Sunday, June 3, 2007

Forcing Maids to Wear the Veil

I never once considered getting a non-Muslim maid. I think it causes many issues for a non-Muslim maid to work in a Muslim house...especially one with children. One of these issues, although one that I don't think is important enough to write an article about, is with covering in public. This is an issue for most, if not ALL, female ex-pats who come to live/work here as it is for for housekeepers.

Although I've never insisted that my Indonesian housekeeper wear a face-veil in public, we did buy an abaya for her after her arrival in Al-Hassa; a very functional on-the-shoulder one similar to my daughter's. Although I have seen some maids in public without them, they really catch my attention because they stick out. This, in itself, is reason enough for maids to wear abayas in public, in my opinion. My housekeeper already wears a headscarf of her own accord, even around the house since my husband and other males are here and she is a practicing Muslim woman.

Is it so strange to expect an abaya and headscarf to be part of a 'uniform' that maids in Saudia must wear? I had a worse uniform at the first job I worked at as a teenager and I'm sure many of my readers have uniform horror stories of their own:) Why should it be an issue? Couldn't we just chalk it up to being 'part of the job'? After all, they don't need to come here to work, they're all given choices of what country they want to work in before they leave.


Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Headscarf and abaya as a maid's uniform? I'm ok (not great, but ok) with the abaya since it is Saudi culture rather than Islam, but as a Christian, I see the headscarf as a definite Islamic symbol, not as an article of clothing. And for that reason I personally refuse to wear one - ever.

If the maid is a Muslim, that's one thing, but if she is not a Muslim, forcing her to don a religous symbol she does not believe in is wrong - or at least from my point of view.

There's a world of difference between making someone wear a fast food uniform - heck for that matter a Hooter's uniform - and making them wear the symbol of a religion that is in opposition to their beliefs.

Then again, if you truly believe that the headscarf is cultural rather than religious...I suppose it is a different discussion.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

SGIME- Headcovering has only recently come out of fashion/practice for western women and is still a part of many Christian and Jewish religious traditions. Afterall, that is the origin of the Sunday bonnet and Jewish ladies' wigs. Even in many Hindu areas, a sari is worn draped over the head as part of modest dress. I think to say that wearing a headcovering is against one's beliefs, or in contention with them might be a little strong considering it is a part of many of the cultures domestic workers come from.

I suppose it's a matter of perspective. If you are an Amazonian native from one of those tribes that wear butt-floss thong loin-cloths and you take a trip to visit the US, you'd have to alter your mode of clothing drastically to avoid offending people. Although butt-floss is perfectly ok where you live, it's soooo not ok to walk down Main St. USA like that!
A person coming to work in Saudia is aware that perceptions of modesty are different here than in other parts of the world. Just like the dress-codes I've had to abide by at different places that I've worked, a head-scarf isn't worse than those lovely paper caps at many fast food joints.

Marie-Aude said...

I don't agree with "Sand gets in my eyes" on the fact that the headscarf is purely Islamic.

The custom of covering one's hair was a part of all religions of the book. Jewish women even shave their hair and wear false ones, or wear a hat, or a veil, and christian women were not supposed to enter a church without a headdress. 80 years ago, a decent woman would not go out without a hat anywhere in Europe.

But our ways of living had made it different...
So now we see the veil as a Muslim symbol, and it is what it became.

Nevertheless, covering one's head was also for a long time a part of the maid's uniform. everywhere.

And the way it is covered belongs to culture.

Abaya is a cultural headdress. Many Muslim women cover their head differently around the world, Berber women, for example, wear traditionnal headdress that are so similar to the ones wore in Tibet, or the ones wore some years ago in Poland... Muslim women in the former USSR republic often wear some simple headscarfs which are not different form the ones worn by christian women living nearby.

I put a lot of symbols behind the headdress, and certainly not at all the same as my inlaws, and for that, it was difficult for me to put something on my head. But I did it, and one of the reasons for that, behind not shocking people, was that the headdress is totally mixed with cultural beliefs and practices. Not purely a religious thing. Ramadan, for example, is purely religious and nobody cares that I don't fast.

The other thing is "In Rome, do as Romans do, in Saudi wear an abaya".

