To hear plenty fools tell it, nothing is more degrading to a woman than being modest, and thus nothing degrades women more than Islamic laws regarding modesty. Following is a correspondence between me and my classmate in Anthropology about Muslim modesty…
Hi [classmate’s name],
I like the highly relevant comparison you drew with the arguable strangeness of the Nacirema, invoking the often woefully misunderstood–and often willfully misrepresented–modesty of Islamic culture.
Modesty in Islam: shrouded women and scantily-clad men?
first, it’s always nice to hear someone other than myself mention something that, while so obvious, is yet often missed by many (meticulously misinformed) non-Muslims: Muslim women AND Muslim men are mostly covered up. far from seldom, I address certain kinds of extreme, self-righteous and usually ignorant (unknowning) non-Muslims, including those who strongly correlate how free they are with how immodest they are allowed to be, and who, bathed in cultural-chauvinism, churlishly decry Islamic modesty-laws as necessarily terrorizing to a Muslim woman. to these radical non-Muslims, I typically lead with something along the lines of, “you make it sound like all the Muslim women are doomed to dress as frumpy ninjas AND all the Muslim men are…like wandering around in speedos or something! no dude: they typically ALL dress modestly as hell–the men and women.”
Sunbathing in Baghdad?
another point often necessary to explain to plenty ignorant people–who have never lived in a desert–is the concept of clothing as protection from the sun. first, they tell me something like, “these poor, poor women are [dressed more modestly than I agree with] and IT IS SO HOT OVER THERE!!!” to which I reply, “yeah, it’s hot–and NOT the kind of, ‘oh! it is warm and sunny, time to wear a bikini!’ kind of hot, but rather along the lines of, ‘it is HOT outside–you had BETTER cover up and protect yourself from the sun!’–that kind of hot.”
Religion as a natural and regional phenomenon
as a devout anti-theist, I pull no punches in attacking the banal bane present in so much of religion. nevertheless, to synthesize an idea expressed in, among other places, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon*, a book by Dr. Daniel Dennet–philosopher, cognitive scientist, atheist: “there is no god; religion is entirely cultural, regional.” thence, it is unwise to intractably doubt or downplay the following likely origin (or at least aspect of the origin) of Islamic hyper-modesty:
Islamic-social-engineer1: “dude! too much sun is REALLY bad for us! when we concoct this ghoran (aka qur’an) thingy, we should probably include a law about wearing plenty clothes to protect oneself from the sun!”
Islamic-social-engineer2: “far out, bro. I TOTALLY agree.”
*an orated overview and analysis of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, given at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, is freely available to watch online: