Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Under Cover

A   friend of mine, Amber, told me a story about one of her sisters-in-law (SILs), whom I'll call Maha. Amber's and Maha's husbands are brothers.

Maha is ultra-religious, ultra-conservative, and veils herself. Maha never associates with any of her brothers-in-law (BILs) at family functions. The BILs have never seen her face or heard her voice. Maha runs for cover and hides whenever her BILs are around. In fact, I myself have a SIL like this, as well, so I'm guessing this type of behavior is not that uncommon and it just depends on how the woman was brought up and her own personal feelings and beliefs. I can totally understand and respect that.
Amber and her husband have a home in the US too. Once while they were there in the states, Maha and her husband came to "visit." Many Muslim women will relax a little bit when they are in other countries, choosing to dress conservatively instead of wearing the abaya. But not Maha. She remained totally veiled and would not speak to Amber's husband, left the room if he entered, and wouldn't sit at the same table with him when they ate.

But during their visit, they went out to eat at a public restaurant. Maha even refused to sit at the same table with the rest of the family, so she sat at a table with her back to them.
Since I've been here in Saudi Arabia, I have seen many veiled women in the food courts at malls. Most of them leave their veils on while they eat, which is an amazing feat to me. They lift them out slightly from their faces with one hand and shovel the food in with the other hand underneath their veils. The first time I saw it, I couldn't believe it. But I've seen more and more women here doing this, so now I guess I'm used to it, but I still find it fascinating.

Okay, now I can understand and respect Maha's beliefs and actions up to this point. But here's where it gets really confusing for me.
Once Maha got settled at her separate table, she then took her veil off. Maha spoke to the male waiter without any problem. Maha's face was visible by all other men facing her in the restaurant.

I'm sorry, but I don't get this. Could somebody please try to explain to me why it's okay for Maha to talk to a male waiter, but not her brother-in-law? Why is it okay for the male waiter and other male patrons in the restaurant to see her face and hear her voice, but not her brother-in-law? Is it that Maha considers these strangers less than men? To me, a man is a man is a man. I really don't see the logic at all here, and I would love to try to understand her actions. Is it me, or isn't this being a bit hypocritical?


  1. that is confusing, you would think if she wouldn't show her face or speak to her BIL she wouldn't show her face or speak to any men, I always look forward to your posts I learn something new everytime

  2. Hmm, I'm just guessing here, perhaps because she will have to continue to associate with her brother in law, but probably never see the waiter again? I'm assuming the BIL is Saudi, maybe she doesn't want her face to be seen by other Saudis...still very perplexing.

  3. Great and perplexing story. I find it odd (I mean odder, since alot of it is odd even within the religious context--eg. the no speaking, and leaving the room veiled) that she sat at a separate table at all. Perhaps "servers are servants are slaves" explains the veil removal, but what about the other men in the room. The non-Saudi phenomenon?
    A cousin-in-law, who was relatively Westernized and fun donned, the headscarf (unusually for her age in Morocco) and refused to speak to men on the phone--so she would pick up the receiver and just wait until the other person spoke and hang up if it were a man. Her cousin pointed out she was now breathing over the phone at men--worse than speaking.
    Your Maha story beats that though!

  4. I remember seeing something like that in Malaysia. There was a Saudi couple sitting near us and the woman was in an abaya and a loose hijab. She was chatting and laughing with her husband (I assume they were on their honeymoon). Anyway, the most surprising part to me was when they finished eating, she pulled a black piece of fabric out of her bag and covered her face.
    I never know what to think haha. I wish I knew the reasons why 'Maha' would do it too!

  5. A couple months ago students of mine who never wear the niqab pulled their shaylas over their faces as an Emirati colleague (male) walked by. I asked what the reason for this was as a) they don't normally cover their faces b) they spend the day around my male colleagues from a variety of countries and never cover up.

    Their explanation was that Emirati men are different. One woman, married with 2 children, explained that foreign men of most nationalities take no notice of her. She relayed a story of a trip to Fujeirah in which she, the husband, and kids took a horse and buggy ride. The driver who was Indian? No problem. The western men camping on the beach? No problem. It was the Emirati men that she said consistently tried to see who a woman her face, if you will. As they passed an Emirati man on their ride, her husband urged her to cover her face. In a nutshell, it came down to a social thing rather than a religious thing.