Being once the only non-veiled woman, I think I can understand what SSW means by "standing out", and that's definitively what I would not want to do in such an environment :)

Marie-Aude said...

Too late :) 4 minutes ! Too talkative :)

Anonymous said...

When you go to Rome do what the Romans do. I believe in that and everyone should respect everyone's country and cultural beliefs. It is true that those who don't cover-up would attract unnecessary attn and that wouldn't be great. sf

Organic-Muslimah said...

I read on a Saudi forum sometime back, maids were forced to wear "white" so they can stick out as maids. Don't you think that is quite unethical?

Anonymous said...

When you ask your maid to cover is it because you want to make life in Saudi easier on her or you want to make sure your husbands don't get too excited? I've heard many stories of Saudi men using maids as sex toys. An abaya and veil don't seem to protect them from that.

hedoorientia said...

Many good points here - one of the important ones is as SSW and marie-aude say: a headscarf is just as christan or jewish or anything else as it is muslim. The generation of my grandparents wouldnt leave home without something covering their heads, and covering your head has always been proper when praying - no matter what religion you belong to. I have no objections to cover my head when its proper to do so. I think buying an abaya for your housekeeper is a good act, but as the last anonymous points out - it wont save her from abuse, if she's subject to that.

musulmana said...

Assalamu Aleikum wa Rahmatulahi wa Barakatuhu,

I wouldn't want ANY woman in my house where she is around my husband. But, I live in the U.S.

If I had a maid, I would prefer she finished her tasks and went home afterwards. That's how it works here. Still, I don't like the idea of a maid.

I sometimes have my girlfriends over and I don't mind if my husband is here. Almost all of them wear the scarf, and any interaction is quite minimal, and very respectful.

Why would you want an uncovered woman walking around your personal space.

I heard a Saudi man once say, that it didn't matter, 'cuz maids weren't looke don like women, just servants. I was appalled. I believe they deserve the same respect afforded to me and my daughter.

Then again, I would make it known what the uniform was BEFORE she accepted to work for me, so it would be her choice.

I still feel uncomfortable with the idea of living with people I am not related to. But I live in the U.S. and it's normal here as you know.

Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

I believe that "when in Rome, do as the Romans". I really believe that. If you dont want to....DON'T GO THERE!!

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

Marie-Aude- you illustrate my point exactly, head-covering isn't such an Islamic concept even though in recent times it's been portrayed as such. The examples that you've listed further exemplify that the similarities between the world's cultures far outnumber the differences and that's one of the main purposes of my blog. And please, you always have excellent comments...feel free to be talkative:)

SF- If they catch my eye, as a woman, I can only assume that for men their only more eye-catching.

Organic- Whose the ding-dong who said that "maids were forced to wear "white" so they can stick out as maids.!!??!! I've never EVER seen it or heard of such a bizarro notion. That's a lesson to all of us to take info on the internet with a pinch of salt!

Anonymous- you answered your own question when you said "An abaya and veil don't seem to protect them from that (sexual exploitation)". An abaya won't protect her from a lecherous employer any more than it protects me from the predatory flirters around here...bad is bad.

hedoorientia- you answered anonymous perfectly, "it wont save her from abuse, if she's subject to that".

musulmana- I have to admit it can get creepy sometimes to have a stranger around the house, especially at the beginning. But the houses here are so big that my husband is usually in a separate part of the house watching his 'games' if he's relaxing or the maid is off doing her work while the family is together.

Also, there are Islamic 'safeguards' in place too. For example, my husband is NEVER alone in the house with her. If I'm not present in the house when he is, she's taken to my in-laws house and he returns home on his own. It's not that no one trust her/him, this is an Islamic rule that a man and woman should not be alone together because Shaytaan is the third party there. Also, she is a trust for us to protect and care for as long as she's working for us as well as being our sister in Islam. I also understand that the way my family and the people we know treat/view our housekeepers is sadly not always the rule amongst all Saudi homes. Our housekeeper became like an extended family member and we were lucky enough to get a housekeeper who's a religious woman and a good worker.

anonymous- sentiments exactly:)

Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Ladies - I appreciate that outside of Saudi, women of other religious beliefs have historically covered their heads in various ways, but here in Saudi, the hijab IS seen as Islamic. Now, today, not hundreds of years ago or even last week. Now.

