The Tresses of Forgetfulness. 

Veiling Through Time
The Tresses of Forgetfulness.

By Hwaa Irfan

A time remembered is a period of historical films on British history when to see a woman veiled was quite normal. To surf on the ‘net, one could be led to believe that the veil begins and starts with Islam or as a wedding dress accessory. The event of banning the veil in France has only served to show how much is based a gut reaction so deep that there is a past to it. Another misnomer is the underlying reason President Chirac banned all religious symbols of expression form all religions as a desperate man trying to quell the growing uncontrollable tide of anti-Semitism in France. The last time one looked, Jews indigenous to the Middle East were of the same Semite race as those they feel superior to – the Palestinians (both Christian and Muslims)! As such, the growing attacks against Jews spreading across Europe in Britain, Germany, Italy and Belgium etc as been engineered to turn against Muslims. This has symbolized how far humanity has to go before it can become humane where men women and children have taken to the streets in the 20th century to march for their individual rights. The suffragettes once fought for women’s rights that only released women into a slavery to the body beautiful against the dictates of a Christian Europe that incarcerated women to a life of servitude in mind and body when Islam had given Muslim women their rights.

This dictate, descends from the Christian Bible which states in 1Corinthians II:

4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head.

5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved.

6 For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil.

7 A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.

8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;

9 nor was man created for woman, but woman for man;”

Further clarification is given in 1 Timothy II 8-9 of the Gospels:

10 For this I was appointed preacher and apostle (I am speaking the truth, I am not lying), teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

11 It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

12 Similarly, (too,) women should adorn themselves with proper conduct, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hairstyles and gold ornaments, or pearls, or expensive clothes,

13 but rather, as befits women who profess reverence for God, with good deeds.

14 A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control.

15 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.

16 She must be quiet.”

Hence it is written early in the codes of Christianity that women should. Far from ending in the past, the veil was used to subjugate women in Christianity. It was the first Latin theologian of the 2nd and 3RD century Quinus Septimus Florens Tertullianus who with fervor wrote on the veiling of women:

    “. For that custom which belies virgins while it exhibits them, would never have been approved by ant except by some men who must have been similar in character to the virgins themselves. Such eyes will wish that a virgin be seen as has the virgin who shall wish to be seen. The same kinds of eyes reciprocally crave after each other. Seeing and being belong to the self-same lust…

    The matter that has been left to choice, for each virgin to veil herself with, as she might have chosen, just as (she had equal liberty)… But when the power of discerning began to advance, so that the license granted to either fashion was becoming the mean whereby the indication of the better part emerged; immediately the great adversary of good things and much more of good institutions set to his own work…

    Every public exposure of an honorable virgin is (to her0 a suffering of rape: and yet the suffering of carnal violence is the less evil, because it comes of natural office. But when the very spirit itself is violated in a virgin by the abstracting of her covering, she has learnt to lose what she what she used to keep….”

The Western patriarchal view of women can be embodied as Tertullian wrote:

    “ It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; but neither (is it permitted her), to teach, not to baptize, not to office”

    “It remains likewise that we turn to (the virgins) themselves, to induce them to accept these (suggestions) the more willingly… But we admonish you, too women of the second (degree of) modesty, who have fallen into wedlock, not to outgrow so far the discipline of the veil, not even in a moment of an hour, as, because you cannot refuse it, to take some other means to nullify it, by going neither covered nor bare. … Arabia’s heathen females will be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely, that they are content, with one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face. A female would rather see than be seen”.

Enveloped in the Western perception of women is the ‘Fall of Eve’ which has shaped Western societal norms throughout the centuries. Christian scholar Leland Haines spells it out: It was only the wealthy that one can find explored their sense of sexuality outside of social mores. “Not to wear the veiling implies freedom from submission to man.

Medieval Era

It was the noble women who wore covered their hair with bonnets and veils especially after the church issued an edict that women should keep their hair covered.

Middle Ages

A lot of Western women’s frustration over their gender can be attributed down to the church as opposed to Christianity and the general view of women in society. During this period, it was single, divorced and noblewomen that had the right to possess property the right to which was lost once they married. Women could trade, save money and were legally liable until then. Under French ‘Salic Law’ women could inherit land in the 6th & 7th century as long as there were no male relatives. It was a combination of theologies of Aristotle and Augustus that culminated in Thomas the Aquinas Head of the English Church who firmly established in this period the belief that women’s role was solely to marry, procreate and raise children. Any intellectual pursuit was the prerogative of men. Women were inferior and the causes of evil. It was this that increased the flow of women to become nuns where they could have some degree of control over their lives.

Elizabethan Period

The ‘snood’ that arose out of the Tudor period became the rage with fashion trendsetter of the day, Queen Elizabeth. Crocheted or beaded, ‘snoods kept the hair out of the way and clean. Still popular today.

