Veil or not to Veil

Nobody likes to argue or discuss serious subjects like local traditions and religious injunctions with the people one happens to meet in the departure lounge of an airport. But there are occasions when you feel drawn to an argument or debate against your best judgment, as I learned at the lounge of the Riyadh airport last week.

Most of the passengers at the airport were people going to Makkah to perform Umrah. Whether locals or those coming from abroad, men in ihraam and women in pure white garbs have always fascinated me. They are a reminder that although there may be a lot of evil people in the world, there are many more who are good. They come from far-away lands and endure all kinds of hardships to reach out to Allah and ask for His blessings and forgiveness and pray for the good of mankind. They also remind us (Saudis) of how blessed we are to be part of this holy land and be able to perform Umrah whenever we wish - especially when you are someone like me who lives in Jeddah.

Yes, we the people who inhabit this land are privileged. Should not this make us all the more responsible to honour the holy places and save Islam from those who distort it or misinterpret its teachings? My thoughts were running along these lines when three women wearing the niqab (full veil that left only the eyes uncovered) walked into the ladies lounge.

There were a few pamphlets on the table about Haj and Umrah and one of the women reached for one pamphlet and started reading it aloud. Apparently, they were going to Makkah for Umrah and wanted to know as much about the rituals of Umrah as possible. I could not help but listen to their conversation, with great interest at first and with a little bewilderment later. I guessed that the woman who was reading was the mother of the other two. She was eager to inform her daughters about the important rulings for women performing the Haj and Umrah. She stressed that one of the essential guidelines mentioned in the pamphlet was the need for women to cover their faces completely during Umrah and not to wear the niqab that shows their eyes through slits.

When I heard that, I could not keep quiet. I interrupted to say that this was not true and it is a clear distortion of all the religious teachings that I was taught and raised with and I indicated that I was born in Makkah and my uncle was one of Saudi Arabia's prominent judges and a scholar who taught in the Holy Mosque. As a little girl I used to accompany him on Umrahs. I know for a fact that women are forbidden to cover their faces during Haj and Umrah. 

However, the mother pointed out that the author of one of the pamphlets too was a prominent religious scholar in Saudi Arabia. I urged them not to believe those who follow their own rulings and disregard the four Muslim schools of thought. The mother had no comment; however the girls answered me in a very friendly manner and said that people in the Makkah region have different beliefs and a lifestyle that does not compel them to cover their faces. 

I argued that I respect their culture and their way of life; however, when it comes to religious teachings we should abide by Islamic rulings and not allow customs and traditions to disregard what is in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. I continued to argue my point with one of the women who was soft-spoken and a charming conversationalist. However, I was taken aback when she told me that she was a graduate of microbiology from the US. I could not believe that a woman with her educational background and her exposure to such societies could cling to such rigid notions.

Although she was highly educated, she was blindly following the instructions of the hard-line religious scholars of her region that women should be completely veiled and that they should remain faceless even during Umrah and Haj when in fact, according to the Sunnah, a woman should sacrifice a lamb in atonement for the violation of covering her face. At this point, the elderly lady read another guideline that she thought was equally important for us to know. She said women should not wear white clothes during Haj and Umrah because that would be emulating the ihraam clothes that men wear during pilgrimage. This was another baseless fact. All of us, I said, including women from all over the world wear white clothes when they perform Haj or Umrah. It is a symbol of purity, nothing more. There is nothing wrong or indecent in sharing the white colour with men. Why should it be forbidden or frowned upon? Before I could hear their answer we had to leave the room, as it was time to board the plane.

I felt really sad and frustrated with these women who, no matter how educated, are still being brainwashed by hard-liners who want them to remain faceless and shrouded in black. I had dreams of a new generation of educated Saudi women who would lead the Muslim women and debate issues that promote peace and global prosperity, rather than indulge in superficial rulings that serve no purpose. We need Muslim scholars to encourage Saudi women to contribute positively to the Saudi culture and to the image of the global Muslim society. This negative image of women who do not care to assert their identity has harmed Islam the world over. 

Our scholars must give their blessings to allow Saudi professional women to be part of the international community and appear in proper hijab and be distinguished in adopting fashions that include contemporary, yet conservative, styles representing modest Muslim women. It is unfortunate that there are many in our society who criticise women who wear abayas that are more elegant. The official code of dress continues to be something that should be unattractive to look at. How sad! In my book and according to the majority of Muslim women in the world, this is totally un-Islamic. There are so many interpretations of what is appropriate for Muslim women to wear; however being faceless and shrouded in black should not be an option.

