Choosing to Wear the Hijab

beach niqab

I must say I like the way this scene from an Egyptian beach combines Islamic sexual morality which a complete and utter lack of modesty. A psychologist would have a field day, especially if the be-niqab’d woman’s husband was accompanying her in shorts and a tight-fitting t-shirt: no doubt gazing longingly at her coquettishly revealed wrists.

A recent article in the Global Post states some 90% of Egyptian women wear some form of headcovering. I find this incredible to believe, as this represents the Muslim proportion. If I were shown convincing data, detailing precisely which pieces of apparel are worn and in what settings and for what periods, I would happily stand corrected.

Sarah El Sirgany

The article focuses on Sarah el-Sirgany (shown left), from an affluent family and graduating from the American University of Cairo, who was refused entry to a Cairo restaurant as she was wearing a headscarf:

She walked the gangplank of one of the Nile’s posh boats and asked the manager of the restaurant inside to lead her to her friends’ table.

“The bouncer at the door told me I can’t get in,” she said. “Honestly, it was too late into the night to get into an argument. But it was infuriating. I just told my friends to come out to meet me.”

In all honesty, I have as much sympathy for el-Sirgany as I did for two female Police sergeants and one Police Community Support Officer from Sheffield who donned Islamic dress to “understand how Muslim feel”; that is, not much.

She patently was not refused entry due to an integral quality, such as her gender or ethnicity. She was not even refused entry due to her being a Muslim. She was refused entry due to her choice of apparel. And it is for the proprietors of private establishments to deem which dress-code is adhered to.

As far as I can tell, el-Sirgany is, like the Police sergeants and PSCO mentioned above, already enjoys a position of authority and relative wealth. Conscious choices to don such apparel, and remove it when they please (as implicitly suggested of el-Sirgany in the article) are freely open to them; not necessarily to the women at the lower-rungs of society, which they apparently empathize with.

This would definitely include voiceless Egyptian women in the densely packed inner-cities or rural hinterland, who cannot flit between what appeals to them about different social settings, as well as Muslim and Coptic or non-Muslim Egyptian women who do not wish to be pressured by a growing socially conservative majority.

This came out with the spanking Naomi Wolf receivedl, and rightfully continues to receive following her article in the Sydney Morning Herald which argued that “behind the veil lies a thriving Muslim sexuality”.

egypt niqab

Well, y-e-e-e-e-s… there are gradations of modesty shown by women wearing Islamic apparel. Staring with el-Sirgany herself, who can be seen to be wearing close-fitting and brightly-coloured clothing as opposed to the black and shapeless sheets.

Another scene from an Egyptian street (right) shows a woman who is presumably more comfortably dressing modestly and not flaunting her female wiles, but does not require a head-covering to emphasize this.

Funnily, Phyllis Chesler who has been married to (and escaped from) a Afghan Muslim has a less-than-charitable view of Wolf’s doe-eyed boneheadedness:

Most Muslim girls and women are not given a choice about wearing the chador, burqa, abaya, niqab, jilbab, or hijab (headscarf), and those who resist are beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered by their own families. Is Wolfe thoroughly unfamiliar with the news coming out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan on these very subjects? Has she forgotten the tragic, fiery deaths of those schoolgirls in Saudi Arabia who, in trying to flee their burning schoolhouse, were improperly veiled and who were beaten back by the all-powerful Saudi Morality Police?. . . .

Wolf claims that she donned a “shalwar kameez and a headscarf” for a trip to the bazaar. I suggest that Wolf understand that the shalwar kameez and headscarf that she playfully wore in Morocco are not the problem.

I wonder how Wolf would feel if she’d donned a burqa, chador (full body bags) or niqab (face mask) for that same trip; how well she would do in an isolation chamber that effectively blocked her five senses and made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to communicate with others?

And, by the way, the eerie effect, ultimately, of shrouded women is that they become invisible. They cease to exist.

Although I fear that Chessler sometimes segues towards essentializing all Muslims, I would be prepared to argue the case with her. Not so with Wolf’s smug neo-puritanism (Ophelia Benson says things so I do not have to: clean hands).

El-Sirgany chooses to wear the hijab. Many millions of women, such as Lubna Hussein do not have this luxury (choice, that is). They should be protected.

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2 Responses to “Choosing to Wear the Hijab”

  1. realist Says:

    that “Egyptian street” is actually a picture of one of the main streets in Birmingham City Centre, my hometown. And more than likely that woman is of Sikh / Hindu / Buddhist origin since most Muslim Asian women in Birmingham of that age do not dress in such a manner.

  2. efrafandays Says:

    Hmmm, I have no reason to doubt you… the pair at the top left didn’t look like tourists, but I’d taken it on trust from my source of the photograph.

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