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Why do women in Egypt still wear Hijab? Why is your vision of Shariah different?

Why do women in Egypt still wear Hijab? Why is your vision of Shariah different?


you spoke at my university yesterday, and a few of us are wondering 1: why do muslim women in egypt continue to wear hijab? 2: why do you say your vision of sharia is so different to others? and 3: would you date a student…? you are the hottest professor anyone has seen

I hope you enjoyed the lecture, you were a great group of students and thanks for having me talk to you guys.

As far as women wearing hijab in Egypt, wow, there are so many different layers to this question that I’m not sure where to begin. Here’s the most important part of my answer: I’m not a woman. Therefore, I have no idea what its like to wear hijab, and I have never had to debate wearing it, because I’m a dude.

What actually bothers me, is that this question is debated, constantly without Muslim women involved. Oh, sure, they’ll have Mona Eltahawy randomly appear, but, just because she’s a woman, does not mean she knows what’s it like to wear hijab, nor does she even seem to represent any significant portion of Egyptian women who are concerned with hijab in the first place.

I find her opinions on Egypt to be not only academically poor, but fundamentally disconnected from Egypt on the ground, versus Egypt in reality. I can only imagine that her perceptions of women follow a similar vein.

If you held a gun to my head for this question, I’d probably answer that besides a genuine sense of belief (how true that is, is impossible to know) I think the main reason for a rise in women wearing hijab has mostly to do with identity politics. There are those who argue that women wear hijab in Egypt because of a need to be perceived of as “respectable,” which isn’t very convincing, because it makes it seem like Egyptian women (or any population of women, for that matter) were, at some time, not preoccupied with who is “respectable” and who isn’t.

But, ultimately, I think it is an assertion of their identity, a conscious rejection of the feminist discourse that is imposed upon them, one that argues that hijab, and other Muslim/cultural expectations are inherently oppressive and usurps their power as women. I think the hijab is a physical representation of that rejection, and I think Muslim women have created, a long time ago, a distinct style of feminism that is very slowly being recognized, but still, rejected by Western feminism because it does not share the same assumptions.

I’d like to underline, again, that I am not comfortable answering this question, because I am not a woman, and I hope that the Muslimahs who have an opinion can share it with me, so that I can be better informed. I get a lot of questions about women, and I have a tough time answering them, because I hate speaking for you, I want to listen to you instead.

Regarding your second question, I’m going to bank that you paid attention (during the lecture), so this may seem like an incomplete answer. My conception of Shariah is not just “mine,” it’s a historical fact. Islamic Law (Shariah) is understood very differently by Muslims in Muslim countries for a variety of reasons.

The idea that Shariah is literally, “from God” is the most problematic portion for both Muslims and non-Muslims. There is this mythology that the Shariah has just, always existed, and that as long as you have The Qur’an and the Sunnah, you’ve got Shariah. The legal rules of a society, must be made by the society it is meant to govern. This is not “my opinion,” this is a simple historical fact.

The Prophet, when going from Mecca to Medina, then known as Yathrib, created what is known as “The Constitution of Medina.” This document, while clearly influenced by The Prophet and his teachings (The Qur’an was not completely revealed yet) was not what people think of when they think “Islamic Law.” Muslims today are not supposed to follow this constitution, because it has rules that simply make no sense today, and that’s fine, because constitutions change over time.

The point is that, simply by looking through history, we see that what is “the law” must be agreed by the community that is to be governed by that law. Thus, without consensus of the society, no law can be valid. This conception of law would be argued later most famously by John Locke, through his social contract theory. So the basis of the law must be one that the people are satisfied with and consent to in order for it to even be applicable.

However, that’s just the foundational level.

Shariah, as a legal structure, is a common-law system. What does this mean? The short answer is: do you know how the American legal system works? Well, that’s exactly how the Islamic legal system works.

A common-law structure is one that does not articulate the law, specifically. Meaning, that every rule and regulation is not written down, specifically. We’re talking about things like legal procedures, punishments, and constitutional principles (for the most part). That is legal codification, which is a feature of the civillaw system, which we’ll discuss later.

Therefore, Shariah Law, only emerges from case law, meaning that you can only determine issues by what kind of court cases you get. So, you can’t just make a law (judicially) in Shariah because you feel like it, you have to have a case in front of you. How you rule on that case is determined by your judgment, and by seeing what previous cases (that are similar) said about the issue you’re dealing with. That’s called legal precedent.

What is Shariah, then? It is a combination of The Qur’an, the Sunnah, and case law. It’s not a big book of laws that God gave us, and we don’t have all the answers, we have to figure it out, and this is our test as a society: what our laws say and do, illustrate what our values are as a society. Thus, instead of looking at this lack of a “big book of Shariah” as a problem, or some shocking truth, we should realize that Muslims dealt with this reality for over a thousand years, and it is up to us, as Muslims, to take on this latest challenge.

Civil law systems, are very different. Most of the Muslim world functions with civil law systems, which would be more similar to the idea of a “big book of Shariah.” I think that Muslims’ perception of the law is a product of the legal system they interact with, and considering the fact that most Muslims interact with civil law systems, they think about Shariah that way. Thus, the “Shariah” systems of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, or Afghanistan, are not truly Shariah systems, but a collection of older Shariah court opinions, patched together, to create a “Islamic legal code.”

Why do these countries have civil law systems? The short answer is, mostly because of colonialism, whether directly or not, and so many countries use some form of French Napoleonic code. Egypt, is an example. It’s also a system that is very easily used to oppress people and destroy your elite classes from being invested in their society, but that’s a much longer answer.

To try and keep this as short as possible, I’ll explain my difference like this: lots of people think of Shariah in civil law terms, but the structure of Shariah, both religiously and historically, is really a common law structure.

Why this understanding changed, is another, huge issue, that I’ll answer if someone asks about it.

As for your last question, I’m flattered, but, I don’t “date,” I’m more of a marriage type of guy.

I hope this answered your questions, and Insha Allah, I hope that if you or anyone else has any other questions, they do not hesitate to ask.

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