    Don't know if that applies to your situation, but it wouldn't surprise me if this was a "Saudi on Saudi" thing vs. a straight "female-male" thing.

  6. The whole covering thing seems so strange, and uncomfortable. But I agree with the "Saudi on Saudi" idea. Maha was also probably very confused being in a foreign country.
    Does a husband see his future wife's face before marriage?

  7. I found your blog thru the weblog awards and got hooked on it right away! I've spent many hours over many nights reading all of the posts and have really enjoyed your writing and all the information. What a different world compared to my life here in Minnesota. I'm looking forward to all of your upcoming posts and wish you well. Thanks for sharing your story with people you do not know but now know you and what life is like in Arabia. Very interesting! And I love to read the comments!

  8. Interesting... I'd be confused too...

  9. Quite strange. I can't see the logic, but I do remember someone mentioning a specific hadith (saying of the Prophet pbuh) regarding brothers-in-law and how women should be extra careful with them. Maybe this is due to the close proximity in many joint family situations and the temptations that can arise? So maybe she is trying to act on that hadith in the way she thinks best.

    I'm not sure I understand why women unveil their faces to eat at food courts in malls. If they feel it is not right for other men to see their faces in general while walking around, then how does that change while eating?

    Thanks for another interesting post Susie!

  10. my understanding is the same as abu dhabi/uae daily photo. it was explained to me completely covered women will expose their faces without a seeming care in the world to indian labourers. why? because they 'don't really count'. i too love to watch the contortions as these covered women attempt to feed with a veil over their head. love to see glasses over the veil :-) not so keen on the driving with the eyes covered though ...

  11. Susie - good example of the disconnects here! I posted about this sort of thing awhile back and got an interesting comment and explanation - they cover so they are not seen by anyone whom might be an eligible marriage partner. The BIL could potentially - in a messed up quasi incestuous situation - marry your friend, therefore she goes invisible around him. The server, on the other hand, is not an eligible marriage partner, so she doesn't care.

    Here's the post.

    I'm with you - the whole thing is remains a mystery to me!

  12. lol, very much of a double standard. i dont see the point. perhaps because she might possibly be living with her BIL she is extra careful?

  13. assalamualaikum, for me, i would say, let her be as long as she doesnt make a fuss over anything or create a problem then, whe should we wonder. surely, she has her own reason for doing that putting aside wether it is logic or not. aniway, cover or uncover our face is not we dont have to frown or think it is weird as i say she has her own reason for doing it. wassalam

  14. HI SUSIE :)

    I dont think its ok, I think it is weird too. And I have seen it here sometimes, where women lift their niqab to eat, I wouldnt even do that. And my husband also doesnt want me to talk to the waiters (if he is there)... but if he is not there, I can speak with them (out of necessity) but I still eat with it on.

    I consider my niqab part of my hijab, and I wouldnt unveil it to any man, ever. (Except my close family and hubby)

    By the way - I chose to wear niqab, my husband never asked me to, but now that I have he also treats it like a part of my hijab.

    I dont think there is anything wrong with asking such questions, as a learner of Islam you have every right to ask everything, and we as Muslims, shoudl be patient in giving our answers :)

  15. I got to try the veil when I was in Egypt a couple of years ago. I found it claustrophobic. It amazes me that women can get used to this but I guess if you've been brought up this way, you're used to it and to all the intricate rules. I'm sure they wouldn't appreciate it but I do feel sorry that they must live this way.

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  17. Couldn't Amber just ask her SIL herself? I think that is the only way to know considering that anyone else that would answer the question would only be speculating. I wonder why Amber didn't sit with Maha rather than have her sit alone. That situation just seems rather odd.

  18. That is puzzling... I wonder what her husband thinks about it.

  19. Hi Susie,

    My husband’s SIL covers her face in front of my husband. He has never seen her. However she keeps the niqaab on and sits at the same table when we eat out shoving the food through her niqaab like you described. When we eat at home she eats in a different room. She talks to my husband and addresses him as “older brother”. Very polite. But I still disagree with the whole niqaab thing in front of BILs because in joint families it is very impractical.

