Few weeks ago at a friend’s house we were watching a program that discusses social issues in Saudi-Arabia. I had actually never watched the program before since my understanding of Arabic is not that good to follow the whole discussion.
So the program called MBC 8pm (aired from Riyadh) has experts in their field come over to share their views on each episode’s topic. I was surprised to see a woman with an uncovered face on the show sitting next to the men, participating in the discussion. How did they allow this mingling on Saudi TV?
We’d been watching for a while and then suddenly someone said, “you all realize there’s five people sitting around the table right?” Wait, what? Where? OMG is there someone sitting in the far left corner?
A woman in all black was indeed there. She hadn’t said anything or even moved and they had placed her in front of the black background to make her literally invisible. At first it seemed really funny and comical and everyone (including Saudis) laughed. Why would they even bother to have her on the show if she was not going to speak? And how about placing her in another seat to make her more visible? It was almost as if the director was making fun of her appearance.
Especially when they were picturing the stern and concerned expressions on the other participant’s faces while listening to the audience calling in and they showed her “expression” too.
Ironically perhaps they were discussing women’s rights, this time in case of divorce and this woman was supposed to be the representative of the women’s rights organization. Who does she in fact represent? The invisible, silent or silenced women out there? The ones who are all good with their rights been taken away by patriarchal legal systems such as the Saudi one? Women who think they should remain silent, patient and accepting of everything because the woman’s word is not as important as the man’s? Women who think their voices are too enticing for men to hear them? Or perhaps those women out there that sincerely believe (or were brainwashed to believe) that men were created a level better than them?
The show also brought out these two very different approaches or interpretations of the Islamic women’s dress code. The all black, multiple layers and no skin whatsoever showing approach to me personally seems very extreme and unnecessary. The woman seems to be literally handicapped by her outfit. She cannot see clearly, her hearing has been impaired by all those thick layers of cloth, her breathing has been restricted and her voice muffled. The gloves on her hands inhibit her sense of touch. Even moving around in this attire is difficult. Every sense in her body has been in someway hindered by her clothing.
It is as if her dress places her in disadvantage not only as a participant in this program but also in public life in general.
Honestly is this really what God in all His wisdom wanted women to look like in public, ‘black crows’ as some clerics have put it? Would God really be so evil that He wanted women to suffer so much under those black layers while men can just strut around in shorts and go topless in public in the +50c heat? How can a human being even interact normally with all these obstructions? Would He make women cover every inch of their bodies and be deprived of fresh air, oxygen and the health benefits of the suns rays on their skin resulting in not only the woman’s illness but her offspring as well? If this were what God intended for all women, all over the world, then how would women be able to wear this in the jungle or in the savanna where so many women live and work without even a hope of air-conditioning? They would die of heat stroke or dehydration in no time!
Now I believe in freedom of speech and dress but what bothers me about extremes like this is how it goes against the basics of Islam which teaches that moderate approach to everything is the best way. Extremism in any form or way always has a negative influence on humans. Going to extremes in any aspect of life is never good. And if this is not overly extreme, then what is?
Also disturbing is the fact that many truly believe this is what all Muslim women should look and act like and anything else is basically, going to hell. They think it’s best women remain unrecognizable and hidden, without a trace of what is normally apparent from humans. Many women do choose this type of dress but others might be forced to cover so drastically by their families. Unfortunately some of those women who choose from their own free will, (including some western converts) tend to be very judgmental and even hostile toward those Muslim women who don’t cover as much as they do. As if the more layers you hide yourself underneath, the better Muslim you become. The more invisible, silent and submissive a woman is in all aspects, the better.
I just don’t believe God intended half the world’s population to be invisible shadows. That just doesn’t make any sense.
“Children of Adam, take your adornment / pleasantness to every Mosque.” (Qur’an 7:31)
This verse addresses both women and men describing them as having a pleasant appearance and adornment.
“(People), do you not see how God has made what is in the heavens and the earth useful to you, and has lavished His blessings on you both outwardly and inwardly?” (Qur’an 31:20)
This verse tells us how God made both women and men attractive inside and out. Why does only the other gender have to cover it all? Men can be outwardly beautiful and alluring to women as well as vice versa. Why would there be so many so called heart-throbs and top 100 lists of handsome men out there if women didn’t find them attractive? If women were really ordered to cover every single inch of visible skin because they are attractive to men then by the same mentality, why shouldn’t men cover from women’s “lustful” eyes? Both should be modest equally, there is no differentiation here.
The verses in the Quran that speak about women and modesty have always been highly debated. There are many different translations and interpretations of verse 24:31 in the Quran which speaks specifically of men then women and modesty, here are few examples of the part for the women:
“Tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts, and that they shall not flaunt their beauty except for what appears (naturally) from it, and let them put forth their covers over their cleavage”
“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment “
“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands, or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.) and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms) and not to reveal their adornment”
So basically the one and only body part which is specifically mentioned by name that women are guided to cover here are the chest/bosom/breasts. Private parts should be guarded which I guess would come naturally. All the other versions of this are mere interpretations of the different meanings of words such as khimaar and Juyubihinna which is why there are so many varying views on what is the proper dress code for women. Everything in those brackets has been added by humans (misogynist men).
Personally I think the verse being ambigous and vague has much wisdom to it. This way it gives a certain degree of variability and freedom of choice because women live in such different climates and under many circumstances which all require different types of dress. The point is to maintain modesty and make sure your breasts are not popping out, that’s it, IMHO.
Women were not created to be mere shadows of humans.
In the end we all felt saddened looking tat the silenced woman on the panel which discussed women’s rights, and would have loved to hear her thoughts and see her participate as an equal.
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