After coming back home to Vancouver, Canada from my year long stay in Egypt, I was asked by friends from time to time about Muslim (veiled) women. One thing I discovered after living abroad is that Vancouverites are racially segregated. I don’t see as many inter-racial couples compared to other cities I have been. Walking down the street in downtown, you see groups of Chinese, groups of Korean etc. Prior to going to Egypt, I did not have any close friends who were Muslims.
First of all, not all veiled women are muslims. Egypt, being 90% islamic and 10% coptic, is a great example. Although uncommon, a very conservative coptic woman can also wear a veil. Since I was mostly exposed to Muslims, I will be talking about Muslim veiled women in Egypt.
A lot of people who have never been to the Middle East have a common misconception that women are forced to cover their hair with headscarves. While I have to agree to some degree that Egypt is a men’s country, the women are not veiled against their will. In fact, some muslim women who do not veil at all.
Those who veil do it by choice. It relates to the word “modesty”, as suggested by the Qu’ran. How they interpret modesty is different for every one and it would be reflected on the way they dress. Basically, they want to be protected from potential dangers, such as sexual harassment from men if they show their beauty or sexiness by not covering their hair (and face).
Most women that I see in Egypt cover their hair (the hijab). However, there are also women who cover their face (and eyes) as well, if they believe that’s how they want to be protected. In fact it is not just about the veil. It is also the way they dress. Anything tight like jeans or leggings shouldn’t be worn because it shows a woman’s body shape.
Recently, a friend of mine has asked me if all muslim women are quiet and reserved (her own experience in North America suggest so)? This question is hard to answer. Quiet and reserved people exist in every country and every culture. So are they generally less outgoing? Without going too much into the “nature vs. nurture” argument, the answer lies in the culture and traditions. Egypt is a conservative country. Even the Coptics are conservative.
A lot of the girls I met in Egypt, even in their early 20s, still have to go by curfews. This may sound very absurd in western culture. It feels like they aren’t being treated like “adults” by our definition, despite the fact they are working professionals. Some would never travel with me (even if its a girls only trip). They are sheltered by their families. Does that explain the shy question my friend asked? I don’t know. Perhaps it contributes, more or less. But surely, not all muslim girls are like that.
Random Interesting Points
- The hijabs I see in Egypt are mostly dark/mundane colour without any patterns. When I travelled to Turkey, the hijabs I saw were very trendy. Some are Silk. The colours are bright and there were very pretty patterns
- I always wondered how Egyptians can withstand such strong air conditioning. It felt like winter to me, but everyone’s just fine. Is it because they are wearing more clothes and hijabs?
I like to use clothes and makeup to express myself. It is fun and I feel the inner artistic side of me rising to the surface. Though I do not agree with this view that women needs to protect themselves from “hungry” men, I respect their choices and their religious beliefs. But…One thing I can never understand is that, once in a while, I will see a veiled lady wearing heavy makeup, tight clothing, painted nails, and (even) high heels. Do you want to look sexy, beautiful, etc. in public (aka shown to men not in your family) or not? If this is your choice, shouldn’t you fully commit to modesty? The inconsistency is driving me nuts.