Lady Gaga2a
Islam

Sophie Wessex and the fashionable burqa

 

The Countess of Wessex is Patron of the London College of Fashion, in which capacity she hosted an event at Windsor Castle where she met representatives from the Islamic Fashion Festival. It appears from reported excerpts of an interview with Harper’s Bazaar magazine that she is favourably disposed to Muslim girls and women wearing the burqa:

One of the aims, she says, is ‘to try to use fashion to break down barriers and dispel the myths about Muslim women’. She pauses – aware, perhaps, that anything she says might be open to misinterpretation – and then continues: ‘It’s very evident that Muslim women can be fashionable while also retaining their modesty… And it’s a great way of bringing people together, and saying, “Look, this is what we’re really like.” And what people forget is that underneath the burka and everything else, there is somebody who is probably wearing something really quite fashionable. But you don’t have to show a lot of flesh in order to be beautiful and stylish.’

The story is running in the Telegraph, Times, Daily Mail and in various Asian media, no doubt soon to reverberate around the world and encourage the Taliban to reassure their wives and daughters that it really is quite cool for women to cover themselves head to toe in black sacks, if not sky-blue capes, to express themselves freely to Allah and be exposed exclusively to their husbands and fathers. But the interesting thing is that where the Countess is pictured wearing Islamic dress, she is manifestly wearing what is commonly called a hijab – a headscarf – not a burqa, which tends to look more like this:

Burqa1Burqa2

 

Now, there is some Arabic etymological debate over the precise meaning of hijab in the Qur’an, which can be variously translated ‘scarf ‘, ‘veil’ or even ‘curtain’ (and interestingly also ‘partition’, ‘division’ or ‘barrier’ – does one “break down barriers” by making those barriers more chic?). And the Hadith is no clearer, often appropriating and (ab)using the word to define cultural rather than scriptural precepts of dress. The Qur’an actually goes not much further than the socio-cultural traditions of the West: women must cover their private parts (7:26) and their breasts (24:31), with some stipulation on garment length (33:59). This is the extent of the modesty defined by Mohammed, which clearly offers a lot of scope for stylish adornment.

But you tend not to see too many Muslim women or girls wearing voluptuous, fur-lined, neon-pink burqas after the fashion of Lady Gaga, for to do so would abrogate the very modesty they are taught the garment is designed to induce. The reality is that the burqa is a symbol of oppression and a negation of female identity: in many countries it is mandatory and women daren’t express an opinion to the contrary for fear of harassment, brutal beatings or being buried alive in an ‘honour killing’.

Throughout the Middle East women are not free to choose what they wear, lest their flowing locks arouse the men and cause a riot. Even children as young as six are ‘encouraged’ by their fathers to prepare socially (ie anti-socially) for their shrouding in puberty and throughout adult life. Whether your burqa is a Saudi Arabian abaya and niqab, an Afghanistani grille or an Iranian black mantle, the ‘fashion police’ are a little more exacting than Harper’s Bazaar and rather more robust than the organisers of the Islamic Fashion Festival.

It is good for Muslim women to be free to express themselves in their choices of fashion, just as it is for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists and Jedi. And it is a fine cause that the Countess is championing, for many of the vestiary traditions of Islam have no authentic religious foundation beyond that which has developed through cultural assertions of patriarchy. And the Countess is right to highlight that the common perception of female Islamic attire is that it is restrictive and monochrome, if not misogynistic and disempowering. But let us not fool ourselves that this is as simple as commissioning geometric patterns of ataurique or sampling new silks in the sunlight: the British burqa might be syncretising with a bikini on the catwalk, but there aren’t many Muslim fathers, uncles or brothers who will be placing early orders for their women’s 2015 Eid gifts.

  • It’s a mask as worn by health workers to stop her breathing in any germs.

  • The Explorer

    The Countess is obviously well meaning. My problem is with “the myths about Muslim women”. From what I have seen with my own eyes, here and abroad, the myths often aren’t myths at all: they’re reality.