    In the Hindu ‘culture’ an older BIL is regarded as a father and a younger BIL as a son yet in the ‘religion’ Hindu women have been known to marry two or three brothers in polyandry. Thus, it is not necessary that what religion states, culture follows. Maybe we are trying to justify Maha’s cultural behaviour with religion?

    What I understand is that there are multiple reasons for her doing what she does:

    1) She really sees her BIL as “death”
    2) Since she has more chances of meeting him again and again what if God forbid he sees her face and starts to fancy her? What if he starts to daydream about her? It may lead to him professing his love and going against his brother
    3) Non-Saudi men are lesser men and will never dare think about pursuing her
    4) They will not meet her again and with time will forget her face so no chances of daydreaming

    It may be very odd to us but odder are the tribal women who never show their faces to their husbands and when an errant husband of 20 years tried to lift an unsuspecting sleeping wife’s niqaab he was slammed with divorce papers!

    Interesting post, Susie!

  20. Astaghfirallah. Am I the only one who found thinks the pic of the bro with the beard is a HOTTIE. hahahahahahaha shame on me. I must leave this page immediately.

    Thanks for sharing susie :)

  21. He's not bad looking, but I wouldn't say hot, I'm not attracted to him, lol. It's only human to notice, just as long as we don't dwell on it :)

  22. Hi Susie,

    This sounds like what the Emirati girls here!! They don't care if the Asian labor workers see them, but ohhh nooo -- no Emirati men can seem them because that's `ayb (shame).

    To me, that's retarded because what makes an Emirati different than an Indian?!

    They both have staring problems...

    Meanwhile I think it has more to with culture :/ Culture trumps religion a lot over here!!

  23. How mysterious! Certainly something to do with the fact that the men she was talking to are strangers or foreigners.

  24. Susie I wonder how much it has changed in recent years. In London women are choosing to be much much more radical in beliefs and dress, especially those who are new to the religion wether of middle eastern descent or english. It is now very common to see women eating by passing food under their veil. My last apartment our french doors were directly opposite the windows of a group where the women always were fully veiled in public. However when they arrived home they stripped down to their underwear in front of the window with no curtains drawn. It was difficult not to notice. They were aware they could be seen. It was beyond me to understand.

  25. How interesting! I thought perhaps she didn't want to attract her BIL and thus ruin a marriage. :-) It does seem odd that she had to sit by herself. Thanks for sharing this story.

  26. mayb its the whole proximity thing with the BIL being in the family n around..n its not normal for them to b so open, so even if she was slightly open then it may lead to other stuff?? i dunno...i dont hv one to decide how i'd react, but in my culture ur spose to hv a very chummy relationship, so i think to begin with i'd probli b the bitchy SIL he shudnt go newhere near if hes not a practising bro!

    but on a similar uncles, bros n sisters were hvin this convo....(im a south asian hijabi gal) if i was to go n sit on a bus n there were only 2 seats availabl, one a non muslim guy, one a SAsian muslim guy who would i sit next to? i chose the non muslim, n i would do so if he wasnt SAsian too, cos well u sit next to a muslim bro n either the guy looks at u like :O HARAM SISTER!! or he'll say smthin else inappropriate like ask u for ur no...n funny thing is my bros/uncles said same thing if it was a woman theyd sit next to a non muslim...cos even if they were decent, the muslim girl wud feel awkward, n my younger bro, well hes been propositioned by muslim women on the bus!! lol

    if i go into a SAsian muslim area i dress extra hijabi, n am more standoffish than my usual nice self (haha) cos well, u knw how the culture works

  27. Hi Deb! That's the way I look at it too. It's confusing to say the least.

    Hi Megan! You could be right. Her BIL is Saudi, but still hard to understand.

    Hi Chiara! Could be the non-Saudi phenomenon or the slave theory. I just wish issues like this weren't so difficult to wrap my head around!

  28. Hi Ellen! That's a wierd story too!

    Hi AbuDhabi/UAE! Thanks for your explanation. It sort of makes sense but it seems a little silly to me. Certainly not all Emiratis or Saudis are like this though, and it just seems like such an extreme behavior for an almost imaginary problem!