Just like a Muslim would not want to be forced to wear a Christian symbol like a nun's habit, I won't compromise my Christian identity by wearing a hijab. A sunbonnet, sure. A hijab, never.

I'm willing to dress modestly to appease local moral codes - I knew that coming into Saudi. But I'm not willing to pretend to be anything but what I am - an American Christian.

And as far as all the "when in Rome" comments, if that street goes both ways, then what about the covered and veiled women in places where the majority is uncovered and unveiled? Shouldn't they be required to "alter their mode of dressing" so as not to offend anyone and fit in? Few things draw more attention than a fully veiled woman walking down Main Street USA!

This is a great topic SSW, one that is worth a lot of serious, deep thought and discussion. It's not - after all - just about a maid's uniform, but rather about conformity, who determines what we conform to, and why.

Thanks for opening it up!

Lamya said...

My two cents: when we had a maid in saudi,we encouraged her to wear her beautiful cultural dress,a long skirt and long top. She didnt cover her hair and she was comfortable and modestly dressed.I still miss her..

Nzingha said...

SGIME- I think it matters what area you are in. Here in Khobar it is seen as a religious symbol because soooo many women do not cover their heads. But if you go to a smaller area like I did in the north, you'll stand out if you don't cover your head (christian, muslim or not) in fact not veiling was a problem for me. In those areas it is more of a custum than a religious identification.

I would say depending on the area women should cover their hair. Here in Khobar not a big issue, but I can't stand when women don't wear the abya that is going too far.

My nanny doesn't cover, but when she goes out with us she covers (abya and scarf). On compound is one thing off is a whole other.

I've seen many maids where white here, most are Indonesians. I believe that is because that is the color they usually wear in Indonesia. not that they are forced to wear it to stand out as maids. Most can tell a maid even if she is veiled up and you can't see her at all.

Cairogal said...

Finally a new post!!!!

You any other country, I would say "no" but KSA has its own set of rules. I don't think she should be forced to cover her head, though. If someone hires a Muslim domestic servant, and they expect her to be physically practicing, then perhaps that should be specified before hiring. If she chooses to comply, then I'd say it's fair.

I do feel for these women, though. The economic strife in their own countries sends mothers abroad for YEARS while their children are typically raised by grandparents. It's a hard life. When going to work in KSA is the only available option you have to feed your family, it doesn't seem like much of a choice.

Cairogal said...

Covering ones hair certainly has occurred in other religions in the past, but personally, as someone raised Christian in America, head covering has never been a religious practice. So I do agree w/ SGIME on this.

Cairogal said...

I just came across this post on Vagabondblogger's blog (she's in Egypt):

Marie-Aude said...

SGIME -> "And as far as all the "when in Rome" comments, if that street goes both ways, then what about the covered and veiled women in places where the majority is uncovered and unveiled? Shouldn't they be required to "alter their mode of dressing" so as not to offend anyone and fit in?"

Well that's exactly what we do in France :) there is a law prohibiting the display of any religious symbols in schools, universities, hospitals, and administrations. It was voted in 1904, and at that time catholics claimed it was targeted at destroying the church (which it did not). It was reinforced recently, and Muslims are claiming it is racists and islamophobist, when, in my eyes, it is just our way of dealing with religious symbols.

And as much as I would be fine with wearing whatever I'm asked in Saudi Arabia, I'm totally againts these women who are refusing to comply to French law when in France...

In any case, my religion and my beliefs are my own. I can understand your point of view, but mine is different : as long as I know what I believe and what I don't, I don't care what other people think. Wearing a veil or an abaya would not make me muslim...

Marie-Aude said...

And I would just add something. The border between cultural and religious is very tenuous, and depends also on people.
Religion created cultural traditions, and traditions shaped the way religion was practiced.

I always wondered, for example, what would have been the definition of decent dressing in Islam, if it had been announced for example in China, where women never wore veils and headdresses, instead of the sands of Arabia ?

When I had to cover my head, wearing whatever on it was a religious symbol. For my in-laws, who forced me to do it outside, in their small village, it was not a question of religion, but of evil-eye. Because if I stand out, people will speak about me, and that will bring the eye on me and the family.
What a mixture of religion, tradition and superstition...

