The shift towards being more religious, why?

I don’t know how strong is the relationship between the numbers of veiled women and the indication of a shift in society towards being more religious. Looking at pictures of Jordanian women in the 60’s and 70’s of last century one would certainly acknowledge the shift in dressing towards more conservatism. Our mothers used to go to Jordan universities wearing mini skirts without any fear of sexual harassments that today even some veiled women fear in our streets.
So what triggered such change? It is not specific to Jordan but also one can see it in the whole area of Arabian countries in the middle east. Egypt can be a better example of the dramatic change that took place. It is very clear and reflected in their film industry.

I have been hearing two explanation so far:

1. Some people claim that the othmanians left us in complete ignorance especially in matters related to religion and that people didn’t really know Islam. Now we are better educated about our religion and thus know better how to follow its rules.

How true is this? Were Jordanians less religious in the 70s because they knew less about their religion? or were they no less religious than today but with a less cultural focus on women and what they dress?

2. Other people claim that due to the cold war and the competition between capitalism and communism, the USA lead a policy of supporting religion in the region so that to guarantee that ME countries won’t turn into the communist atheist party. They clearly supported Islamists in different Arab and Islamic countries. They put a lot of their weight and power in supporting the mijaheddeen (fighters) in Afghanistan against the USSR. In jordan, the government even put our school curriculum in the hands of the Islamic party.

There is a third reasoning that I heard in Egypt where people rationalize the shift towards being more religious to the amount of Egyptians going to Saudi Arabia for work and coming back to their country with the wahhabi mentality. Some also claim that Saudi Arabia Wahhabi’s, being very rich, are using their money to preach their own way of thinking. This is also clear in Jordan, I am not sure whether it is wahhabi’s or not, but religious in-house classes have been popluar for some years now. I have seen some young men taking the leap of faith and turning into more strict reglious people in little time.

I am not a religious person myself, and while there are aspects that came with the current religious wave that scare me, I can say nothing about people’s choice of faith. It is just sad when you realize that such major trend that affected an entire nation has been built by foreign hands for their own interest in the region! Real education may be our way out, not out of being religious, but out of following up blindly what others preach as being a true religion. There must be a way to guarantee our individual freedoms with the blessing of our belief system. Islam has been so progressive when it came to us, it can do it again.


  1. Interesting post. I don’t think sexual harassment is tied in with religion *theoretically* but people sure use religion as a convenient excuse when they go about harassing women: “She shouldn’t have been dressed like that, she shouldn’t have been out of the house, she’s going against God…” It becomes a matter of convenience. Want to do something bad? Write it off on your faith, and few will be allowed to question you. I think this is especially convenient today, when classical learning is replaced mostly by sound-bites, when people don’t put any thinking into theory.

    I recently spoke to a woman for an article and she described to me a scene she witnessed in Amman this year: a car loaded up to the gills with young men, crawling along a curb as the young men shouted at a clearly terrified woman in full niqab. I think you can imagine what it was they were saying. The woman I talked to said she ended up throwing a rock at the car – but what dismayed her the most is that other people were around, this was broad daylight, and nobody did anything.

    This is misogyny in full-flower – a deep, irrational hatred that seeks to rationalize itself at any cost. I’m not particularly religious myself, but I don’t think I know any God who advocated shouting sexist slurs at women from the safety of your vehicle.


  2. natalia, I don’t think that sexual harassment is tied with religion as well, but maybe it is tied with sexual frustration where when men see less of women, they become more eager when they occaisionally see one! It has also to do with what you said as a matter of convenience. When you throw the guilt on the woman then it makes them feel more rightful about such actions.


  3. It also becomes a game of “more righteous than thou.” For example, many people think it’s OK to harass me, because I’m blond, foreign, and wear ZOMG T-SHIRTS outside. On the other hand, there are those that think that even a woman in full black abaya is being a harlot if *oh noes* her FACE is uncovered. It becomes an impossible standard that you can never quite live up to, because your very nature is being used against you. Not seeing women is a problem, but not *interacting* with them is an even bigger problem. If you’ve never had a worthwhile conversation with a woman who’s not your mother or sister, you may become convinced that all women you’re not related to aren’t exactly human (and there are those sad cases who don’t even view their own female relatives as human beings).

    All of this is reinforced by a totalitarian, top-down practice of religion which is ever popular nowadays.


