Beirut-Damascus, 1928: Veiling and Unveiling

By Leyla Dakhli

This article seeks to understand how, at the end of the 1920s, following two decades of militancy towards national emancipation in which women were strongly active, the “feminine question” in Syria and Lebanon came to center on clothing, in particular the hijâb or Islamic headscarf. The hijâb issue created new conflicts between Moslems and non-Moslems, city-dwellers and rural folk. This analysis of the invention of an Islamic tradition focuses, in particular, on a young Moslem theologian, Nazîra Zayn al-Dîn, her work al-sufûr wa-l-hijâb (Veil and unveiling) and its reception. A response to the political imposition of the wearing of the hijâb in cities, the book became a bestseller in 1928. Both in its content and its authorship by a 20-year-old woman, the book engaged a theoretical debate concerning feminine spirituality and social visibility. Heir to a nascent feminist tradition, Nazîra transformed this national issue into a social question. Because of this fact, she blazed a trail in the defense of a feminine cause: that of the rights of women as neither alternative nor subordinate to the defense of the nation, but rather as an effective political instrument to assert nationalist objectives.


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