The Face Veil: Social and Psychological overview
By Dalia Rashwan
Founder & Editor in Chief of AlAmeron.com
(Muslim Face veil also called “Niqab” or “Burqa”)
– Social & Psychological Overview In Arab Countries –
The face veil has stirred a lot of controversy in the past months. European countries raced their ways to impose a ban on the face veil following the French ban although in reality face veiled women are very few in Europe and are statistically insignificant. But non-Muslims feel offended by the looks of a face veiled woman. They see them as oppressed women who are deprived from their freedom and react negatively to such oppression. It is really very offending to look this way.
But the face veil is for Muslim women something totally different. This is why I feel the urge to tackle the social and psychological aspects of this practice to help non-Muslims understand why Muslim women are proudly defending their right to wear it.
Non-Muslims need to know why wearing such clothes? Why stepping voluntarily into this sort of prison, forbidden to show the most important thing in humans “their face”, when facial expressions are very important as they are part of everyday interactions.
Why the face veil?
First you need to know that face veil in Islam is optional. Women are to wear it when they feel it is needed. Many people think that the face veil is worship in itself but it is not. Teachings of Islam are not just shallow orders to follow but laws to organize our social life. Laws imposed by our creator who knows our needs and weaknesses and want us to live in happiness and peace.
A woman would choose to wear the face veil if she felt she was in a state of compromise for herself or her religion. She is either beautiful that she wants to stop people from starring at her, and harassing her, or she wants to send a message to the people saying: I am religious, I have strong boundaries, I do not believe in showing up, and I want you to treat me as a mentality not a body.
Sometimes a woman just has a smiley face which is not understood by men as decency or politeness or being cheerful in general but that she wants this man to flirt with her or that she is in love with him or at least she likes him, thus he begins to act upon these grounds. The face veil shields the smiling face and with a slightly firm voice – which is recommended by Islam for women when talking to men – the speech looks different.
Hence, women use the importance of facial interaction to drive away offenders and exploiters.
Now, it’s clear that the face veil is for protection. Women bind to it for feeling more secure, and having a sort of privacy. They just feel comfortable as they are not treated as an object or abused with a sneaky look.
With a face veil, women can walk among men freely without being noticed or harassed. This is why it feels as “freedom” not “oppression”.
A western woman who visited a Middle Eastern country could feel the benefit of such attire – if she treated it without bias as simple costume not as a religious one. She would enjoy her trip more without harassments from people who identify her as foreigner or feel that her disclosed outfit is attracting nosy looks.
Looking sexy when going out is not on the agenda of a true Muslim woman because she feels so precious that she only wants her husband to look at her. He is the only one entitled to enjoy her looks, her talk, everything. Wearing revealing dress in front of other men – that are not Mehrems – is something that is insulting to her as she feels cheap.
Women in general tend to take care of their outer beauty because they need to feel in the focus of attention. They could try to look different, appealing, and sometimes over do things just to feel perceived as special. Muslim women do feel special in another way. They have duties imposed and rewarded instantly by Allah; duties towards their husband, children or family and society. Duties that make them feel satisfied and special without the need to use their looks. They go to
This doesn’t mean that Muslim women must look terrible. Islam teachings require clean, respectable, appropriate, and modest clothes along with other conditions for women attire such as loose clothes that is not revealing.
In the Arab world, the woman who wears a face veil is highly ranked among the society. She gets many physical and psychological awards.
When seeking a wife, Arab men having moderate to high ethical standard, ask their relatives and friends for a face veiled woman even if he does not know her. He might be invited in a place where there are plenty of beautiful young women wearing a Hijab but choose for a wife the only woman present wearing a face veil.
This may come as a surprise to many people but as the face veil is a symbol indicating that this woman is following Islam teachings. He is just going for the best.
If a woman embraced strict teachings of Islam, she would be the best thing that could happen to a man. But the rights between husbands and wives are very balanced. The wife in Islam has many rights that are not present in other free western society just as her husband do. These rights make a very stable family as described by the Quran: serenity, Love and Mercy. Such a family would benefit the entire community (Muslims & Non-Muslims). A healthy marriage shapes healthy people engaging in the society through healthy attitude with healthy ambitions.
You may wonder if this is the case why there are a lot of Muslim women failing to comply with Islam teachings? Are they that difficult or oppressive?
The answer is “not at all!” The riddle is “you want the world or the Hereafter”? Intentions are the most important thing in Islam and they must be proved through appropriate deeds. But with sincere intentions, for Allah’s sake, then Allah (SWT) would lead this person onto the right path and the Shaitan could not interfere. But when intentions are driven towards materialistic desires the Shaitan influence becomes stronger and the person have difficulty complying even with the simplest teachings of Islam.
For instance, the simple order of not to drink alcoholic beverages, if you are not an addict complying is easy. If you do not live in a society that encourage drinking and you find hard time reaching them it would be even easier. But it is not. If your intention to keep away from liquors is not for Allah’s sake then you would find yourself madly driven towards breaking the rules.
