By Maram Alabassi
The aim of hijab is to cover women’s hair, which would typically tempt and attract men, many say. Hijab is a head cover in which the neck, hair and ears are covered but not the face. The niqab or veil covers most of the face except for a slot for the eyes. It is familiar to anyone in living in Yemen, where it is widely practiced.
History behind the Veil
Since Islam was established in the seventh century, coverings like the veil have played a significant role and have become a widespread custom in the Arabian Peninsula.
Since its founding, Islam has grown to become one of the major world religions. As it spread through the Middle East to Africa, Asia and other societies, it included veiling customs.
By the second half of the nineteenth century liberals began to reject what they considered oppressive, conservative clothing. This group was influenced by western culture, and wanted to drive their countries toward a more western society in style. One important step was to free women from conservative clothing, particularly, the veil which was thought of as a way to deny women their individual identity.
In the sixties, seventies and early eighties in Yemen, in the wake of nationalist and liberation movements, women started neglecting the veil as well as the hijab,” explained Adulsalam Almekhlafi, a lecturer of Islamic Studies at Sana’a University.
“Then in the nineties, Islamic awareness reemerged and women committed to the veil again,” he continued.
Many Yemeni women say that society has been unjust to them. Some women say that they do not wear the veil by choice and are forced to cover their faces. Other women say that they wear the veil because they choose to do so. They believe that the veil symbolizes decency and piety.
“Some would ask why any woman would want to cover her face,” Sana’a University graduate Siham Morshed said.
“I choose to wear it myself and I am convinced that the veil is good for women,” Morshed said.
Most Muslim scholars argue that hijab is required for all Muslim women as indicated in the Koran. Most scholars also consider hijab to be the modest dress intended in the Koran, not the veil.
“Veil is considered to be Sunnah, not an obligation,” Almekhlafi said.
“All women are required to do is to observe modesty in the way they clothe and behave,” said Safa’a Alraee, a student at Sana’a University. “The veil says nothing about how decent and modest you are.”
“We have to cultivate decency and piety in our minds before we advertise it on our faces,” said Khawlah Darm, a student at Sana’a University.
It’s well known that employers prefer unveiled workers to veiled ones. For that reason, there is a growing trend of women who wear the veil except in the workplace.
“I definitely disagree with those who believe that girls that don’t wear the consistently are doing something inappropriate,” Sana’a University student Hadeel Alhemri said. Employment circumstances force women to behave this way, she said.
Work is just not as accessible to veiled women as it to unveiled women, concurred fellow student, Heba Aldobhani.
Some women believe that veiling limits women’s freedom.
“Veil hinders women’s freedom and progress, nowadays, it restricts which jobs are available to her.”
“Veiling should come about as a religious desire, not a social pressure. If it’s a social pressure it becomes something superficial,” Abdulateef Taher, an Islamic Studies lecturer at Sana’a University said.
Siham Alamri wonders if veiling loses its purpose when it makes women more attractive and tempting then they actually are.
“If women wear veils over their faces to avoid attracting and tempting men, what about those who look very attractive in veils but they are actually not.”
It’s unclear whether veiling will be a prominent custom in a decade or two, but it enjoys widespread popularity today, so society should aim to end discrimination against veiled women while also reducing social pressures to be veiled, many of the women said.