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Updated on June 3, 2013

Men & Women & the Veil

One day on face book I saw some priests with heavy cloaks on their heads. It got me to thinking do men wear the veil? It turns out there are some who do. What about women who wear the veil? Is it really their choice or does their society demand it? The veil never really reveals the inner person. It may be more of a description of the roles of men and women in that particular society, religion or country. Does the veil empower the person or does it hinder social progress? Does it hide the real person inside?

First I will look at men who wear the veil. In Hinduism there is a well-known Indian male saint called Sai Baba. If you have seen some pictures of him, you will notice the cotton cloth he wears on his head. No one would say that Sai Baba lacked empowerment to accomplish good in the world. Wearing the veil did not hold him back from his mission. Of course, generally men are encouraged to be more independent in most countries of the world. Most of us women have to work really hard to achieve this aspect of ourselves because it is generally not encouraged. It is easier with parents who encourage empowerment. Yet in ancient times Vedic Women were sages and keepers of wisdom. Every woman has aspects of Saraswati Ma, the goddess of wisdom, arts, music, speech and education.

The Tuareg are Muslim men who wear the veil. That might surprise you, but they do. They are semi-nomadic traders of North Africa who speak the Tamasheq languages. They also mine for water for agricultural purposes. Today they are located in Niger, Mali, Algeria, Libya, Senegal, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. They originally came from the Iberian peninsula 5000 years ago. Some say they may be Ethiopian because of their shamanistic and magical practices, which they combine with Islam. The Egyptian religion may come from the Tuaregs who had pyramids and mummies, too.

The young men have a ritual of passage into manhood in which they receive the veil and wear it for life. Tuareg women do not wear the veil, and the society is matriarchal and matrilineal. The veil was first used as protection from the elements and to ward off evil spirits. In this society men must earn a bride price and often do not marry until age 30, while women marry earlier at ages 20 to 25. Initially the couple lives in the camp of the bride's family and later on they move to the groom's family camp. In this society women and men have a much more equal power level because the society is based on matriarchal principles. So in this society the veil is not used to separate people from each other.

In India the purdah system in northern India came into existence before the Mughals arrived. Some say it was initially introduced when the Arabs and Turks invaded India. In other parts of India this system does not exist. This area had more invasions than many other parts of India. It was thought it was instituted as a protection for women being raped, harassed and kidnapped. The system became ingrained even though these groups left India. You might ask why the men who did these negatives actions were not held to account for their actions. It shows a lack of self-control. The judicial system did not protect the women from these miscreants. The bad behavior of these men justified women not being educated, not being allowed to conduct business and not being allowed to shop for food for their households without a male family member present for protection. In the area of education women really suffered and this has contributed to poverty in India. No religious texts mention or promote this system in Hinduism. It was instituted by the people themselves.

In the United States Hindu women wear the veil in the temple more out of their own personal choice. Many younger women do not wear it at all. Even many of the older women only wear it during Arties or when approaching the altar or kund areas.

Most priests do not force their ideas on women in this regard; however, there are some exceptions. One New York priest came to our mandir and forced women to wear veils during a private blessing of each woman. He made a big scene about it and said women weren't respectful of God if they did not wear the veil. He did not require the men to wear anything on their heads. I was thinking that he was not very respectful of women in the manner and statements he made. God always gives free will choice to everyone. It is not what you put on your head that makes you a spiritual person. It is how you treat people, the Earth and animals which make you a spiritual person.

Another Guyanese priest who comes occasionally to the mandirs in Minneapolis asked women to put veils on their heads during Arte. While this is a more polite approach than the other example, it is much better not to say anything about this since it should be a person's choice. I say the same thing about men who wear turbans and veils. Use of the veil should never be used to confine and control either sex. Then it becomes part of the patriarchy, which does not treat women as the great beings they are.

Something I found interesting in my research was that some Muslim scholars say that it was only Muhammad's wives who were requried to wear the veil and only later other Muslim women followed the same practice. Muhammad actually believed in total equality of men and women, but it was the men around him who could not handle equality with women. Women were not required to wear face veils at all, so there is no documented basis for wearing a face veil in the Koran. In fact the Koran encourages both men and women to dress modestly. This is true of many other spiritual traditions including Hinduism.

The problems lie in the societies themselves. When a society is matriarchal everyone is respected and treated equally no matter if one wears the veil or not. When a society is too patriarchal, people are forced to do these practices. Women are controlled every step of the way. They are not allowed to be educated, work outside the home or drive cars. They are not allowed to be whole, free human beings. This is not the way to treat someone who has the aspects of the Divine Mother. Without Her nothing would happen anywhere. She is about human and ecological progress.

Australia had a violent society in its early existence. Few women lived there. The wise men knew women were needed to stop this problem. Women were given rights they had nowhere else at the time, so that they would come to Australia. They became business women, political leaders, obtained the vote and owned property. Australia cut down on their violence problem simply because women came there. The society which treats women the best always prospers. There are less social problems when women are treated well.

Going beyond the veil means allowing people choice to be who they are as human beings. It means promoting matriarchal principles of collaboration, sharing and love. It means understanding that the inner person is the most important aspect of the Self. Poverty, war, violence, ecological destruction, sexism, racism and other "isms" exist because we fail to love in the real sense of the word. Let's go beyond the veil!




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      radhapriestess 5 years ago

      Well, the only mention in the Koran is Muhammud's wives. There is no general statement period. In the United States Hindu women do not wear veil except in temple and it's not a requirement of Hinduism.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

      It is often claimed, Muslim women feel comfortable with Islamic dress code. Women defend wearing headscarf saying it a sign of piety. (Headscarf is also mandatory for married women in Hindu society; however, the strictness to wear headscarf is on decline). Most of the non-Muslim seem to tolerate headscarf simply because no one would expect the Christian nuns to throw their headdress. So, how could pious Muslim women negate the headscarf which has been sanctioned by the Holy Quran?