Imagine a man that has never seen the face of his wife, ever. How about a son or a daughter that does not know how their mother looks like?
Such men and women still exist in Saudi-Arabia.
Recently in the news was the story of a Saudi man that had never seen his wife’s face. After 10 years of marriage the man had become too curious to control his desire to look at the woman he married. He had made the mistake of trying to sneak a peak under the veil at night. The wife had however woken up and now wanted a divorce. She had “lost face” so to say.
The women that practise this custom of never revealing their faces come from a very small majority from certain tribes of the Najdi region.
What’s most peculiar is that some of these women refuse to remove their veils even in the company of female relatives including their own daughters, sisters and mothers!
How does this effect the child?
This reminded me of how I found out about this custom through a patient of mine.
She was being treated for cancer and was on the ward with her two daughters who acted as her sitters (caretakers). The daughters were perhaps 7 and 15 years old, hard to say because of the veil.
I remember going about my normal routines measuring her blood pressure and asking her some questions and making a note to myself that I had not yet seen their faces. I wondered why the patient and daughters all sat in the room eating in their colorful dresses without abayas but they hadn’t removed their niqabs (face veils).
I then requested for the patient to remove her veil for me to check her and made a gesture with my hand indicating she lift her niqab. She went ballistic!
She shouted “haram” at me and I could see I had upset her but I still didn’t realize what I had done.
On the side note, some Saudi patients might be a “bit” demanding or like some nurses say “crazy” so I just thought of her behavior as the norm, smiled and left her.
Later on a female physician told me that these bedouins (she referred to them as nutters) never removed their veils, not even in presence of women. She said it has nothing to do with Islam, it’s just their tribes that have these weird traditions of hiding the women’s faces. The permanent veil imposed a huge problem as to how to treat this woman and it was driving the doctor crazy.
The patient had demanded an all female medical team and none of the male doctors were ever allowed to enter the room. The major issue was that she needed surgery and it didn’t look like it would be possible to accomplish with her remaining veiled the whole time.
The veil would of course be in the way of surgical procedures and it would be an infection risk but the patient insisted she keep it on.
The next time I saw the patient I asked her why she always kept the veil on. At that time my arabic was still very basic and I was not able to understand her funny accent either. She kept repeating “lazim” which means “have to”. So I never really understood what were the reasons behind it nor was I able to find out at what age they started veling the daughters. Did they actually veil babies?
The woman and her daughters seemed very comfortable with the veil and at night when I entered the room all three had them securely on. I wondered do the veils come off when they are in the bathroom or shower? It was as if it was a part of their bodies.
In the end the patient was discharged with her eternal veil and no procedures were done. She had refused life saving surgery rather than removed the veil.