Friday, February 19, 2010

What I THINK about Niqab (the face veil) in Oman

*First off, let me say, I KNOW covering of the face (every part of it but the eyes and their rims) is a valid part of the religion of Islam. It is not merely a "tribal" aspect of Omani culture as some Omanis (without a valid Islamic education) might tell you. But it is only recommended as better for a woman by a verse in the Holy Qu'ran, and it is not cumpulsory, as there are many examples narrated from the Prophet Mohammed SAW's time of women who did not have their faces covered; and the Prophet SAW himself did not forbid this practice so obviously is is halal (lawful) for the Muslim woman not to cover her face. But from an Islamic standpoint, veiling the face is a part of the religion (not an integral, important point, but a valid point).

That having been said, this post will be about the niqab [face veil] in Oman, and the way the niqab is viewed and worn in Oman. Facial veiling in Oman is not a purely Islamic custom, but is often reflected upon from a cultural point of view.

Where I live in Muscat, I rarely see women with their faces fully covered. I mean, it is about as common as walking around in a big city in Canada. There are sections, groups of women, from time to time, but they are not the majority here. I know in places like Salalah, or if you go to the Mutrah Souq, it becomes more common, and you try to take in the different styles of face covering. Some girls simply pull their shawls entirely over their faces (brightly printed fabric or sheer plain black no matter), some buy a face veil with a single band that fastens across the brow and has a short veil that covers to their chin but no more, and others have the more encompassing layered flip niqabs (with or without a string at the nose) where the facial part of the veil falls to the chest or the hip [these are also common in Yemen and Saudi Arabia). There is also the gold, green, or purple painted birqa, or falcon shaped face mask, but I rarely see younger women wearing these unless for weddings with full-out cultural gear.

In Muscat, the opinion of most male Omanis I have asked, is that the niqab is a tribal/cultural norm, and not an Islamic need for a woman, since, it is not the most common precept in Muscat, it can make more people notice a woman if she happened to be off walking somewhere. Girls DO wear niqab though, as I have observed, in the city, when they don't want anyone to recognize them, out on a date, having an affair... LOL, yes, so certainly not for an Islamic reason. This is a generalized opinion BTW... As a woman who likes to wear niqab, I find, I get more attention wearing it walking around in Muscat, then if I didn't. And the attention can be negative, such as men thinking I want to go out with them because I am walking by myself and wearing the veil...

For those who wear niqab for dating purposes in Oman, they generally have fake eyelashes attached, and out-of-this-world bright or sparkly eye make-up (and perfume you can smell for miles). These women never wear the veil abroad in the West, and generally don't wear abaya or necessarily even hijab abroad.

Most Omani women I am friends with don't wear the veil, and the ones that do, do it for religious reasons, and they adore the privacy. They like imitating certain women from among the early Muslims that they admire, and they have found it makes the hearts of those around them purer, such as close male in-laws. There is no jealousy over, "your wife is prettier than my wife" ect... The women who I know here that do wear it, do it from their own convictions, and it ISN'T actually a norm for their families. A note to add unto that, the women that wear it for religious convictions, usually maintain the veil while abroad too.

Beyond them (and they are a small minority in my experience) the vast majority of women in Oman who I have spoken to, veil for their culture. It is a norm for the women in their family. They feel comfortable doing so because it is something they have always done, some girls from before a Muslim woman is Islamically required to even start covering at all. Others do it to please their husbands, as many husbands who come from parts of Oman where women veiling is common, think this is best for their wives. The thing that makes me the most angry though, about husbands that prefer their women to be veiled in Oman, is that these same men would prefer their women NOT TO BE veiled outside of a Arab environment. They are only supporting the idea of the veil for their own social standing and reputation, and as soon as the veil makes them look backward or less-of-a-man [such as in Europe, surrounded only by Europeans], they reject it. Hypocritical BEYOND measure!!!!

Some of the problems with veiling in Oman: if not done for an Islamic purpose, the choice of whether or not to veil is taken away from the woman, and is given to her family or her husband. In her religion, the right is her's, not anyone else's. The laws in Oman support this a great deal, but cultural acceptability (going beyond what is the norm for one's social circle) fails to make use of such support in the majority of cases where the woman as an individual would prefer not to cover her face but her relations are requiring her to.

For me personally (I am not claustrophobe) I prefer it. I like the privacy, and not being judged for my physical beauty. People are like, is it hot to wear in the desert climate of Oman? My response it always to say, no more so than jeans or stilletto shoes. I sweat in jeans and I sweat in certain shoes. I usually don't in niqab, except around the band wear it attaches closed at my brow [which is the same with any hat, lol]. I think is all about the fabric that the veil is made of, and finding a style that sits comfortable against your face (one that barely touches it). I find that the style has to not dig into your eyes or move a lot, and the fabric it is made of has to be breathable. If it flows away from your nose and doesn't move at your eyeline, it'll be unnoticeable, and very good sun-protection. Since a big brimmed sun hat can look stupid with a headscarf. It is TOTALLY different for those who are claustrophobic, or who have the wrong style for their face shape. Some people have difficulty wearing the niqab if their nose is one where the band or string isn't resting on it, and is constantly slipping, thus resulting in the veil digging into one's eyes or smothering the mouth.

For any Omani woman readers, what is your opinion of the veil? Why do you wear it? Do you find it to be comfy? If it isn't a norm in your family, would you ever like to wear it for religious reasons?

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