Egypt: Why the surge in women covering their faces?
Observing women who are covered completely in black eat in public places makes me wonder what motives could have driven them to conceal themselves in garments that cover them from head to toe. Are these women truly enjoying their meals when they can only eat by raising a tiny corner of their face veils to place some food into their mouths before immediately covering up again? If (as many falsely claim) God requires women to be completely covered in black for the duration of their lives, why did the Almighty create them in human form — only to demand that they cover up?
The Qur’an makes no mention of “women in black,” yet traditionally we Egyptians have adopted this habit, made it a custom and imposed it as part of our religion. This style of dress had never been an Egyptian custom until a few decades ago, but we have happily integrated it into our society. Although veiled women are a widespread phenomenon in many Arab Islamic nations, they hardly exist in non-Arab Islamic countries, whose societies have made better progress.
Sequestering Muslim women dressed in black and discouraging them from mingling with men in the workplace is a phenomenon designed by their respective male relatives with the aim of manipulating them. It is a purely cultural matter; a behavior that men have adopted to control their female relatives. It begins with a father or brother flexing his muscles to demonstrate power over his womenfolk before eventually handing over his “female entourage” to a husband, who usually adopts the same practices.
Some argue that the complete black veil was invented in other Islamic nations and adopted by Egyptians. If this is true, why do Egyptians only embrace this custom and neglect to imitate countless other cultural habits? Others argue that it is God’s wish that women become “blind followers.” If so, why did God create women with the same brains and functioning minds as men, only to demand that they follow their spouses blindly? Creating “simple-minded” women would have made it easier for men to control their female relatives.
This style of dress had never been an Egyptian custom until a few decades ago, but we have happily integrated it into our society.
A woman’s dress is a matter of personal choice, but her face is an essential component of universal human interaction. Facial expressions are a necessary tool to establish a clear understanding among humans; we need to recognize one another’s expressions in order to communicate. When people leave their homes, it is understood that they are willing to integrate into the community; thus, a hidden face should not be an option.
Having the majority of Egyptian women veiled implies that we live in a solidly religious society, which almost all Egyptians agree is not the case. We Egyptians tend to be more concerned with others’ behavior than with exerting efforts to advance our own personal lives. The substantial moral deterioration that we have been living with for decades is a development brought about by our “society of male leadership” — and that female followers are paying for.
Egypt (and arguably the entire Arab world) is a male-dominated society in which women are not only required to play the role of followers, but also to assume the errors made by males whenever they occur. Egyptian women burden themselves by dressing in black to avoid men’s penetrating looks or any kind of male sexual misconduct. Meanwhile, men behave hypocritically by requesting that their female relatives be completely veiled while giving themselves the right to misbehave with other women.
Egyptian men, and probably many other Arab men, want to manipulate their women. Being covered completely in black undermines women’s status and helps men realize their aim of controlling them. Women should not accept being victimized by their male relatives. Raising these kinds of questions is the result of a functioning human mind (that may either be righteous or sinful and in need of correction) — but enabling our minds to wonder is certainly God’s wish.
- Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir