Hijab not Tunisian enough?

Via Islamophobia Watch, the Boston Globe reports that the Tunisian “religious affairs minister”, Aboubaker Akhzouri, has claimed that the hijab worn by religious Muslim women does not “fit in with the North African country’s cultural heritage”. He also opposes long beards and “Muslim tunics like those worn in Persian Gulf states” and has been quoted as calling it “regrettable that we don’t respect our specificity”, whatever that means. He recommends a “traditional” local Islamic tunic known as the jebbah.

It’s worth asking what exactly does count as “specific” to Tunisia, given that you can find pictures in any tourist guide book of local women wearing hijab. In fact, until the late French colonial period, hijab and niqab were common there as in other North African countries. It’s certainly regrettable that the Boston Globe report does not mention that Tunisia is a dictatorship (specifically, the one of the last remaining African-style pseudo-democracies) and that the rights and advancements the report mentions have not been available to religious Muslim women who wear the headscarf. That’s not my definition of freedom, particularly in a Muslim country. (It’s no wonder al-Akhzouri thinks it is fading away given the hostile of the country’s secret police to religious dress and practice.)

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