Everyone knows I'm not Muslim, and tourists walk around without any headdress, shockin nobody because they're are not Muslim. But because I'm married to a Muslim man, and therefore member of a Muslim family (my religion does not count), I have to "fit in the landscape".

When I understood that, I realized that the way I perceive the veil (which is not so far from you, I do agree that whatever the history, the headdress is now an important religious symbol), it was totally different a perception for my in-laws, and they gave not a hint of religious implication to me covering my hair.

vagabondblogger said...

1) As a Greek, I had to wear a scarf as a child when I attended church and my mother ALWAYS wore a scarf! I also know Catholics used to wear lacey veils to church - like my in-laws, who kept them in little pouches next to the rosary beads.
2) Someone mentioned China: Mao had all the people wear red jackets. It became something of a fad in the U.S. along with carrying around The Little Red Book.
3) Maids do not always get to decide where they work. They are used by companies who exploit their labor and they often have no say in their lives, after they sign on the dotted line - after that they're stuck!

Carol said...

SSW -- glad to see you posting...I was beginning to worry about you!

This is an excellent subject!

I believe giving a housemaid the choice of whether to veil or cover the head is the appropriate action and this is because she is in Saudi Arabia not because her profession happens to be that of a housemaid. And I can understand where some women (not just housemaids) would feel more comfortable in veiling if out in a public and conservative place and where some given their nationalities, cultural backgrounds and beliefs would not be comfortable and therefore choose not to cover.
Consider cultural issues to be just as sensitive as the "diplomatic dances" which take place in politics and international affairs. If ones goal is to win hearts and minds and seek acceptance then conformity would be a prudent choice. If ones goal is to always be true to their beliefs and not willing to compromise then have the eyes open and be prepared to sometimes face resistance.

Now when you mentioned some of the hats employers may request an employee wear or how other religious beliefs would require covering the head in some manner, you reminded me of an incident which occurred when I was a young child and at that time being raised in a conservative Catholic family. Without divulging my age, this was during the time when women (and young girls)...any female, did NOT enter a Catholic church without a covering over the head; either a hat or a lace mantilla. I cannot tell you how many times I'd be hurrying and running into the car only for my mom to discover I had forgotten anything for my head. So what would happen...I'd end up sitting through the entire service with a KLEENEX affixed to my head by a bobby pin!

Keep up the great posts!

Cairogal said...

MArie-Aude said: "And as much as I would be fine with wearing whatever I'm asked in Saudi Arabia, I'm totally againts these women who are refusing to comply to French law when in France..."

What's unique here is that, and correct me if I'm wrong Saudi crowd, that an non-Muslim woman is not breaking the law by not covering her hair. Is that correct?

Ann said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

As a Muslim, I cover my hair for religious reasons, but wearing a scarf is not the same as wearing a religious symbol like a crucifix or something. It's a matter of covering a part of the body that we believe needs to be covered.

That maid might be used to wearing shorts and a T-shirt in her country, but does anyone think she should wear that in Saudi? Then why is it OK to make her cover her arms and legs, but not her head?

Sand Gets in My Eyes, I'd ask you the same question. Why do you consent to cover your body with an abaya, when it's not your custom, but not to cover your hair? Non-Muslim women all over the world wear scarves, but only Muslims wear abayas, so I'd say your argument is upside-down.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

Boy I missed all of you! I just haven't had it in me emotionally to post lately. We're in a period of transition in my house and my 'inspiration's taken vacation' as a result:P

You've all perked me up... boy I've needed it too:)

I'm gonna let you all duke it out for a while in my comments section. You're all doing such a good job, I can't think of how to elaborate better than all of you already have at this point. Keep it going please.

Ann said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

OK, well I happened to see this photo in today's newspaper: Pope Benedict XVI greets Pakistan's ambassador to the Vatican, Ayesha Riaz (R), as she presents her credentials in the Vatican June 1, 2007.

And I've seen photos of plenty of other women who covered their head out of respect for the Pope, including Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, etc. (And Muslim women like this ambassador and Queen Rania of Jordan, who refuses to cover in accordance with her own religion, but does it to meet the Pope - and that's another story.)

