A Short History of the (Muslim) Veil


  • Valerie Behiery Independent Scholar




veil, hijab, history of the veil, Muslim women, colonialism, Islamic feminism


The concept of implicit religion recognizes the many connections between the secular and the religious, unlike mainstream social narratives that continue to oppose them. Understanding that religious and non-religious worldviews both fulfil the human need for meaning and that they are equally capable of becoming intransigent ideologies, is ever more critical because of the instrumentalization of the religious-secular divide in present- day domestic and international politics. Modernity’s dualism possesses global ramifications; by conflating Western identity and progress with secularism, it painted the rest of the world—particularly the Orient—with the brush of religion and backwardness. The Muslim veil has constituted a symbol to denote Muslim religious fanaticism and misogyny, in contrast to Western freedom, feminism and democracy. Its constitutive role in producing modern Western self-identity, through contradistinction, explains the continued debates on Muslim veiling practices, as well as the tenacity of the veil sign. This article traces the history of the veil with the aim of simultaneously charting and unpacking its reification in Western contexts.


Abaza, Mona. 2007. “Shifting Landscapes of Fashion in Contemporary Egypt.” Fashion Theory 11(2-3): 281–297. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/136270407X202817

‘Abd al-Raziq, Ahmad. 1973. La femme au temps des Mamluks en Egypte. Cairo: Collections textes arabes et études islamiques de l’IFAO, vol. 5.

Abd al-Ati, Hammuda. 1979. The Family Structure in Islam. Plainfield, IN: American Trust Publications.

Abugideiri, Hibba. 2001. “The Renewed Woman of American Islam: Shifting Lenses Toward ‘Gender jihad’. ” The Muslim World 91(1-2): 1–18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-1913.2001.tb03703.x

Abu Odeh, Lama. 1993. “Post-colonial Feminism and the Veil: Thinking the Difference.” Feminist Review 43: 26–37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/fr.1993.2

Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1986. “The Marriage of Feminism and Islamism in Egypt: Selective Repudiation as a Dynamic of Postcolonial Cultural Politics.” In Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East, edited by Lila Abu-Lughod, 243–269. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Afshar, Haleh. 2000. “Age, Gender and Slavery In and Out of the Persian Harem: A Different Story.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 23: 905–916. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01419870050110968

Ahmed, Leila. 1992. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

———. 1982. “Western Ethnocentrism and Perceptions of the Harem.” Feminist Studies 8(3): 521–534. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3177710

Alloula, Malek. 1987. The Colonial Harem. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Badran, Margot. 1995. “Huda Sha‘rawi.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, Vol. 4, edited by John L. Esposito, 45. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Badran, Margot and Miriam Cooke, eds. 1990. Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing. London: Virago.

Balasescu, Alec H. 2003. “Tehran Chic: Islamic Headscarves, Fashion Designers and New Geographies of Modernity.” Fashion Theory 7(1): 39–55. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/136270403778052159

Baron, Beth. 1989. “Unveiling in Early Twentieth-Century Egypt: Practical and Symbolic Considerations.” Middle Eastern Studies 25(3): 370–386. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00263208908700787

Behiery, Valerie. 2013. “Bans on Muslim Facial Veiling in Europe and Canada: A Cultural History of Vision Perspective.” Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 19(6): 775–793. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2013.842676

———. 2012. “Alternative Narratives of the Veil in Contemporary Art.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (CSSAAME), 32(1): 130–146. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-1545417

Brenner, Suzanne. 1996. “Reconstructing Self and Society: Javanese Muslim Women and the Veil.” American Ethnologist 23(4): 673–691. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/ae.1996.23.4.02a00010

Bullock, Katherine. 2002. Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical and Modern Stereotypes. Herndon, VA: The International Institute of Islamic Thought.

Clancy-Smith, Julia. 1998. “Islam, Gender, and Identities in the Making of French Algeria, 1830-1962.” In Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism, edited by Julia Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda, 154–177. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Cooke, Miriam. 2001. Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism Through Literature. London: Routledge.

