Today, the veil has taken an important role in the public appearance of Muslim women. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Islamic veil is one of the most visible symbols of Islamic revivalism. To say that the veil is a modern invention of Islamic movements is a mistake; but it is true that it was Islamic revivalism that has placed the veil into the modern life of Muslim women throughout the world.
The most visible sign of Huntington's clash of civilizations, indeed, is the revival of the Islamic veil, at a time when the West had just celebrated feminism and sexual liberation. In an agnostic age, the veil is seen as an aberration. The veil is seen as symbols of medieval Islam, of the oppressive side of
Iran's Islamic Republic and Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Recently, the debate goes on as French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin declared that veils have no place in French State schools.
The history of the revival of the veil, which used to be seen as an outdated, rural dress lies closely with Islamic revivalism. The ideas of Muhammad Abduh, Jamaluddin Al Afghani, Hassan Al Banna and Maududi offered disenchanted Muslims an alternative to the Western civilization, whilst
recognizing the inevitability and importance of modernity.
While Islam has always placed a great importance on the liberation of women, traditional cultures have tended to disengage women from participation in society. Western culture provided Muslim women with that space; however the radical sexual liberation of the 60s seemed to be at odds with the religion and culture of many Muslim women. It was here that the veil came to be seen as a vital tool,
while some took it as a way to alienate women from society, many have actually used it to allow
them to actively participate in the public sphere comfortably. The veil afforded Muslim women with dignity,
to rise above from being sexual objects in a misogynistic society.
At first, the West and the Westernized Muslim elite saw the veil as being an anathema to the modern world, and were seen with much suspicion and contempt. However, while opening the veil has been seen as signs of liberation in the religious regimes of Iran and Afghanistan, the veil has now adapted itself to society as a whole in other secular Islamic countries where even the upper-classes have now adopted the veil, in its many variations. The veil is now a crucial part of modern Islamic identity. In many Western countries, such as Britain and the US, veils are now more readily tolerated.
Yet, as noted, the tension is still there, especially in fervent secular states such as France and even Muslim Turkey. The roots of the French Revolution, where the common people and the bourgeoisie revolted against the twin powers of the Catholic Church and monarchy, has led to a strict and dogmatic adoption of secularism, regarded as the pride of the country. Although religion is not outlawed as it was in the atheistic Communist countries, it is being forced to be absolutely invisible in the public sphere. France needs to learn to come to terms with its largest minority, the Muslims and to regard them with respect. Muslims do not question the secular nature of the French Republic,
recognizing themselves as a minority. Nevertheless, the French Republic must respect the religious beliefs of its
citizens, be it a Jew wanting to wear the yarmulke, a Sikh wanting to wear the turban or a Muslim wanting to wear the veil.
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