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Nomani, right, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, is co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement and author of "Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam." Hala Arafa is a retired program review analyst at the International Bureau of Broadcasting and retired news editor at the Arabic Branch of the Voice of America.Updated December 29, 2016, AM Saturday night at the Dar Al Noor mosque in Manassas, Va., near Civil War battlefields, a girl of about 7 sat cross-legged in a dimly lit back corner of the prayer hall in the cramped “sisters’ section.” A tinted waist-high glass barrier separated the girl from the spacious “brothers’ section,” where about 50 men listened intently to a Saudi preacher who ignored the “sisters.” The girl’s hair was entirely covered by a scarf, per the mosque’s guidelines for “proper Islamic attire, including Hijab for girls, while boys dress modestly.” As mainstream Muslim women, we see the girl’s headscarf not as a signal of “choice,” but as a symbol of a dangerous purity culture, obsessed with honor and virginity, that has divided Muslim communities in our own civil war, or fitna, since the Saudi and Iranian regimes promulgated puritanical interpretations of Sunni and Shia Islam, after the 1970s Saudi oil boom and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
This is a particularly appropriate time to be studying the role of women in the progress towards the new South African democracy.
The year 2006 was a landmark year in which we celebrated the massive Women's March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria 50 years ago.
But we believe women have a right to wear – or not wear – the headscarf.
To that end, we heard from Muslims from Malaysia to Minnesota who told us again and again: “Thank you.” As we navigate our lives, in the battlefields of our faith, we do so with the value we hope all will support: rejecting tyrannical purity cultures and stepping forth with dignity, with the wind in our hair.
Today, in Iran, friends of the journalist Masih Alinejad dodge batons as they shoot photos of themselves, hair bare, in a campaign Alinejad started, #My Stealthy Freedom, to protest Iran’s mandatory headscarf law.
Last month, after writing an essay arguing the headscarf isn’t Islamically mandated, we received verbal abuse from American Muslim leaders and academics, calling us “despicable,” “clinically delusional,” “Satan” and “dajjal,” the Muslim equivalent of anti-Christ.South African society (and this applies in varying degrees to all race groups) are conventionally patriarchal.In other words, it was the men who had authority in society; women were seen as subordinate to men.This purity culture covers, segregates, subordinates, silences, jails and kills women and girls around the world.Recently, in Bareilly, India, a father killed his daughter, 4, smashing her head against the floor when her scarf slipped from her head during dinner.Economic activity beyond the home (in order to help feed and clothe the family) was acceptable, but not considered ‘feminine'.However, with the rise of the industrial economy, the growth of towns and (certainly in the case of indigenous societies) the development of the migrant labour system, these prescriptions on the role of women, as we shall see, came to be overthrown.Women throughout the country had put their names to petitions and thus indicated anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes.The bravery of these women (who risked official reprisals including arrest, detention and even bannings) is applauded here.In the eight times the word hijab, or a derivative, appears in the Koran, it means a “barrier” or “curtain,” with spiritual, not sartorial, meaning.Today, well-intentioned women are wearing headscarves in interfaith “solidarity.” But, to us, they stand on the wrong side of a lethal war of ideas that sexually objectifies women as vessels for honor and temptation, absolving men of personal responsibility.