Victorian Period

Often deemed the most oppressive period in Western women’s history, It was during the middle of the 19th century that the hair started to hang loose at the nape, with curls, crimps and all kinds of tantalizing hairstyles when the agricultural revolution had offered more food than before, and the Industrial Revolution offered new jobs, new towns, new societies, more and varied commodities. Queen Victoria’s introduction of the wedding dress gave a new life to the veil. It has set a trend that has become a dream for most girls.

19th Century
With major renovations taking place in Paris, doctors were strongly recommending that women wore veiled bonnets to protect themselves from dust and airborne diseases. In fact it was fashionable to the extent that women viewed the veil as a symbol of high-class and respectability. Art historian Dr. Marni Kessler as a male had contradictory views on the subject but stated that the veil provided a barrier between the woman and the city “She was not blinded by the veil, but nevertheless held back, protected and shielded from modern life”.

Hence, women were appendages of men with no rights of there own as embodied in Christian teachings and were the property of men. Is it embedded somewhere in their trace memory every time they look at a veiled Muslim woman. Can it not be seen that unlike certain Christian teachings of old, that the veil in Islam is not about subjugation to men, but about not being subjugated to the body. Can it not be seen that the rights of women in Islam, is written into Islam and is not an influence from elsewhere?

Western women were void of any sought of rights until the 19th century. That past was to be broken with the advent of industrialization that only respects profit not rights. Through the vehicle of the Suffragette movement, became free from one form of slavery into the slavery of the body. Believing to be free, Western women were no longer appendages of men. The fast sweeping changes was too much for the likes of some. The free Church rose, part of which is he conservative Christian group the Amish, who separated themselves from this world they wished not to belong to and followed strict codes against military involvement and the older members are against the use of electricity the veil was a part of the Amish wife’s daily wear. Some communities still hold onto their traditions

For many women today, the hair has become all too important although the essence of femininity has been associated with the hair. Yet, in the West, up until the twentieth century, hairstyling was limited to the upper classes in the West. We never think of how much we adulterate hair with many harsh chemicals found in modern day shampoos and permanent dyes. Whatever the tradition, in general, the hair when styled was confined by shaving, cutting, the hairstyle itself and veiling except for those where every ploy was used to entice the men as long holds much provocation to men. Otherwise it was considered unhygienic and impractical to have the hair loose.


Hair Crazy

To show how obsessed with visual appeal we have become, a poll by Yankelovich Partners in 2001 showed that 69% of Americans felt that clothing, hair and make-up were the most important determining factors in deciding on whether or not one got a job and 67% said that ones appearance affects whether one gets a new challenge, responsibility or opportunity and can you believe that 78% of Americans believed that clothes, hair and make-up affects the ability to do the job. However, one should bear in mind that Yankelovich were sponsored by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association to provide this survey!

The Process of Making Something Positive, Negative.

It is almost as if, those that seize the opportunity to attack Islam through the issue of women or use Muslim women to unload what is still imbedded in their psyche from an oppressive past have associated the Islamic veil as a tool of male chauvinism under the guise of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ yet have no working alternative to put in its place!. Through the old game of ‘labeling’ in the church.

    “The technique of labeling is used to discount a person who opposes the beliefs of a religious addict. Labeling attempts to dehumanize persons so that dismissing them or their opinions is much easier. Choosing not to address someone individually who has doubted the toxic faith, the religious addict places a blanket negative label on all who would disagree with his or her personal habits. Rather than state that John Smith has made a negative statement, the addict proclaims that there are ‘detractors’, ‘traitors’ or ‘malcontents’ who would destroy the ministry or organization. The label becomes a rallying point under which the other followers can be moved to action to squelch a revolt”!

So as such, the rallying cry has been made and we arise our voices, the question is not who, but when will there be success in de-robing the Muslim woman? This is the idea after all, to make the Muslim woman feel as if she is ancient and therefore making her react emotionally to what is going on and unwittingly undo all that supports the fabric and well-being of a Muslim society – the family. The fairy-tale of Rapunzel was only enchanting to many because of the length of her hair which her knight in shining armor used to climb his way into her heart. A people have been made to feel inferior because of their hair:

“We are still enslaved in our thinking.
Society has molded us in our speaking.
I have a problem with the word nappy because it is not being associated with our true identity as being happy.
Why do I have to have a chemical on any of my hair.
I don’t want to conform to any standard of theirs.
They, are those who impose their repressed feelings on the impressionable youth.
Who are just learning to love themselves inside and out.
Youth who want only to fit in with a set standard of beauty, without a doubt.
We as a people need to come together on this.
Most are living happily because ignorance is bliss.
They don’t know that saying “good hair” is as degrading as using the N-word as a term of endearment.
By changing our thinking, we can not only come out of darkness mentally but come out of our concealment!” –


Many distance themselves from others because of the loss of hair in illness. One teenager wrote:

