i.e. covering head and/or face with cloth was not part of ancient
Sumerians this is the reason why when we read one of the oldest
Sumerian text known as Rig Ved in India (there are total 5 Veds
Rig, Yajur, Sam, Atharv and Ghor Angiras / Bhrigu-Angiras) there
is no mention of Veil for women.
for women can be found in many different religions which means
that the origin or veil is much older and other religions adopted
it. Was Veil part of ancient culture, religion or community?
to understand this we need to go in history.
history of Veil starts with Assyria, Assyrian people, Assyrian
Laws, etc. which can be viewed in above provided links.
Researchers who have tracked the history of
veil proved that it was not introduced by Islam. But as it became
today the symbol of the most zealous fanatical regimes, Islam
is wrongly blamed for that. The status of the women in Afghanistan
also confirms that Islam practiced segregation and seclusion
of women, even though these practices were common in several
ancient civilizations that existed in lands far away from Arabia,
thousands of years prior to the rise of Islam: The Sumerian,
Assyria, Babylonian and Persian.
Excavations at the site of the ancient city
of Nineveh uncovered the glories of the Assyrian civilization
that flourished in the lands of Mesopotamia several millenniums
BC. Among the treasures found were the famous tablets of Nineveh
that enabled archeologists to unravel the mysteries of this
civilization. These tablets that are currently exhibited in
the London museum described in details the lives of the people,
the history, culture, sciences, literature, and religion of
To be able to distinguish between their free
honorable women from the slaves or concubines, laws were issued.
Respectable women were forced to wear the veil while those who
were considered unrespectable were forced to go with their heads
uncovered. Thus veil became an exclusive symbol of respect;
a privilege that slaves, prostitutes and concubines were denied
And with their homes flooded with slaves to
run their errands, free women had no reason to roam the streets
and mingle with concubines, slaves and prostitutes. And hence,
women seclusion was born.
The law for veiling the women was documented
on one of the tablets that also stated the punishment for those
who broke the veil code:
“If the wives of a man, or the daughters
of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled.
The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to
veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants shall have
their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen
poured on their heads.”
Modern Iranian women, especially the ones opposing
the Islamic revolution and the enforcement of the veil, are
pointing fingers at the Arabs and blaming them for introducing
the veil and seclusion into the Persian society, even though
historical evidence proves that it is the other way around.
In 539 BC, the Persians conquered Mesopotamia
and it became part of the Persian state. The veil and the seclusion
of women were among the social habits that the Persians adopted
from the Assyrians and maintained over the years. In ancient
Persia, women of noble families became also secluded and had
to be covered when they went out in public.
with the Persian conquests, the veil spread to neighboring Kingdoms
and nations. It was introduced to the Levant region –
currently known as Syria and Lebanon – and north of Arabia.
Arabs who were separated from these surrounding
civilizations by sand dunes and vast uninhabited deserts were
not introduced to the veil until the seventh century AD when
they conquered the Persian lands.
before Islam (1200 BCE TO 610 CE) :
Scholars have dated the first reference to veiling to a thirteenth-century
BCE Assyrian legal text. The Assyrians were one of the earliest
urban civilizations in Mesopotamia the region roughly corresponding
to today's Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Southeastern Turkey that traced
their ancestry back to the Sumerians and Akkadians. In Assyrian
society, veiling (and female segregation) were well-established
practices codified in law. Clause 40 of the Assyrian laws linked
women's social status and sexual availability to their dress,
and it set specific penal regulations for infractions. Married
women and concubines accompanying their mistresses were required
to veil their heads when going out in public. On the other hand,
slaves and prostitutes (except married hierodules, former sacred
prostitutes) were prohibited from veiling and could incur punishment
if they did.
Historical Timeline :
Late Bronze Age, 1500-1200 BCE
41 in the Assyrian laws also addressed the question of veiling.
If a man wanted to marry his concubine, he needed to summon
five or six witnesses, veil her in front of them, and say "she
is my wife." Veiling in this case meant to become legally
to the Assyrians, the Persian Empire from the Achaemenid through
the Sassanid dynasties upheld the social meaning of the veil.
As during Assyrian rule, veiling under the Sassanids distinguished
upper-class women. A veiled woman signaled an aristocratic lady
who did not need to go out to work, unlike peasant women or
addition to requiring the veiling of aristocratic women, the
Iranian Sassanids introduced further restrictions on women,
which led to a general decline in their social position. Under
the Sassanids, women could no longer serve as witnesses; they
could engage only in limited legal transactions, and their numbers
rose significantly in harems. The harem of Khusrau, the Sassanid
king who ruled on the eve of the Muslim conquest (640 CE), is
estimated to have included some twelve thousand women. The Iranian
King's harem thus was three hundred times the size of an Assyrian
harem in the twelfth century BCE, which numbered approximately
forty women. While some may contest the authenticity of these
numbers, they still give us a sense of greater control over
women throughout history.
in all ancient Mesopotamian Mediterranean cultures around 3000
BCE among them the Canaanites, ancient Greeks, and Romans upper-class
women were secluded, wore a shawl that could be drawn over their
heads as a hood, and covered their hair in public. Veiling distinguished
aristocratic women from prostitutes, slaves, and women of ill
repute more generally. This is likely why on ancient statuettes,
vases, and other vessels, we often see upper-class women wearing
ornate head covers.
political and cultural dominance of Greece and then Rome in
the Mediterranean meant that the entire region inherited the
Hellenic traditions of veiling and androcentric hierarchies.
Eventually, these patriarchal mores and sartorial practices
were assimilated by peoples converting to Judaism, Christianity,
and later to Islam.
Jewish societies placed a variety of restrictions on women,
and Judaism, as it spread, perpetuated those restrictions. Jewish
laws limited women's access to divorce, their right to inherit
property, and permitted polygamy. Jewish women were also required
to dress modestly, covering their bodies from the neck to the
knee, exposing only the face and hands. Married Jewish women
were expected to cover their hair, considered a sign of beauty
and a private asset that could not be shown in public.
tradition of modest dress and of covering the hair continues
to be practiced by conservative, and especially Hasidic, Jewish
women. The ultraorthodox (from Hungary, Ukraine, and Galicia)
shave their heads, and wear wigs with or without a scarf (called
a tikhl in Hebrew). Haredi women in Israel today cover their
heads and bodies with veils, sometimes referred to as burqa.
In fact, it is impossible to tell from pictures alone a Haredi
Jewish woman from a Muslim woman wearing a black burqa.
Fathers went further in their restrictive attitudes toward women.
Like the Jews, early Christians, both in the eastern and western
Roman Empire, considered a woman's hair an intrusion of materiality
into the holy space of the church and hence banned its appearance
in churches. Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians advises
women to enter the church and pray with their head covered (1
Cor. 11:5) and prohibits them from shaving their hair or cutting
it. If for whatever reason a woman's hair cannot be covered,
it should be kept long, so that it may itself serve as a covering
(1 Cor. 11:15).