Sunday, December 04, 2011


This twitter message. It shows a picture of a woman, with this text:
A woman from Jeddah in 1873, before 'Saudi' Arabia was created. No black robes, gloves, or face veils.

Single old pictures cannot tell us anything about what was common for women during that era, because a single old picture is just that. What it can tell us, of course, is that at least one woman let herself be photographed in an outfit which today would be regarded as completely unacceptable.

The whole tweet is about a question I've thought of often: We don't really know how the women in the past dressed.

When an extreme Islamist argues that "modesty" for women means head-to-toe black, face veils and gloves, he bases it on a constructed view of what "modesty" might have meant during the era of the prophet Muhammad. But we don't know how women then dressed. We don't know what "modesty" meant in that context, and the Koran does not, in fact, mention head or face veils at all.

It argues that both men and women should dress modestly and that women should cover their bosoms. Everything else is someone else's interpretation, most of which seems to forget that the command also applies to men.

As far as I understand it, the argument for certain type of veiling is based on a reported saying by Muhammad, who told a woman that she should leave uncovered only that which is acceptable to be seen. But what were those body parts in that era? Is it really possible that they amounted to only one eye per woman? And how did the poor women do their farm work dressed like that?