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Palestine: For Gaza Students, No Graduation Without Hijab

As in the rest of the Arab world, fewer women in the Gaza Strip wore the hijab 20 or 30 years ago. The “Islamic revival” over the last few decades has resulted in an increase in the wearing of headscarves and other forms of “Islamic” dress, a phenomenon which in Gaza grew with the rise of Hamas. Today the majority of women in Gaza wear the hijab; however those who do not frequently face social pressure to do so. Sometimes the pressure is institutional; there have even been cases of Christian schoolgirls being pushed to wear the hijab. In this post we hear from Asmaa Al-Ghoul, a journalist and blogger who was arrested last year for not wearing a headscarf; she is furious that a friend who refuses to wear the hijab has not been allowed to graduate from university.

University students

Palestinian university students. Photo courtesy of PalFest under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Asmaa writes:

في معظم البلدان يحدث التمييز العنصري ضد المحجبات في تركيا وفرنسا وتونس وهذا شيء معظمنا ضده لأن فيه تجاوز للعلمانية كما قال فوكاياما ، إلا في غزة التمييز العنصري ضد من لا يرتدين الحجاب..فتجد القوانين الظالمة، والتعليقات الجارحة، والكلمات السخيفة ونظرات الاستحقار، والاستخفاف بأخلاق غير المحجبات..انه عالم غزة الصغير..نحتاج فيه لمن يدافع عن حقوق غير المحجبات وغير المجلببات وغير المنقبات…انها تراتبية ترسخ التعامل مع المرأة على أساس أنها جسد…
In most countries discrimination takes place against women wearing the hijab – in Turkey, and France, and Tunisia – and that is something that most of us are against because it violates secularism, as Fukuyama says. Only in Gaza is the discrimination against those women who don't wear the hijab… You will come across repressive rules, hurtful comments, stupid words and contemptuous looks, and scorn for the morals of women not wearing hijab. In the small world of Gaza we need someone to defend the rights of women who don't wear the hijab, or the jilbab, or the niqab… It's a system that establishes the idea that women should be treated as bodies.
ومن هنا لنتابع الحكاية :
قبل قليل استمعت لحلقة اذاعية للناشط الرائع رامي مراد على صوت الشعب، تتحدث عن التمييز العنصري ضد الطالبات في جامعة الأزهر، وكان شي مخجل جدا ما يحدث في الجامعة، خاصة أنه مسكوت عنه منذ سنين، وأعرف ان هناك جامعات في الجوار تقوم قوانينها بالأساس على هذا التمييز العنصري ولكن تلك الجامعات تابعة لأحزاب بعينها وفقدنا الأمل فيها منذ زمن..خاصة بعد ان اصبحت هي والحكومة واحد واستطاعت فرض تغييرها بالقوة والسلطة والقوانين..
From here we follow the story:
A short while ago I listened to radio programme by the wonderful activist Rami Murad on Sawt Al-Sha'ab [Voice of the People, a radio station affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], which was talking about discrimination against students in Al-Azhar University. Something very shameful has been happening in the university, especially so as it is something that has been silenced for years. I know that there are universities nearby whose rules are based on this discrimination, but these universities belong to certain political factions, and we lost hope in them a long time ago… Especially after they and the government became one and the same, and they could impose their changes by force and authority and laws…

Asmaa is referring to the fact that Al-Azhar University has a strong association with Fatah, which would normally indicate a less religiously conservative environment than that of the Islamic University of Gaza which is affiliated with Hamas. She continues:

