October 19, 2006 9:30 PM
Wearing the veil in the Arab world
Many women struggle with the issues around the veil and the hijab
The Muslim headscarf has become a controversial issue in Britain, with government ministers speaking out against women covering their faces.
BBCArabic.com asked four Muslim women across the Arab world for their experiences of wearing the veil or the hijab.
HUDA, 29, UNIVERSITY STUDENT, SYRIA
I chose to wear the veil or the niqab [a full face covering] as an act of worship.
As a Muslim I believe that women should not only wear the hijab [head covering] but the veil too.
I don’t trust men, and women should protect themselves
Not all women in my family adhere to an Islamic dress code. Indeed some people thought I was going too far in covering my face.
I encountered opposition to my decision, but I insisted on doing what I saw as right.
Thanks to my determination, I succeeded in changing their minds and they now accept me.
I don’t care what those who don’t find my arguments convincing think. I believe that wearing the veil is God’s will.
I don’t trust men, and women should protect themselves.
ALIA, 37, TEACHER, BAGHDAD
I was travelling by coach from Damascus to Baghdad. When we were inside the Iraqi border, our coach was stopped by masked gunmen who boarded the bus.
Once inside, one of them asked us to show him our passports.
The hijab is being forced upon women at gunpoint. Women have no choice but to comply
I knew that he was looking to check who was Sunni and who was Shia – this can sometimes be obvious from people’s surnames.
He asked why I was not wearing the hijab and threatened to kill me if I did not cover up my head.
In fact, I had been wearing the hijab but as it was hot and the coach was dark I felt free to take it off just during the journey.
A Christian Iraqi woman who was travelling with us was also forced to cover her head.
This is what is happening in Iraq where the wearing of the hijab is a recent development.
The hijab is being forced upon women at gunpoint. Women have no choice but to comply.
Personally, I feel restricted when I wear it. I feel as if my personality is taken away.
I feel I have to wear it, but if I had the chance, I wouldn’t because I have faith that God knows what is truly in my heart.
SALWA, 27, CAIRO
My decision to wear the hijab came about because of social pressure.
Before going to university, I did not have a wide social circle. My life was centred on going to school, coming home etc.
Find out about different styles of Muslim headscarf
When I met friends, we did so at either their home or mine.
After going to university and then getting a job, my contact with society around me changed and intensified.
I began to see my society through much more realistic eyes.
I sensed that women who did not wear the Hijab were regarded as not respectable. Society seemed to look on them as if they had something wrong with them.
Women who did not wear the hijab were subject to all sorts of harassment, usually verbal.
Because of this harassment, and to avoid wagging tongues and accusing looks, I decided to wear the hijab.
I have long wished that we did not judge each other on how we looked. I wish we could concern ourselves with what is more important and to discover what lies deeper
It was also a way of getting closer to my God.
Once I covered my head, others changed the way they treated me.
Those who used to criticise me for the slightest thing, became pleasant. The level of harassment decreased.
But I felt guilty that as a human being I was not totally free to make a choice and that I was not wearing the hijab out of deep conviction.
I thought hard about this and felt that we were put on this earth to think. I knew my decision was the wrong decision. I therefore decided to stop wearing the my hijab.
My mother was not happy and we had arguments. I think, however, that now she understands my choice better.
I have long wished that we did not judge each other on how we looked.
I wish we could concern ourselves with what is more important and to discover what lies deeper.
Human beings are much more than their appearance.
ABEER, 33, IRAQI IN KUWAIT
When I was a teenager I hated the hijab and never imagined for one moment that I would be wearing it myself one day.
I resented the hijab at first largely due to the pressure I was under from my family, especially my father, who was not a hard-line about religion at first but became so later when he became disabled.
Once I made the change, I received incredible support from family and colleagues
I always felt that he rejected me for not wearing the hijab.
I refused to wear the Hijab for many years even after I went university. I was enjoying my femininity too much to cover my head.
But I changed my mind when I graduated and entered the world of work where most of my female colleagues wore the hijab.
I felt guilty, especially when the issue of the hijab was discussed by colleagues.
After much thought, I decided to wear the hijab. I am glad I did. Once I made the change, I received incredible support from my family and colleagues.
I began to feel at ease with myself. I stopped feeling guilty. I felt that at last I had fulfilled one of my religion’s requirements.
I don’t look in a negative way at those women who don’t wear the hijab. I respect their choice.
I often say to my teenage sister that she shouldn’t wear the hijab just because I decided to do so.
I want her to feel empowered and to have the freedom to think and the courage to make her own decisions.