Men also avoid any clash with face veiled women in public places because he knows that any religious man who witnesses the scene would immediately interfere leading to serious consequences if this interference became violent.
Muslims according to Islam teachings must reverse any unjust doing they witness. But as this rule is more applicable to women that must be protected against any difficult or humiliating situations to avoid breaking her heart or hurting their feelings, men tends to be more responsive to interfere in such circumstances.
A face veiled woman waiting in a queue to buy traditional fast food for instance, could easily find someone from the store taking her order and bring it to her to prevent leaving her waiting surrounded with men.
Religious men tend not to look in the eyes of a face veiled woman in a gesture of respect.
Face veiled women seem to be an acute reminder to the Muslim society of true Islam. Such a reminder ignites actions which may not happen with Muslim women in general.
Why Not Hijab
You can just ask why all this fuss about the face veil isn’t the hijab (the head scarf) enough as it is the obligatory costume?
Hijab was enough in the 80s when women who wore it respected the dress code that comes with it.
Hijab is not just covering the hair. It means covering the neck along with the V shape chest aperture. It also means wearing loose-fitting clothes that do not describe body parts and are not transparent to show what is underneath them.
In the late 90s some parents were eager to get their daughters to wear Hijab but did not do it through religious awareness. They just insisted on the head scarf. So, their daughters wore the head scarf to relief their parents worries then broke all the rules even rules that goes beyond dress codes. Since then, Hijab became not enough in the eyes of the Middle Eastern societies whether for men or women. They both, after a while, felt that the head scarf lost its meaning. They lost trust in women wearing hijab.
Now, trust is restored to a certain extent but still women wearing a face veil are highly ranked although others with Hijab may, in fact, be more religious.
Teachings vs Reality
Many people (even Muslims) think that Islam encourages segregation and that religious Muslim women must stay at home deprived from any social life except with her husband or children and limit her outdoor activities.
But this is only a distorted side of the truth. Women are not forced to stay at home at all, but they have the choice to stay in case they felt uncomfortable while working or having outdoor activity of any kind. If they felt violated they may stay at home.
In other words, they are not financially obligated to withstand any abuse to be able to finance her family. Her husband is responsible for her financial needs. And if she wasn’t married then her father or brother has this responsibility as a part of a highly nested net of social cohesion within the Muslim community.
Despite this, you could see in the Muslim community women who suffers from events that contradict this rule, here you will have to remember that not all Muslims are practicing Islam as they should.
The role of women in the society in general is extended. The only obstacles she could encounter is her own safety. But the technological development allowed Muslim women to have a working career from home through the Internet.
What you must know is that they have their own choices. They may stay at home or work outdoors or have whatever activity she pleases as long as it is safe.
Are they special?
Face veiled women are labeled as religiously perfect women but are they truly so?
This question is so important because sometimes you can meet a face veiled woman anywhere and notice that her attitude is offending and that she is doing something really wrong. At this time, you just say that Islam is a very offending religion or that its ethics is very false.
Mostly, face veiled women are Muslim women who are trying to do their best. Unfortunately, some others are just driven by the prestige of it without being that religious. Women also could choose the face veil as the fastest way to relieve their mind and put it at rest for feeling guilty through the easiest change which is clothes. But sometimes, it is more a tradition than strong belief. Some other times it is just shyness. A woman could wear it for long and feel shy to remove it. It becomes a part of her, but this is simply her right. Western women do not all wear Bikinis although they do not have any restriction but people respect those women’s shyness.
In the end, you cannot really tell until you know the person and compare his behavior to the teachings of the Quran. If they are somewhat similar then this is a true Muslim who is trying hard. And if it was different then this woman is considered a disobedient Muslim. Thus, her attitude is very specific to her personality and has nothing to do with Islam.
This means if you wanted to know about Islam just go to the origin, the Quran, and the Sunna and do not build your impression on bad publicity from controversial sources or from an individual Muslim that could have done something wrong in front of you.
Why refuse to unveil?
You may wonder, if the face veil is optional why women refuse to remove it when she is asked to?
There are several answers for this question depending on how a face veiled woman perceives it.
First: When the face veil is optional but then I chose it, then I want people to respect my decision as long as it does not harm anyone.
Second: To a believer, the optional is obligatory for himself because he wants to do his best to please Allah, but he does not obligate others and this is what differentiates a hardliner from a moderate.
Third: Women under Islamic law are very free proud women who cannot tolerate a hate speech ordering her to disobey what she truly believes in. Being aggressive towards a woman with a face veil is putting the entire Muslim community in a state of alert and defense that leave no other option but to stand up and struggle.
If the west has a problem, it is very wise to tackle this problem through building bridges and opening two-way peaceful discussions about point of views and areas of disagreement to be able to reach solutions and yield results, instead of exchanging feelings of hate and rage that is not healthy to either parties.