  • A S

    If you’re going to get into this debate, you need to get your facts straight. There is significant cultural and physical distinction between a niqab (which you picture but misidentify) and a burqa. And your point about Muslim fathers, uncles and brothers is also confused: within families is where Muslim women are usually free to dress as they please, so it is the brothers and fathers who will be familiar with what these women choose to wear “underneath”. And in many cases what is worn, as anyone who has visited a shopping mall in a Gulf country can confirm, is not modest at all.

    It’s not that I disagree that the burqa is oppressive, but I don’t think this is a subject that lends itself to a short, cursory discussion such as that in your post.

    • DanJ0

      What’s the issue? The blue ones are full-on, one-piece burkhas, the black ones are burkha hybrids, the flamboyant one at the top is a nicab, and the Countess in the link is wearing a hijab of sorts, which could also be called a shayla, I think.

      • DanJ0

        Oh lordy, I clicked the Lady Gaga link and it took me to an article by the awful Myriam Francois Cerrah. :O

      • A S

        Black ones are niqabs. Burqa is fairly specific to South Asian/Pashtun culture. Niqabs from Arab Gulf. Niqab reflects Salafist Islam. Burqa comes from Pashtun culture, which isn’t exclusively Islamic.

      • Dominic Stockford

        Those blue ones come in black as well – I’ve seen them being worn in the expensive shops in London.

    • Uncle Brian

      So what is the correct term for the clothes that Sophie Wessex is wearing in the top photograph?

      • DanJ0

        Is that her? I thought it was Lady Gaga!

        • Uncle Brian

          I’m going by what Cranmer said — I don’t suppose I’d recognize either one of them, wrapped up like that with only her false eyelashes showing.

          • DanJ0

            Heh.

            Wessex is shown in the link, wearing the shayla. That’s the usual nod to Islam that Western women seem to adopt if they want or have to show respect in public to the culture. It’s the minimum, I’d say, short of saying no.

          • Uncle Brian

            Well, whoever it is with the eyelashes, the question I asked was this: What is the correct word for the clothes she’s wearing?

          • DanJ0

            I’m maintaining that it’s a nicab, albeit in an Arabian Nights stylee.

          • It is Lady Gaga, not Sophie Wessex.

          • Uncle Brian

            Thank you, Jack, but my question was really about the English language, what those clothes are called, not about the identity of the woman wearing them.

          • Lol … still, you wouldn’t want to mistake an American for Royalty, would you?

          • carl jacobs

            You are correct, Jack. No American would ever want to be mistaken for Royalty.

          • CliveM

            Wallis Simpson did!

          • Really? A couple of notable exceptions spring to mind.

          • bluedog

            Umm, what about Jack and Jackie? If ever a US President pitched his appeal on being an imitator of the British aristocracy, it was JFK. And the electorate loved it.

      • A S

        Hijab

        • Uncle Brian

          Thank you, AS. I read your earlier comment about the various countries of origin, but one thing I still haven’t grasped is this: Just by looking at them, how do you tell the difference between a hijab, a niqab, and a burka? Is it just by the shape of the eye opening – a slit or a trellis? Or is there more to it than that?
          Thanks
          Brian

          • A S

            Burqa is like a single piece of material, a bit like a poncho with a cap on. The niqab is specific to the thing you put around the eyes. Can be a slit/trellis or a complete covering.

          • Uncle Brian

            OK, thank you, AS, so far so good. Just two more questions, if I may. First, what is it about the top picture that enabled
            you to assert so confidently that it is neither a burqa nor a niqab but a hijab? Is it that the lower half of her face is concealed with a kind of shawl, rather than a tailored garment of some kind?

            Lastly, is there a generic term we can use? If we wanted to say that all three photographs show women wearing [blank], what would be the word? And if we can’t say it in a single word, is there at least something comparatively short and snappy, without having to explain at length “ankle-length
            clothing that also covers all or part of the face, in accordance with Muslim custom”?

