Picking on details- the new proposal that could make women cover their eyes in Saudi Arabia

Women in Saudi Arabia are already made, by law, to wear the abbayah/abaya in Saudi Arabia (long black cloak). The law does not however, technically say that women have to cover their hair. Interpretations of the law, of cultural notions, and media may make it seem as if you do need to cover your hair, however.

Now to the news that there is a proposal to force women in Saudi Arabia to cover their eyes as well, or as some media reports have taken the liking to term it as, covering their “sexy eyes”.

A few notes:

1) It is reported that Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice [CPVPV] (also known as the religious police or Mutawa) have made this call. The religious police has over the past decade lost a significant portion of power to control or prosecute what they may deem as immoral behavior in Saudi Arabia. While general stereotypes and historical events may make people from the outside think that they are a powerful force, this has not been the case, especially in cities like Khobar and Dammam where the most the religious police has done recently is to go up to a woman and ask her to cover her hair. She can refuse and simply walk away, as personally observed.

2) The announcement came a few days following the incident of a Saudi man being sent to the hospital after fighting with a Mutawa, and being stabbed by the Mutawa, after he ordered his wife to cover her eyes. Interestingly, the attention has gone to asking women to cover their eyes, not to the Mutawa for using such violence upon civilians. No where in the religious police code should deem such a violence and furthermore, allow members to be involved in a “process of punishment” that gets out of hand. This may be just another way to exert their already losing power over civil obedience in the Kingdom

3) The news comes weeks after the announcement that Saudi women will be allowed to cast votes in the Kingdom, and rumors of finally allowing women to drive one day. These are significant events which may truly turn they very way that families function in Saudi Arabia- a process much needed for a society, as well as for their place in international diplomacy and affairs. However, with the next line in the throne being Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, it may be a bit more difficult than hoped (he is allied more closely with the conservative sector of the country).

4) If the eyes of the women are tempting, stop looking at her. A very simple solution for all the men who are also supposed to lower their gaze. If the Mutawa is in existence to ensure that people are complying with Islamic “rules” and obedience, it may do well to reconsider their methods and see that religious rules are not specific to just one gender.  

getting a hair cut during Eid weekend in KSA requires not following order, paying 2x the price, and gawking at women as they take off their veils.

I finally had a chance to get a haircut today at my favorite salon in Jubail, after being rejected last night at 11 pm because they had too many customers. They did not take appointments so I had about 20 minute wait after my mother paid for the cut (before even getting a cut). I went in the afternoon and even then, it was packed, mostly with women getting their nails done, hair styled, and eyebrows colored (instead of waxing/ threading which was recently outlawed in the salon. No idea why). Women of all ages sat around in the red tones waiting area with plush cushions and bright red sofas with their children.

But you don’t actually wait for your number to be called. There were only three women actually cutting and styling the hair today and there were literally crowds around them waiting in line, no matter if they came after me or whenever. So I had to follow this disorganized mishap and just wait. It did not help us that the receptionist spoke no English, refused to respond to my broken Arabic, and played with her iPhone the entire time and picked on her nails. The woman I waited for, a Filipino who usually did my hair and may I add, amazing was busily cutting away. Except she was literally taking about 5 minutes on each hair; her hands moved fast and I was pretty sure she was ignoring the mothers or she was actually multitasking and risking with women’s long, amazing hair.

For one girl, she literally grabbed the top chunk, sliced it off in three strokes, and left the rest to be, creating bizarre layers while the mother looked on, looking pleased. It took just a few minutes and I was a little more than freaked out and wanted to run away.

Thankfully, she handled my situation beautifully. She took a bit longer with my hair and just did what she wanted to with it. This is why I love her; the women just KNOWS hair, and does whatever she wants and know sit will look good, whether it takes 5 minutes or an hour. She tugged and pulled, and didn’t care if I winched but just grabbed by head here and there like it was a tree. While mute most of the time, she started talking to me and my mom and said that her arms were weak and she had been working nonstop, without any breaks. She was in such a hurry and complained about how busy they were with swarming clients as they did not take appointments and no one followed  rules. They were open until 3 am last night, and today expected to work all night until 8 am, the day before Eid. Women flocked the place to get everything done before the break so that they could look their best. After ten minutes (I was really, really thankful for the extra five minutes), and apologizing that she could not blow dry my hair because of the line behind me and charging us double of what we usually paid her, we left the area where arms and scissors flew everywhere along with hair and nervous energy.

Anyways, I got my hair cut and I know now to not wait until the last minute because nothing gets in the way between Saudi women and primping themselves for the holidays. They can literally get what they want no matter what time it is and how much it will cost them. And I got to see what they are like beneath all the busy abbayahs and niqabs. Gorgeous, as usual.

