To veil or to unveil, this is a dilemma many girls face nowadays. The decision to take off the veil might be even harder. We talked to some women who decided to take off the veil for their own personal reasons to better understand the transformation process as well as their struggles. Do they get to live the glamorous life people think they do or are they blamed upon and suddenly seen as the ultimate sinners?
The first question that comes to mind is what led them to wear the veil to start with. English teacher Amy Wahba tells us, “I was young and I used to take classes at the mosque. I was told after puberty ‘you have to wear it to follow God’”. Jewelry Designer Menna Khalil also wore the veil at a young age, “I was entering college when my beloved grandma passed away; I wore it thinking that this will get me closer to God”.
Peer pressure plays a big role in situations like this. Esraa Abd El Rahman, a Learning Support Assistant says, “I was influenced by many of my school friends when I started high school; I thought to myself ‘I’m not less religious than them, if the veil is the last thing to complement my looks, I’ll put it on’”. Faced by a similar problem, Asmaa Hesham, Social Media Strategist tells us, “I was young and I didn’t really think about it, I was only 15 and it was becoming the trend”.
“Being veiled, you represent Islam and you become a role model, which I never intended to be.”
Being a veiled woman in Egypt isn’t as easy as it seems sometimes. Although society encourages it, sometimes it is less than tolerant. Menna says that she was only faced with this problem once, “I had a birthday in L’Aubergine Heliopolis and the guard told me I couldn’t enter because of the veil. I don’t need to tell you what I did to the guard and the manager. They apologized at the end and asked me to enter, but I refused and wrote an article against them”.
Amy has also faced some discrimination due to her choice to wear the veil, “I travel a lot so you would see people looking at you like an alien”, she tells, “in Egypt when I wanted to swim they would tell me I can’t wear the modest swimsuit at hotels. Even some jobs didn’t want someone who is veiled”.
Some see the veil as being more than just the way you dress, while others think it’s more about your whole life style. Amy explains, “being veiled, you represent Islam and you become a role model, which I never intended to be. I was not doing it properly. I took it off to focus on the more important stuff and find myself in a spiritual journey”. Israa Adly a Business Consultant at EMC Corporations sees that taking off the veil should not diminish how much of a Muslim she is, “I did this for myself, I still pray and do my religious rituals. Removing the veil doesn’t make me less of a Muslim”.
“I took it off for my beliefs, nothing to do with wanting to dress up and go clubbing”
Taking the Decision
Taking the decision to make this transition must not be taken lightly. It took Israa two years to actually go through with it. The same happened with Esraa, she explains, “it was not a sudden decision at all; it was thoroughly thought about and took many observations and thinking. I haven’t discussed it with anyone, as I thought that it’s purely personal”.
“Follow your heart and what you want, not what society dictates you to do”
Being judged is a very common aspect of Egyptian life. And when it comes to the veil in particular, judgment is swift and unmerciful. Menna knows this too well, “I took it off for my beliefs, nothing to do with wanting to dress up and go clubbing”, she tells, “moreover, an amount of my male friends disappointed me as they wanted to date me”.
Faced with a similar problem, Israa explains, “I started surrounding myself with friends who don’t judge so I didn’t get any comments”, she tells, “but guys started hitting on me from my Facebook friends, these are different kind of attacks. It’s a very private and personal choice between me and God. I got reactions at work that made me uncomfortable, staring and comments”.
A piece of advice from women who have been there
“Make sure it’s what you want, don’t rush. Think about it, don’t do it because of the culture or because you can’t enter certain places or do certain things” Asmaa
“I, myself, am confused too; I can’t really give advice, but I would tell her to really think and ask herself why, and if she really thinks wearing the hijab will give her what she’s looking for. Don’t do it to fit in” Amy
“I would tell her to wear it if she is convinced and it will make her happy and comfortable, but if it’s for people like her boyfriend or parents then she will be unhappy over time” Israa
“Follow your heart and what you want, not what society dictates you to do” Menna
“For every girl who intends to wear it, I would advise to be spiritually prepared, expect and accept the fact that she will be criticized for her look, ideas, the places she visits, the friends she makes and to ask herself whether she will feel comfortable wearing it or not, because answering that question will make all the difference. I would give the same tip for every girl who wants to take it off” Esraa