Surrealism and the Niqab

Imagine growing up in a town where all women wore the burqa or niqab, even teenage girls, and you’re a male. Your whole life, how can you really know what a female looks like, until you marry your wife? Because even if you have a big family, the females still might not take off their burqas around males family members. Imagine, the whole women’s race wiped out, a figment of your imagination: women effectively erased.

A surrealistic photo of burqa-wearing brides. Imagine not seeing what the person you married looked like until the day you married them!

This is just one of many surreal-like situations that could arise from a country where all women are required to wear a burqa or niqab. I think what makes the niqab/burqa so fascinating, at least to me, is the simple fact that the niqab/burqa allows the wearer to remain completely anonymous. In a place like New York where so much emphasis is placed on appearence, the idea of completely eradicating this anxiety is intriguing. If the idea of completely erasing half of the population-women!-from view of humanity is not surrealistic, I don’t know what is.

Despite my continued obsession with this conservative fashion statement and it’s mystery, I still will never overlook the fact that there were/are many women who are forced to wear this garment when they don’t want to, which is silly and unfair, as Shiekha Altakhafi points out. Furthermore, there are certain cases where it goes beyond a question of the right to wear/not wear the niqab, but more of a question of safety or praticality which no one can deny.

Religion adapts to nothing or no one? / Religion does not change

Safety and praticality would be no match, in some people’s mind, to religion. Just because modern action interferes with religious practice wouldn’t mean that the religion would have to adapt to it. So what if cars were invented? That doesn’t mean that women will stop wearing niqabs in Saudi Arabia even if the cars constantly run women over at night because they are “difficult to see in the dark,” according to Saudia Arabia Exposed. One person reminded the author that even Saudi men “adhered to the dresscode,,” and Samar Fatani, a local radio host, remarked that “i don’t think the abbeyya is an issue in our country” (p. 170).

Female headcoverings by religion.

The above are all examples of traditional wear worn by women in religions around the world. With the exception of some of these, most of these head coverings are only worn nowadays by nuns who devote their entire lives to religion. Women are not truly required to wear headcoverings (at least in Christian, Judaism and Islam, the only three I can say this with a degree of certainty) but they do suggest the veil or hijab. Although I will never understand the reason women have to wear a hijab either (unless it’s cold and windy, inwhich case I will sometimes wrap a scarf around my head, as I find it a way to look stylish in blustery, bad weather), at least the hijab allows a women to a) show her personality, b) allow for easy identification and c) is in general all the round more practical (and dare I say safe) for the female population.

That “Endless” Discussion

The Yemeni Times recently published an article entitled “The Niqab: An Endless argument,” which references both pro-niqab and anti-niqab sentiment and making, I was surprised to see, strong statements in favor of the ‘impratical’ view of the piece of clothing. Even young girls in Yemen wear the niqab, but unlike their mother’s they do get a choice. IN this case, the niqab is actually exploited by the wearers: girls “cover their faces so that teachers cannot identify those who talk or chew gum in class,” [a teacher] he explained. Students would also wear the niqab during exams so that they could talk about the exam without the teacher knowing [who was speaking] because he couldn’t see their mouths. Again, this references the anonymity that comes with wearing the niqab, and shows how one could easily commit “wrong” because of it; quite the oxymoron, when one considers that the niqab is supposed to be the mark of decency.

In Saudi Arabia Exposed, Bradley gives us an excellent case on the praticality issue of niqabs as well as safety concerns. He mentions the advent of I.D. cards for women in recent years, which was huge improvement as it allowed women to make purchases and “appear in court on their own.” The idea that another woman could go to court in one’s place–even be committed for a crime she did not commit!–because a woman’s face is not shown and therefore not verified is dangerous. If a woman commited a severe crime, without an i.d. card one couldn’t even attempt to ascertain that the woman standing before the court is indeed the actual defendent!

Strangely enough, while judges refused to accept the cards, “the biggest hurdle to their widespread acceptance turned out to be women themselves,” because the photographs would (obviously) show their faces (p. 167). What a concept–showing one’s face! Again, religion and an intense modesty that has been ingrained even into the not-so-religious faces off praticality and simplicity. Women, Bradley reports, were often cheated out of their inheritance without the i.d. cards, simply because one couldn’t verify who the person under the dark cloth was. Talk about injustice!

Teacher Amina Ba Fadhl explained the her anti-niqab logic in the Yemeni Times best: “In the past, we used to wear decent clothes, go to schools and jobs and sit beside our male colleagues without any fear or abuse, but now with the spread of the niqab and black garments, women are being subjected to more harassment by men.” As mentioned before, a garment originally associated with modesty has in reality only incited more ill-will towards women and put them more at risk. With all the problems it poses concerning identity, does the niqab really promote saintly behavior?

Not according to Ba Fadhl: “The niqab is the result of a poor understanding of Islamic instructions….In fact, commitment to religion was better in the past when there was no niqab.”

S-L-M

Links:

1. http://insidethemiddleeast.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/16/uae-dress-modestly-drive-gains-momentum/

2.http://yementimes.com/en/1549/culture/462/The-Niqab-an-endless-argument.htm

3. Saudi Arabia Exposed by Jonathan Bradley

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2 thoughts on “Surrealism and the Niqab

  1. Interesting! I have never seen the white ones before, but I am a westerner. I have never even thought of the concept of someone else being in court for another’s wrongdoing because of wearing these headcoverings. One point, the Hasidic Jewish women wear wigs as headcoverings.

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