There are so many ways to tackle this topic many of which can easily be biased or stereotypical. However, what we should be trying to do is to look at this issue in an open-minded manner, trying to understand how certain women choose to wear and then remove their veil. In this article I will use the world veil, not in an attempt to westernize it but rather because the word ‘hijab’ was never mentioned in the Holy Quran in any context to describe women’s clothing.
For many Egyptian women, there are certain social milestones that they seek to achieve in life; marriage, children, and getting veiled. The number of women who have been fulfilling the veil milestone has been on the rise for the past couple of decades, yet another trend is slowly emerging, that is women who decide to take off their veil.
Aside from religious views and social judgments, the trend is worthy of exploring as it definitely gives us some insight into the way women’s culture is starting to change.
Yasmine El Sherbiny, a development executive, has been wearing the veil for several years. She started wearing it because she wanted to become consistent with herself through fully obeying the teachings of Islam. However, Yasmine thinks that there may be other reasons why women wear the veil in lower social classes, “I think in these classes women are brought up and ordered to wear the veil and sometimes even wear it out of fear of being criticized by their surrounding community”. Indeed in many modest social classes women cannot face society without the veil, and women who are not veiled take the step in order to attract suitors.
On the subject of women removing their veil she says, “I think some women are hasty when they wear it and even when they remove it. Before wearing the veil some women are confused about the real reasons behind their decision and cannot determine if it is because of their own true belief and how it will bring them closer to Allah or if it is to please their family or community”.
On the other side of the spectrum, H.G, a 27-year-old teaching assistant currently studying for her PhD. in the US has been wearing the veil since puberty and decided to take it off a few months ago. Her upbringing in Saudi Arabia and her religious parents gave her no other choice but to wear it, and she never got the chance to think for herself if it was a choice she wanted to make.
“I’m not claiming that my choice is the best nor am I attacking other people’s beliefs. I simply reached a realization that I could not continue to wear it to please society which categorizes women into those who wear the veil (good women) and those who don’t (incomplete women who lack guidance). I demand people’s respect and I earn it by showing integrity, honesty, and modesty in external appearance. I am simply being myself and being comfortable in my own skin”.
Clearly the veil has moved from being a purely religious obligation (as mainstream religious views believe) to a cultural norm and a form of social classification. Yet aside from social pressures, women are increasingly starting to challenge mainstream views and look at the veil in a totally new light. H.G is convinced that the veil is not a major obligation for Muslim women as is propagated, “I’ve read many arguments and “tafseers” (interpretations of the Quran), and I think the common notion that not wearing the veil is an unforgivable sin is overrated. I decided that I could not keep deceiving myself anymore by staying veiled just because most people say that it is the only right thing”.
H.G is not alone in this struggle to come to terms with her true identity. I have personally suffered from the constant pressure society places on women to get veiled, making them feel incomplete if they don’t. Being a newcomer to Egypt 10 years ago and subconsciously wanting to fit in, feel good about myself, and feel more secure about my religious practices I decided to wear the veil–after all almost all women I knew were veiled. I would constantly hear comments such as “when will you get veiled?”, “you will look wonderful in the veil”, “It is ok, take you time, you will do it sooner or later”. However as time passed and as I began to understand how so much unjustified emphasis has been placed on the veil as a religious and social obligation for women, I became less and less convinced that I was doing the right thing for myself. I also became more socially and religiously secure, that I didn’t need the veil to belong anymore.
It is now becoming more evident that whether their reason to wear the veil was religious or social, women are increasingly re-thinking their choices. Unfortunately though, society does not always give them a break. Women who get veiled are always congratulated, yet once a veiled woman decides to uncover her hair she is greeted with appalled looks, negative comments, and judgments. The point here is not whether or not the veil is mandatory (a settled issue for some and a debatable issue for others), but that women should be free to choose without any pressure. Society does not put so much pressure over Muslims who drink or commit other sins -possibly because they can be committed discretely-, so why do women have to feel such pressure if they decide to take off their veil or even get pressurized into wearing it?
In the end we are all entitled to our beliefs and our practices. We do not have the right to judge other people and should not be pressuring them conform to our beliefs no matter what they are. So whether you are veiled, not veiled, want to get veiled, want to take off your veil, the most important thing is that you are comfortable with who you are, and that your outer appearance is a genuine expression of your true identity and beliefs.