            Thanks

            Brian

          • A S

            Possibly some confusion – the hijab was what the photo of sophie wessex was wearing. the picture at the top of the article, which I don’t think is HRH, is pretty odd and I’ve never seen something like that worn in anger, so to speak, although no doubt such things exist. As for a generic term, I’d just say head-covering or face-covering. There being two stages – one is covering the head, which is fairly conservative/modest but you can see someone’s face, which is after all the key human point of interaction; and then there is covering the face, which is very conservative and a deliberate mark of separation from the society around you.

          • Uncle Brian

            Thanks for your help!

  • Mark

    A burka debate and “bikini” got in there, right at the end. Never fails.

  • Dominic Stockford

    If she were not a member of the royal family she would simply be called an airhead and the world would move on.

    • DanJ0

      I’m going to be guilty of triggering the usual deviation myself now, as well as being a bit mean here, but I think the technical term for her is actually ‘a beard’.

      • Dominic Stockford

        Go on then, let’s deviate. Explain ‘beard’ please…

        • CliveM

          Oh good someone has asked the question!

          • DanJ0

            It’s slang for ‘a cover’, for the obvious reason. I’d have thought it was widely known even though it’s an Americanism. Rock Hudson, that effeminate and smooth-shaven film star, had one.

          • DanJ0

            I feel the need to pull the topics of face and head coverings, religion, and beards together again with a bit of Monty Python:

          • Phil R

            Better

          • carl jacobs

            That movie is despicable. It is the most blasphemous work I have ever witnessed. Even the genuinely funny parts cannot redeem it. There is nothing good in it, and we as Christians should not promote it.

            Woe to him who made it for he shall surely give account.

          • Phil R

            You miss the points I think Carl

            The middle clip is about the stupidity of gay rights and later on how factions of the left hate each other. It is a classic and demolishes the gay argument better than a million words.

            The bottom clip they are finding the gay Roman funny. They are not gay of course because they are Jews. The Roman also cannot speak the local language but he tries anyway so they take the pies of him. A lesson for all of us. Do not try and speak the language as an authority figure unless you are really good at it.

          • DanJ0

            That’s all a bit pitiful really when I posted a funny clip in all innocence for its context. Oh well. Next!

          • Phil R

            I like Python . The clip you posted is also one of my favourites.

            However they were not “just” funny sketches. That is what makes them so popular even today

        • Inspector General

          A beard, when used in a homosexual context, is for a gay man, or to be more accurate, a suspected gay man, who marries to try to throw the scent off, if you will. The wife is his beard, or disguise.

        • carl jacobs

          A ‘beard’ is a woman married to a homosexual man for purposes of disguising his homosexuality. He is implying that her husband is homosexual.

          • Albert

            Isn’t that a tacit way of saying homosexuality is effeminate?

          • carl jacobs

            Albert

            Masculine and feminine lose all meaning in the context of homosexuality. How do you define one or the other without reference to its complement? And yet defining both without reference to the complement is the whole point. Not for nothing does the Scripture call it confusion.

          • Albert

            So why call the wife a beard, then?

          • carl jacobs

            Albert

            Back some twenty years ago, there was an Iranian couple who lived across the hall in my apartment building. They decided to move back to Iran, and so needed to sell their furniture. A man and woman attempted to defraud them by writing them a cheque for $2000 against a closed account. I happened to be home for lunch that day, and saw them moving the furniture.

            A day or so later, the police came to my complex with said man and woman in the back of a police cruiser. They asked me if I could identify them. I said “Yes.” As it turned out, I could only positively identify the woman. The man I saw had a beard. The man in the back of the cruiser was clean-shaven. I have no real doubt that it was him, but the difference was enough that I wouldn’t be able to identify him in court. I hadn’t seen him very long. I didn’t know him. I never would have thought that shaving a beard could make such a difference before that experience.

            That’s why they call it a beard.

          • Albert

            So my assumption it was about making the homosexual man look more masculine was mistaken! I’m so confused.

