Mar 20 2011

Old habits are hard to overcome

 

 

Saudi women’s veil versus modernity

Thousands of years old ethnic traditions felt unplaced in 21st century-

from Emirates news:

Husband has not seen wife’s face despite 10 years of marriage

By Staff , Published Sunday, December 05, 2010

After nearly 10 years of marriage that produced five children, Mufleh Mohammed of Saudi Arabia still has not seen his wife’s face.

Mohammed Hilal, another Saudi husband, could not identify his wife who was killed in a road crash until her veil was put back on her face.

Mufleh and Mohammed are among many Saudi men who have never seen the face of their wives as they insist on sticking to ancient tradition of keeping their face covered even in front of their relatives or husbands in defiance of ongoing changes brought about by the advent of oil and a massive foreign influx.

In a report on such habits, the Saudi Arabic language daily Alhayat said many women in the conservative Gulf Kingdom that controls nearly a quarter of the world’s oil still defy the winds of change and stick to their ancestors’ traditions.

Even after they get married, they never remove their burqu (face veil), leaving their husbands guessing how they look like. Mufleh is one of those husbands.

“My wife still keeps her face covered all the time even in front of her family and relatives because she has been accustomed to this since she was a child… I have to respect her wishes and not insist on seeing her face,” he said.

“I cannot deny that the woman’s habit to cover her face in front of her family and inside her house is a tradition that my tribe had inherited from our ancestors… but I have thought that social changes and openness will alter some of these habits since they have nothing to do with Islam… but they have not changed… although I have been married to my wife for nearly 10 years and have five children from her, I have not seen her face even once in my life.”

Most Muslim women in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf crude producers still wear face veils as part of long-standing traditions dating back before oil was struck more than half a century ago. But some of them, mainly the new generations, have started to unveil their faces while keeping a scarf on their heads.

In Saudi Arabia, local women taking off their face veils in public still face the wrath of the feared Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which usually deploys thousands of its members in public places to warn unveiled women. Women with “seditious” eyes must fully cover their faces.

Such practices run against recent statements by an outspoken Commission official, who said Saudi women do not have to veil their faces.

Sheikh Ahmed Al Ghamdi, head of the Commission’s Makkah branch, also said there was nothing in Islam to prevent women from driving.

Alhayat said Mohammed was another one among many Saudi husbands who are deprived from seeing the face of their wives.

“I could not identify my wife after she was killed in a road accidents…I asked security women to put the veil back on her face…after they did so, I recognized her and indentified the dead person as my wife,” he said.

The paper quoted an unnamed teacher at a literacy centre as saying she succeeded in persuading two of her female students to uncover their faces in class. But after a while, she noticed that they could no longer concentrate.

“They kept blushing and turning their faces away from their class mates although it is a female centre… after a few days, they quit the school,” she said.

Another Saudi women identified only as Ibta said she had agreed to her husband’s request to take her face veil off at home despite criticism from relatives. “My husband is an educated man so I agreed to his request… but my relatives then started to look at me with contempt and one of them later shouted in my face and said ‘shame on you… how could you do this,’….I stood their criticism with my husband’s encouragement,” she said.

But another Saudi man was not as open as Ibta’s husband. “I don’t see anything wrong if our women stick to old traditions,” said the man, identified as Saleh.

“Every society has its own traditions and habits and we have no choice but to respect them… we do not force them to do anything they don’t like, because some women in our tribe keep their face veil and some do not.”
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From that article I remembered a Saudi woman from Riadh who saw the face of her mother the first time at her funeral, secretly she lifted the veil (as told in her life story, a book) .

 

How did it come that women in ancient times started wearing a full face veil in the vast Arabian desert? People inhabiting that huge inhospitable desert land were in the majority nomads living from their sheep flock and camels. Camel was and still is the Bedouins best friend. It is the “ship if the desert” and it is the source of meat and drink, milk and in Emergency (only*) blood from a vein on the neck when no water is available while a camel can survive for days with one drinking. Small farming communities existed in the oasis and in the coastal cities Mecca and some others flourished import-export caravan trade with spices and silk and other luxury items, badly needed vanities like pearls and perfumes by spoiled circles in Europe and elsewhere between the Mediterranean Sea and the East as far as the ancient China.

