitor.

Journalist Estabraq Ali agreed, telling Al-Monitor, “Some people exploit the country’s democratic system. They think they can interfere in the privacy of individuals and pressure them to adopt different points of view.”

Student Nada Jawad from Babil told Al-Monitor, “Most female students in Babil University are veiled, and the conservative environment does not allow them to remove their veil. The situation was different in the late 1940s, when Iraq organized the first beauty pageant in Baghdad,” Jawad said.

While journalist and poet Nital Meshkoor, who identifies as a secularist, believes “Iraqi women have been deprived of their rights,” Haifa al-Mousawi, a veiled woman who spoke to Al-Monitor, said, “The happy Muslim woman is the veiled one who abides by the teachings of Islam. This image should be generalized in society to become a role model for other women.”

Whether opting for the veil or not, women are entitled to make their own decisions. But when social or religious forces meddle in women’s choices, this represents a huge problem.

(Niqab image via Shutterstock)

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