we took to the woods

from Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (2000)

“The same principle underlines the return to Islamic dress. When this is forced on people against their will (as by the Taliban) it is coercive and… likely to create a backlash… But many Muslim women feel that veiling is a symbolic return to the pre-colonial period, before their society was disrupted and deflected from its true course. Yet they have not simply turned the clock back. Surveys show that a large proportion of veiled women hold progressive views on such matters as gender. For some women, who have come from rural areas to the university and are the first members of their family to advance beyond basic literacy, the assumption of Islamic dress provides continuity and makes their rite of passage to modernity less traumatic than it might have been. They are coming to join the modern world but on their own terms and in an Islamic context that gives it sacred meaning. Veiling can also be seen as a a tacit critique of some of the less positive aspects of modernity. It defies the strange Western compulsion to ‘reveal all’ in sexual matters. In the West, people often flaunt their tanned, well-honed bodies as a sign of privilege; they try to counteract the signs of aging and hold on to this life. The shrouded Islamic body declares that it is oriented to transcendence, and the uniformity of dress abolishes class difference and stresses the importance of community over Western individualism.”