I did not expect to feel this way. I thought the art and architecture of mosques would intrigue me and demand ample room in my photographic catalogue of Istanbul. They did not. There was no lack of opportunity, as Turkey is mostly Muslim and, like Catholic churches in Buffalo, they can be found on seemingly every corner. For 2 weeks I passed mosques everywhere I went. Despite the domes and the arches, only 6 pictures resulted.
I did not expect to feel this way, but this is what I felt. It was the women I passed on every road and in every store that kept me from seeing the beauty of the mosques. It was the women in colorful silk head scarves and long trench coats, perhaps. It was the women shrouded in black with slits exposing their eyes, definitely. I could not see the beauty of the mosque with so much beauty covered up. So much beauty restrained and restricted. Subjugated? Denied?
I know nothing of the world of Islam and its edicts, its proclamations, its reasons. As an American woman not affiliated with any particular religion by choice, with strong feminist leanings, with countless inner struggles to live a truly free life, I witnessed groups of shrouded women led by 1 or 2 men dressed comfortably in short sleeves and sneakers, and felt...what? Anger? Hatred? Clench-fisted injustice? No. Nothing so strong and absolute. I felt, or thought I felt, the voiceless sorrows of souls who are, by choice or by chance, denied the opportunity to know themselves in all their unfettered glory. The essence and the aura of feminine beauty, (so tempting and ruinous to the untempered masculine?), needs sunlight and starlight to breathe.
Yes, of course, there are many unshrouded women in this world, in America, who are bound by invisible chains, who live subservient lives, who can't for the life of them call up their own cloaked spirits into the light of day. The women on the streets of Istanbul represent all women; the modern, the moderate, the extreme. Most of them, most of us, barely know how to breathe. But I could not, in that short span of time, come to peace with slits cut for eyes. The mosques had to be passed by.
Post Script/Nov. 2nd: I found this article today; not on purpose. It happened to appear on yahoo! just as I clicked on the site. http://www.daralmadinah.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=105:why-do-muslim-women-wear-the-veil&catid=56:women-in-islam.
It seems my western, feminist mind is incorrect. It seems many Islamist women wear the head scarves(hijab) and the more extreme full veil with slit(niqab) of their own volition. They do not wear it as an edict of their husbands or fathers, but because their God advises them to. Their God advises modesty, as well as not tempting unrelated men with their beauty. So they cover up as a means of being closer to their God and deflecting the would-be advances of strange men.
Really, are men such animals that they do not have any self control when passing a woman by? Is every waking moment sexually driven? I find that hard to swallow. During my Istanbul adventure, I had to cool the Gypsy King down when groups of shrouded women passed. The mere sight of them riled him up, and he attempted to explain the reasons. I did not understand him at the time because to me, the black robes could only represent female suppression. I see that I am wrong. And yes, dumbfounded.
In Iraq, bombs are carried under those robes and set off in public markets. In Iraq, men in black drag wreak havoc. In Iraq, the people with extreme views of Islam have brought that country to its knees with their murderous ways in the name of their God. As an officer in the Iraqi military, the Gypsy King has seen it all.
From my American cocoon, this has been and continues to be alot to take in.