Veiled Threats

The Islamic veil is not a subject I like to discuss on my blog mainly because it leads to so much disagreement from all sides of the spectrum that I would just rather avoid it. Never has a piece of cloth caused so much panic, fear and irrationality in the Islamic and non-Islamic world and once again the veil seems to be making the news these days in several stories that caught my eye…

In Egypt

Egypt’s veiled actresses return on satellite TV

CAIRO — Egyptian actresses who left the world of entertainment for a more “religiously correct” lifestyle are back on TV screens this Ramadan, in a bid to reinvent their image more in line with the growing Islamic trend. More than 50 television serials have been produced for the month when soaps are big business, offering viewers a wide variety of romance, drama, and politics.

But those in which the newly veiled actresses make an appearance are being aired only on Arab satellite TV and not on Egyptian terrestrial channels, much to the ire of the country’s Islamists – and some of the actresses themselves.

“I don’t know whether it’s a position against veiled women, although they make up 85 percent of Egyptian women,” Hanan Turk recently told the Egyptian daily Al Masri Al Youm.

…Other actresses such as Suheir Ramzi, Abir Sabri, and Mona Abdel Ghani have also stepped back into the business, and without showing a lock of hair. Their choice to return to entertainment while wearing the veil reflects the growing “modern” religious trend of a society in which young moderate preachers such as Amr Khaled hold a great deal of sway.

In Tunisia

Tunisian government rallies against Islamic veil

TUNIS — The Tunisian government has launched a campaign against a return of the Islamic veil, newspapers reported Saturday, citing comments from top officials in the secular-run North African country.

The veil was “inspired by sectarianism, foreign to our country, our culture and, our traditions,” foreign minister Abdel Waheb Abdallah told a meeting Friday of the governing ruling party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD).

The veil has been banned in Tunisia in public places since the beginning of the 1990s, following the outlawing of the militant Islamist party Ennahda. It was “a political slogan used by a small group which hides behind religion in order to realize political aims,” Abdullah said.

Although Tunisia was “proud and attached to the Islamic religion,” he said it “does not need anyone to give it lessons about the fundamentals of religion. It is a moderate country and … rejects violence and extremism,” he stressed.

Why and how the veil became attached to militant Islam and/or extremism is beyond my comprehension. How it was inspired by sectarianism and not religion is also beyond me.

In Britain

Veil teacher ‘should be sacked’

A Muslim teaching assistant suspended for refusing to remove her veil in class should be sacked, a local government minister has said. Phil Woolas told the Sunday Mirror that Aishah Azmi, 23, had “put herself in a position where she can’t do her job”.

Mr Woolas, whose brief covers race relations, stopped short of repeating the demand on the BBC’s Politics Show. But he said if the head teacher at the school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, chose to sack Ms Azmi “so be it”.

Ms Azmi, who is originally from Cardiff, said pupils at Headfield Church of England Junior School had never complained about her wearing a veil. She said she would remove the garment, but not in front of male colleagues.

All of these stories form only questions in my mind…

Is a piece of cloth really that big of a threat to democracy, to interpretations of moderation, to culture, to tradition? Is the Islamization of Ramadan soaps a bad thing or a good thing? I guess it depends on the quality of TV shows you want to be watching while you break fast. A lot of discussion seems to surround the assumption that the actresses who decide to ‘go religious’ do so in an attempt to heighten their careers. It is the Arab/Islamic equivalent of a sex tape. Do we have a right to question their motives? Does a piece of cloth render a woman incapable of teaching or doing her job? Does assimilation in foreign countries require an abandonment of beliefs? Can a multi-cultural, democratic and free nation retain its identity whilst attempting to regulate what its people choose to wear or choose to believe?


  • i think a lot of westerners lose their mind when they talk about the veil, or even just a simple headscarf. forcing women to wear one is wrong, but it seems just as obvious that forcing them to take them off is also wrong. why can’t women just make up their own mind about what to wear and we can all leave it at that? this doesn’t have to be a political issue at all.

  • I agree with upyernoz in that it should be a free choice. I have a problem with any ideal that forces a women to wear a veil or forbids the wearing of one. At the same time, I believe the veil shrowds Arab feminine beauty, which appears to be the intended purpose.

  • Naseem the last line is exactly the point! If you ‘modernists’ talk about ‘freedom of speech’ or whatever, then one is free to choose to believe in Islam for instance, and is free to choose to obey certain issues, that is freedom, get over it. But I am starting to believe in this, Democracy never existed, no?

    Regarding forcing women to wear hijab, it depends on one’s ‘method’ of convincing. But to argue the obligation as mandatory or optional, is arguing the interpratation ad teaching of Muhammed PUBH.

