By Amelia Hill
Young, highly educated Muslim women who live in modern, urban environments may be choosing to wear the veil because it enables them to mix with non-Muslim friends, work outside the home and interact with strangers, according to the first empirical study into why wearing the veil increases alongside modernisation.
Attempts to force Muslim women to stop wearing the veil might, therefore, be counterproductive by depriving them of the choice and opportunity to integrate: if women cannot signal their piety through wearing a veil, they might choose or be forced to stay at home, concludes the study, published in the Oxford University Press’s European Social Review.
“For highly religious women, we found the modernising forces of education, occupation and higher income, urban living, and contacts with non-Muslims actually increase veiling,” said Ozan Aksoy, co-author of the report, Behind the Veil: The Strategic Use of Religious Garb.
“We conjecture that for highly religious women modernising factors raise the risk and temptation in women’s environments that imperil their reputation for modesty: veiling would then be a strategic response, a form either of commitment to prevent the breach of religious norms or of signalling women’s piety to their communities.
“Our findings have important implications for cultural policy and Muslim integration in Europe as if the option of wearing a veil is taken away from Muslim women, they fall on costlier ways of proving their piety,” said Aksoy, a postdoctoral research fellow from the department of sociology at the University of Oxford.
“A veil is seen as a genuine expression of a woman’s religiosity. Paradoxically, it is the women who are engaging with the modern world who appear to rely on the veil to signal to others that they will not succumb to the temptations of modern urban life,” he added.
Diego Gambetta, the report’s other co-author, agreed. “Contrary to the populist cant that seems now dominant in Europe, veiling could be a sign of more rather than less integration.