    Hi Gaelyn! Most likely a man has seen the woman's face before they decide to marry, because this is largely all they have to go on, since they cannot date or spend time alone together. I agree - to me, it's strange too.

  29. Hi K.C.B.B! Welcome to my blog, and thanks so much for your nice comments! I'm so glad you took the time to let me know how much you're enjoying the blog!

    Hi MamaK! It befuddles me too!!!

    Hi Sabaa! When I am at family gatherings, I can't imagine how anything untoward could occur. We are all together in one huge room, and I usually sit by my hubby or by my female relatives. It's easy to be all together yet retain a safe, proper and comfortable distance from the male relatives. I totally agree about the food courts. There are plenty of Saudi men around there too!

  30. Hi WGAW! I've heard this before, but seeing another race or nationality as sub-human is just so snobbish and arrogant and is so un-Islamic. I was so pleased when a woman let me photograph her recently fully veiled with glasses, which I posted on my other blog.

    Hi Sand Gets...! Thanks for the link to your post. It is an interesting and mystifying topic.

    Hi M.J! I don't see the point either and it does strike me as hypocritical still.

  31. Hi Hadah! That's what my husband says - it's her choice to behave the way she wants. I would just like to try to understand, that's all. Thanks!

    Hi UmmTravis! Your declaration that you wouldn't unveil to any man - I get that! I so get that! I just don't get all the inconsistencies when people seem to pick and choose what their own personal policies are though - and I thank you so much for your patience with me!!!

    Hi Kay! I have tried the veil too and I feel the same way as you. I usually have a big smile on my face and this is just so untypical of the women here, so I feel I really stick out with my goofy smile. A veil might help but I feel I can't breathe!

  32. Could she have, as we call it, "the hots" for the BIL? Or be aware of "his hots" for her?

    Muslim or non-muslim, people have this reaction to other people and it is controlled by various cultural and even legal mechanisms.
    Something is fishy here.


  33. Hi Whatabastor! Thanks for your interesting comments. I wish I could read your blog but I don't read Arabic! I lived in Tucson for many years myself! I realize that adultery between in-laws can happen, but prohibiting contact altogether just seems so extreme, cynical and paranoid to me. I set up comments to post automatically - if you want to remove it, you can, but I like your comment!

  34. Hi The Queen! I actually wasn't sure if Amber and Maha sat together or not at the restaurant. It wasn't clear to me and I didn't ask. I don't know what kind of relationship she has with Maha, but I get the impression that it's not too close and that Maha is a tad unapproachable.

    Hi RiotWife! I'm curious about that myself!

    Hi Suroor! Thanks for your possible explanations. I think that maybe it is a cultural thing, but that it originally had a religious basis that became twisted. I also think it's a shame that many women here cannot trust themselves to have normal relationships without the threat of adultery - are they all really that weak of spirit and will power?

  35. Hi UmmAbdurRahman! You're TOOOO funny!

    Hi Megan! Not my type either!

    Hi Aalia! It likely is more cultural, but it just seems so extreme for something that would probably never happen anyway...

    Hi LadyFi! Yes, but they are still men, so I have a hard time understanding it.

    Hi Mo! Unbelievable! That makes absolutely no sense for them to run around in their underwear for all to see. geez....

  36. Hi Susanne! Amber could have sat with Maha, but I honestly wasn't sure if she did or not. It just seems so presumptuous and arrogant to think she would be so very irresistible to her BIL!

    Hi Khushi! I can totally understand the scenario on the bus. It makes sense. But Maha's behavior is inconsistent and I don't get it.

    Hi Anna! That's true - they could secretly have the hots for each other, but then I would think she would want to be closer to her BIL. Wouldn't that be more a normal behavior in this case?

  37. At first I thought it was a "saudi on saudi" thing as well, but she was facing other saudis so that cant be it. I agree with "Whatabastor"'s that sickness that is wahabbi/salafi belief that makes absolutely no sense...everything is haram, except if it doesnt suit you--then you can do anything and rationalize it somehow. The more I read abt Saudi Arabia--and their salafi beliefs, the more upset I become. Sometimes I am afraid I wont even be able to stand going to Hajj, being surrounded by all the craziness (like the "haram" police) of salafism.