So SGIME, how does this fit with your contention that, as a Christian, you can't cover your head? Would you do it to meet with the Pope?

Cairogal said...

In defense of SGIME's statement, meeting the Pope or taking a few photos w/ Queen Rania doesn't constitute a Christian tradition. It's true: even in recent history SOME Christians covered their hair in churches. But we are talking about forcing an employee to wear a symbol that is Islamic w/in KSA. Isn't this the core of it all? The question is: Why are we forcing a non-Muslim maid in KSA to wear a headscarf if we aren't forcing a non-Muslim teacher to do the same KSA? It's acknowledged that the abaya must be worn by all women in KSA, regardless of faith. It's acknowledged that in some parts of the country women might be more comfortable wearing the veil, as well. But that's all getting away from the original question.

Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Lol Well since I started on this comment section, I'll add another couple cents to an outstanding discussion!

Wearing an abaya in Saudi is not the law - it is a strong tradition, but I only rarely (maybe a dozen times in four years) wear one and have yet to be bothered about it. The fact of the matter is that the abaya is a convenient way to cover the no-see-um zones - elbows, chest and ankles - which comply with local modesty preferences. It is my choice how I cover them and I usually choose loose shirts and pants or skirts. The goal, after all, is modesty not conformity, right? I figure if it is modest enough for practicing Muslims outside KSA, it is modest enough for a practicing Christian inside KSA. Again, I'm willing to bear the consequences of that decision. There's a HUGE difference between a law and a custom, no matter how deeply rooted.

If I feel like I need to cover my head for any reason (even visiting the Pope!), I reach for a bonnet - not a hijab. Again - HUGE difference. You could say I am still bowing to local customs - my head is technically as covered as Carol's head was covered with that tissue! - but I am NOT wearing the outward symbol of a religion I do not believe in. And c'mon - all this talk about a hijab NOT being a religious symbol is pretty silly. Regardless of history, the hijab IS a religious symbol here and now. Khalas.

Saudi is better than any place I've ever visited in the world at brainwashing people into believing that conformity and custom are laws. They are not. They're clever mechanisms to control people, weaken their decision-making skills and make them feel helpless.

Which gets me back to the maid. There are many, many ways of complying with local modesty customs – most of which do not have the strong religious connotation of the veil and hijab in KSA, yet those options don’t seem to be mentioned anywhere and I can’t help but wonder why. That’s not true – I know why. It’s because the maid is powerless, she is at the mercy of the employer. She’s making pennies and sending them all home to family somewhere else and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep her job. Whether that means fending off sexual advances, enduring physical and emotional abuse or even putting on the trappings of a religion she doesn’t believe in. For her, the employer’s word is law, even if the veil and hijab are not.

vagabondblogger said...

Most photos I've seen of women visiting the Pope have them wearing a lacey scarf. If you plan on visiting monastaries in Greece, most notably Meteora, be prepared to be manhandled by the monk at the door if you are dressed inappropriately - legs and arms showing. You are required to dress modestly and that goes for men too. No veils though. When I say manhandled, I mean it - the monk at the door is not nice. Fortunately I knew better and even though we entered with no problems, we saw many tourists who refused to dress as requested and were "physically" thrown out. Also, when my cousin and I visited a small nunnery in Greece and we were coming from the beach, the nuns provided us with coverings that looked like abayas. And, even though Azerbaijan, which is mostly Muslim, but part of the USSR for a long time, is very western, many women still wear a babushka, mostly out of tradition, with calve length skirts. The USSR was totally non-sectarian, worshiping Lenin and not religion and many women wore a headscarf and still do. Look at pictures of women in Georgia, Greece in the countryside and you see scarves on their heads. The old scarves were much like a hijab, tied around the neck and long, but have gotten shorter with time.
Maids are at the mercy of their employers. I just say, if you don't want to wear a long skirt and long sleeve shirt, don't visit Meteora or any holy sites in Greece. I don't appreciate having to wear an abaya and veil, but I don't like being oogled either. When we lived in Abu Dhabi for 5.5 years, I always required my daughter to cover her arms and not wear short skirts or shorts out in public - out of respect, but I did see western women flaunt it and I see it here in Cairo, as well. I'm a little old fashioned and there are some things I see being worn in public, that I feel are totally innapropriate, but that's just me.
Other than tradition and culture, I disagree with laws forcing people to dress (wearing the hijab, which is being enforced somewhat brutally in Iran right now) or what not to wear (as in the Frence laws against religious dress.)

