It started off with a post from our editor, on the Facebook page of Magnificent Magazine, about women who were denied access to a restaurant in Marina due to the fact that they were veiled!! A staff member reportedly said “No veiled ladies are allowed in. Maybe during weekdays, but not on weekends and Eid holidays”!! How ridiculous is that! What exactly did he think they were there for, but to celebrate Eid?!
Reports and discussions of veiled women being refused entry to restaurants, places of entertainment, beaches, pools, gyms and other facilities; even being turned away from buying property in some compounds, have recently bubbled up to the surface and overflowed across social media. The stories of disrespect to Muslim women who cover their hair just keep coming and coming. Then there are the discussions of how women are feeling pressured to give up hijab to appear cool and attract a man. Or simply to get work in places that will not accept covered hair (such as in tourism industry) There are far too many stories to document in an article, but let’s look at what is happening and decide that we will fight it.
The Egyptian constitution supposedly prohibits actions that discriminate between people due to gender, religion or belief. But I guess enforcing such rules is not easy, or is not always a priority for a government. With no threat of prosecution or penalty, the management of some businesses will just shrug their shoulders and go “So what? It is my business; I will do as I please.”
Confession time: In my birth country, Australia, not many women cover their hair. While the number of Australian Muslims is growing, they are still a minority and many do not embrace modest dress code. For 10 years I had been regularly visiting Egypt, and had many covered friends there. While I was not Muslim, I was always trying to explain what I knew of Islam to non-Muslims in Australia, to break down the false stereotypes that I constantly encountered in people’s perceptions; ideas mostly encouraged by prejudiced media.
For most foreigners the words veil or veiled bring to mind complete face and hair cover. In Egypt, and in this article, we use the term “veiled” to describe millions who cover only their hair. Many of them dress just like sophisticated, fashionable women throughout of the world, but they are just more covered.
Not so long ago, most women across the continents of Europe, America, Asia and Australia dressed far more modestly, many covered their hair and many covered their bodies when they swam. Even today, it is not only Muslim women who cover their hair, but also women of different Christian & Jewish denominations.
Would a restaurant banning a Muslim hijabi also ban and speak disrespectfully to a Catholic nun, visiting from Rome on pilgrimage to holy sites in Egypt? I doubt it. Would a hotel ban Mariam / Mary (mother of Jesus) who is always pictured with her hair covered, if she wanted to swim in their pool?
When discussion of the bans started, many referred to it as racism. But racism singles out people by race only. This ban is broader than racism. It is religious and gender prejudice. Racism is terrible. But the impact of these two prejudices of religion and gender is potentially more extreme. People who are prejudiced react to something they do not understand, and perhaps fear. When prejudice is engaged, their brain switches off and emotion takes over. And when the emotion of prejudice is intense it becomes – HATE. We cannot allow prejudices and hatred to grow in Egypt. There is enough already. It hurts others and diminishes the one with the prejudice -although they rarely recognize that it makes them a lesser person, they are too consumed by the feeling of being “right”.
Some venues are using the excuse that veiled women make foreign guests “uncomfortable”. That is illogical and ridiculous, because “foreigners” also wear hijab. I have hijabi friends of many nationalities. I wonder if the venues banning our veiled Egyptian sisters would also ban all these foreign women? Or would the fact that they are foreign and perceived as having money, cute accents, and blue eyes; or maybe carry the latest cool handbag from Paris; mean that they should be allowed in?
Representatives of the Ministry of Tourism have stated that the Ministry did not initiate such bans, and that people should report places that do ban veiled women. But rather ironically; Mervat ELTallawy, Head of Egypt’s State Council for Women, stated to Al Arabiya News that the Egyptian law does not regulate on such issues. She even did not see it as discrimination, and believes that each establishment has the right to impose its own dress code. She, sarcastically, advises people not to blow the issue and hype it, and focus on subjects of clearly vital significance to Egyptian women, such as “the new planet discovered by NASA”!! This made me even more certain that we have to fight such prejudice ourselves. Governmental authorities will do little or nothing to force change.
Those bans are not new, but are being more openly discussed. And this gives us the chance to do something about it. Not just in whispers anymore, but to shout it down. One Egyptian friend told me that “the most annoying fact is that we’ve had this going on for most of our (young Egyptians) years.” There were always places that would advertise a vacancy and hint that veiled girls, even if qualified, won’t be accepted or interviewed. We all heard of girls who would take off their Hijab during working hours and put it back on after work! Around 5-7 years ago, three anchor ladies were fired from a local TV channel for wearing hijab. They sued the channel. And 3 years or so later, they were allowed back to their jobs. Which is the reason why we can now see couple of other veiled anchor ladies on national TV. Similarly, an Egyptian female pilot was fired when she decided to wear Hijab.
The rules of for many 5-star hotels and resorts forbid the use of long swimsuits within the premises of swimming pools. No rules for swimming in something the size of a tissue, or even completely naked, if one chooses to. I am almost tempted to try that, and see if I would be banned!! Ironically, when a newly-veiled actress opened up a female, Hijabi-only café in Cairo; she was publicly lashed by the Media for it. Speak of double standards!
You can find more examples of prejudice against veiled women on the numerous Facebook pages emerging and running comments on places that are imposing bans or restrictions against the veiled. Hijab Racism https://www.facebook.com/Hijabstandup & Resprct My Veil pages pose the question “Why is my Hijab your problem?” The group Discrimination Against Veil in Egyptian Hotels has enlisted a governmental website and a fax number that people can send complaints to: http://www.complain.idsc.gov.eg/GCP/Default.aspx Fax number: 24821107
Such senseless instances of prejudice make me feel for the sister who experienced it, and feel sadness about those who show such narrow-mindedness by enforcing such rules. To hear that veiled women are being refused entry anywhere disgusts and saddens me. And given that Egypt is a majority-Muslim country, it simply defies logic! If the presence of a veiled woman “offends” or “makes uncomfortable” a foreigner or even another Egyptian, she should not be made to feel embarrassed or pressured to dress less modestly. Really we should be sorry for the prejudiced person’s lack of understanding, intelligence, and humanity; and do what we can to ensure that these bans do not continue or spread further.
WHAT YOU CAN DO?
** Aside from boycotting businesses which follow anti-hijab policy, I am not sure what we can do! But I hope this article inspires some ideas, and that our readers share those ideas on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MagnificentMagazine so we can take action against such ignorant trend.
** Check out and support https://www.facebook.com/WorldHijabDay also on Instagram. This cause is not just about one day; its aim really runs year round: “Before you judge, cover up for a day”. Some of the stories women tell on here are extraordinarily moving.
** Modest dress is now a University-level subject. There have been museum exhibitions about it, conferences, and books as well. Get more educated on that:
By Susan Ryan
With help of Nour el Koptan
Credit of the title goes to Facebook pages: Hijab Racism & Respect My Veil