          • Dominic Stockford

            Oooooh mother…! Whatever next…

      • DanJ0

        At least, that’s been the rumour for many years, and before his love of theatre emerged too. If it’s true then it must have been a terrible burden and dilemma for him. A prisoner rather than a prince … more than the rest are anyway.

        • Inspector General

          Ever the recruiter, aren’t you…

          • DanJ0

            He was quite handsome in his early 20s, you know, when he had his hair and was quite honed from his brief stint in the Marines. I remember thinking “heyyyy” at the time when he was pictured in the paper after giving it up. He could have had me instead of that blonde hussy! 😉

          • Inspector General

            Still, you might have something. His Great Uncle Kent was a…
            so they said

          • Inspector General

            On the subject of missing planes, any idea why relatives of said planes passengers congregate at the airport of departure. The last place the damned thing is likely to turn up, don’t you think…

          • avi barzel

            I will not laugh…I will not laugh…I will not….

  • Uncle Brian

    Some commenters on this thread have drawn attention to the differences between burkas and niqabs. Isn’t there a generic term for this category of women’s clothing as a whole? Just as “footwear”, for instance, includes everything from galoshes to brogues and from cowboy boots to flipflops, it would be helpful to have a word we could use when we want to mention apparel of the general kind shown in all three photographs in the OP, without having to specify the exact size and shape in each case, not to mention the hidden meanings in terms of cultural and religious values. Do we have a word of this kind in English? I don’t remember seeing or hearing one.

  • carl jacobs

    It’s appeasement disguised as fashion. They are afraid to confront Islam and so they try to adapt Western culture to Islamic norms. In Western culture, a full face mask is a sign of malevolent intent. A person needs to be sufficiently visible to allow for identification. If that offends Islam, then tough. It can adapt.

  • Shadrach Fire

    Your Grace, an interesting piece on Sophie and her efforts to westernize Islam.
    Not possible commentators might say.
    Mohammed was a man and I understand his desire that women should be modest so that the passions of men are not inflamed. Oh that some of that modesty might return to western fashion, we might not have so many of the problems we have with children born outside wedlock.

    • Dominic Stockford

      Although you may have a point – I think that men should also learn the benefits of personal self-control, custody of the eyes, and not blaming someone else for their own actions.

      • dannybhoy

        This is true Dominic, and there are unfortunately many excesses and debasements of women in our own culture; one only has to look at weekend boozing or the soaps.
        But the issue here is what Sophie is wittingly or unwittingly embracing is a culture not a fashion; and a culture that is at odds with our own religion and culture.
        May I remind the “high fashionistas” here how Christians, Jews and other faiths are treated in Muslim societies, and the current rapes, murders, decapitations and bloodshed being carried out in the name of Islam.

  • Dreadnaught

    Its not ‘fashion’ – it’s Fascism.
    Its not ‘fashion’ when religious fascism authorises its stooges to whip women who refuse to wear these shaming rags of servility.
    What the bloody-hell is it with the West that its Establishment figures fall over themselves to trash our own cultures yet favour anything Muslim or Islamic while refusing to see the connection between Them and It and the atrocities that happen before our eyes.
    Democracy is destroying itself with Tit-heads and parasites like Sophie-soddin-Wessex and her Dip-Shit trophy husband ever at hand to make an easy quid or grab a cheap headline.
    Shame on us for not kicking Islam out of existence in our country if not all of Europe.

  • Albert

    Am I right in thinking this kind of all over covering for women was found in Byzantine Christianity, before Islam?

    Anyway, the irony is that, in films from the 1950s and 1960s, women seemed to be dressed as the Countess of Wessex because it made them seem alluring. That’s quite a thought, and it certainly undermines the whole practice if it comes to be done because it is thought to be sexy.

    • IanCad

      William Golding addressed this in his book “Nile Journey”

      It is the eyes. Women are temptresses; Subdue one facet of their allure and it will multiply in those less restrained.