  • I think it’s their insecurity, coming from a western model of philosophy which makes them so antagonistic towards the veil. It’s a very real symbol of everything that stands in oppostion to the norm of their way of life. Free Love, Women using sex as a power tool or asa bargaining chip, men being forced to understand women dfor their mind instead of what they look like.

    It’s a paradigm shift they just don’t want to make.



  • Interesting Nas, each question of the questions at the end of the post could stand alone as a topic by it self.

    I was watching a program debating the issue of Egyptian TV banning shows with mohajabat actresses, after the first 3 minuets the debate turned into weather hijab should be forced on or off females. At that point all I could remember is your comments once on a blog…how silly that might be(posting your comment on your comments section) but I want every one to read it too…because it already helped me in saving time and effort and I used it 1000 times, with out forgetting the copyrights of course 🙂

    Nas: ” The hijab is just another topic in islam non-muslims love to pick apart and muslims love to make a big deal about. itâ??s been talked about to death, never has such a simple request from God ever caused so much nonsense within the ummah. itâ??s as if He asked for muslims to set their hair on fire…..personally, to each his or rather her, own. we will all be judged in front of Allah swt one day thatâ??s for sure, and at that point whatever arguements anyone has they can take it up with Him. there are too many muslims who have trouble obeying the 5 pillars that make them muslims in the first place, let alone the dress code.”

  • Nassem I think you should have differentiated between hijab and Niqab while addressing this issue. In the UK the problem is related to Niqab which is covering all the body except the eyes. In this case I completely agree with Jack Straw that such an “outfit” inhibits communication with the other individual. hey look how can I trust someone with only his/her eyes appearing? We muslims can understand this but British could not and more importantly should not. Niqab is a controversial issue in Muslim theology and is still debtable. Most scholars say it is not obligatory. If a women wants to wear a niqab because she does not trust any other member of the society she’d better stay at home or go to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and now Iraq. The british have been very tolerant with this issue as far as I am concerned. even if the UK authority puts all Niqab women and salafi men with their short “jallabiahs” in a plane and send them out of Britain this would still be justified. A society that choses to be liberal should remain liberal.
    As for hijab this is a personal decision which no authority in the world has the right to stop.

  • Quoting Batir:
    “A Society that choses to be liberal should remain liberal”.


    2. politics: progressive politically or socially: favoring gradual reform, especially political reforms that extend democracy, distribute wealth more evenly, and protect the personal freedom of the individual.
    Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

    Personal Freedom of the individual. What’s liberal in sending men who wear short Jallabiyyas and women who cover up everything out of a society? That’s not liberal in my opinion Batir no offense, that’s their CULTURE, if one says ‘that’s their culture and we’re just different and such a big difference in manner won’t click in 1 society’ that I’d understand, but liberal, they’re liberal to what they want to be categorized under liberal.

  • Niqab is a controversial issue in Muslim theology and is still debtable. Most scholars say it is not obligatory.

    And it isn’t … otherwise, women would be required to wear niqab in hajj…and it is a known fact that they cannot wear niqab during i7ram when performing hajj!

  • With regard to the sacked teacher in Britain, well, I think she brought it on herself. Yes, it’s her choice to wear a veil, but if you’re working in a school environment you’re meant to at least seem approachable to students. I’m an Arab woman and even I find women who wear niqab somewhat hard to approach and am a little distracted by it when talking to them. Imagine what it’s like for a 10yr old kid, who’s not accustomed to seeing women with their faces covered! If she wants to carry out her Islamic duties that’s fine, and Islam does not require her to cover her face, and in the case of Britain, I am 100% sure no one would have objected to her covering her hair – but her face, that is a little extreme.

    I think when living in a Western society, people should try to be a little moderate and not force their more extreme ways on society – think of it this way, would a Buddhist be allowed to teach if he came in wearing a monastic robe?? or an Orthodox Jew with overgrown sideburns and a black fedora?? Some people need to start being a little bit reasonable and stop over-victimising themselves.

  • Muhammad said:”I think itâ??s their insecurity, coming from a western model of philosophy which makes them so antagonistic towards the veil. Itâ??s a very real symbol of everything that stands in oppostion to the norm of their way of life. Free Love, Women using sex as a power tool or asa bargaining chip, men being forced to understand women dfor their mind instead of what they look like.

    Itâ??s a paradigm shift they just donâ??t want to make.”

    This “paradigm shift” would be a shift backwards to those who fought for the rights of women to be treated as human beings, not as chattel. Considering your remarks about Free love and sex manipulation, I must assume you have not spent much – or any – time in the west.