  4. I can only go by my own experiences. I was raised Catholic but have been thinking of converting to Islam for a while now. One of the things I was thinking about is if I would choose to wear the hijab, abaya, etc.

    I think that maybe women are choosing to cover up now because in some ways they feel safer. I live in a neighborhood that is 98% black and Hispanic. I always wear pants because I hate showing my legs. I never wear low cuts tops because I don’t like revealing clothes. None of that matters. I still get the most vile and disgusting things said to me. (Side note: I personally think that part of it is because I’m a white girl in a black/Hispanic neighborhood. My dad is Italian and I have the Italian look).

    Recently a few Muslim families have moved in. They wear the whole thing complete with their faces covered. Nothing is ever said to them, even when they are by themselves. Of course, as you said, in ME countries the men don’t always keep their comments to themselves. I’m as confused about the whole thing as you are. I’m just throwing out suggestions.


  5. Because for may Arabs life is no longer worth living. you are born not a free person and you live a life that you have no control over then you die. in the afterlife, things are supose to be the total opposite. And since the scale of repression is so horrific in the Arab world, the potential for self-determination is next to zero. You have the dictators against you and the US behind them. What a shitty life if you ask me. Arabs are basically living for their afterlife.


  6. I am actually seeing the opposite. Rather the best way to describe is that we’re saying both extremes with rare moderates. People are becoming more ‘out there’ on both fronts, and meeting someone who isn’t that ‘faltan’ and who also doesn’t whip you with a stick if you don’t pray at exactly 12:34:21 with a just-below-the-knee kandora is a rare sight


  7. I agree with KJ here, it will eventually be a conflict of the extremes because the religious and the liberals won’t tolerate the existance of the other … so since the liberals are out numbered (i presume) it will be and interesting confrontation.
    On the other hand, the rise of religion in my opinion is three folds
    A) the people in diaspora are settled and have time for it, and to reconstruct the culture again
    B) it was supported by many people in opposition to the many ideologies that were competing at the time which have all died since then
    C) Controlling the youth through education…


  8. I go with poverity and social injusctice as the main factor, all these factorsa had produced a class that isn’t well educated and that deals with religion in the most extreme of ways, you can see that on Jordan with the high poverty rates than it used to be in the 70’s and 80’s. and most of these cases are not due to religios aspects as much to cultural and gender issues in Jordan, where the man will see it inappropriate for his women to dress in what he thinks is a shameful dress.


  9. Good to see people turn more towards religion, there is nothing wrong with it, many reasons can be said to why is that happening: people are starting to know more about islam from internet and t.v or books you might say,as thair mentioned the injustice we face right now so people want to believe in a system where justice is for all


  10. Tina, that is actually interesting, I mean knowing that you have been thinking to convert to Islam. Why?

    It is interesting to know that you face the same thing in your neighbourhood. This happens in the US, right? Is it a poor neighbourhood? Is this issue common in the US in general?

    anon, unfortunatly some of us do life for the after life, but most of life do want really to live happily in this life 🙂

    KJ, maybe you are right, I can feel it as well, I see people going to the extremes! It really wonder why and I really hope we don’t end up at a point where we can no longer live togather

    bambam, since the liberals are outnumbered, I don’t think it would be an interesting confrontation at all! 🙂 It would be scary! We have seen it in other countries.

    Tha2ir, maybe poverty is a factor, but you can see religion extremism is spread among different social classes. Maybe it has more to do with satellite religious stations and private religious classes?

    Ahmad Hamdan, maybe that is the core point, I mean people who turn away from religion because they don’t believe that it has a system that provides justice for all! 😉


  11. I've been thinking of converting for a while. I realize that it is important, if you believe in God, to follow some religion. The Muslims that I've known seem to have this peace that comes from within, especially after they pray. I would love to have that kind of peaceful nature.

    The neighborhood is difficult to explain. It's a bit of a mix. There are the projects, and then there are co-ops that surround the projects. My mother, grandmother and I live in the co-ops. Street harassment is a big problem in this country. Most people, especially men, don't take it seriously and it ticks me off. There are lots of websites devoted to that topic. I've noticed that in general, poor neighborhoods have high instances of street harassment. I have my ideas of why that is, but it is an extremely touchy subject for me, having to deal with it so often, so I wouldn't be able to speak rationally about it.


