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Libyan Writer Khairi Aboushagur
الكاتب الليبي خيري أبوشاقور

Wednesday, 16 July, 2008

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Join the debate:
Libyan Women and Hijab

Khaeri Aboushagor

Tasnim (apparently a Libyan woman) wrote a good article titled “Libyan Women: Demure and Prudish” which was published on the “Middleeast Youth” website a few days ago.

I wish if this debate could be continued, in a provocative manner if necessary, so we may end up with some useful comments and contributions from English writing Libyan women to clarify and enlighten the readers. So far it is men who are making contributions on this debate and it is important that women speak out to correct any misconceptions that may exist (and I for one may be guilty here!). This debate may exist in Arabic and in Libya (I do not know), but for us, who do not live in Libya, we feel hungry for any insight into the real state of mind of Libyan women.

Here is my first contribution on this debate:

“Tasnim, you have a point but I do not agree with you. Statistically and factually, Libyan women today, in general, are oppressed, prudish and backward thinking as opposed to free, open-minded and forward thinking. Of course there are few exceptions and I personally know few highly educated and sophisticated Libyan women (living in the west) who by any standard are regarded as very successful women. In the 70s, women were in a much better state in terms of their aspirations and achievements. Today, most of Libyan women’s lives revolve around wearing the Hijab and what comes with it because that is what the man-dominated society dictates on them!

I am confident that those who wear Hijab lack in self confidence and use it as a means of hiding away from every day challenges. Wearing Hijab is the easiest thing a woman can do, but not to wear it is not so easy and requires strong will and a deep desire to be a fighter for the sake of herself and for others.

Before, the Farrashia separated between the old and new generations. Young women rarely wore Farrashia, and most never needed to cover their faces or heads. That is how life was perceived: progressive.

Now, it is exactly the opposite, because (it seems) of the need to cling to the past (Islam) as there is no hope in the future. No focus and no specific agenda to look forward to and no targets to achieve. It is very easy to find a scapegoat and to stick to it. They cannot face the challenges of today and of the future, so they escape into the past!

The whole society lives in despair partly due to economic and political pressures of the past 30 years. And partly due to the hypocritical version of Islam that existed in Libya for generations, which made most people religious and not religious at the same time and consequently unable to cope with the changes taking place around them!

I live in the west but regularly visit Arab countries, and wherever I go in the Arab world I find sadness and despair sticking out of the faces of the people I meet. I found most people leading lives they do not like or enjoy and they cannot do much about it. I found that they lack the imagination to change it even if they wanted to. I am not talking about repressive political regimes; specifically I am talking about repressive societies which have no tolerance or patience for difference or for change.

In the west, freedoms made people choose how they want to live their lives. Obviously they are not all happy, but mostly content with the choices they make. This contentment enables them to be positive and productive and helps them to achieve their goals and objectives. When they get old, they do not become more conservative or religious like what happens in the Arab world. They usually shift their focus to another endeavour to satisfy their energetic desire to achieve even more in the few days and months they have left to live.

Religion, any religion, is the easiest thing one could embrace to run away from making hard choices because it offers virtual comfort when faced with failure and empty hope when faced with despair. How to deal with religion in Libya and other similar societies is their biggest challenge in today’s ever changing hungry world and women’s issues should be the focal and starting point of overcoming this challenge.”

Khaeri Aboushagor

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