Part 4. “Women in chaos”

By Laiqah Hazem Jamshidi
Women in Chaos

As I pen this narrative, the date is August 15, 2023. It marks the two-year anniversary of the Taliban’s assumption of power in Afghanistan. Over these past two years, the Taliban’s governance has cast a grim and distinct shadow over the lives of Afghan women and girls. It’s been precisely two years since the shuttering of schools and nine months since universities across the country were closed.

Wearing a Chador Namaz (a kind of Chador that covers the whole body) has now become compulsory for girls, and they are not allowed to wear optional clothing. One day, as I was going to the market, I wore a long coat, wrapped a shawl around my head, and wore a mask. As we approached In Chek Point of the ministry of education, the Taliban stopped the car. He pointed at me and angrily said to the driver, “I told you not to drive these female models again.”

His anger became evident when he noticed the two women sitting beside me wearing Chador Namaz. In a disdainful gesture, he pointed at me. I felt a rush of shame and pondered why, when I was already wearing a hijab covering my entire body, there existed a distinction between me and these veiled women. Why were we being labeled as ugly and poorly behaved? Did they consider women in chadors as virtuous? What was their issue?

However, unable to tolerate his rude conduct, I mustered the courage to respond, “Is this not the way a Muslim should dress? Are you the sole arbiter of Islam? Fortunately, I am a devout Muslim who adheres to our faith. In Islam, there is no obligatory requirement for a woman to wear a full veil.”

While addressing him, a mixture of fear (fear of imprisonment, physical harm and punishment) and anger coursed through my entire being. Even though I engaged in this confrontation, it did little to quell my seething indignation.

Talib said, “Don’t talk too much, otherwise I will bring you down.” He then said to the driver, “If you drive this female model from now on, I will impound your car for three months, and you will be punished.” The driver reluctantly agreed.And he couldn’t tell him anything, he just said okay.

Later, as we passed by, I witnessed Taleb slapping the taxi driver. The reason was that a lady was riding in an abaya dress. Seeing this scene, I felt disgusted, and tears welled up in my eyes.
In this manner, the Taliban issued directives instructing taxi drivers not to pick up women wearing abaya dresses. These women found themselves compelled to wear a veil to avoid being stranded. On that day, it seemed like everyone I encountered had a disheartening story to tell, and I was no exception. Overwhelmed with sadness and anger, I retreated to my home and remained there for several days.

During this time, my aunt paid us a visit and shared her own distressing experience. She had ventured to the market to purchase essentials but was denied entry. Women donning abayas were prohibited from accessing any marketplace for shopping. A stern message blared through loudspeakers, “Sisters, mothers, place a veil upon your head, for the first step is a veil, and we will proceed to shroud your face with a burqa. Resistance is futile, or we will intensify the pressure. Even when in the company of your mahram (brother, husband, father), ensure your head remains covered, or they will face a public beating, and their vehicle will be seized for three months.”

(Burqa is a long shawl that covers the entire body, including the face, leaving only the hands and feet visible. It conceals the body almost entirely.)
Some women have worn the burqa since puberty, accustomed to it and without complaints due to the influence of devout families. However, many others have been coerced into wearing it by their husbands and find it suffocating. In most cases, the chador symbolizes compulsion rather than freedom.

“Although, after three days, the mayor of Herat said, “It is enough to wear a hijab.” That’s what he meant – a long mantle that does not expose any part of the body, with a shawl and a mask – it is currently not mandatory for the prayer tent.
However, because I don’t see a problem with the hijab I wear, I still go out with a mantle and a shawl. I don’t want to easily surrender to this order. If we examine hijab from the perspective of Islam, women are encouraged to wear hijab to preserve their physical value. But it is not mentioned anywhere, and it is not binding for women to wear the veil or the burqa – a long veil in which even the face is covered – and it is mentioned as a personal obligation.

I find it quite commendable that the hijab is a matter of personal choice rather than a mandatory requirement. It allows individuals to align their attire with their own beliefs and values. The decision to wear a hijab is deeply personal. Afghan women, in particular, are quite resolute about not being coerced by the Taliban and they cherish their independence when it comes to clothing. Some may prefer to embrace a complete hijab with a chador, while others opt for a long coat and shawl. What’s most important to them is that the Taliban acknowledges and respects the clothing preferences and autonomy of women.

25 October, 2023