أما ما هو جديد كلياً أن ذلك يحدث في جامعة الأزهر، والمصيبة منذ عشرين عاماً، فعلى جميع الطالبات ارتداء الحجاب كشرط لتسلم شهادة التخرج كي تكون صورهن الموجودة في الشهادة بالحجاب….وسواء كانت الطالبة مسيحية أو مسلمة أو علمانية أو ليبرالية أو شيوعية أو أي شيء لازم تحافظ على سريان التيار، وتضع قطعة القماش على رأسها لتنال شرعية الجامعة وتنال شهادتها..كم هو شيء مخجل يا جامعة الأزهر…!!
هل تريدين يا أزهر أن تكوني ملَكية أكثر من الملك وتقليد التخلف المحيط بك وتقولي والله بنخرّج طالبات محترمات؟..بما أنه الحجاب وعدمه صار مقياس للأخلاق عندك!..يقول د.رياض العيلة على الراديو وبالفم الملآن والفخور: هذا عرف جامعي يتناسب مع الواقع..أي واقع اذا كانت الكثيرات من طالبات الأزهر لا يرتدين الحجاب..أم أنه يقصد واقع الجامعة المجاورة له منذ عقود..ولا يريد أن يتهمهم أحد بالانحلال كما تحجج أحد العاملين في الجامعة لخريجة صديقة حين طالبت أن تكون صورتها على الشهادة كما هي في الواقع أي بشعرها..
But what is entirely new is that this is happening in Al-Azhar University – yet the terrible thing is that it has been for twenty years. All female students are required to wear the hijab as a condition of receiving their graduation certificate, so that their picture is on the certificate with the hijab…Whether the student is Christian, Muslim, secular, liberal, communist, or anything, she has to maintain the the established practice of the movement, and put a piece of cloth on her head to get the university's legitimacy and degree. How shameful this is, Al-Azhar! Al-Azhar, do you want to be more monarchic than the monarch and the tradition of backwardness surrounding you, just to be able to pretend that you produce respectable students – since wearing a hijab or not has become a measure of morality for you? Dr Riyadh Al-Aila says on the radio in a loud, proud voice, “This university custom matches the reality…” What reality, if many of the students of Al-Azhar don't wear the hijab? Or does he mean the decades-long reality of the neighbouring university? And no one wants make accusations of decadence, like one of the employees of the university did who argued with my graduate friend when she asked for her picture on her certificate to be as she is in reality, with uncovered hair.

Asmaa is angry:

ان تعاملنا مع الفتاة يوما بعد يوم يقوم فقط على أساس أنها عورة وفتنة وليست انسانة..يقول د. العيلة على الراديو..: “البنت نص متر بكون صدرها مبين”، هل هذا كلام أكاديمي من رجل حر يا عالم؟ هل يعقل هذا التمييز ضد الفتاة والتعامل معها أنها صدر وبطن ورجلين..كلام هدفه التحقير من المرأة وتعمد أن تظهر كأنها تبرز جسدها لأنها تحب العري والعهر ويجب أن نغطيه لها…فيتبرع الجميع بتغطيته: الجامعة والمجتمع والحكومة والأخ والزوج والأم والخطيب..كأننا مصنوعات من الفاحشة ودون عقل وروح وإرادة…
Our daily dealings with girls are based solely on their being sexual objects and not human beings… Dr Al-Aila says on the radio, “A girl [without hijab] is showing half a metre of her chest.” Are these academic words from a free man, o world? Is it comprehensible, this discrimination against girls, and dealing with them as chests and abdomens and legs? This talk is aimed at belittling women and intends to show that they expose their bodies because they love nakedness and fornication, and it's necessary to cover them… And everybody seems to volunteer to do that: university, society, government, brother, husband, mother and fiancé… As if we are all sinful creatures without minds, souls and volition.

