Lesson 3 First Assignment
I was surprised at the similarities between styles of Early Medieval European and Islamic dress for both men and women. Both feature garments that cover the body in keeping with religious traditions, including tunics, trousers and loose undergarments. In both women cover their hair though I’m unsure as to whether in Early European culture this was for practical reasons or to respect then current Christian doctrines that equated the body (and possibly the female body in particular) with vice, or a mixture of the two.
But one obvious difference between the two styles of clothing lies in the use, in the East, of fine materials such as silk and velvet, later appropriated by Europeans. Eastern countries may have had more sophisticated methods of textile production. Presumably too, differing weather conditions in Europe and Islamic countries dictated variations in fabrics employed to make clothes.
After surfing through some examples of contemporary Islamic clothing catalogues I noted what seemed to be a distinct lack of embellishment on abayas, scarves and other garments for women in contrast to the beaded and printed styles of dress worn by their earlier European counterparts, whose outfits also often accentuated the natural curves of the female body.
Considering the pros and cons of wearing contemporary Islamic clothing rather than what I wear on a daily basis I contend that the disadvantages of wearing an Islamic outfit far outweigh the advantages. Please bear in mind that this statement is not an attack on Islam, nor is it a generalised statement about the politics of wearing a hijab, a discussion I’m not qualified to enter into. From my limited reading on the subject a Muslim woman who chooses to wear the hijab is committing to more than just an item of clothing; she is also making a conscious choice to conduct herself in a manner that is considered moral in the context of Islam and the Qur’an. As a non-Muslim living in a secular country I do not feel that that covering my head or wearing clothing designated as “modest” would offer any benefits with regard to preserving my dignity or removing the focus from my physical appearance to other attributes as, in my case, such sartorial choices would be removed from any wider spiritual or religious significance. Also, it is my observation that women in hijabs, at least in London, are sometimes subject to racist and culturally insensitive comments, which is a difficult burden to carry without the support of a religious philosophy to back it up.
In one pro-hijab account the author states that wearing Islamic dress takes the focus off her body and away from what I agree is often a relentless obsession in the West on unrealistic standards of beauty and size for women. She shares her experience of unhealthy diets and bulimic practices as a teenager, which her choice to don a hijab seems to have allayed. In my own case I believe that a healthy body that is a realistic weight for my age and height is something to be proud of, and that I have the option to emphasise it in a dignified way should I wish, or downplay it should that feel more appropriate. Ultimately the only problem with displaying my femininity and body shape is if I do it exclusively to garner male attention and/or in a manner that degrades me.