For the Arabic class I’m taking, I had to view a couple of videos regarding the Islamic headscarf, and answer some questions pertaining to the video. I decided to post both the videos and my responses. Your response to the videos welcome!
What thoughts come to your mind when you see a woman wearing al-hijaab
الحِجاب or al-niqaab النِقاب ? How do you view one vs. the other?
Before I came into contact with actual Muslim women, I viewed the headscarf as oppressive and forced. However, when I began teaching for the first time and had a class full of Muslims, my perception immediately changed as I saw these women as having a great deal of honor, respect and dignity for themselves. They looked like regal princesses to me, and I realized that someone in a position of nobility or high status doesn’t normally reveal their bodies to every common person around them, but would keep their personal appearance for only those in their private circle.
Regarding niqaab, I have had a few students who have worn the niqaab, and while I respect their decision to do so, I find it unnecessary and entirely counterproductive to their purpose of wearing it in the first place. As the niqaabi woman in the video explained, the niqaab is to cover oneself physically from view of others and not draw unwanted attention to oneself. However, niqaabis in the US and most other countries (included countries such as Egypt) draw a great deal of attention since they stand out as very different and even suspicious, as the TV reporter noted. Islamically, the niqaab is not required (except for those in the Wahabi/Salafi sect), so adamantly wearing it and therefore drawing a lot of negative and suspicious attention to oneself, and furthering negative stereotypes of Muslim, is incredibly counterproductive in my view. Islam encourages Muslims to dress in the same way as the culture they live in, as long as they ensure that the appropriate areas are covered.
How do you view an Arab woman who does not wear either al-hijaab or al-niqaab? Do you think that a woman dressed like that is making a political or a religious statement?
A few thoughts cross my mind when I see an uncovered Arab woman. I may wonder if she is Christian or irreligious, or if she comes from a liberal Middle Eastern country, such as Lebanon or Syria. She may also come from a more liberal city or family (Jeddah is Saudi Arabia is fairly liberal, as I have encountered students from Jeddah who don’t cover their hair, and know of individuals from even conservative areas in Saudi Arabia th don’t observe hijab in their private lives simply as the family in general doesn’t practice it). Further, an uncovered woman may come from the West, from irreligious parents or mixed religion parents, and finally, the woman may simply not believe in it and chooses not to wear it. Thus, when I see an uncovered Arab woman, I refrain from judgment and prefer to simply wait for more information.
In working with Muslim students from typically conversative countries however, I have seen that uncovered Muslim women are usually treated differently by their Muslim classmates; they are sometimes not respected as much and are treated as ‘loose’ and are not taken seriously, which is in line with what the TV reporter explained regarding women who don’t cover in Egypt.
Do your views apply to Arab or Muslim men who dress in a non-western manner?
Dressing in a non-Western manner for men or women from any country is their prerogative, and has little to do with one’s religious affiliation. Islam is clear that a person can dress in a culturally appropriate manner wherever they are, as long as the appropriate areas are covered. A male or female wearing jeans and a T-shirt to me simply look like they’re integrated and are not trying to set themselves distinctly apart from the culture around them.
Do you think that Muslims living this country should dress in a way that is not different from anyone else around them?
Muslims should dress in accordance to the area around them. What I mean is that if they live in a more educated, open-minded area, dressing in their own cultural attire is fine as the people around them probably would be more accepting and open to that. However, if they live in a conservative, close-minded, uneducated area, they may want to adopt the dress around them so as to not draw unwanted attention to themselves. Again, the Islamic emphasis is always on covering the appropriate areas, and beyond that is a personal choice.
Can you think of other religions wheremen and women dress in certain way because they think that their religion requires them to do so? Does the American society view these other religions and their followers as they view Muslims who adhere to particular clothes?
Practicing Jewish women also dress similarly to Muslim women; they wear modest clothing and also cover their hair (which is a practice alive and well today as I came across many websites and tutorials on Jewish hair covering when I was trying to learn how to cover my own hair as a new convert to Islam). Jewish texts record that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, never left the house without covering her hair, face, and hands (just like the niqaabi woman in the video).
Christian women traditionally also wore modest clothing and covered their hair, as Paul in the Bible admonishes women who come to church without their hair covered, saying that such women bring shame to themselves and deserve to have their heads shaved (incidentally, Islam does not take such an extreme approach!). Some Christian women in other countries do still cover their hair. Women in the FLDS denomination of Christianity dress modestly, as well as the Amish (who also cover their hair). Women in the Apostolic and conservative Evangelical branches of Christianity have strict beliefs against cutting one’s hair (as the Old Testament states that a woman’s hair is her glory and should not be cut), and that women should not wear pants (as the OT also states that women should not wear men’s clothing and vice versa). Catholic nuns dress in the same way as Muslim women by wearing long, loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf, and no image of Mary mother of Jesus (peace be upon him) is complete without Mary wearing a headscarf.
By no means has Islam introduced modesty or the veil to religious clothing practices; it has simply continued what has been practiced by other Abrahamic faiths for centuries. Yet, Westerners seem to forget the clothing practices of their own faith traditions historically and to the present. If Mary is seen as holy and pure for wearing a headscarf, why then are Muslim women seen as oppressed and brainwashed for wearing the exact same thing?