Dayan-Herzbrun, Sonia. 2000. “The Issue of the Islamic Headscarf.” In Women, Immigration and Identities in France, edited by Jane Freedman and Carrie Tarr, 69–85. Oxford: Berg.

El Guindi, Fadwa. 1999. Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance. Oxford: Berg. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/9781847888969

———. 1981. “Veiling Infitah with Muslim Ethic: Egypt’s Contemporary Islamic Movement.” Social Problems 28(4): 465–485. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/800058

El Saadawi, Nawal. 1997. The Nawal El Saadawi Reader. London: Zed Books.

———. 1980. The Hidden Face of Eve. London: Zed Books

Fanon, Frantz. 2003. “Algeria Unveiled.” In Veil: Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art, edited by David A. Bailey and Gilane Tawadros, 74–85. London: Institute of International Visual Arts in association with Modern Art Oxford.

———. 1967. A Dying Colonialism. Translated by Haakon Chevalier. New York: Grove Press.

Fernea, Elizabeth. 1993. “The Veiled Revolution.” In Everyday Life in the Middle East, edited by Donna Lee Bowen and Evelyn A. Early, 119–122. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1980. The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage-Random House.

Grace, Daphne. 2004. The Woman in the Muslin Mask: Veiling and Identity in Post-colonial Literature. London: Pluto Press.

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. 1984. “Islam, Women and Revolution in Twentieth Century Arab Thought.” The Muslim World 74(34): 137–160. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-1913.1984.tb03451.x

Hassan, Riffat. 2001. “Challenging the Stereotypes of Fundamentalism: An Islamic Feminist Perspective.” The Muslim World 91: 55–69. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-1913.2001.tb03707.x

Hessini, Leila. 1994. “Wearing the Hijab in Contemporary Morocco: Choice and Identity.” In Reconstructing Gender in the Middle East: Tradition, Identity and Power, edited by Fatma Müge Göçek and Shiva Balaghi, 40–56.NewYork: Columbia University Press.

Hirschmann, Nancy J. 1998. “Western Feminism, Eastern Veiling, and the Question of Free Agency.” Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory 5(3): 345–368. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8675.00100

Hoffman, Valerie J. 1985. “An Islamic Activist: Zeinab al-Ghazali.” In Women and Family in the Middle East, edited by Elizaeth W. Fernea, 233–254. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Hoodfar, Homa. 1997. “The Veil in Their Minds and on Our Heads: Veiling Practices and Muslim Momen.” In The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, edited by Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd, 254–279. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

———. 1991. “Return to the Veil: Personal Strategy and Public Participation in Egypt.” In Working Women: International Perspectives on Labour and Gender Relations, edited by Nanneke Redclift and M. Thea Sinclair, 104–124. London: Routledge.

Jones, Carla. 2007. “Fashion and Faith in Urban Indonesia.” Fashion Theory 11(2-3): 211–231. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/136270407X202763

Kahf, Mohja. 1999. Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Tergamant to Odalisque. Austin: Univesity of Texas Press.

Karam, Azza. 1998. Women, Islamisms, and the State: Contemporary Feminisms in Egypt. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Kiliçbay, Baris and Mutlu Binark. 2002. “Consumer Lifestyle, Islam and the Politics of Lifestyle: Fashion for Veiling in Contemporary Turkey.” European Journal of Communication 17(4): 495–511. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/02673231020170040601

Lewis, Reina, ed. 2013. Modest Fashion: Styling Bodies, Mediating Faith. London: I.B. Tauris.

Lindisfarne-Tapper, Nancy and Bruce Ingham. 1997. “Approaches to the Study of Dress in the Middle East.” In Languages of Dress in the Middle East, edited by Nancy Lindisfarne-Tapper and Bruce Ingham, 1–39. Surrey: Curzon Press.

———. 1997. Languages of Dress in the Middle East. Surrey: Curzon Press.

Mabro, Judy. 1996. Veiled Half-truths: Western Travellers’ Perceptions of Middle Eastern Women. London: I. B. Tauris.

