Thursday, February 23, 2006

Undercover

I thought I would head over to Al-Muhajabah Global this morning to see what was going on with Dennis Kucinich and Wes Clark and also found this story of Georgetown student, Kerry McIntosh and her experience spending the day dressed in a full Islamic veil in Cairo.

Wearing a veil is nothing out of the ordinary in Cairo, as many Muslim women wear the “hijab,” a scarf that covers the hair. The niqab, meanwhile, is worn by fewer women and covers the wearer’s head and face completely, except for an oblong slit at the eyes (think Zorro mask meets bridal veil.) Many women who wear the niqab also wear gloves, leaving virtually none of their skin exposed.

The niqab has caused controversy in Egypt in recent years, with its growing popularity among Egyptian women of all social classes increasingly seen by many in the secular government as a sign of a grassroots resurgence of more conservative strains of Islam. Egyptian courts have ruled that the wearing of the niqab is not specified as a duty in Islam, and therefore public institutions have a right to ban it. Many private institutions have banned the niqab as well, including the American University in Cairo.

Theological reasons for wearing the niqab in Islam are complex and numerous. The increasing popularity of the niqab and other more conservative forms of women’s dress may also reflect a backlash against the Western conceptualization of feminism and the objectification of women’s bodies in both Arabic and Western pop cultures.

The niqab can also be worn for more practical reasons. In Egypt, men vastly outnumber women in nearly every public setting, and even the most modestly dressed woman on the street is not immune to the incessant hissing, catcalls and sexual comments from men.


Kerry sums up her experience:

The niqab just wasn’t me. In my first semester I had gotten so used to my role as a Western student in Cairo, in filling that piece in the intricate puzzle that is Egyptian society and in all that came with it — from the hissing and comments to the assumptions that I spoke only English — that I just couldn’t pull off such a drastic role change. I only lasted three hours in the niqab before I opted to take it off and continue exploring the market as my normal, Western self.

To wear such a covering, to present oneself in such a way, takes an incredible amount of inner conviction, which I lack.

I don't think so.

3 comments:

scarletwoman said...

Found my way here by way of your link in some other blog's comment section (can't remember whose, sorry), and am delighted to have come across this particular article.

I do not understand the declaration you posted at the end of the excerpts: " I don't think so."

What don't you think is so? That an Egyptian woman choosing to wear the niqab might do so out of posessing "an incredible amount of inner conviction"?

You might have included the excerpts that actually amplified Ms. Mcinthosh's point, namely these two paragraphs:

The niqab can also be worn for more practical reasons. In Egypt, men vastly outnumber women in nearly every public setting, and even the most modestly dressed woman on the street is not immune to the incessant hissing, catcalls and sexual comments from men. The niqab offers a way for women to fully conceal their bodies in hopes of defraying such negative attention and keeping their sexuality hidden from the public eye.

Women who wear the niqab are neither out of touch with modern society nor always conservative when not in public. A friend of mine who frequents a gym popular with upper-class Egyptians recalled once seeing a woman come dressed in full niqab who, once in the privacy of the locker room, stripped down to Spandex shorts and a sports bra. The wearers of the niqab, I feel, are keenly aware of the intricacies and paradoxes of the women’s roles in contemporary Egyptian society, and they choose to dress as they do in order to reshape their role within that society.


I do not know whether you are a woman or a man; however, speaking as a woman, I have no difficulty at all in understanding -- and respecting -- how a woman living in that particular culture might make that choice (to wear the niqab).

elemental said...

Hi scarlet, actually when I said I didn't think so I was referring to Kerry's statement that she felt she lacked inner conviction.

I'm glad you liked the article, I did too and will be posting more these 'life experience' articles as I find them because frankly I need a break from all the shite politics we deal with today so stuff like this is very refreshing and uplifting.

Hopefully you'll stop back by soon and thanks for your insights and for visiting.

scarletwoman said...

Ah, thanks for the explanation.

I'll be sure to stop back, I'm favorably impressed with what I've read so far.