 

Photo By: Wendy Cocker,  Aslam Pilgrim caravanserai at Wadi Aslam,  northwest Saudi Arabia; 18th century

 

Let’s imagine the men going about their business looking after the animals. Tribal conflicts were every day matters, blood revenge the order. In that scenario especially the women were vulnerable and I can imagine why it became necessary to protect them, especially if they were still young and beautiful.

Bloody tribal conflicts were the menace of those times and until today tribal thinking is still strong in some areas.  In fact Prof. Mohamed was invited to Medina as arbitrator between warring tribes and was able to achieve peace between them, the main reason why people of Medina converted to the religion he was preaching, to Islam.

It was the custom in those times that after lost battles women and men were taken prisoners and often sold as slaves, sometimes the women were married legally. We can understand why women needed special protection in those days.

Small scale model of an ancient Arabian city, at Tayabat House in Jeddah

But times change. Today those countries are predominantly Muslim and it should be without thinking clear that women are safe from male harassment without covering their faces.  From religious point of view the face veil  is not required and the most powerful argument against it is the fact that when women perform the ritual pilgrimage (Omrah and Hajj, equally required from both sexes if affordable), they are not allowed to cover their faces in the Grand Mosque of Mecca. And they mix with men while doing it. In the Quran there are only two Suras, which mention in some way the veil. One of them says that the wives of the Prophet are not like other women and one should talk to them through a shade. A word that can be translated in different ways, but the root word can be any garment, a curtains or similar. The face veil comes from that, a shade, a covering, a curtain.

The other verse is in my opinion misinterpreted. While the Prophet was talking about covering bare breast (often the case while nursing, especially slave women) some are interpreting it meaning as an order to draw the head cloth (worn against the heat of the sun) over the face to the bare breast.

This is my personal view and I can see that I am not alone in this. I think that to develop a country it cannot forgo the huge potential of half of its population!  In those oil rich countries today the girls are getting an education but they find it really hard to get a  job. Only in education as teachers in girl’s schools or as women doctors were jobs open, and only if male relatives agreed. But slowly they are getting out and taking on office and administration jobs that until now were done by foreign male employees.

And they are driving cars, occasionally. Until recently foreign male drivers were hired from abroad which is actually Totally against the same old custom that women cannot be in the same room without males who are not close relatives. But it is still just a modest beginning in many areas.

Not to forget the fact that the huge number of foreign employees and workers send their savings back home for families they are supporting. That money is away from the country where it would otherwise stimulate development of the society. The good side of it is of course that poorer countries without oil reserves are profiting from it.

(* Blood and the meat of swine and some other animals are forbidden in islam, but in order to save lives in emergency allowed.)

Salaam for later

Mona


Jan 09 2011

“Accidental theologist” Lesley Hazleton on reading the Quran

 

 

Once in a while one comes across of ray of light in this world of misinformation, misinterpretation and misguided interpreters of Religion. Journalist and “accidental theologist” Lesley Hazleton is one those and I am so grateful to have someone to quote from her perfect English arguing (which is not my mother tongue).

 

Lesley Hazleton : “The fact that so few people do actually read the Quran is that is so easy to quote, that is to misquote. Phrases and snippets taken out of context what I call the highlighter version which is the one favored both by the Muslim fundamentalists and anti-Muslim islamphobes…”


VIDEO: Brilliant arguing about 72 Virgins, Huris and flowing rivers in Paradise.

British-born, Lesley lived for thirteen years in Jerusalem, where she worked simultaneously as a psychologist and as a reporter for Time Magazine.
“Religion is easy” (c. Prophet Mohammed). But unfortunately many Muslims believers do not bother to think by themselves but leave it to others. Especially those young people who are brain washed and made to act as human bombs. Nothing could be more un-Islamic starting with the fact that suicide is strongly forbidden in Islam.