    “Men being forced to understand women for their mind instead of what they look like”?? This is so difficult for you? You consider the mother who carried you in her body for nine months and suffered pain to bring you into this world to be just an animal that has nothing but physical beauty? No wonder so many men of your part of the world have trouble dealing with the western world. If you are willing to DEHUMANIZE over half of your country’s population, based ONLY on their sexual apparatus, then you are denying your country full use of all of its’ resources.

    It is my understanding that the teacher who was fired in Britain was a teacher of English. She was not fired because she was religious. She was fired because her insistance on wearing a full face veil made it impossible for the children to watch her mouth form the words, and thereby made it almost impossible for them to learn the language.

    Oh, but they don’t mention THAT part in the news, do they? They just play on the “bad bad western people who fired a poor woman for not removing her hijab”.

  • Whether it be Niqab or a man walking around with only shorts an noe shirt and his nipples pierced and covered with tatoos, a liberal government should not force people how to dress unless it comes to full nudity of course (because many people dont look good naked and i dont want to see any ugly).

    With that said, the teacher’s assistant should not wear the Niqab while she works just because it works against her performance in the field of education. Being a professor myself, more specifically a professor in communication studies, the Niqab would only hinder the communication process between she and her students. As a teacher, it would be in her best interest to take down any road blocks in her communication process between she and her students, especially since they are grade school students. Non-verbal communication is an important aspect of the communication process and if her students cant see her face, well then they will probably not be able to understand many of the messages she is trring to share with them.

    This story reminds me of the woman who refused to take her niqab off when posing for a picture for her ID. Now come on. We cannot identify people only by their eyes.

    Again, like I said no one should be forced to do anything, there are certain situations where you just have to common sense. This teacher can still dress very conservatively and wear a head scarf as well and I am sure no one would bother her. My fifth grade teacher was very proud of his African heritage as he should be and he would dress in traditional African clothing with head pieces that covered all his hair. No one ever said anything. But, when it comes to your face, how can you expect your students to trust you and come to you for help when they cant see you? It just does not work.

  • Despite the spin that the news may put on it, I doubt that this action to remove the teacher had anything to do with religious bias. I spent a month in England this summer and witnessed many Arab women who walked around veiled, as well as Hindu men wearing turbans (including police officers with a specially adorned turban signifying police status) and Hindu women sporting tilaks (the forehead dot). England is not a religiously discriminate country, which leads me to believe that this action has some sort of merit. We’re not getting the whole story here.

  • I have a question, and I’d ask you to forget hijab for a minute, because I think the religious question is distracting from what may be the underlying point here.

    Here goes:

    Most secular government, I think, have developed the principle, more or less, that respect for religion means you have a right to do whatever your religion commands, as long as its not otherwise illegal. I think we’d all agree that a religion that called for, say, human sacrifice, sould be subject to some, er, restrictions. (I’m assuming here, a law that treats all religions as equal, not some as “right” and some as “wrong”) In that case, a valid law with a compelling need to protect society overwhelms a religious obligation.

    So, what if some guy — a unitarian, say — decided to start walking around all the time and going to work dressed in a ninja outfit like from Batman. (unarmed, of course) Or in one of those Haloween-looking “facial prosthetic” things. And say he had a reason for it: his personal beliefs meant he didn’t want to be subjected to the gaze of others, he felt judged by being seen, whatever. A reason based in personal choice, not religion.

    Would he be allowed to walk down the street? Or go to work? Would he be able to hold a job? I think not — his boss would fire him, claiming he couldn’t do his job looking like a halloween costume. He’d get picked up on the street, and the cops would cite public safety reasons, because he couldn’t be identified.

    And, when he was fired or hassled by the cops, would people rally and support his right to wear what he felt was appropriate? I don’t really think they would.

    So, if this is an issue of personal freedom — of people to do what their beliefs dictate, not just what the beliefs of one or another large world religion dictate — then don’t we need to talk very seriously about all the OTHER issues of what is acceptable and unacceptable in public comportment?

    Because, if those justifications about safety and job efficacy are valid for the guy in the ninja suit, shouldn’t they be valid for the woman in niqab too? And if they’re NOT valid in either case, then shouldn’t that lead us to take a long hard look at what we consider “social standards” ?


  • All I have to say is, if these Muslim women in the West want to wear the veil so badly, then perhaps they can move to a Muslim country to do so.

    They complain about the freedom to wear it, yet they stay silent when their sisters have acid thrown on their faces for refusing to wear it in Kashmir and other Muslim countries.

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