We need to correct the image of Saudi women who have unfortunately become the symbol of all Muslim women in the global community. We must put a stop to the wrong preaching and the brainwashing that goes on isolating Muslim women from the rest of the world. Our scholars must decide on a more appropriate dress code for the Saudi woman enabling her to lead and command the respect of all Muslims and help her assert her identity as an equal partner in the international community. The government must stop the distribution of these pamphlets that convey a distorted interpretation of Islam. The moderate and more enlightened scholars need to speak out against the preaching of scholars who issue baseless fatwas that are adopted by the masses in this country.

Many Muslims today hold it against us Saudis for spreading a rigid interpretation of Islam and influencing innocent and ignorant Muslims who are under the impression that Saudi scholars could never say anything that is wrong. It is time we addressed these issues before more harm is inflicted on Muslims and Islam. 

Samar Fatany is a Saudi radio journalist. She is based in Jeddah and can be contacted at [email protected]

Source: Khaleej Times

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Older Comments:
I wish the author had done her research a little better. Aisha (RAA) and Asma (RAA) both covered thier faces in Ihraam while with they were with Rasulullah (SAW), so who knows the deen better Aisha and Asma (RAA) or the author?

i think what the west need to learn is that one of the greatest religion inthe world or the universe have been miss uderstood in the west I support this theory but i thing the west is coming to know this religion prety well in the last eight years or so thanks aslama calkum brotherns

Muslim women should say YES to hijab because it 's a sign of modesty & piety & liberates them from today's capitalism human meat markets. They should also say NO to niqab because niqab was & should 've been understood as a temporary solution to the phenomenon of rape in Madinah during the reigh of malik al-aws wal khazraj, Abdullah bnu Ubay Bnu Salool (the head of the Munafiqeen) in Madinah. Today, Niqab is a sign of obscurantism & extremism. It does not prevent rape as it did for Al-Ansar wal Muhajireen in the dawn of Islam, it now invites trouble & possibly rape too but certainly hatred of Muslim men & women. Allah does not need women's niqab & the ria (showing off piety). He wants their true piety, modesty, sincerity & Ikhlaas!!!
Allah said in the Holy Quaran: "Wal asri inna l-insaana la fi khusrin illa ladheena aamanu wa amiloo salihaati wa tawasaw bil haqi wa tawasaw bisabr" Allah spoke the Truth
Imam Safii said if Allah revealed this surat alone it will be sufficient to summarize the whole qu'ran.
Pls note that Allah did not say in this Surat
Illa ladeen labasoo niqaba wa afaw ani lihaa.
May Allah guide us to his path and give most Muslims a brain to use & some common sense!!!

B.C. FROM U.S. said:
As said by a previous poster, this article is dangerous to put on a prominent website. It is ignorant and misinformed. Not sure if I should trust Islamicity for information anymore.

The vast majority of scholars have agreed that niqab is not an islamic requirement. All legal school agree on this, with the exception of a minority position within the Hanbali school. Many actually consider niqab an innovation (bida). Niqab is defended only by a small minority of scholars that hold extreme views in other respects and whose level of scholarship leaves much to be desired.


I was pleasantly surprised to see such a sensitise topic being addressed and to see so many Muslims agreed. Faces show expression and really humanise people. All the same I think women who want to cover their faces should feel free to, but I don't think they should take such offence when asked to remove the cover if they are in a bank or airport, no one else gets to stay covered. I'm also against the idea that anyone against veils gets labelled an islamophobic raciest. I remember one guy on tv who did just that and made it seem like the man who complained had been trying to provoke a war.
There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, complaining about how SOME of them dress does not automatically mean you totally hate all of them.

The author looks like a confused person who wants to follow islam but at the same time wants it to do it the western way. There are many muslims who are as much confused. This article just suits their taste and hence so many "agree". Women can be leaders by adopting the commands of Allah and sunnah of Rasulullah. This notion that they cannot succeed and so they should bend the rules to succeed comes from this confusion. The author herself acknowledges that the ladies that she spoke to were well educated.....and she was shocked to know that. "I was taken aback..." suggests she was expecting some uneducated, backward women wearing the veil.... Anyways to cut the story short the fatwa is that 'women should cover their faces in Haj and Umra with out the cloth touching their faces' which is evident from the saying of Aisha RA, that the women who went with Rasulullah SAWS used to cover their faces by drawing down the head cover (without touching the face) whenever they saw a male person passing by or approaching. This is to protect men and women from fitna and keep their hearts clean. I wonder how the author relates this to Scholars giving liberation to women - "Saudi professional women to be part of the international community".