  38. 'I get the impression that it's not too close and that Maha is a tad unapproachable.'

    Understatement of the year! LOL
    I believe that is the purpose of the niqab I find it very unhealthy, psychologically speaking.

  39. Hi SimplyEva! Yes, the "picking and choosing and twisting" method of religion just doesn't suit me at all either.

    Hi TheQueen! I know! The niqaab just says "WALL" to me, or "I don't exist." Sad...

  40. Nice blog...I simply can't understand I can't understand how it's possible in Saudi for a woman to be alone with a hired driver (since women can't drive) BUT a woman who is found alone with an unrelated man is severly punished

  41. It is always bewildering to me when I see women shoveling food from underneath their veils. It’s also just as weird when their husbands try to build a fortress around them made of partitions. I believe it is a public restaurant, and if you want total privacy you should dine at home.

    About the SIL, I think its total hypocrisy; the same I experienced in the States with Saudi female students where they act all footloose and free, but the moment they find out that you are a Saudi they shift into a different mode.

  42. It is always bewildering to me when I see women shoveling food from underneath their veils. It’s also just as weird when their husbands try to build a fortress around them made of partitions. I believe it is a public restaurant, and if you want total privacy you should dine at home.

    About the SIL, I think its total hypocrisy; the same I experienced in the States with Saudi female students where they act all footloose and free, but the moment they find out that you are a Saudi they shift into a different mode.

  43. "husbands try to build a fortress"...oh god that makes me go to a resturaunt around here sometimes and its like walking through a maze from all the fortress building going on. ha ha ha

  44. Oh my sweet Susie, this blog that you have created here is pure gold. A place of utter fascination. I would love to know if one day you do find out, why she does this.

  45. Hi Susie,

    What a great post! Truly perplexing issue, isn't it? I have a sister-in-law (dh's brother's wife) who won't come out of her room when dh and I visit, but when dh's other younger brother comes over, she has no problem with coming out. Ugh! Anyways, I will agree with AD daily photo and Aalia, its a combination of many Arab men not following Islam properly and gazing into every woman's face, and culture prevailing over a religion. Men MUST lower their gaze when other women are around, but 90% won't. People get different meanings and extract different interpretation of the same Quran, and will behave the according to which part of the Quran suits them. Extremely frustrating but thats just a human nature.

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  47. hey mayb someone shud ask maha??!?! lol

  48. Very odd. But perhaps she finds her male in-laws more of a 'threat'? Or perhaps she feels more than she should for him ;)

    No idea, the culture in which you are living is totally foreign to me and bewildering to say the least..

  49. Sonia said: Men MUST lower their gaze when other women are around, but 90% won't.

    That's because it's got nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with patriarchal power.

  50. I would be the last person to ask. The whole lifestyle doesn't make sense to me. It's so foreign to all I know. It's not that I don't respect it, but I don't understand it. I am grateful that I don't have to or feel the need to hide my identity from anyone (except on my blog). It is interesting, nonetheless.

  51. its a social thing. if the girl were seen by saudis, they will know her family name ( face, brothers, car plates#, etc), then everyone would talk about them, since there arent any other interesting topics to talk about. Its not only for girls, men too!. if a guy were seen smooking a cigarette, they would know his family and would "disgrace" his family "name" cos of that. its a complex society :)

  52. Hi CountryGirl - Yes, I agree with you - being alone in the car with an unrelated driver is overlooked here because he is considered not a real man.

    Hi Anonymous - I also feel it's hypocritical and I don't understand it either.

    Hi CoolRed - For those who haven't been to the Middle East, many restaurants have screens available to totally block booths or tables from view from other diners. And it does at times look as though a fortress has been built. But the waiters, who are lesser men, go in and out without issue.

    Hi Yoli - Thanks so much. If I ever find out, I'll let you know!

    Hi Sonia - That is so wierd that your SIL hides from one brother but doesn't from the other! The inconsistencies make it very difficult to try to understand this culture.

    Hi Anon, Janey & Sally - Thank you for your comments.

    Hi Louise - You're not alone - I do not understand it either.

