My Two Cents on Angie Galal's "A foreign view of the 'foreign'' niqab' from the Al-Watan Daily

, ,

The Al Watan Daily published another leg of their exploratory journey of the niqab. This time, expats were interviewed to get their opinion on their initial impressions/aprehensions of seeing women wear the niqab for the first time in Kuwait. Although most of the responses are common to many foreigners living in Kuwait, some other perspectives were excluded in this talk. There are three that stick out in my head:

1. It is very difficult for foreigners to wrap their head around the idea that the niqab is utilized as a means of achieving modesty when some of those who wear it wear obscene amounts of makeup or are more studded with bling crystals than a LITE BRITE.

2. Again, as I mentioned earlier, the irony of this article of clothing is that it provides the anonymity needed to facilitate the very activities that it aims to diminish. Many of us have been accosted by women wearing the niqab resorting to begging in the central souks, and although I have not personally, I have male friends who have been approached for prostitution by women wearing the niqab. I will not mention the school, but my parents told me about an incident of a male high schooler dressing up in the niqab and abaya in order to sneak into the ladies bathroom at a ceremonial function. The police came and everything to take him away.

3. The hardest part of actually knowing and interacting with women wearing the niqab is that it is difficult for me to deal with not being able to see their smiles. I know it sounds silly, but once I was laughing with a girl wearing it and this really struck me about the situation. On another hand, I have been approached before by people I know who wear the niqab while in the supermarkets and shopping centres. It is always these women who have to come to me to greet me, because I would not recognize them otherwise. I find it a little saddening that I could walk past someone I might know for years without turning my head. I also believe it limits what I call opportunities for improvised social interaction, which are already so limited and few here in Kuwait. A world full of people wearing the niqab would be a world of eternal strangers. I find it isolating not only to the wearer but to the observer.

But, of course, women have been wearing the niqab for centuries and have continued on, and I have lived here less than a year. Nonetheless, these are elements I grapple with when meeting people who "choose" to wear the niqab.

"The niqab, the black cloth covering the faces of women in the Middle East and particularly the Gulf region, is considered eccentric by many foreigners who come to this part of the world. Some of the foreigners residing in Kuwait try to untangle the meanings behind what is, to them, an unconventional costume, while others prefer to stay distant, believing that by doing so they are respecting the culture and religion of the country. Concluding a week long look at the niqab and other similar coverings in Kuwait, Al Watan Daily spoke to several foreigners to hear what they had to say about the traditional clothing.

Jana, a European expatriate, said that "it''s up to them if they feel ok like this. I''m asking why there are women who wear it and why there are others who do not, but I respect that they wear it."

Vicky, an American expatriate, described her initial reaction when she first came to Kuwait as "thrown back."
"I did not understand why women should not show their face. I asked and got different responses from people. Some people said it was to cover the women''s beauty, some people said it was the husband''s choice. I never really got a clear understanding of why. When you initially get here, well, you become overwhelmed because you don''t see this dress a lot in America. However, when you then see it a lot for the first few days, it becomes normal to you and just part of life. I was wondering if it was oppressive, but the women I talked to feel very comfortable wearing it. It gives you greater respect for someone else''s culture. I guess if you are ignorant and judgmental, you''ll wonder why are they doing that, but being knowledgeable, you carry what you know about the culture back home," she said.

Raquel and Lee, a married American couple, felt "intimidated" when they first came to Kuwait. "We are always trying to be respectful and keep our distance," said Raquel. You always expect that someone that traditional will not relate to us or speak English," she added.

"We had an experience a year ago because we heard a ''monaqaba'' (a woman wearing the niqab) speak perfect Californian English, and we were surprised. I guess she grew up there," said Lee, believing that the reason behind the niqab is due to cultural reasons, unlike his wife who argued that it''s religious.

"We both threw ourselves in and researched and learned and did everything we could to engross ourselves about the culture and it didn''t take us very long at all. Just a little bit of research and talking to people and we felt completely natural," he added.

"Our biggest shock, a visual parallel to us, was walking into a mall and seeing a woman fully covered in a lingerie store. And now when we go back home we''re more understanding," said Raquel." (for link, click here)

0 Responses on "My Two Cents on Angie Galal's "A foreign view of the 'foreign'' niqab' from the Al-Watan Daily"