Egypt: Newspaper Criticizes Phenomenon of Compelling Women to Wear a Hijab


Wael Lutfi, assistant chief editor of the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yousuf, criticized Egyptian society for forcing women to wear the hijab even if this conflicts with their world view. In order to present the problem from a woman's point of view, Lutfi writes in the first person feminine and relates the stories of women who wear the hijab for fear of being ostracized if they do not. 

Following are excerpts:

"I am Talking about Women Who Wear a Hijab Out of Coercion… This Society Persecutes Women Who Do Not Wear a Hijab"

"...Why wouldn't I wear a hijab? Of course I wear a hijab. If I want to be practical and interact with this society while [sustaining] minimal damage, I must wear a hijab. I am not talking about religious reasons, with all due respect for these [reasons]... I am talking about women who wear a hijab out of coercion. That's right, coercion. There's no other name for it. The first reason is, as everyone knows, that society has become superficial, a society which is not as interested in the essence of things as much as in their outward appearance. People have no ability or time, and perhaps no energy, to plumb the essence of things. In such a society, a woman who does not wear a hijab is guilty until proven [innocent]. Why should I waste my time proving that I am a respectable and educated girl?... I swear to you, this society persecutes women who do not wear a hijab. Let me tell you the following story, which is entirely true apart from the names...

Suha's Story: "Every Male Co-Worker Who Approached Her [Always] Asked Her the Same First Questions: How Come You Don't Wear a Hijab?"

"The heroine of the first story is Suha. She is a communications engineer, a young woman who works at one of the largest cellular companies. Suha is from an educated family. Shortly after she began working, she came to me crying and said she felt desperate and humiliated, and wanted to emigrate from Egypt. The essence of her story [was this]: [When] she began working, she noticed she was the only [woman] not wearing a hijab. From her first day at work, her female co-workers kept giving her audio cassettes of a popular preacher, whose tapes and lectures were all the rage among girls of a particular social stratum. Along with the storm of cassettes... came an attack of emails and daily invitations to attend the popular preacher's lectures at his mosque. My diligent and honorable friend tried to explain that she was convinced that the [Koranic] verses about the hijab could be interpreted differently, and that she believed that what Muslims [truly] needed was work. [But these arguments were regarded by] the girls [at her workplace] as a sort of madness. They mumbled in astonishment at her words and [expressed] fear for the fate that awaited her.

"But this was not the problem. Neither was the fact that, despite her beauty and earnestness, and her belonging to a family that everyone wanted to marry into, she rarely received marriage proposals. Even though she did not tell me, I noticed that every male co-worker who approached her [always] asked her the same first questions: How come you don't wear a hijab? Do you intend to wear one once [you are] married? Will you be prepared to [stay home and] look after [your] children? These were usual questions, after which the fellow would disappear and stop speaking to her... Several weeks later, she would hear that he had gotten engaged to a girl who answered all these questions affirmatively.

"Everything related [so far] did not constitute a problem for my friend, because she knew that she was different. What caused her to feel humiliated was what happened between her and her boss, who is married with two children. He would not stop talking about the spectacular prayers held on Ramadan evenings at the Al-Hosary Mosque... Taking advantage of [an opportunity] when the two of them were alone, he, politely asked her the eternal question – why she did not wear a hijab. When she replied that she was happy with things as they were, he did not even allow her to finish the sentence, but expressed unanticipated support for her position, [Then], with a satisfied expression, he candidly proposed a relationship of common law marriage – in secret, obviously. My friend said... that more humiliating than the proposal itself... was the connection [he had made] between her refusal to wear a hijab and her [assumed] willingness to be in a common law marriage, or, [to be more explicit, her willingness] to be a prostitute under the guise of common law marriage.

"What Suha did not tell me was that her father is one of the most respectable bankers in Egypt; that her paternal grandfather is one of the greatest judges in Egypt's history; that her maternal grandfather is one of the greatest intellectuals in all of Egypt; that she is a very serious girl who goes to work in jeans, without makeup, and that when she is not at work, she devotes her time to reading and to culture activities. Despite all this, and maybe because of it, her boss thought that her not wearing a hijab justifies a proposal that she prostitute herself under the guise of a secret common law marriage. If I were Suha, I would wear a hijab out of fear of the social persecution of those who do not wear the hijab..."

