There always seems to be a fascination with how Muslim women cover. Whether they wear a hijab, a niqab, or the full-on burqa, the intrigue around it never seems to be abate. The interest goes beyond why they cover to why some Muslim women do not cover, and more specifically to why a Muslim woman would put on a hijab and then take it off.
NPR did a story on April 21st called “Lifting the Veil: Muslim Women Explain Their Choice.” The story focused on several Muslim women who had chosen to remove the veil after wearing it for a period of time. It also included a multimedia section where you could listen to each woman’s story and see them with the scarf and without.
There are a number of issues that caught my attention with this story. First, the title. There must be hundreds of books and articles with titles like: behind the veil, underneath the veil, lifting the veil. As a reader, you already know from the first part of the title that most likely the focus of the story will be on Muslim women. Why? Because Muslim women seem to be almost entirely defined by the veil. While the veil is important in some discussions of Islam, Muslim women are concerned with more than just the question of covering.
Second, the images of before and after were a little disconcerting because in a way it relayed the message that by removing the veil, these Muslim women were somehow liberated. In other words, it was as if they were lifting a burden (i.e., the veil). Some of these women may in fact feel that way, but I don’t understand how the before and after shots help the reader understand their decisions. It just seems to feed into the fascination with veiling and unveiling in a very public manner.
Third, according to the article, 43% of Muslim women in America wear the veil all the time and 48% do not cover their heads. Since, the numbers are fairly close, a story that really explores the idea of veiling should have included women who choose to veil as well. The way the story is set up gives the impression that what is interesting is why a Muslim women removes her veil because we already know why Muslim women choose to cover.
The choice of Muslim women to veil or not is entirely personal. The question for me with this story is why the continued fascination with only one facet of Muslim identity, especially when it comes to women? The veil does not and should not define Muslim women, but if a story focuses on the veil it should be more nuanced and address the myriad reasons why a women would choose to veil, choose not to veil, or choose to remove the veil. Then, one could understand the complexity and personal nature of the veil and one aspect of a Muslim woman’s identity.
Did you read or hear the NPR story? What was your reaction? Do you think there is a fascination with veiling? Why do you think that is? Do you think that the veil defines Muslim women? Please share your thoughts below.