  12. For a while I’ve been thinking to declare my war on Arab men and shoot anyone who shouts into my direction. If I really did so, I would have killed half of the guys in my neighborhood (Like Natalia, I’m blond). Even though I wear loose clothes and dress quite conservatively, I still get cars stopping by and it’s a very big annoying issue for me.
    I like how you put it in your post, carefully talking about religion and religious choice of people. I do believe Islam is a progressive thought that is corrupted by a bunch of idiots. And it pains to see me guys reminding ladies ‘to cover their beauty’, while not following the same request of ‘lowering your gazes’.


  13. Will it is kind of complicated! Being a Muslim who cares about Islam, yes, the saudis are spreading their salafi ideas (same as wahhabi but they will hate u if u called them wahhabis).

    The conflict is so deep between them and the Azhar, azhar teaches Islamic creed, while saudis depend on a punch of ahadith that clearly makes no sense but they say that “Nakl” is better than “3akl” which clearly stinks! They even believe in Ahadith that totally contradicts Quran, such as a hadith about creating life in 7 days, in Quran it is 6 days, and yet they hold both facts as true! Screw them big time, how come?

    People choose to become wahhabis because they give them money, and because they also revert to extremism, they think that after living a long life of sins it is time to be tough on ur self! And the wahhabis are more than happy to give u this.

    If u notice, the war in Somalia is an outcome of this thing! The new generation is studying in saudi instead of eygpt and they return believing that alazhar teaches “kofor”!

    I feel sick when I think of those guys! grrrrrrrrrrrr, everything that is not like them is a kafr, how stupid


  14. This is an interesting subject indeed.
    I think it is probably because of option (B) that bambam listed above.

    It could be the case that many Arabs had high hopes for the different “reform” movements that were taking place in the 50s, 60s, and to a lesser extent the 70s. When their high hopes were let down, people were looking for something to believe in, something to fill in the void.

    Of course many of the regimes and movements that had just let them down were backed by either the USSR or the USA (or more broadly the west comprised of the USA, UK, and France). Already with having a bad encounter with the west due to the occupation by Britain and France, and the support of Israel in its various wars, the Arabs leaned to the USSR. The USSR-backed regimes were not as good as they had hoped so they had to look for an alternative.

    About the only thing left at that point was history, which they felt good about. I think that is why you see many people constantly talking about the glorious old days of the Islamic Empire. It is the thing that we feel good about. I think this is why the Islamist movements had gained traction.

    This is how i think it might have happened, but i am not a scholar by any stretch of the imagination 🙂


  15. Thank you for this post. It’s really a very interesting subject.

    I believe, like you and like many other posters, that there are several reasons for this movement. I can’t decide which one is the most important, however, I can see that the most common thing amongst all these reasons is the absence of the real Religion. In other words, the thing that triggered them to get more religious was either political, social (traditional) … etc, but it’s not because of the religion itself.

    This might not sound bad, as ‘Ahmad Hamdan’ mentioned. Yes, it’s always good to see people becoming more religious. However, because what triggered them wasn’t really religion, we see contradiction in their religious practices which has its negative impact on the society in general.

    For example, putting on ‘hijab’ is a small leave in the Islamic religion if compared to many other things in Islam. I read the Holy Quran regularly, the ‘hijab’ is not mentioned as much as seeking knowledge and education, for instance. However, we see many demonstrations in the streets and everywhere because they banned ‘hijab’ (and any other religious symbol) in schools of France, whereas we see no one coming forward and talking about our bad education.

    In my point of view, being religious has become kind of a trend. Everyone wants to show his/her mastery in any aspect of life. Religion is an easy one to show your mastery in. Especially for someone who thinks that he/she has no or few other options. (this is how I explain why the movement is more obvious among the poor societies). In addition to the fact they religion is believed to be a ‘guaranteed’ and successful method. As ‘Anonymous’ said, you get rewarded in the afterlife, something that I consider ‘escaping’.

    In the end, I think it’s very important to discuss such a subject. I don’t consider it as a personal issue that we shouldn’t interfere. After all, it is affecting our life as a society.


  16. I would like to recommend a book by Ala’s Al Aswani. It’s (شيكاجو ‘Chicago’). This writer has a point of view in this matter, especially about the wahabi movement.