Marie-Aude said...

Just a side comment regarding the law against religious symbols in France, and when I have time I'll make a post about it my blog :)

1. The law is not unique in the world. There is the same law in two other countries, at least, and Muslim ones : Turkey and Tunisia

2. The law is very specific to some situations. Basically, the idea is to say that, because the state is totally secular, state and civil servants must not display any religious sign while they are working for the state, because that would go against the secularity of state. Policemen and police women, nurses, school teachers and so on are not allowed to display their religion while working.
The second idea is that school should be a place where no religious nor political discussion takes place, because children can be influenced, and that part of the upbringing ressorts to parents. Hence the interdiction for all people (teachers and pupils) to display political and religious opinions. It should make school a neutral place, where children can learn, and also discover, maybe other way of life.
As soon as you're out of the school premises, as soon as you're not working anymore, you are free to display anything.
And in that context, in France, the veil or the covering is indeed a religious symbol, because the only pupils who refuse to remove headdress are doing it in the name of religion.

But it's also perfectly OK to go to a private school or a private hospital...

Now I'm living my "european time" not anymore in France, but in Germany. Over there things are quite different. Churches are official, the state is even collecting the "church money", a special tax which is redistributed to religious bodies, including mosque of course. In counterpart, religious bodies are taking a lot of states duties. It is for example perfectly normal in some parts of Germany to have crucifix displayed in state schools, and catholic prayers said by all children at the start of the day. That's true also in hospitals, and in many places, all hospitals and clinics are religious one. A Muslim can be healed inside, of course, but he will see crucifix, and even may be sisters or monks...

When I'm comparing the two sitations, I have the feeling the French way is more respectful of religious diversity than the German way. At the end, I think it's better to say "nothing in some places" than enforce religious symbols of another religion in some circumstances that can be so hard like be ill for a long time in a hospital.

So that's what I meant about "when in Rome, when in France, when in Saudi..."

The other thing is, I also agree that the hijab is also a religious symbol. It is a cultural dress, and a religious symbol.
But basically, wearing a sunbonnet or anything covering your head is obeying to a religion, and another religion than the catholic one

(well... this can be argued also :) The Christ said he did not want to remove a letter from the law, and the jewish law says that women should cover their head, so we could also consider that this obligation applies to Christians, but that's another story...practically speaking, the Christians are not required anymore to cover their head in public, point).

So the point of how one's cover one's head relates also a lot to local customs, when the covering is the religious one.

But I can also perfectly understand ones puts some limits and says "not over this border".
I also have mines :)

Ann said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

marie-aude: "The law is not unique in the world. There is the same law in two other countries, at least, and Muslim ones : Turkey and Tunisia"

And they're wrong, too. And in Turkey, at least, the majority of people disagree with that law. And insha'allah they'll be able to change it before too long.

musulmana said...

Assalamu Aleikum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatuhu,

Well, I don't think the "cultural vs. religious" is the answer.

If you want a Muslim maid, then find one. Then, expect to treat her as a Muslim and expect her to behave as a Muslim (give her allowances to rest when she's fasting, give her time to pray, give her hijabs if she needs).

Basically, Muslim women wear it because the Quran says so.

Christian women wore it because the Bible said so (the Virgin is almost always "depicted" as covered).

and Jewish women are also supposed to cover, but they include wigs as part of their covering.

So, it is religious.

In Italy, the old ladies still cover, because, they are Catholic and well, you should cover.

It is culture that has dictated ladies TAKE OFF the head covering, not vice-versa.

Either way, I don't think it's about When in Rome, because if I am in Rome, I will wear the hijab, and if I am in France, I will wear the hijab. I live in the US and I wear it.

France and the US have not declared themselves "Christian" countries. They are presumably secular democracies and they have to behave as such.

Saudi, however, HAS declared itself an Islamic country so you have to put your money where your mouth is...

Just my two cents. Oh, and I don't mean face-covering, because that is debated in Islamic jurisprudence.

