Looking out from behind the veil--an Islamic head-covering for the head and face--some feminists see oppression, others, sacred tradition. But true liberation comes through choice. Being forced to take the veil is as oppressive as being forced to take it off. From Turkey to Iran to Afghanistan, Muslim women have struggled with the implications of veiling, making it one of the most controversial aspects of Islam.
According to the Koran, the matter is one of interpretation. In one translation, Chapter 24 states that women "should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beautyÓ except to the men in their lives or "small children who have no sense of the shame of sex." The Taliban, in Afghanistan, has imposed the Koran's prescription for modesty on all women. When Afghan women go out in public, they must cover their entire bodies with a head-to-toe garment called a burqa to ward off the male gaze. There is a range of veils throughout the Muslim world: some fall below the eyes and others loosely cover the face. But the heavy burqa is the most extreme, with only a mesh opening for the eyes (pictured above). To walk or work, women have to use one hand from the inside to hold the front together. Those who reveal any skin in public are beaten. And the resulting lack of sunlight and fresh air has led to increasing cases of acute asthma, vitamin D deficiency, and depression. Instead of tempering the male gaze, the Taliban's veil has prevented women from seeing the world and each other. --Anaga Dalal
Burqa Furnished by The Feminist majority Foundation Photograph by Sylvia Plachy