    Hi Sami - Thanks for trying to explain. I thought that one of the teachings in Islam is that gossip is bad, forbidden. So your theory goes against that - and the culture shouldn't contradict the religion, should it? It's all so very confusing. Thanks for your comment.

  53. Susie
    I have seen this in Yemen where my husband and family hail from; for some reason being recognized is a no-no yet everyone of my in-laws, male and female, has seen my face- so it must be a Saudi thing in particular...But it also smacks of racism- where other than Saudi are considered less than men...

    In Yemen women are always tugging at their niqab, those who ear it0 and I think its an attention caller- I wear one when there and its not so hot that you got to pull on it.

  54. I re-read this today and wonder who sanitary it is to eat with a veil on? I have a hard enough time keeping by shirt clean when I eat.

  55. ask her straight up, in a respectful and curious way. you're knowledgeable about Islamic rulings, so you know that your question is valid and thus you can hopefully be confident in asking it [if you choose to do so obviously].

  56. Well I agree with Queen that the niqab can be psychologically unhealthy (not always though) as it can remove one's individuality and sense of personal accountabiity. I have noticed that some of the rudest people here, when it comes to butting in lines for example, are women wearing face veils and niqabs. They know you wont be able to recognize them two seconds later so they don't feel shame for their rudeness - that is what I think the explanation for their behavior is anyway. If the being rude was just cultural, then everyone would do it with the same frequency - but local men are much more polite and so are women with uncovered faces. But so many times when I was waiting in line, for example with my son in his baby carriage waiting for an elevator, I would have women with niqabs shove in front of me as soon as the elevator arrived with their 20 kids and maids and leave me waiting outside for the next elevator, even though I was the one who had pushed to button for the elevator and had been waiting for it for 5 minutes and they had just arrived. They were so rude and so anxious to get in first, that they would even start shoving into the elevator before people already on he elevator got a chance to get off on that floor. A sense of shame is a good thing to have - it keeps us in line. Feeling invisible can lead people to be less considerate.

    However, I don't think this is necessarily the case for all women who veil their faces, and I am not sure that it would be so with reverts who have made conscious choice to cover their faces for certain religious reasons that they are serious about. Usually people who are trying to be better people in the eyes of God will also try to be polite and considerate.

    It smacks of racism to me too when women hide their faces from their country men but freely uncover them in front of laborers etc. A man is a man, and if you are hiding your face to keep men from being attracted to you then it should apply to all men, even if you think some men are beneath you. A lot of Indian workers in these Gulf Countries don't earn enough to bring their families here so those men are literally woman starved and are more likely to get excited by the sight of a woman than any other group of men here.

  57. Hi Shadjar - I agree - this behavior seems racist. I tried wearing the veil once here just for kicks and found it very stifling and hot.

    Hi Jerry - Well, if they wound up with chocolate ice cream or spaghetti sauce all around their mouths, I guess one advantage would be that nobody else would be able to tell!!!

    Hi Anon - Well, I've never met her and it's not likely that I ever will. I don't know if Amber has that kind of relationship with her SIL to be able to broach the subject with her.

    Hi DesertMonsoon - Your comments were really interesting. I don't know that I've ever noticed if niqab women are more likely to be rude or pushy, but now I'll definitely be on the lookout for that!!! Interesting observations!

  58. Hi Susie,
    I wish I had the time to read all the comments. I skimmed some of them.

    To me, a veil that covers the face of a woman makes her less of a person than a man. It goes along with it being OK for a man to treat a woman any way he wants, and if she does anything that can be construed inappropriate for a woman, she can be beat or worse. If I'm stereotyping, or off in what I'm saying, please forgive and if you have time, educate me. Wearing something on our head by choice is another matter.

  59. I am a Saudi in my 40's .Thank God ,I managed at last to let my wife to ease a bit about this face covering business .The root of the problem ( at least according my case ) is wife feeling insecure with relatives as they might spoil her reputation by gossip that she got exposed in public .This is ridiculous but sadly it is happening..I just hope it goes away one day from the rest of the society .I have feeling it will.