Cairogal said...

"Christian women wore it because the Bible said so (the Virgin is almost always "depicted" as covered)."

The Bible has never 'said so'. True, the Virgin Mary is depicted w/ her head covered. It was tradition/social custom. In various points of pre-Islamic Arab history, women used covering their head to discern between married and unmarried.

Marie-Aude said...

Basically, the rule of covering woman's hair applies only to married women. It is not expressed in the Bible, but in the Talmud, as a commentary of a verse of the Bible that says that the priest can punish the adulteress by uncovering her hair.

The New Testament never stated specifically that Mary had her hair covered. It speaks in some circumstances of women's veils. For example when they take care of the corpse, of when Veronique wipes the face with her veil that get an imprint of the face. Nevertheless, as most of them were good jeweress, even if the Talmud comes later on, we can assume that they had a veil. (Wigs at that time were definitively very expensive, and a high-class adornment, and could not be considered as a modest dressing).

The catholic dogma never said women had to wear a veil. It always said it's a sin to dress immodestly, or to dress as a man. And then, depending on circumstances, and traditions, that meant veil, hat, scarf, or even nothing. Women "in hair" were poor, workers, but not necessarily sinners.

musulmana said...

1 Corinthians 11:5
"But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven."

1 Corinthians 11:6
"For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered."

These are only two passages. Many people interpret them as they will. In Islam, we take our interpretations of covering seriously.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...


You've all made a fantastic discussion and I've enjoyed reading from your various points of view.

I can understand the strong dislike for a headscarf, especially if one deems it as solely a religious/cultural symbol. Either way if you are not of the same background, having to wear one may feel like a huge imposition which could cause more discomfort as a result.

Throughout the comments I think it's become clear that Muslims don't corner the market on covering one's hair for modesty. I think, as many of you have hinted at, that in Saudia, as in many other places in the world, although there may be the ORIGINAL requirement of covering one's hair for religious then becomes a matter of cultural views of modesty as well. The two become so intertwined at times, wrong or right, it can be hard to see where religion ends and culture picks up.
Having said that, I can easily see where covering one's head in Saudia is important as a convention of modesty even at times when it is NOT part of religion. For example, in Islam my mother-in-law does not need to cover in front of her son-in-law but upon their arrival, she always grabs her headscarf (no face-veil or abaya though).

In defence of SGIME, I can understand her dislike of the headscarf as she views it as an Islamic convention and therefore NOT something she should be forced to observe. I had those same feelings towards the 'from-the-head' abaya when I first arrived here from America. I was in no way, shape, or form gonna wear an abaya from my head. "It's purely a Saudi construct" and not necessary in Islam, I argued. No one could convince me of the necessity of my wearing it especially since many of my Saudi friends didn't.

What changed? As I went about my business in Al-Hassa, I started to realize people's perceptions of me in an abaya from my shoulder. "It's for teenagers not mature women", "only women looking to flirt or get attention wear this type of abaya", and so forth. Due to pregnancy, I bought one from my head and started wearing it. Even though I myself didn't agree with it's necessity, the local perceptions of modesty encouraged me to wear one which as a result, made people's view of me change.

These days, I go back and forth between a 'head' abaya and a shoulder one...depending on where I'm going and what I'm doing. If I'm going to be around a more conservative, old-fashioned group I'll wear the 'head' one just to make them more comfortable with me. In the end, it wasn't something I felt SOOO strongly about to tilt at windmills for. I understood people's perception of what's modest did hold weight and it wouldn't hurt me to adjust temporarily for their sake.

Anonymous said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

A few points... For anyone who remembers having to cover their head to go to (Catholic) Mass, even if it meant affixing a Kleenex with a bobby pin, you must also remember nuns who wore habits that were very much like hijab. (And even though American Catholics have done away with a lot of these customs, you can still see them in other parts of the world.) I have a picture of myself, at about 8 years old, wearing a nun's habit and posing with two real nuns (my teachers). When I see it now, I laugh, because they really wanted me to be a nun. And I'm the one who's dressed like that now!