How do you describe modesty when you have one view of what modesty is and some have a different view. Thats where we have to turn to our role models in Sahaba and Sahabiyyath (RA).


I completely agree with you. I grew up in the US. My parents were not strict Muslims so the only impression I had of Muslim women was that of the ones wearing a black niqab. However this summer I went to Egypt and saw so many young Muslim ladies wearing colorful , stylish , and conservative hijabs. I really felt proud. The main problem is the misinterpretation of the Qu'ran and the amalgamation of culture and religion. One does not have to give up the beauty of color and life to be a good Muslim; Being a good Muslim entails that we live in moderation not extremism.

the women movement in Saudi can not be seprated different than Democracy for Saudi's by Saudis
however, the women movement has to work harder and do educational works on Womens rights in Islam
it takes time but needs more sophisticated work by Saudi's women .

In the Prophet Mohammd's time , women are participating at the mosques and asking questions directly from him and sometimes chalenging him , too.
Allah Created men and women equal.

As the author says, the best picuture of women in during the Haj , the women can not cover the face , and hands and feet , and they are along side of men.
then the veil is aginst Islamic and Prophet Mohaamd(S).

another point , the women in Saudi are not symbol of Islamic women in the world and Islamic world.
however, the women has to connect to other Mulsim women within the Islamic world and the progressive women organization
but be careful to adapt Saudi model for the Saudi's women .
women are able to do so.

As a male Muslim convert from the West I know
that I cannot speak to this issue in the way that
a woman can as I am not faced with the question
of hijab (although we Men are supposed to dress
modestly as well). I can, however, speak to what
the Quran teaches (which I understand as non-
compulsory hijab with no mention of face
covering). I can also speak to the fact that the
Prophet's relationship to Kadijah (who was his
employer before his wife) and her role not only
as a judge but as a military leader, the fact
that women are allowed to own property and
businesses that their husbands don't have any
claim to (and yet the same conventions are not
applied to the men) indicate that the social
contract of Men's responsibilities to women to
not inply what I see in the majority of the
Muslim world. What I do see covert Arab
nationalism and over-reliance on scholars (when
the Quran specifically tells us that the people
of the book wronged themselves when they did not
reference the words of Allah for themselves but
rather relied on their scholars) that, in some
regards, is hindering the ability for Islam to be
recognized as the universal religion that it is.
The Quran, revealed over 27 years, corrected ages
of injustices practiced throughout the region,
established women's rights, addressed many human
rights issues, and re-defined slavery in a way to
where it is only recognizable by name well before
other "progressive" cultures even had the notion
to do these things. It is frustrating that I do
not see these things in the way that many
primarily Muslim regions are represented
(although the media may be partly to blame as I
have not traveled much)

There a lot of idiot Muslims, who think they know too much about Islam and cover themselves so much they turn themselves into object of sex. They hide and also flee from opposite sex instead of proudly and bravely holding their grounds.

In contrast, a lot of so called "progressive and modern Muslims", they turn themselves into sluts in the name of freedom and good time.

Don't be one of those Muslims who sleep with infidels (i.e.-Husni Mubarak, Hamid Karzai and Saudi Royal Family and many Muslim individuals in the West) and claim to be Muslims & Don't be one of those Muslims who say Inshallah or salamu alaikum 5 times in 15 seconds when talking to someone...Everything has a limit.

Soln: use your own brains and think whatever you do! and avoid the extremes.


This seems to be another person wanting to "liberate" women by westernizing them. Sure, more education has to happen to give correct Islamic interpretation and understanding. However, this does not mean that the Saudis have everything wrong and the "educated and enlightened West" have it right. In response to the authors quote, "It is unfortunate that there are many in our society who criticize women who wear abayas that are more elegant", I would have to say that those critics are correct. The point of wearing an abaya is to not draw attention to yourself. Having glitter and designs on your abaya does not achieve this. The author goes onto say, "The official code of dress continues to be something that should be unattractive to look at". Yes, that is true because you are not supposed to be attracting people with your clothing. I would say that sisters need to reflect upon what it is that they are trying to achieve through their clothing. Do we expect to be taken seriously as leaders based upon our outward appearance? Islam gives women a chance to have a voice without attaching it to the external. This is a beautiful thing and something that western women have actually been fighting for. Women should be concerned with attracting people with their actions. This is what Allah would love. Our actions and words are what we take with us, all else is temporary and really meaningless. Perhaps the author would have had a more meaningful discussion with the women at the airport had she been able to move beyond what she was seeing on the outside. It is this type of thinking that is more oppressive to women than the hard-line scholars that the author speaks so harshly against. To her the women were just a veil -meaning- that they obviously were uneducated about their faith and therefore lacked importance or depth on any subject. We need to rethink this type of judgment because it is just as blind and harmful to Muslims and Islam.

