What a veiled woman can do

Nzingha has an excellent article, ma sha Allah, regarding some of the popular perceptions about what women can and can’t do in a veil, in response to a particularly stupid article in the Arab News which claims that the veil “physically impedes a woman from fully interacting with others, chopping vegetables, operating machinery or doing any number of every day- day tasks which require the full use of the five senses”. The sister lives in Saudi and has seen veiled women doing all these things except chopping vegetables (which she has however seen blind people do). Long, and pretty comprehensive.

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  • I think the problem is with the word “impede”. Clearly, covering does not prevent a person from doing those tasks, but I think the question of interest is whether a person could perform those tasks better or more easily or more safely, or even more comfortably in different clothing? If the answer is yes, then surely that should give us pause?

    The whole debate makes me think about what the purpose or function of women’s clothing is or should be. I do not believe that women’s clothing should be required to compensate for, or protect against men’s excessive and unregulated sexuality, or used as an indicator of that woman’s sexual availability to men. Men need to grow up and take responsibility, so that women really can wear what they like.

  • Old Pickler

    Very well put, Clarice. A headscarf doesn’t impede at all, but a niqab may well do.

    For some jobs, like teaching or reception work, it is essential to see someone’s face.

  • Pete Wilson

    I used to work in Saudi Arabia, the religious police ( matowa ) used to have great fun beating women with canes in the street for accidentally showing an ankle, or removing a veil. Lets all embrace diversity……..

  • Ann

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    So the argument now is that it impedes women? It’s hard to keep up with the rationale for hating the niqab (sort of like trying to keep up with the rationale for invading Iraq).

    First, I thought it was the idea that any woman wearing the veil was oppressed and forced to wear it. Then, when it became clear that many (most) women want to wear it, it was that it was a political symbol. Or was it that it signaled separateness? Or that a stranger on the train couldn’t read the woman’s facial expression? And now it’s that women can’t see with it? Or that they’re “impeded”?

    I won’t repeat what I’ve written on other posts here, except that I’ve worn it for 12 years, I drive with it, and it’s not in my line of vision - any more than band-aids (plasters for you Brits) on my forehead and nose would be.

    I wrote a long comment at Nzingha’s blog, and I won’t copy it all here, but I will copy one part:

    “I don’t have the exact quote, but someone told me that a Kuwaiti scholar, Dr. Khalid Al Mathkoor (who’s head of the committee which studies the laws and recomends changes to make them comply with shariah) made a great comment on this question some time before this current controversy, masha’allah. Basically, he pointed out that the most delicate surgical oprations are done with the surgeon wearing what is essentially a niqab. So if they can do brain surgery covering everything but their eyes, I think I can chop a cucumber!”

  • aicha

    Assalamu Alaykum,

    As someone who wore niqaab for a year (during which time 9/11 happened)I would agree that niqaab is not an impediment as long as the wearer is aware that in certain situtions she will neeed to either hold it away from her face (such as when eating or drinking and for this, a straw- not the Jack variety -is most useful) or hold it in (such as when looking directly down at something. On one occasion I was crossing a road, I had bags in both of my hands and my niqaab lifted and obscured my vision, Alhamdulillah, I arrived at the other side safely but I did make a point of securing the end of my niqaab to my lapel with a safety pin whenever there was a breeze and was likely not to have a hand free to hold it down. During the time that I wore niqaab, I started an undergraduate course. I withdrew after a couple of semesters (for personal reasons which had nothing to do with either the niqaab or a coercive husband!)but during that time I made good progress, contributed to discussions, attended lectures and made a number of friends, alhamdulillah.

  • DrM

    I’m sure you worked in Saudi Arabia, Pete. Was this before or after the Jack Daniels kicked in?

  • Impeding? Just check out these Iranian policewomen…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gv4G7ecWCuU