  60. I think it's super strange.I don't know how she might precieve things, or how she goes about deciding. maybe it is her upbringing, like you mentioned. Personally, i have never seen any of my uncles' wives cover their faces in the presence of their BILs, and the ones that cover their faces from distant relatives tend not to reveal them to strangers. That said, I have known many Saudiat whom go by their own rules and instincts. The ones that really blow my mind though, are the ones who are in full cover in the kingdom and turn into Pam Anderson on vacations (no disrespect any of the two).

  61. Thje gossip thing is interesting. I worked with a woman, Nasreem at a school. She always wore hijab. She lives in my suburb, where there are many Muslims, some who cover, others who don't (of course). We went one weekend on a staff development weekend in the Blue Mountains outside the metropolitan area. After we got out of our city area, she pulled the hijab off, shook her hair free, and said "Thank God i can take that off".

    I was curious and asked why - wa sit because we were goign to a very Anglo area, and she said "no...I just hate wearing the bloody thing, but the GOSSIP which would follow me around in my community if i didn't would make it worse." Turned out it wa snothign to do with her beliefs, her husband's beliefs, but just that life would be such a hassle with the community opprobrium.

    So, yeah, gossip as a social's similar in my husband's Byzantine Italian family. ...the lengths ....the lies...they go to to avoid gossip. They usually get caught out in the lie in the end - LOL!

  62. Women wear niqab for different reasons.

    Of those who wear it for religious reasons, some believe it to be required, in which case they should not lift it in front of any non-mahram men (that's males who have reached puberty, who aren't their husband, sons, uncles, nephews, father, etc.); it doesn't matter where that man is from.

    (I wear niqab, and I wouldn't lift it in front of a BIL or waiter in a restaurant. I appreciate the partitions, so I can eat in a restaurant every once in a while, and I don't know why that should bother anyone else. If we have a male waiter, he lets us know before barging in, and I cover my face. I am perfectly able to eat, drive, work and study. I don't need anyone's pity.)

    Other women wear it for religious reasons, because they consider it a good thing that is recommended, but they don't believe that the ruling on it is that it is required, so in some circumstances, like traveling to a Western country, they might think that it will cause more trouble and attention, so they take it off.

    Then there are women - like Bedu or older women - wear it for cultural reasons. They might lift it in front of strangers to eat, or lift it while in a shop looking at fabrics (where the shopkeeper is not from their community, but might still be Arab, for example; it's not only Indians), or whatever.

    In Saudi, of course, most women have to wear it, so you have a combination, and that's why you see behavior that may be hard to understand. Some of them - those who don't actually believe that it's required - may take it off when they travel to the West, or just out of their area, or even in a restaurant where people can see them.

  63. I watched a video o Saudi women eating spagheti in a restaurant, I though it was disgusting and unfair to other people around them.

    A bit of advise to my Saudi sisters should they wish to visit South Africa. You can eat spagheti with your face open here, no one is going to arrest you.

  64. Anonymous--I think it's important to note that the niqab is not required in Saudi, though there may be social or familial pressure on some.

    Layla--that video was either staged, or voyeuristic. I have seen women with a niqab eating in public places in Canada and they have excellent manners and know what to choose to eat, and how to eat it if they will be keeping the niqab on.

  65. Susie, I really am fascinated by your blog. Making my way through.

    Maha's behavior sounds like the sentiment someone described to me of the way men in some Muslim countries behave. In this case it was Morocco and my friend was advised not to walk around alone. As a young Western woman, she would be harassed. However, any Muslim woman walking alone is never bothered because she is Muslim and therefore is shown respect.

    Maha's rationale may have been that as long as her back was to the only Muslim man in the restaurant (they were in the US, not Arabia) there was no danger in her mind.

    Quite frankly, I don't know how any woman can live with the hypocrisy and restrictions of this type of Islam. Especially one who lived for over 50 years in the freest society on earth. The US has its problems, granted, but there is no justifiable excuse for the subjugation of women anywhere. Even Orthodox Jewish women are free to work, drive and own property. Some even refuse to cover their heads.

    The fundamentalists have ruined Islam and created a PR nightmare for hundreds of millions of rationale Muslims who practice their religion peacefully and without scapegoating half of their population. The prophet is spinning in his grave.