Phoenix–> Washington D.C. –> Kuwait –> Bahrain –> Jubail, Saudi Arabia: 7 am (Mountain Time) to 7 pm GMT +3

The route I traveled- September 1-2, 2010

Phoenix to D.C.: September 1st, United Airlines

Only a little more than a third of my flight was full, which was good news for me as the extra seat of space allowed for a great in-and-out sleep for 4 hours. One of our flight attendants was forgivingly hilarious, making  jokes about everything from the “blas” we had to turn off, about knowing that we get bored of watching emergency landing videos but it’s on, to talking about leaving the Arizona heat, finally. I mention this because I am going to miss the friendly attitude commonly and stereotypically associated with Americans.

Washington D.C. : 3 hour layover

My craving for sushi (who knows when I will have some again) led me to drag myself from terminal C to terminal A and endure a 20 minute wait for shrimp tempura roll, salmon roll, and unagi roll all to myself. I also spent most of it talking on the phone with friends who are convinced that I am disappearing from the face of the earth. I had to run back to my gate just before boarding to see my flight to Bahrain with United Airlines of a crowd I have never seen in any of my flights to the Middle East before: mostly men in the American army, some dressed in their jumpsuits, others in regular clothes, some calling their loved ones and joking about the next several months. I was wondering where all the women went…it was quite a scene and I couldn’t take my eyes away from it all.

Washington D.C. to Bahrain, with a stop in Kuwait: 14 hours.

I was not looking forward to the next 14 hours with United Airlines because in general, I do  not like airlines of the American brand. I have way too many personal anecdotes to share (no food, uncomfortable chairs, making us pay for checked baggages, no pillows, no entertainment, paying for everything and headphones, etc. as a result of recent economic terms). I am definitely a airlines-from-the-Gulf snob.

However, this time I was surprised to see that I had a pillow, a blanket, even my own television (wow, United?) and food! Honestly, what a surprise. The guy at the check-in even let me pass with a half a pound overweight luggage (last time my luggage was overweight by half a pound, the woman at American Airlines wanted to charge me $95).

Most interesting was my neighbor, Mr. X, I will name him. He is about a foot taller than me, muscular with tattoos in his arms, shaved head, tight black t-shirt, and one light carry-on, and gold rings with the seal of institutions I wanted to uncover but knew I would look creepy. After two shots of vodka though he started talking to me and I found out that I was right- most of the people in this place were from the army and related military personnel. Mr. X told me that they were all getting off at Kuwait and taking flights into Iraq. He just came off of a thirty-day vacation and going to Iraq again for seven months. I kept blatantly asking questions, which he happily answered except when I asked his opinions about the current foreign policy, which he basically after many words said that he could not say and had no opinions (right…) and he has to follow whoever is the commander. He laughingly asked me if this was the first time I has such a crowd around me and I said yes, and he told me, don’t worry, you are in the safest hands, the plane is full of guns and snipers and weapons in the cargo. Great. United Airlines apparently has a contract with the federal government to transport military members. Maybe that’s why the service was so good the 11 hours to Kuwait.

Mr. X spent the rest of the time covered in his black hoodie, refusing to use the blanket, and watching no television, passing in and out. I meanwhile used all my pillows and blankets, watched Letters of Juliet (not that great), missed a meal because I was fast asleep seven hours later, and read the latest Time magazine about Kanye West and his year in the industry.

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Abaya Does Not Equal Islam

Click here for the CNN article on “Islamic Fashion”

Why this bothered me: An abaya does not mean Islamic. Just because there are varied forms of abayas in this fashion show, it does not mean that this is Islamic fashion. Abaya is not even worn by the majority of Muslim women in the world. Rather, it is a piece of society in the Middle East, in particular the Gulf region that may have religious ties, but has largely become a cultural aspect of society.

I will agree with this:

“Modesty is not the opposite of fashion, and fashion is not about showing more of my body,” said Amina al-Jassim

I have been forced to wear the abbayah, and I don’t like it. I do not like it more because it is forced upon me to wear it when I visit Saudi Arabia, not because of the plain, straight forward style. Rather, it is sometimes nice to not have to dress up and coordinate clothes since no one is going to see it anyway. It is a kind of freedom I will never expect in the West since wearing an abbayah out in the streets of Boston where I am is going to get more attention than anything else. Anyways, I don’t know if I will buy into the more “fashionable” abbayahs since it never meant anything to me but something I have to wear in my short visits to the Gulf. Perhaps it is of course a different story for those who grew up wearing the abbayah and therefore, part of their upbringing. I agree with the author in that as more and more go abroad and leave their smaller communtiies, they bring back ideasof individuality that are going to have to be dealt with in the home country. A way to do so is incorporation without total rejection. Not at first anyway.

“It’s not so much a conflict, but an amalgamation of east and west that works quite nicely here.”