      Alexander Pope put it so well:

      “Then flash’d the living Lightnings from her Eyes,–

       
      The high Muslim birth rate cannot be entirely attributed to the horny sons of Ishmael.

      You can’t keep a good woman down.

      • Albert

        So that’s the answer to the low birth-rate: Burkqas 4 Britain.

        • IanCad

          Very, very funny.

    • Uncle Brian

      comment deleted

    • The Explorer

      No, if the mosaic of the Empress Theodora is anything to go by.
      Not to say that Islam didn’t get a lot of its ideas from elsewhere…

      • Albert

        Not sure that she’s a terribly good example, given that she was reputed to have allowed geese to peck food off he privates.

        • carl jacobs

          Thanks Albert. I appreciate that image. Some things should be buried in an unmarked grave whether they are true or false.

        • The Explorer

          She sounds more interesting than I’d realised: more like Messalina. If there’s reincarnation, I’m coming back as a Byzantine goose. I did a quick search on ‘Images of Byzantine women’. Lots of headgear, but faces uncovered.

          • Inspector General

            Explorer. We (that’s our Creator, and the Inspector) have a vacancy for a foie gras goose. Several, actually, as the stuff has never been more popular. Well done.

          • DanJ0

            I just feel sorry for the soldiers; painful and ignominious, by the sound of it 🙁

          • Albert

            There’s lots more where that came from, if you like that sort of thing. Even her friends admitted she’d been a whore. And as for what her enemies claimed about her…well, this is a Christian blog.

          • The Explorer

            A woman that lavish with her favours had enemies?

          • Albert

            She was a heretic.

    • avi barzel

      It was a custom in most warm and sunny countries for noble or wealthy women to shield themselves from the sun so as not to look like peasants. At some point the “classist” fashionable pallor was upgraded to a moral virtue and facial covering segued into a sign of modesty.

      • Albert

        Thank you Avi.

  • len

    Why on earth would anyone who had known freedom (bought at such a cost)want to put on the trappings of bondage?.
    What we do not value we will lose and one day we will look back and wonder why we did not fight to keep what we had…..

    • Shadrach Fire

      What freedoms do you refer to? In our society we can all choose to be decadent or modest in our attire. Freedom can be abused.

      • len

        ‘Freedom can be abused’. Certainly and we are seeing plenty of that in our society today.
        With freedom comes responsibility and accountability and that also is sadly lacking today.
        If people want to make’ submission’ to Islamic modes of dress then that is their business but I will make use of freedom of speech(whilst I still have it) to object to the Judeo/ Christian culture that I have enjoyed over my lifetime being overrun by an alien political /religious system.

    • magnolia

      “Oh foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you…that you should start with grace and end up with works” is apposite here, I think.

  • Inspector General

    Ah ! That’s where all the lady commentators who don’t comment on Cranmer are. Fassion blogs. (The Inspector made a typo, but rather likes the result. It stays).

    It’s all men’s fault, of course. We make them paint their faces and dance for us, so they tell us. Or in the case of Islam, hide their beauty, if beauty is the word to describe these dreadful people dressed as bags of rubbish.

    Now watch it chaps. Any attempt to ban that awful costume that covers from head to foot will cause the blighters to feel oppressed. And feeling oppressed means bombs. Lots of bombs.

    So, what happens next. Well, Sophie will find another silly fassion thing to occupy her vacant mind. The women of Islam will continue wearing their garb, unaltered, lest their husbands beat them severely for defying the prophet. And life will go on…

    • Ian G

      Fassion? Is this a portmanteau word? Fashion and passion? Fission and Fashion – as in the bikini?

      • Inspector General

        Yes, Ian. probably…

  • Albert

    As far as I can see, every single poster on this blog about women’s clothes is a man.

    Why is that?

    • Inspector General

      We want the women to look their best, of course…

      • Albert

        Have you been arguing for or against burqas?