Younger girls are also affected:

حزنت وغضبت العام الماضي حين وضعت مديرة المدرسة شقيقتيّ التوأم وأخريات في ساحة المدرسة الثانوية تحت الشمس في محاولة لاجبارهن على الحجاب..وتوجهتُ كالمجنونة إلى المدرسة، فقالت لي المديرة وقتها : بدي أكسب فيهن أجر …ههههههه شي مضحك..في غزة تحول التربوي والمحامي والقائد والصحافي والجرسون والشرطي، إلى دُعاة وشيوخ، مش بس الحكومة ثيوقراطية مجتمعنا كله ثيوقراطي ..اي مجتمع رجال دين ونساء دين…
Last year I was saddened and angered when the headteacher of their school put my twin sisters and other girls in the playground of the secondary school under the sun in an attempt to force them to wear the hijab. I stormed off to the school like a madwoman, and the headteacher at the time said to me, “I want to receive God's reward because of them.” Ha-ha, that's funny… In Gaza the educators, lawyers, leaders, journalists, waiters and policemen have all turned into preachers and sheikhs. It's not just our government that is theocratic, but our whole society; it's a society of male and female clerics…

And Gaza's Christian minority is not exempt:

تقول طالبة مسيحية اسمها نادين أنها لا تستطيع أن تعلق شهادة تخرجها من جامعة الأزهر في البيت كيف وهي محجبة، صديقتي الخريجة… لم تضع الحجاب للصورة وتناضل من أجل ذلك، وكلنا فخراً بها ..قالت:لا لا أريد شهادتي لأني لا أخجل من قناعاتي، وهي الآن لم يندرج اسمها ضمن حفلات التخرج التي تغلق سيارات الأهالي الشوارع من أجلها هذه الأيام، كما أنها من المفترض أن تسافر لدراسة الماجستير ويجب أن تأخذ معها شهادتها الأصلية..كيف ذلك؟
A Christian student called Nadine says that she cannot hang her graduation certificate from the University of Al-Azhar in her house as she is wearing the hijab in it. My graduate friend did not put on the hijab for the picture, and is struggling because of that. We are all proud of her… She said, “No, I do not want my certificate, because I am not ashamed of my convictions.” Now her name is not included in the graduation parties, for which people's cars are blocking the streets these days. She is supposed to travel to study for a master's, and she should take her original certificate with her… How?

Asmaa ends:

أذكر حين دخلت الأزهر أنا ذاتي كنت محجبة، كانت صورتي في البطاقة الجامعية محجبة، وبعد أن خلعت حجابي في عام 2006 بكامل ارادتي لأني كنت أرتديه ليس وفقها بل تبعا لإرادات محيطة بي، رفضت الجامعة تغيير صورتي للحجة ذاتها، وحتى الآن أجاهد من أجل ذلك..
وأقول لصديقتي الخريجة…ستكونين كما تريدين
يكفيك فخراً أنك لست ضمن القطيع..
In conclusion…
I remember that at the time I entered Al-Azhar I myself wore the hijab; the picture of me on my university ID was in hijab. After I removed my hijab in 2006 (entirely by my choice, because I had been wearing it not because I agreed with it but of course because of the wishes of those around me), the university refused to change my picture under the same pretext, and until now I am fighting because of that…
I say to my friend the graduate, be who you want to be.
You should just be proud that you are not following the flock.


  • If only they had all listened to Ataturk. He was more modern than even his current Turkish government; he was way before his time – thanks to him, at least Turkey is not such a radically Muslim country as others.

    • Sami

      well.. if u think the term “modern” means the way people wear..then u are probably from the age of Ataturk.
      why dont u see the term modern in the economic jump in Turkey under the current government compared to decades of retardation under the corrupted secular governments…to convict someone to be “not modern” take a look on what is inside his head not what is outside.

      • Sami – I don’t think understand anything you tried to say; especially mixed up with a confusing indication that I am from Ataturk’s age (which is more forward-thinking than today’s Turkish government). Turkey has always been the bridge between East and West SINCE and perhaps even before Ataturk, but he took the country miles ahead during his tenure. So you don’t seem to know the history of Turkey prior to the governments after Atuturk. The decades of retardation happened AFTER Ataturk and continue to degrade, just in case, you didn’t quite understand what I meant.

