Wednesday, 9 January 2013


My wife sent me a quote from a French website: "The Burqa comes from the cult of Astarte in ancient Mesopotamia. To honour the goddess of love, every woman without exception had to prostitute herself once a year in the sacred groves around her temples. Upper class women veiled themselves completely to avoid recognition." I suspect that the linking of burqa and prostitution is malicious, but I shan't insist. The story comes from Herodotus, and there is no knowing how much truth there is in it. There is no direct evidence of any link with this custom and the burqa of more than a thousand years later. What is true is that upper class women in the Byzantine and Sassanid empires veiled themselves in the time of the Islamic conquests, and it is probable that the Arabs took over the practice from them. The Koran says nothing about all Muslim women having to wear a veil; it just asks them in rather vague terms to dress modestly when in the presence of strange men, 24:31 and 33:59. For the Prophet's wives only, 33:53 says that men who wish to make requests of them should do so from behind a curtain (hijab). This was simply to protect their privacy; they were, in modern terms, 'celebrities' and much in demand for their supposed influence on their husband. From the context, it is clear that hijab meant an article of furniture, not of clothing. The word burqaa does not occur in the Koran.

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