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My friends were lamenting that their daughter,educated overseas and now a professional working in one of the government departments has taken to wearing the “tudung” or head scarf lately at the age of 30 years. She had never covered her hair from school days right through university. Apparently the pressure to conform has been too great for her. Quite often, according to the parents,  she would be the only female officer without her hair being covered in a sea of tudung-clad humanity.

Before 1979 you would hardly see Malay Muslim women donning this head scarf. The trend started with the “Islamisation” of schools,teachers’ colleges and other institutions of higher learning by Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM) led none other than Anwar Ibrahim, the current leader of the Opposition.

The trend also started the polarisation of races that you see today in Malaysia. Before there were greater minglings of Malay youth with other ethnic groups professing other religions. There was no differentiation that can be made through attire unlike now. Muslim females are easy targets especially when their men are told that they would go to hell if their wives do not cover their hair! (Imagine your “sins”  being borne by another: what happens if they get divorced?). Interestingly the women all cowered under this paranoid onslaught. They no longer able to think.

Now back to the preoccupation with female hair, if you study related subject in other Abrahamic religions (Jewish,Christianity and Islam), you will find that this hair paranoia started 2000 and 2500 years before Christianity and Islam respectively. I came across this harrowing article here in the online newspaper. Clearly this practice of hair covering extended well before the coming of Islam. In fact the Jewish tradition is far more severe in dealing with female hair. So “evil” is the female hair that the Hasidic Jewish women even have to shave it upon marriage!

According to a well read Muslim blogger Outsyed The Box, the Muslim Holy Book, the Quran, has no mention of hair covering however it is  specifically stated in the Talmud, a Jewish Holy Book. But of course his detractors would bring in all sorts of interpretations to support their belief. I am not going into all those convoluted arguments suffice to say that preoccupation with female hair is an orthodox Jewish tradition which like Islam was born in the Middle East at a time when female infanticide was widely practiced leading to shortage of female population in the tribes. So it was logical that they would want to protect their female population from other marauding tribal males by making them cover from head to toe ( the so-called “aurat” ) and appear as a  formless non-person to the outside world.

In Malaysia some Muslim men even have the audacity to ask Muslim women not wearing the headscarf whether they profess the Muslim religion. Some of these men are “well educated” but lack common sense and are deprived of knowledge which can be acquired through wide reading, intellectual discourses and social interactions. To co-exist peacefully in this world, they should not only focus on their religion and risk being ethno-centric  and intolerant bordering on extremism.

People should be able to wear what they like as long as they are decent in the eye of others but they should not be forced into wearing something in the name of, presumably, misplaced belief. People who coerce others to look like them are deeply insecure mentally.

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