Friday, January 20, 2017

Behind the Veils

I've purposely chosen inauguration day to publish this post. Whatever the future holds for us as a democracy, we should not turn our backs on others out of ignorance. We should not be turning our backs on anyone anyways.

Houston, where I live, is quite an international city. Oilandgas you know. We were told when we moved here that Houston had more Thai restaurants than any city outside Bangkok. We haven't counted them in either place, but that gives you an idea of our diversity.

It's no surprise to encounter a good number of Islamic women, especially at the Lovely Boutique Where I work, which is a destination for visiting shoppers as well as local residents. While we're all seeing head coverings more frequently, I was woefully ignorant what they mean. They are not just a fashion statement, although a headscarf would be a good solution on a bad hair day. On the other hand a burqa would seem an extreme solution to "What to wear?".

Herewith a brief glossary of various Islamic head coverings and their significance in the culture:

Claire Danes as Carrie

> A hijab is a headscarf, not a veil. It can be very structured or loosely thrown on as per Carrie on "Homeland".

> It hides the hair, ears and neck leaving only the oval of the face visible.

> The hijab has widespread use throughout the Muslim world and is championed by the Muslim Brotherhood (which promotes strict adherence to Muslim principles).


> The chador is a full cloak that covers the body and the hair and opens at the front.

> It's traditionally worn by women in Iran and Afghanistan but is not obligatory in Islamic countries.


> The burqa is a full veil traditionally worn by Pashtuns (an ancient and strict sect of Muslims) in Afghanistan.

> It covers the head and body and has a grill which hides the eyes.

> This covering has been enforced by the Taliban.

Burqa (left) and niqab (right)

> The niqab is a veil which entirely covers a person, including the mouth and nose, but has a small opening for the eyes.

> Its use is widespread due to the influence of Wahabi Islam (an ultraconservative branch of the Sunnis), especially in urban areas.

When do women remove their veils? I found this answer online:

"Muslim women take off their hijabs in the exclusive company of other women (beauty parlors, girls' nights at home watching Ally McBeal, etc), as well as among close family members at home.  And of course alone in the shower, while sleeping, and so forth. They're not "never nudes," they're just culturally modest in public places. Lots of Muslim women actually have very nice hairstyles under there, but they save them for appropriate company." 

Thus why the shopping...

This is but a brief guide. There are myriad ways to wrap or tie with various meanings as expressions of religious belief. And that's something a democracy respects.


  1. Just got time to catch this. Thank you! Like everyone else, I've observed various Muslim women's garments, but not really known the difference and certainly did not know that some are used in some countries but not in others.

    Was in Dubai a few years ago and noticed that many women wore chadors--but when the wind blew, you could see their jeans beneath (it was winter then, so the heat was not a problem).

    Men, on the other hand, wore the full white robes, like kaftans, called dishdashes. Must say that not one man I saw failed to look good in a dishdash, as long as the robe looked fresh and wasn't too wrinkled. :) It was rather like a man in white tie and tails; any guy, no matter his features, looks elegant. On the other hand, the driver I was assigned told me that when he had worked for the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, he had had to wear a dishdash -- and to maintain its pristine look, he changed four times a day in the summer. Oy.

    Anyhow, as you say, no matter what, turning our backs on people who have different customs is not the answer. Your post is a good example of how interesting and fun it is to find out more about another culture.

    1. Thank you. This is exactly the response I was hoping for. Knowledge is key. How lucky you were to get to Dubai and see first-hand how truly interesting is the world we live in. Many thanks for writing.