Marnia Lazreg


On her book Questioning the Veil: Open Letters to Muslim Women

Cover Interview of October 05, 2009

A close-up

I would want a reader who browses through my book to read pages 4 and 5 because they show in vivid terms the perils of thinking that veiling is faith in action.  In reality, veiling can harm a woman in a situation of crisis.

I would also like a reader to leaf though pages 78-87, which recount the story of a young woman who took up the hijab out of conviction.  However, in the end it is superstition that played a determining role in her choice.  This illustrates the contingent character of “agency,” usually invoked by writers when they argue that women who decide to wear a hijab are exercising their “agency.”  Although no one forced this woman to don the hijab, her agency was shaped by family, community and education.  She read books that reinforced her faith, gravitated towards like-minded youth, and finally joined her female relatives in donning the hijab.

Browsing through pages 112-123 provides insight into the role played by the “west” in the organized network of advocates of veiling.  Male advocates flaunt the veil as an alternative to the manner of dressing of some Western women.  At the same time, they obviate a discussion of how the “west” has affected the manner of dressing of Muslim men.  These pages also reveal the role played by a new generation of imams in Europe in redefining the hijab as an essential aspect of the identity of young second generation immigrant women.

On page 128, I make the case for the non-reducibility of Islam to the veil.