Masked criminals [Archives:2008/1177/Community]

July 31 2008

By: Fuad Hazaea
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A short television episode about criminals being investigated recently drew my attention. Out of curiosity, I asked my father the reason these criminals veiled their faces. They appeared to me like our veiled women, except that they were criminals while our women are guilty of simply being born that way.

Our society looks down on women as inferior, believing they should cover their faces so they won't be identified by or exposed to men. A man on a bus once told me that the veil is like a guard that secures a woman's dignity, respect and name.

To the contrary, soldier Ahmed Al-Amari says, “The veil is a type of witchcraft attracting men's attention because we try to discover the hidden face behind the veil.” Yemeni women are jailed like criminals. Just as a criminal's freedom is limited to his jail cell, their freedom doesn't extend beyond their black veils. It's a way to lock them up and keep them out of mind.

Ahmed Al-Hamadi, a teacher at Al-Amjad Private School in Sana'a, wonders how women can bear the imprisonment of such a mask, adding, “The veil is a cover for vice because women can do anything they wish without being discovered. Unveiled women may capture our first glance, but veiled ones capture our curiosity.”

A book isn't valued for its well-crafted cover but by its content. Likewise, the veil doesn't display signs of morality, esteem or respect, but rather signs of unfairness and lack of confidence. While shyness is natural, it is lack of self-confidence to be shy about exposing your face.

According to Mona, a student at Sana'a University, a woman is a human being, not an object or a piece of meat; thus, she should be given the freedom to veil or not. She further notes that many women dream of being able to walk about unveiled, but Yemeni society enacts harsh barriers.

On the other hand, another student points out, “It's our tradition, so we should stick to it.”

Yemeni women have the right to vote, drive and be educated. While veiling isn't a law in Yemen, society still considers it a compulsory necessity to be protected.

Islam does not oblige women to be veiled; rather, veiling was introduced into Yemeni society as a fashion by the Ottoman Empire, with high-class women wearing it.

However, veiling has prevailed throughout the entire scene of Yemeni society, changing from a fashion into a compulsory necessity.

Likewise, Salah Al-Shamiri affirms that veiling has nothing to do with Islam, but says that traditions speak louder than religious teachings and instruction.

Veiling is a “compulsory option” in Yemen. While women aren't forced to veil, many choose to do so themselves. When they see all of their female family members wearing it, young girls seek to imitate their mothers, sisters and other relatives because they just want to be like them, even choosing different and elaborate types of veils.

As Asamae Al-Kholani says, “No one forced me to veil. I choose to wear it because all of the females in my family wear it.”

For many tribal men in Yemen, luck has been the last resort when marrying. Taxi driver Najib from Arhab says he never saw his wife's face before the day of their marriage. Because his mother and sisters chose his wife for him, he didn't have the chance to even see the face of his future wife. “I'd seen her walking about, but she was always veiled.”

Just as criminals have no right to choose their jail cell, Najib didn't have the right to see his wife or her appearance. It's unfair to force one to marry without even knowing how she looks. Enforcement doesn't equal necessity but rather, enslavement.

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