In this debate, lets not forget the real essesnce of Hijab. Hijab of eyes(seeing), nose (smelling), tongue (speaking), ears (hearing) and body (touching) is far more imporant than merely covering the face and body with pieces of loose cloth. I am not saying that dressing moderately does not matter - just emphasizing the importance of the spiritualistic aspects of Hijab over the ritualistic aspects of Hijab.
The real debate is what should come first - spiritual aspects or ritual aspects. The image of the Muslims around the world is not gauged by how we dress but how we act!!!

Thank you for the excellent article with which I fully agree. As a practising Muslimah, I say to all the sisters: Let us cover our heads but keep our minds open.

Muslim women should be attractively modest to invite all the world to establish the Kingdom of Islam. Women world wide should want to dress as we do. Covering except for face and hands should be a standard. The world will be more attracted to Islam by a better visual impression of women believers.

I totally agree with the author and would like to take this opportunity to commend her for her sensible and enlightened commentary. For too long we have been placing our faith in the sayings of our local imams. We should all take the time to read the Quran and understand it ourselves and then study the hadeeth to deepen our understanding. Nowhere in the Quran does it say that muslim women have to cover themselves up in such a way that even their faces are covered. Islam is a religion of simplicity not complications and unfortunately we muslims tend to focus on the superficial more than the spiritual.

Thank you for your article. I for one am not shy about expressing my disgust with the perversion of my beautiful religion by these "scholars" who are nothing more than demagogues. I won't place all the blame on Saudi's though. We have this problem all over the world within our community, and it is up to us to bring people back to the true message of Islam, a universal, freedom inspiring, and uplifting faith.

Please tell me where in the Sunnah I can find the statements about a woman needing to sacrifice a lamb in violation for covering her face.

Islam is about the middle road not left or right. It's about making it easy yet following the rules. The sunnah and the quran say it all. We can't innovate anything else. Look at the condition of muslims worldwide. Muslims are being watched. Islam is a beautiful religion. We need to live a life that exemplifies this. We need a voice and not sit and watch. We need to educate all and show who we are. Forget criticizing each other. This slows down progress. There is too much jahilia around. That's what gets us in trouble. It's people who think they know islam but are farthest away from it. They are causing damage to all of us. If half of the muslims are completely veiled and placed in the home how will islam succeed? Take this from a hijab wearing doctor please. I do dawah on a daily basis. -Salaam

Although i say i am indifferent, i actually do not fully understand the authors stance on this subject. Does she not agree with the veil at all, or does she just say it should'nt be worn for umra and hajj? i follow the Hanafi Fiqh, and although i do not cover my face, women that i know who do, go for umra and cover their faces, but do not allow the cloth to touch their faces, if it does, they have to pay the penalty.
However if the author is saying the face veil is not necessary or that it rids a women of her identity, i would have to totally disagree with her. that is totally baseless.
"being faceless and shrouded in black should not be an option" this opinion is very wrong, just because she thinks this, does not mean all muslims hold her opinion. That is very naive. i wear a black abaya and sometimes a black scarf outside, does that make me have no identity?
"The official code of dress continues to be something that should be unattractive to look at" the whole point of a jilbab/Abaya/Hijab is to make you less attractive/ unattractive to men, so of course it should stay that way, however it does not need to be frumpy, it could be made very elegant.
However i do agree with the Author that all muslims all over the world should not BLINDLY follow Saudi, if they choose to follow Saudi, they should follow carefully ensuring all they practice is True Islam.

I think this article is well done and informative. As an American Convert I feel that I very often need to investigate what is cultural and a tradtition for certain areas of the Ummah and what is perscribed and Sunnah. It is very confusing to know what is and is not cultural, but it is something for me, that should be more openly addressed by the scholars. I think the more that one sticks to the Quran and the Sunnah the more open the outside observer will be, to be inquisitive and "interested".

May the blessings of this month be with you. I was so happy to read your article on Islamicity and at the same time very sad because it is a true reflection of how Islam is interpreted through out the world especially when it comes to issues that affect women.Daily we face issues that are presented as Islam but are usually the distorted views of Islam mixed with culture and traditions. I am hoping we will be the new women or at least our children to come will lead this fight and correct these views on an international scale. Yes I agree I don't have to dress in black all the time, I can look beautiful because you can only find beauty in modesty.

salam and enjoy the rest of the blessed month