 

Journalist and “accidental theologist” Lesley Hazleton

 

Please, my dear readers, watch the  video from her speech at TED: Lesley Hazleton: On reading the Koran
Why you should listen to her:
A psychologist by training and Middle East reporter by experience, British-born she has spent the last ten years exploring the vast and often terrifying arena in which politics and religion, past and present, intersect. Her most recent book, After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split, was a finalist for the 2010 PEN-USA nonfiction award.
All the best to my readers for the New Year 2011!
Mona


Aug 30 2009

Mother of the Believers, book review – III

Tag: History of Religions,World NewsMona @ 7:05 pm

Salaam,
my readers who keep coming back here!

After reading the book I should give some kind of final recommendation from my side.

It is marvelous reading, skillfully written bringing Islamic history close to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I appreciate the amount the time and research the author has invested in it.

Only if there were not the one thing I have been writing in my previous posts and am quite unhappy with.

After having some serious concern about Lady Aisha’s age at her marriage since it is not known, all speculation is based on Hadith only, I think that the positive aspect of information and positive image it gives about Islam weighs more and therefore I recommend it for interested readers.

But readers should always keep in mind that it is a fiction novel after all and not everything what the vivid imagination of Mr. Pasha (which I envy – to be honest) brought to life here is necessary word by word true.

I could not find any historical errors since for most of the events exist surviving documents around which the author has woven this historical novel.

Ramadan Greetings to all!


Jun 13 2009

Mother of the Believers, Book review – II

Tag: History of Religions,Women IssuesMona @ 6:53 pm

I am reading this book very carefully and taking notes. It is a wonderfully written colorful peace of research and until page 110 I have not found any historical mistakes expect the one I would like to discuss today. History coming alive!

I trust it would be a great basis for a new movie about the birth of Islam like the well known masterpiece “The Message” by Mustafa Akkad . Since the author is an accomplished screen writer I am especially worried about this. Once a MOVIE is made about (any) events it becomes the truth to most of the people.

In the shoes of Mr. Kamran Pasha I would be really careful what to allow to be done in his name. In Islam we are accountable for our deeds and intentions, and one of the worst sins in Islam are inventions into the faith.

If there were not the ONE thing I oppose strongly since there is NO REAL evidence of the date of birth of Lady Aisha. Only one or two Hadiths, which were collected as late as 250-300 years after the death of the Prophet (pbuH). Until then they were mere traditions remembered orally. The Prophet himself discouraged writing down his every word because he feared they would be confused with the Quran.

Needles to tell my Muslim readers how Islam is portrayed on internet forums whenever the topic Islam comes up. The Prophet (pbuH) is routinely called “a pedophile caravan bundit”!

I have the strong suspicion that the author had to make a few changes, probably only one (since to book is powerful reading) to his manuscript so that it would be accepted for publication. The one about Lady Aisha’s age. It would explain hastily made changes in the text about it and the from it resulting unmatching dateline. Muslim readers know what I am talking about, the opponents do not hesitate to use all means to tarnish the image of Islam. They are mostly powerful media owners and editors in chief in major publications.

Why do I believe so?

On page 9: Aisha is claimed to be born in 613 A.D.

On page 92: is claimed that Aisha “counted over 40 most powerful men not only of Mecca but the Bedouin tribes…” at the age of tender age of 3 years?!

On page 96: in 619 A.D Aisha is claimed to be 6 years old almost 10 yrs after the 1. Revelation” in 610 A.D. when driven out of Mecca into exile

Page 105: Her sister Asma is 16 yrs old in 621 A.D when boycott ends meaning that Aisha would be STILL 6 yrs old (after spending 3 years in exile, and not 9!). Asma was 10 yrs her elder. According to Adel Salahi the boycott lasted for 3 years “Muhammad, Man and Prophet” by M.A. Salahi, page 160 (not 2 yrs as in this book) .

For other events in this novel there are surviving documents and scriptures to rely on and they are largely accepted as accurate, historically correct. The early Muslim community had many literate people who recorded events and in one of them is said that Aisha was a young girl when converting with her elder sister to Islam (among the first 80 Muslims to do so), in 610 A.D. That would make her at least 11 years old when returning home from exile from the desert outside of Mecca even if she was a newborn baby back then. And if we believe this to be correct, since it was recorded in the lifetime of the Prophet (and not 250-300 years later!) then she was at least in her late teens when marrying the Prophet!

Salaam for later commentary,
Mona


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