    • Zeynep

      Well, yeah, you are right: Turkey is not a radically Islamic country, but unfortunately not a democratic one either. As it is stated in the story too, those wearing headscarves are not allowed to attend school in Turkey. So no need to thank Ataturk. Both of these bans are against human rights, though they are completely opposite to each other.

  • alain

    it’s happen not only in gaza, What’s about saoudia, Iran, afghanistan, and so ma ny others… the religious bullshits are every where on earth, and not only with muslim! the fact that christians women got soul is something pretty modern, less than a century, if i remenber well! I said bullshit! and I mean exactly that!

  • James

    Nice blog Ayesha – and I completely agree with Asmaa. It’s a complete disgrace that women have to go through this in the 21st century. What those people don’t realize is that their societies will never become modern and advance in terms of wealth while they continue to subjugate half of their population.
    Liberation of women has gone hand in hand with industrialization and progress.

  • لا أدري من وراء هذا التقرير السئ !
    أهم العلمانيون أم الشيوعيون أم المسيحيون

    أقول لكم جميعا ,, لا تتعبوا أنفسكم

    ستبقى غزة عصية على كل “سافل” .. أسمعتم كلمتي – سااافل

    واللي مش عاجبه يشرب من بحر غزة – على قولة الرمز ياسر عرفات
    والسلام عليكم

  • el emam

    بصراحه وبصدق هذا المقال لا يتسم بشيئ من الموضوعيه لاسباب شتى اولا اقول عن تجربتي باني كشاب اردت تغير صورتي فرفضت الجامعه ايضا اذن الحجاب ليس سببا ولا يوجد هناك نوع من التميز المتفرض جزافا انه موجود,ثانيا لا ارى عنصريه دينيه في الشارع الفلسطيني وخصوصا في غزه الا عبر الكاتبه اسماء الغول لا اعلم اي تعيش وكن يبدو انها في مكان غير غزه -فغزه اليوم تمتاز بحريه لم يسبق لها مثيل فشوارعها مليئه بالفتيات المتبرجات اللواتي كشفن عن شعورهن وارتدين البنطال الضيق بمختلف اشكاله واما عن الحريه في جامعه الازهر فهيه حريه مطلقه الا مما ينبذه المجتمع -بخصوص التخرج وزي التخرج من يرى افواج خريجي جامعه الازهر لا يلتفت الي حجاب او قصه شعر لان هكذا موضوع غير مهم بتاتا في خضم حفل التخرج رغم ان اخر افواج احتوت على العديد ممن يكشفن عن شعورهن -بعدين هالمجتمع مجتمع اسلامي بالمجمل الي بدو يتمرد على المجتمع يستحمل وياريت تمردو يكون من باب المصلحه للجميع لانو في ناس بتحب تتمرد حتى تبرز حالها فقط لاغير -وخصوصا الطبقه التي تدعي الثقافه فنحن نراهم بعدين جدا عن مشاكل المجتمع واقصد بالمشاكل المشاكل العامه وليس مشكله تعاني منها طالبه او طالب لاننا لو اتجهنا لمشاكل كل طالب على حده لن ننتهي وبكفي موضوعم بغيظ

  • You are very right Zeynep. But I still think that Ataturk was very forward thinking in wanting his people to leave religion out of politics and out of the school and education system. Surely, he should have allowed citizens to wear their head scarves IF they wanted to. But apart from that, when one looks at him holistically, he was way ahead of the current generation/government in an incredible number of things. I think Turkey has gone backwards in the last 20 years or so under the most recent and present administrations.

  • […] perhaps she was also arrested due to her work which exposed honor killings. In any event, Asmaa now writes that a friend who “refuses to wear the hijab has not been allowed to graduate from […]

  • mohammad shaheen

    الله ياخد وحدة وسخة

    غوري برا غزة

    غزة مش لالك ولامثالك

    اخ لو اطولك بس

    لاقطعك تقطيع

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