America’s Long History of Hysteria about Women’s Veils: Jeanine Pirro and Ilhan Omar

tags: Islam, American History, Jeanine Pirro, Ilhan Omar

Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment and Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is author of, among many other books, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires. Follow him at @jricole.

Fox far right wing propagandist Jeanine Pirro came after Ilhan Omar for veiling, saying it is unconstitutional for her to follow the sharia and accusing her, horror of horrors, of dual loyalty.

Pirro says that the Qur’an requires women to cover their heads. Many Muslims do believe this, but it isn’t in fact clear. The Qur’an says women should cover their pretty parts, which I suspect refers to the general state of undress common in seventh century Arabia. It doesn’t explicitly mention the head. Indeed, when I lived in the Middle East in the 1970s as a young person, I would guess that 5% of urban women wore headscarves or veiled. During the past 40 years there has been a women’s veiling revolution in Egypt and Iran, for instance. Not so much in Tunisia and Turkey still. In any case, outside of ideological states like Iran and Saudi Arabia, the practice is universally admitted to be a personal choice. In Egypt it is common to see veiled and unveiled friends walking together. I can’t see what it has to do with the Constitution.

For the nth time, Muslim sharia is equivalent to Catholic canon law or Jewish halakha and for a believer to put themselves under this discipline is hardly disloyal to the United States. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson and the Founding generation wanted people to be free to practice their various religions and religious laws, which is why they put the First Amendment into the Constitution. Jefferson said it did not matter to him whether his neighbor believed in a thousand gods or none. It did not, he said, pick his pocket or break his leg.

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