Macleod, Arlene Elowe. 1991. Accommodating Protest: Working Women, The New Veiling and Change in Cairo. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mernissi, Fatima. 1982. “Virginity and Patriarchy.” Women’s Studies International Forum 5: 183–191. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0277-5395(82)90026-7

———. 1994. Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Minces, Juliette. 1980. The House of Obedience. London: Zed Press.

Mitchell, Timothy. 1988. Colonising Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Moghissi, Haideh. 1999. Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of a Postmodern Analysis. London: Zed Books.

Moghadam, Valentine M. 1993. “Islamist Movements and Women’s Responses.” In V.M. Moghadam, Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East, 135-70. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Mojab, Shahrzad. 2001. “Theorizing the Politics of ‘Islamic Feminism.’” Feminist Review 69: 124–146. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01417780110070157

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. 1984. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Boundary 12(3): 333–358. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/302821

Najmabadi, Afsaneh. 1998. “Feminism in an Islamic Republic: Years of Hardship, Years of Growth,” In Islam, Gender and Social Change, edited by John Esposito and Yvonne Haddad, 59–84. London: Oxford University Press.

Norton, John. 1997. “Faith and Fashion in Turkey.” In Languages of Dress in the Middle East, edited by Nancy Lindisfarne-Tapper and Bruce Ingham, 149–177. Surrey: Curzon.

Pierce, Leslie. 1993. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Roald, Anne Sofie. 2001. Women in Islam: the Western Experience. London: Routledge. http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203278369

Rogers, G. Albert. 1865. Winter in Algeria, 1863-4. London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston.

Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Shaikh, Sa’diyya. 2003. “Transforming Feminism: Islam, Women and Gender Justice.” In Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism, edited by Omid Safi, 147–162. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Shatzmiller, Maya. 1988. “Some Aspects of Women’s Participation in the Economic Life of Later Medieval Islam: Occupations and Mentalities.” Arabica 35(1): 36–59. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/157005888X00422

van Sommer, Annie and Samuel M. Zwemer, eds. 1911. Daylight in the Harem. Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier.

———. 1907. Our Moslem Sisters: A Cry of Need from Lands of Darkness Interpreted by Those Who Heard It. New York: F.H. Revell.

Soueif, Ahdaf. 2003. “The Language of the Veil.” In Veil: Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art, edited by David A. Bailey and Gilane Tawadros, 110–119. London: Institute of International Visual Arts in association with Modern Art Oxford.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1985. “The Rani of Sirmur.” In Europe and Its Others, Volume 1, Proceedings of the Essex Conference on the Sociology of Literature, edited by Francis Baker et al., 128–151. Colchester: University of Essex.

Tucker, Judith. 1993. “Gender and Islamic History.” In Islamic and European Expansion: The Forging of a Global Order, edited by M. Adas, 37–73. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Wadud-Muhsin, Amina. 1992. Qur’an and Women. Kuala Lumpur: Penerbit FajarBakti Sdn Bhd.

Webb, Gisela, ed. 2000. Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar Activists in North America. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Wikan, Unni. 1982. Behind the Veil in Arabia: Women in Oman. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Williams, John Alden. 1980. “Veiling in Egypt as a Political and Social Phenomenon.” In Islam and Development, edited by John L. Esposito, 71–87. New York: Syracuse University Press.

Woodsmall, Ruth Frances. 1983 (1936). Woman in the Changing Islamic System. Delhi: BIMLA Publishing House.

Yamani, Mai, ed. 1996. Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives. New York: New York University Press.

Yegenoglu, Meyda. 1998. Colonial Fantasies: Towards a Feminist Reading of Orientalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511583445

Zuhur, Sherifa. 1992. Revealing Reveiling: Islamist Gender Ideology in Contemporary Egypt. New York: State University of New York Press.




How to Cite

Behiery, V. (2014). A Short History of the (Muslim) Veil. Implicit Religion, 16(4), 387–415. https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.v16i4.387