Tolerate the veil

Feb. 26, 2013 @ 08:48 PM

It may strike us as strange sometimes when we see a woman in our local supermarket clad in one of the various veils common to the Muslim faith.

Perhaps the first instinct is to feel sorry for her, because her personality and individuality may be subjugated to cultural values.

We look toward countries we sometimes deem to be as progressive as the United States, such as France, and see them banning the burqa. Maybe that sounds appealing to some. But France also banned Catholic nun habits and other vestments of the church after the Revolution. Are we really ready to go that far?

Ultimately, it is a Muslim woman’s deeply personal choice whether she dons a veil, and it would be a mistake to assume that this fashion choice automatically undermines her as a person.

In fact, some women who wear a burqa or hijab consider the garments as a sort of equalizer.

“You’re not looked at because you have a beautiful body; you’re a respected lady,” Nasira Sayed of Cary told The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz on Saturday. It’s liberating for women, Sayed said. “It’s not something that will put you down.”

We’re glad that the University of North Carolina and Duke University teamed last weekend to offer their conference on “ReOrienting the Veil.” It’s an event that was designed to promote understanding and tolerance of one of Islam’s most prominent symbols.

Sahar Amer, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor of French and Asian studies, helped organize the conference. She said lack of understanding fuels some people’s fear of the veil and what it means.

“They think sometimes it’s associated with violence, with political movements, with extreme conservatism,” Amer said.

If a woman chooses to wear a veil as an expression of her religious faith, it should not be condemned. Furthermore, it would be a mistake for a society to shun people for simultaneously practicing their freedoms of expression and religion.

Just because it may seem strange to some of us, maybe even a little unsettling, doesn’t make it wrong.