Walaa's Story: "The Verbal Abuse from the Neighborhood [Youth] Stopped Completely [when She Began to Wear the Hijab]"

Lutfi relates another story, that of a young woman named Walaa, who comes from a poor neighborhood and works as a model: "...My acquaintanceship with Walaa began when I was a guest on one of the shows [in which she participated]. Out of habit, I arrived early, and my attention was caught by a stormy debate between the director's assistant and one of the young women. The reason: Walaa was wearing a revealing garment that did not suit [the character of] the show on social [issues] in which she was to participate in as part of the audience...

"Walaa said that the mistake was not hers. The agency she worked for told her it would be a show on art, and she had dressed accordingly. Afterward, they changed the plans and she found herself on a show she knew nothing about. The only thing she cared about was receiving her wages of 50 liras... I solved the problem by lending Walaa a shawl to put on her shoulders, and asked the director's assistant to allow her to remain [on the set], to which he agreed out of embarrassment... When I left, after lingering awhile with the staff, I saw a hijab-clad girl who seemed familiar, [only now] she was without makeup... and was heading toward the bus with everyone else. After a minute's reflection, I realized that it was Walaa, she of the voluptuous features I had previously seen in bold makeup and a revealing dress.

"[Before leaving] I had asked the director, half in seriousness and half in jest: Did you force her to wear a hijab so that she would suit your show? He had answered sarcastically, in a knowing voice: Walaa wears a hijab [when she goes home]. I asked if I could speak with her, and offered her a ride in my car... This is the essence of the conversation [that ensued]:

"1. Walaa is not just a model. She has other goals in working in this profession, whether due to her own wishes or to the pressure others are putting on her.

"2. After [the day's] filming is over, Walaa spends the night at one of the coffee shops. In the morning, she puts on a hijab and goes home...

"3. That same day in the studio Walaa wore a hijab because she had to go home after [filming].

"4. Walaa didn't use to wear a hijab when she first began [modeling]. She began this job with her family's knowledge and would come home late, in her regular clothes.

"5. The youth in [her] neighborhood had insulted and hurt her brother, and [as a result] he had been involved in an armed brawl and almost killed.

"6. [Following this incident,] Walaa began wearing a hijab [at home]. She would take it off at the office and put it on [again] before returning [home]...

"7. [Afterwards] the verbal abuse from the neighborhood [youth] stopped completely [when she began to wear the hijab], and her brother was not involved in any more fights with them. He and her father told her that they were happy she was wearing a hijab, even though they more or less knew what she did and where she was [employed].

"In answer to the question, 'Why do you wear a hijab?' Walaa answered, 'Why wouldn't I wear a hijab?"

Egypt - A Society of Sheep

"I am neither Walaa nor Suha; and I am not a unique or complicated case. I am very normal girl who wears a hijab. Can I tell you why?

"1. I wear a hijab because we, unfortunately, live in a society ruled by the herd mentality, and we view anyone who is different as if he were plagued or a leper, and we punish him, and I do not want to be punished.

"2. I wear a hijab because my father asked me to. I am in the 11th grade, and the signs of my womanhood have only just begun to appear, and I am not at an age where I can argue. Besides, I do not want to upset my father.

"3. I wear a hijab because my beloved younger brother told me that his friends are judging him based on the fact that his sister is the only [girl] in the group who does not wear a hijab, and he feels ashamed. I want to spare my brother the suffering.

"4. I wear a hijab because all the girls in 12th grade are suddenly wearing a hijab, and have begun frequenting clothing stores for women who wear a hijab. And I feel that my dislike of the hijab is distancing me from the friends I love...

"5. I wear a hijab because we live in a society that allows the preacher Safwat Hijazi to call women who do not wear a hijab 'prostitutes,' and I do not want to be called a prostitute.

"6. I wear a hijab because [our] society is all about appearances. The religious revival is [merely] external, and so are work, opposition, democracy. So why should I make a big deal over my own outward appearance [and stand out, instead of going with the flow]?..."[1]


[1] Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), July 17, 2010.

September 6, 2010