Would you like to make English your default language on this site?


Hijab regains popularity in Tunisia

By Houda Trabelsi for Magharebia in Tunis – 24/02/11

  • 5

After years of restrictive policies against religious attire, Tunisia might soon rescind its long-standing ban on the hijab in public institutions.

The veil is a personal matter and part of women's individual freedom, Religious Affairs Minister Laroussi Mizouri announced on February 12th in the first official statement regarding the issue.

Under Tunisian law, the veil is considered "sectarian dress" rather than a religious duty. The country's first president, Habib Bourguiba, outlawed the hijab in public places, and his successor, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, vowed to preserve the Personal Status Code.

"Our manager imposed a complete ban on wearing the veil at work," complained Sonia Labadh, who works in the public sector. "Therefore, I had to take it off at the door of the department and put it back on when I leave; something that caused me much embarrassment."

"I've always hated these behaviours from the former regime," she added. "How could they prevent anyone from wearing what they like and from observing their religious duties in a country that is supposed to be Muslim?"

Public discontent with former policies culminated in 2003, when protesters demanded that the government intervene to stop insults against veiled women, and a group of lawyers and rights activists signed a petition condemning the authorities.

"I got sick with the hit-and-run game with the administration and security in university, who were preventing us from wearing the veil," Sourour Mhadhbi, 22, said. "I often felt oppressed and humiliated, and the matter would reach the worst point when I heard obscene words."

The situation has changed since the January 14th revolution. Tunisian cities have witnessed a strong and noticeable return of the veil.

"I feel as if I was born anew; I no longer have to take the veil off in the university or wear a hat on it to deceive them," Mhadhbi said.

"The restoration of freedom to wear the veil may curb a little bit the scenes of nudity that have swept across Tunisia in recent years," Mondher Ayari told Magharebia.

Some, however, fear a backlash from conservatives. Secondary school teacher Arbia Ezine hoped that women would not be required "to wear the veil, especially with the entry of Islamist parties to the field after years-long absence".

"I respect the freedom of dress and personal belief, but I reject the imposition of wearing or removal of veil because this is a stark assault on individual freedoms," she said.

Ghalya ben Mohamed, a university student, told Magharebia, "I personally don't recommend wearing the veil, but I respect the personal freedom of those who decide to wear it," she said, adding that "those who don't wear the veil must also be respected".

She called for a "clear legal provision" to prevent Islamists from imposing the garment.

Legislative changes, however, don't always lead to changes in behaviour, according to sociology professor Ali Hammi. "The government's permission of veils may not necessarily be followed by a wave of an increasing number of women wearing it. The veil has always been there, though banned. Banned things are always desired."

There are many women who wear the veil as "a form of social expression or fashion and not always as an expression of religious affiliations or a specific approach", according to Hammi.

What do you think of this article?


Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.


Anonymous thumb

You are not signed in. Anonymous comments are subject to moderation. Sign up to have your comment posted immediately - Learn more

Or post your comment using:


  1. Anonymous thumb

    thaouri 2011-6-19

    Since when is wearing a veil a symbol of purity and pride for women? Since when has the tsunami of the veil become a mark of piety and obligation for women? Since when has having beard been a sign of a political rallying point for men? When did certain Muslims invent the new religion called “Islamism”? When did this “Islamist’ heresy begin creating devious aims designed to delay the economic and technological growth of Muslim societies in order to leave them to wade in the decomposed pass and frenzied backslide toward a religious that inhibits any effort for liberation and rationalism and any lunge to free oneself from the evil that is Islamist schizophrenia? When did the independence of the countries of the Maghreb, which liberated the Maghreb’s women and helped them forget their veils, capitulate? The answers are blindingly clear! This came when the Gulf monarchies exported their obscurantist and misogynistic culture, which their satellite television channels hammer us with for years on end in order to brutalise their peoples and dominate them and to keep their power and their wealth, which they continue to steal and amass and distribute to their families and their representatives in the Maghreb’s Islamist parties. This also came with the leads of the Maghreb’s republics, who have anchored themselves in the government in order to become new predators and nepotistic sultans. This also came when the peoples of the Maghreb allowed themselves to be castrated by the mafias that rule them!


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Anonymous 2011-6-15

    Women should be fully free to wear the veil. The development of society is leading more and more women to turn to the veil and this is all the more so the case with young girls who both find it an affirmation of themselves and their true values as compared most notably with Westernised culture, which does not treat them equally with others. The veil is more and more present in Europe, and for many it is a pride to affirm their identity and personality.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Amina 2011-3-1

    I fully support the right of women to choose to wear or not to wear the hijab. I would also like to point out that this is what happens when a dictator tries to pass the suppression of religious rights for secularism. Ben Ali was not a secularist; he was afraid that the influence of religion would damage his power over the people. Ben Ali saw religion and the religious clergy as competitors, and this is why he banned the hijab. In a truly secular state, the government has no power to decide the way that the people should practice their religion. In a truly secular state, religion and the state are separated so the people are free to decide how they want to practice their religion. The only limitation on religion in a secular state, is the limitation placed on leaders and authorities and functionaries, who are prohibited from force the people to adopt or to give up this or that religious practice or belief. I hope that the people of Tunisia will understand this and that they will understand that secularism is not an antithesis of Islam, but the political institutionalisation of the protection of Islam and all other religions. Islam and secularism are brothers, and like brothers, without the one, the other is weaker. We do not need our politicians to make decisions about how we practice religion. They do not have religious authority. And we are a tolerant people who know how to practice our religion without political interference. This is why I support secularism.


  4. Anonymous thumb

    Fernanda Oliveira 2011-2-26

    FREEDOM. To wear it or no.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    Hamouda Bizerte 2011-2-24

    Bravo my Tunisian brothers for having freed your right to think. We are with you. Do not give up anything ever again so that liberalism will be born now.