One of the more contentious points of Islamic culture, from a Western point of view, is the wearing of the hijab. While it is an issue receiving international attention, with France having outlawed it completely, we’ve had our own, more personal experiences with it here during our travels and daily life in the Middle East.
First, some definition of terms usually used rather loosely in the West:
Advertisement for Wild Wadi Waterpark in the UAE.
– Burka: the long, draping outer body covering, also sometimes called a jelaba or ghalabia especially when worn by men
– Hijab: covering for the head
– Niqab: covering or veil over the face
The wearing of these traditional garments varies from place to place in the Middle East and even from sect to sect within a country, or region, according to that sect’s interpretation and adherence to tradition. Where this tradition springs from is briefly but nicely reviewed, with excerpts from relevant Islamic sources, in this article from Emory University.
As for our personal experience: here in Oman some women wear it, some do not. Foreign women are not compelled. Muslim women seem to chose for themselves or adhere to the values inculcated in them as a part of their family upbringing. In other countries, like Morocco, the hijab is rarely seen. Or, on the opposite end, in Saudi Arabia it is mandated for all women, non-Muslims included (although, somewhat surprisingly, most western women we met generally did not wear a head covering, and were not often reprimanded for it by the Mutawwa, the Saudi religious police . . . ) My wife, Angie, actually enjoyed wearing the full body covering, feeling (for once) like she wasn’t being stared at and, moreover, feeling releaved at not having to wear make-up, nice clothes, etc. I think she spent all our time in Riyadh clothed in a yoga outfit, her very favorite choice of apparel, tucked away under the burka!
Best of all, and perhaps most in-line with other Not Quite Right observations here, is the photo above, a quick shot Angie took of an advertisement she saw for a waterpark in the UAE. It seems, at first, to be tongue-in-cheek with the woman wearing a fluffy pink towel in place of the usual black facial covering. But, really, it is serious. No men allowed. Women only. The fine print makes an allowance for boys under 8 years old entering the park on these particular Thursday nights in the company of their moms, but only if they can provide proof of their age!