    “Her hair Her hair was like an ocean with curls and curls and waves. There were red streaks, in her long brown hair; her eyes were emeralds, her skin a golden bronze. She is my best friend. I would do anything to have her hair – the way it fell Against her shoulder, Like a golden maple frame around a beautiful picture.
    “What’s chemo?” I asked as Mom pulled me aside. I hope she doesn’t die. I hope she can still have her hair. But; she can’t, and it fell out She had Hodgkins disease And she lost her hair. Seeing her in the hospital with clearly painful tubes tied to her chest with massive grey machines attached to her – without her hair. It was hard to look. To see her hurting so badly, made me hurt too, So I cut my hair. by Ashley Nestor, New City, NY”

(Ashley from

The High Cost of Sexploitation

We are in denial I think as to what impact the hair has in determining who we not because it actually does, but for some deeper meaning, it has an illogical affect on human-beings that can make one like, hate, resent, bully, desire and reject a person an for no other reason. Every physical feature on a woman’s body has to have a visual appeal that only some non-Western women try to not emulate. That visual appeal has become packaged as sex – sex as a commodity. Beautiful women have become visually available to sell the unsaleable. Sexploitation invites men to poses with their eye what they cannot possess with their hands. Playing on the desires of men, heightening their sensibilities to a point whereby many find it difficult to not take what they have been ‘invited’ to take. The illusion of women’s rights in the West have been at the cost of men’s rights only serving to enslave both genders to the unalienable right ‘to have’. The other term for it is ‘consumerism’ -the same consumerism that is the rock-bed of Western industrialization, colonialism and globalization that has led to all forms of violence occurring in civil society. The RAINN Organization that provide the ‘National Sexual Assault Hotline’ in the U.S. state: “Every two minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted”. There were 247,730 victims of rape in 2002, 44,000 of rape victims were under 18 years of age, 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims knew their attackers, 34% were family members and only 7% of the attackers were strangers. This only serves to show how even the individual concept of family is being eroded.

When women choose to neglect their rights as recognized under Islam, they also become negligent of the possible consequences not only to herself, but to her family and society as a whole. The veil is a protection of those rights which only a few non-Westerners are beginning to wake-up to. Transforming from the common Western perception of veiled Muslim women, that was shaped by their own past, Production Coordinator, Mary Walker for the BBC2 series ‘Living in Islam’ said in ‘ Impact Magazine’:

Dissolving a Myth

    “To me the veil symbolized the oppression of women, making them invisible, anonymous and voiceless, and the cause of this oppression lay in the will to perpetuate the family and maintain a patriarchal framework – the very basis of an Islamic Society. I thought women were entirely submerged by divine justification of their role as wife and mother… ‘Living in Islam’ was filmed over two years in 19 different countries and on location I was a lone female in an otherwise male team… The first Muslim woman I met in Mali was far removed from my preconception about the Muslim female. She was the wife of a sheikh dedicated to converting pagan villagers to Islam. A sophisticated, well-educated woman, previously married to a diplomat, she had renounced a Western lifestyle for a life in purdah… The emancipated woman in the West faces the conflict between confirmation of her femininity and the privileges that she associates with it, and repudiation of the confines of her female role and all the limitations that men want her to assume. From where I stood, this woman had transformed those limitations into privileges… On my next trip to northern Nigeria, I met two more women who would alter my views even further.. And once again they had rejected the Western lifestyle which I considered so superior to Islam in its treatment of women… The women talked and in their answers I saw seeds of my own re-evaluations. They argued that the veil signified their rejection of an unacceptable system of values which debased women while Islam elevated women to a position of honor and respect.

    “It is not liberation where you say women should go naked” Just as to us the veil represents Muslim oppression, to them miniskirts and plunging necklines represent oppression. They said that men are cheating women in the West. They let us believe we’re liberated, but enslave us to the male gaze…”

The tresses of forgetfulness is what fell with an enchanting dance
To grace her body in the glowing sun.

Those tresses caught not his eye, but his senses and could not,

Would not rise above that trance

His imagination unfolded passions within from where he cared not

For all he saw in that moment

Was a need to fulfill what lied within with what he saw –

Who she was

Did not matter, neither did her honor.

Enraged by her rejection he triumphed in that hour.

First Written 01/19/04


Ashley, N. “Her Hair”. 12/22/03.

Barker, Katrina. “Symposium Looks at Costume Veil History”. 2. 12/21/03. “Ante-Nicene Fathers: On the Veiling of Virgins”. 14. 12/21/03. “Lefkara Lace Designs”. 4. 12/20/03. “Womens’ Headwear”. 2. 12/2/03.

Haines, Leland. M. “The Christian Veiling”. 16. “Ladies Coverings Online Catalog”. 8. 12/07/03. “Napptural Poetry: Poems of Happiness”. “RAINN Statistics”. 4. 01/13/04. “Labeling”. 3 12/20/03. “Women in the Middle Ages”. 3. 12/20/03. “Work Your Image: The Importance of Appearance on the Job” 12/23/01. 2. 12/20/03.

New American Bible. “1 Corinthians II”.

New American Bible. “1 Timothy II”.