  17. I watched many of my friends begin to wear hijab around the Intifada. They felt it was a way to connect with what was important, both in faith and politically. It was a way to support Palestine, I think until then they had perhaps neglected the cause in their own mind.

    Kharabish, I have felt the same way. When people put more emphasis on the outward expression of faith, rather than the inward, it isn’t as much being more religious but being more conformed. Was it a desire to present a uniform expression for them?

    Tina, I would encourage you to re-study the words of Jesus Christ. Not go back to church, but on your own, meditate on what he said, how he said it, to whom he said it and why, starting in the gospel of John. I found comforting peace in Him, but not only peace: joy, destiny, correction, wisdom, empowerment. But most of all, acceptance and love.

    I haven’t ever experienced sexual harassment in the US like I have in Jordan, not even in Chicago. I am so sorry you have to endure this mis-treatment. Remember that you are a woman of substance, hold your head high and don’t let their words stick to youu soul.


  18. Why indeed?? Many theories abounding…this is actually something I focused on for my masters…many people reckon it is a way of protesting globalisation…of identifying ourselves against the other…make what you will of that but it is certainly one way of looking at it.

    What I don’t get is why it is all such an issue…to work for state TV in Egypt one has to remove it and have u ever seen an egyptian female politician with it on?

    yet when I chose to remove it I was made to feel like the black sheep of the muslim community…personal freedom isn’t very big in the arab world unfortunately.


  19. kinziblogs, I don’t think I could ever go back to the church. Not to say that I don’t want to be closer to God, but I saw so much hypocrisy from the nuns, and from people like my grandmother that I couldn’t feel as religious, for lack of a better word, as I would like. But I definitely want to be a part of a religion that brings me peace and makes me a better person.


  20. Tina: I’m Muslim myself, and you say that you’re thinking of converting to Islam. I think that the hypocrisy you saw from the nuns and your grandmother are not restrictive to Christianity. We have so much of this in Islam. An this is, maybe, the core of the problem.

    I just would like to tell you that maybe there should be a stronger reason that drives you to change your faith. My advice to you is to get more concerned about the religion not the its followers.


  21. Kharabish, I’m not very good at explaining myself, so I know that it’s coming out in a weird way. I’m not saying that I want to leave Catholicism because of the hypocrites in and out of the church. That’s a separate issue. I’ve just never felt as connected to God as I should as a Catholic. That’s really the best answer that I can give. I’m not exactly sure what answer I’m supposed to give that other people would consider satisfactory, but I’m just doing what is right for me.


  22. Tina, I’m sorry if my message sounded like I wasn’t convinced by you answer. You don’t even need to convince any one. Only your heart and mind tell you 🙂

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk with you, could you e-mail me please.


  23. Conservatism is not the same as piety, so people might be turning to religion, but i dont think they are more or less pious than people in the 60’s and 70’s. I agree and understand where Tina is coming from about poor neighbourhoods and harrassment. In my experience in the UK, its black areas usually where you get harrassed, it is a different culture really where men are encouraged to harrass and approach women (seen as manly and macho) and usually fresh of the boat Arabs and Pakistanis.


  24. I am no expert in this field, neither a history student nor a Muslim culture expert, but I would say that the wars in the region must have had some effect.

    The Israeli war and the war on Islam/terrorism helps Islamic extremism get their message/views/reasoning/explanations etc.. a lot easier specially to the younger generations.


  25. Any woman having to wear those stupid suits to cover up anything is subservient to the males.. I feel sorry for you and hope you can overcome that someday.


  26. I thought about this before and I came up with this.

    Back in the 60s, Amman was small. Open minded people lived in a small area and went to the university together. When Bedouins made money they moved to Amman and started attending university and this started shifting the mentality towards a conservative one. It has nothing to do with religion.


  27. The concept of Ijtihad is lost on us in the current context of things. I was brought up thinking it is ok to learn by blind rote because 'Allah knows best' and never to critically engage and understand why we do certain things and how it impacts us? The act of blind faith without the historical specificity of our actions is causing so much heartburn. We need the revolutionary concept of Ijtihad – brought into market places and street corners, not here, but everywhere. Issues of such nature can't be debated in the luxury of conference rooms in five star hotels or in the exclusive domain of a generous patron but on street corners where people hear and react!


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