Hamas Set to Compel Gaza Women to Wear Head Covering

'General Moral List' being assembled by the Gaza government to protect Palestinian 'religion and morals.'

Senior Hamas officials had claimed, in the wake of Hamas' June 2007 Gaza takeover, that the organization did not have any intention to turn the Sharia, Islamic religious law into official state regulations. Two years later, however, it seems that the Hamas government is slowly introducing more and more regulations in the spirit of the Islamic decrees.

The London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that the organization's Gaza government had recently approved a series of laws, a Muslim code of conduct of sorts, meant to guard Muslim religion and morals. These guidelines join an increasing amount of reports from Gaza residents saying that modesty patrols were forcing women to wear head coverings, especially at Gaza's beaches, and that they were inspecting isolated cars in order to prevent unmarried couples being alone together.

Gaza's judicial authority, which runs the strip's courts on behalf of Hamas, had even recently ruled that all female attorneys must wear the traditional Muslim head covering, the hijab, and wear dresses during court appearances. The ruling was condemned by the independent lawyers association.

Supreme Court chief justice Abdul-Raouf Halabi said Sunday that female lawyers will be required to wear a headscarf and a long, dark colored cloak under their billowing black robes when the court returns from its summer recess in September.

Halabi said his order was designed to ensure that women dress in accordance with Islamic law, which requires women to cover up in public, wearing loose garments and only showing their hands and faces.

Subhiya Juma, a female lawyer, said the judge's decision would affect only 10 or so lawyers - since the vast majority of the 150 registered female lawyers already cover their hair.

Juma, who does not wear a headscarf, said the point wasn't the number of women, but that freedoms were being eroded.

"This is dangerous - it's a clear violation of the law, it is taking away our personal freedoms - and by whom? The very person who is meant to defend our freedoms," Juma said.

According to Al-Quds al-Arabi, representatives from several Hamas government ministries, such as the Interior Ministry, Ministry of Religion, Military Advocate's Office as well as the Police have convened in special workshops and formulated the "General Moral List," which most likely will be authorized piecemeal.

The list is expected to be published in the strip's media outlets in the near future. The workshop, which also discussed the preliminary stages of the list's implementation, was run by Hamas justice minister Mohammed al-Ghoul. Al-Ghoul had said in the introduction to the workshop that the Palestinian society was considered "conservative" and that the Arab and Muslim peoples must protect "religion and morals."

Sheikh Yusef Farhat, a senior official in Hamas' Ministry of Religion, told the London newspaper that the list includes clauses meant to protect society's general moral fiber. Items include the forbidding "improper driving near women," most likely pertaining to honking and whistling at women, "the prevention of lust-inducing sights in the streets," which will ban mannequins in storefronts, and "prohibiting crowded events in order to prevent men and women from touching each other." The Sheikh explained that the implementation of these laws will be based on "instruction and understanding."

A Hamas official said that the items on the list already exist in the Palestinian legal system, but have only now been collected into one directory. The workshop's participants emphasized that the regulations were to be introduced in an agreeable and gradual fashion and that a special department will be founded which will make sure that security officials fully understand the different clauses.

Religious decrees calling for women to wear loose clothing have also been accepted in Gaza recently in order to prevent the female form from being exposed in public.