        • Inspector General

          The burkha is an everyday sight in Gloucester. They look so out of place in this west of England town, and always will. Surreal is the word, and one is annoyed by their sight, but the aliens within have the inalienable right to wear what they damn well please. Besides, the neatly dressed Inspector enjoys a certain sense of racial superiority when he’s about these people. Quite enjoys that, actually…

          Never did fathom out what positive benefits mass coloured immigration has achieved. Seems like an enormous mistake we have to live with. It’s not as if these people contribute per se. Should think the majority are on state welfare. It really is difficult appreciating them, so one has given up and just accepts the normal prejudices that are within us all instead of denying them. Healthier that way …

    • Does it matter? Being a man by sex does not mean one cannot be female by gender. You are old fashioned. Albert.

      • Albert

        I am definitely old fashioned!

    • magnolia

      Not any longer!

      Ergo your question is redundant!!

      • Albert

        Spoil sportess. I’ll have to refine my question:

        As far as I can see, most posters on this blog about women’s clothes are men. Why is that?

  • Malcolm Smith

    A while ago I read an article by a Pakistani woman who had moved to Scandinavia. She pointed out, first of all, that the veil does not protect women from adverse male attention. Indeed, one of the hobbies of Pakistani men is “Ever teasing” ie sexually harassing any unescorted woman on the street. If her face is hidden, it makes them fantasize about what it might look like.
    She then told about coming to Oslo or Stockholm – I forget which – and how self-conscious she felt removing her head scarf for the first time. Guess what happened? Nothing! They ignored her. “Aren’t I good looking?” she asked herself.

    • Malcolm Smith

      I had technical problems completing that comment. I intended to add the following:
      Next time some obnoxious Salafist male rants on about the need for women to wear the head scarf, we should ask him:
      (1) Does he really believe that the sight of a Muslim woman’s hair will drive us to lust?
      (2)Is he permanently sexually aroused by the sight of all that naked female hair in our country?

  • *Thought*

    For those sexually attracted to pillar-boxes (Jack has known such people) a street full of women dressed in full burkha, especially if coloured red, could be fatal.

    • The Explorer

      You mean some people aren’t?

  • magnolia

    One small step for her to wear this, one giant grovelling leap backwards for womankind all over the world.

    It is subscribing to the notion that it is the duty of women to hide and go to extreme lengths so that spoilt little boy men might not have to exercise the merest hint of self control. We are more enlightened in the West, which has clearly eluded some.

    Molesworth would say she is a silly fule.

    • Phil R

      Oh I don’t agree. She looks far better in this outfit than her normal clothing.

      In this she is a mystery you see

      • magnolia

        What no one realises is that really it was her guarding against ebola germs…..!

  • That the church would encourage dhimmihood is inexcusable. Christ did not suffer fools or fig trees. He overturned tables and called a spade a spade with “Get Behind Me Satan!” I think the archbishop has not read the Koran and its Doctrine of Abrogation of the few peaceful verses for the Surah 9 with its verses of the sword which cancel out the peaceful ones. The time will come when sadly the archbishop’s head will under the Vertebrae Clever, Mohammad’s favorite sword – as true moslems promise.

  • David

    I doubt whether many of the promoters, or dedicated followers, of fashion spend much time analysing the cultural, philosophical, religious or geo-political significance or implications of different types of clothing and the motives that may be read into their actions by “modelling” them. So to search for deep significance in all things, as is Cranmer’s tendency, can sometimes be fraught with perils, I suggest. Let us see that this is, at one level, merely a shallow expression of fickle fashion.
    But he is right to draw attention to the dangers of style icons, or whatever this woman is regarded as, drifting into a publicly visible acquiescence, or even support, of the motives and customs that lead to this bizarre covering of the female face. Maybe she has some influence over other people, I don’t know. Now I am no feminist, far from it, but to support the demeaning of half the human race by hiding them away, as if they were someone’s property is totally contrary to western ideas regarding the essential dignity of all humans, an idea that springs ultimately from the Judaeo-Christian tradition. I hope that she is either ignored or seen as rather silly.