Also, there is a cultural aspect, which I don't think anyone would deny. Some of my friends wear black abayas living in Kuwait, but when they go to the West they wear loose, long-sleeved blouses and long, loose skirts, or jilbabs in different colors, and headscarfs in different colors. But in Kuwait - and much more in Saudi - it's just more comfortable for them to wear black abayas. (Of course, many other women don't.) But so what?

And marie-aude, if Islam were revealed in China, it would be the same. We believe that it's the word of God and a universal message for all places and times afterwards.

And at my children's school, they occasionally hire non-Muslim teachers, and they are required to wear hijab and jilbab/abaya while they're at school (as are the Muslim staff, even if they don't normally wear it). It's an Islamic school, and they know that when they take the job.

Ann said...

Assalaamu alaikum,

Oops - the previous comment was from me - I wasn't signed in.

Cairogal said...

"And at my children's school, they occasionally hire non-Muslim teachers, and they are required to wear hijab and jilbab/abaya while they're at school (as are the Muslim staff, even if they don't normally wear it). It's an Islamic school, and they know that when they take the job."

That's interesting. Some of my friends work for an Islamic school in Dubai. Muslims there are required to veil(whether or not they are veiled outside of school), and all staff are given a strict outline of what clothes are ok.

Nzingha said...

SGIME- There is no law barring women from driving here in Saudi but what do you expect when you try to drive. There are many things that are NOT THE LAW here in Saudi but are rather more of a custom acceptance. There isn't a law banning movie theaters, now how many do you see? there is no law that says women can not go into a music shop, but try to get in some and your chased away somtimes harshly with the mutawwa.

These are were things get blurry. Customs do become the LAW by enforcement. There is no law that says any woman has to cover in an abya and a scarf but that doesn't mean you can't be arrested and detained for doing it. It is a cutural acceptance which is ENFORCED by legal means. Thus making it a law in all practice and realtiy.

We all know this coming here, it isn't one big secret. When one is a guest in a country, don't be a pain in the arse about it.

If your in an area where you can't get by without covering, more power to you. I think it is a slap in the face and only feeds into the rifts that are present between two cultures that live together and does nothing to benefit anyone. Other than feed the arrogancy of one that says "hey look at me I'll do as I choose" I don't wear an abya outside of this country and I rarely would even choose a black scarf (too dang hot) but I'll conform here because I am here

As for Saudis who go over seas to the US and keep their gulf clothing. It is a freedom within the US that everyone in the US has. There is a difference indeed.

Amy said...

Musulmana said It is culture that has dictated ladies TAKE OFF the head covering, not vice-versa.

And I for one think there is profound truth in this statement. My coworkers (I'm an American convert-in America) see my hijab most likely as a religious symbol because I wore it when I chose this religion. It's not a part of my "culture" so to speak.

But I wear it not because the scarf is part of my religion but because modesty is, and I wear it out of modesty, same reason I wear long sleeves in the heat of summer. My dad initially equated it to a "f-u" to American culture and deeply resented it, but I think he's coming around to seeing it differently now.

As for maids not wearing a scarf in Saudi... I don't know why they wouldn't wear it. Honestly I don't know why anyone wouldn't. It seems that people who choose not to would as well say, "I'm not Muslim and I don't have to wear it so I'm not going to. NeenerNeener."


Mariam the turtle said...

"Sand gets in my eyes"-I believe that that women who said the "when in Rome" comment meant that we should respect the culture of another and religious customs as well. Here in USA, we are a free country. Saudia is not. I arrest my own case....

Caminante said...

Assalamu 'alaykum,
Personally, I don't agree with this on different grounds:

a) Freedom of religion: If Muslim women want to wear a headcover or not, it should be their choice.

b) Freedom of culture: Wearing an abaya is really a cultural thing and imposing it on someone is, in my opinion, not right. When Saudis (or others) come to North America, they have no problem covering their faces, or wearing abayas, although is not part of the local culture.
It's time for Saudi Arabia to be more respectful to other Muslims and other cultures.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting about weather a maid should or should not wear this or that. In every job I hav had as a maid I have worn a uniform of some sort or other,it was manditory. I didn't get to have a say if I liked it or not. My current uniform is (day) light pink dress with white trim , white cap and apron, for evening substitute black dress. My uniform would be considered modest enough even for Saudi I feel.