Behind The Veil: Women's Headscarves In School
Importance Of Hijab (Headscarf) And It’s Place In Schools
By Aesha Lorenz Al-Saeed in Saudi Arabia
To a non-Muslim hijab or headscarf might mean very little, or in the other case, maybe it means too much. So much that it makes them so uncomfortable that they don’t want to see it, because they feel it makes a sort of “political statement” that religion is more important to them than anything else.
Many girls and women of many religions do feel this way. Indeed we should strive to please God first, following the directions for doing so that our prophets gave us.
Among Muslims, almost everyone is familiar with the Quranic verse that says, “Tell the believing women to lower their gaze and not show off their adorn- ment except for that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over themselves.” - Chapter 24, Verse 31
What many people may not realize, is that even in the Bible women are exhorted to cover their hair for modesty’s sake. Nun's cover their hair, and there must be a basis for that in the Bible, must there not? It is found in Corinthians.
“Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered brings shame upon her head. It is as if she had her head shaved. Indeed if a woman will not wear a veil she ought to cur off her hair. If it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved them she should wear a veil…the hair of the woman is her glory.” Corinthians 1, Chapter 11, Verse 5,6 & 14
Because of this, it is all the more surprising when a school in a Muslim country tries to ban the headcover. Formerly Jeddah Preparatory School had a policy of not allowing girls to wear the headcover. In Ramadhan of this past year a student named Lujain Mohammed Munir’s father discovered that his daughter was required to remove her headscarf when entering the school. When he realized the school was adamant in their position, he pulled her from the school and changed her to Continental School where hair covering was allowed.
The students were upset and gave reactions to the policy. One girl said, “It’s horrible to make us uncover, especially when it was Ramadhan. They don’t respect our feelings at all.” Another 17 year old said, “It should be a personal choice. After all, it’s your body and you will be asked about it by God.”
Foreign Muslims from many countries come here to work in the Kingdom in good faith that their children will be well provided for in education, as their contracts promise. They want the best for their children. But obviously no believing Muslim would want to compromise his or her religion. If students (the “customers” of the school) are not content and satisfied that their needs are met, then they will leave that establishment for another who better suits their needs and requirements. The school itself will lose by less enrollment.
Westerners come to Saudi Arabia surely realizing that it is not going to be just like home here. They accept the job realizing that there will be cultural differences sometimes, which should be respected. In fact, many foreign embassies recommend that women traveling to Saudi Arabia dress modestly. What indeed is wrong with covering modestly and respecting someone’s religious beliefs? Thus, it is surprising that administrations would object about the headscarf. In most schools in America it is allowed for girls to cover their hair if due to religious conviction. It is even allowed on driver’s licenses and passports!
Islamically, once a girl or boy nears puberty they should be segregated, or wear hijab. If there is no decoration on the face, this means covering the hair, which is often attractive, along with the body. Thus, it is ones religious duty to practice this, whenever one is around non-relatives.
Those in favor of uncovering say, “because it’s not a religious school, the head should not be covered.” This is the only reason they can give. But that’s practically like saying “study here if you don’t believe in doing what God has told you.”
Why should the headscarf so bother some teachers and administrators? There is no reason why someone should refuse or feel strange in teaching a religious child. The staff should be so glad and relieved to have a religious, well brought up and good mannered child amongst the others who would do well to observe a good example of piety.
In the same vein, they seem to easily forget that this country and many in the Middle East don’t separate state and religion. Religion actually dictates what the state may do. This is following God’s laws first, instead of man’s, since God’s laws are always superior. No human should attempt to force a standard, which is not the norm or accepted practice of the country.
Covering the hair doesn’t affect the studies. If the teachers aren't able to concentrate on teaching when seeing a girl wear a headscarf, then maybe they aren’t dedicated enough teachers, and are more interested in imparting their western values on their impressionable young students. If a school leadership prefers to see believing girls who cover their hair remove their headscarves, in that itself they are making a statement of their beliefs and disagreement with the norms of the country that they are living and operating in.
This means to us that this kind of leadership is not of a desirable sort to run any school in the Kingdom, let alone entrust our children to them. People who refuse to tolerate religious beliefs of others and insist on separating religion from their daily life and studies are not to be admired. In fact, it wouldn’t be bad at all to recruit Muslim teachers instead, for the sake of our children.
We must remember that these schools turn out future adults. Future adults may one day help shape foreign policy or influence it, and these students are also forming opinions about what they see and are subjected to.
To force a girl who wants to cover to uncover is forcing her to expose herself physically. This makes one cling more strongly to the religion and thereby hate Western values, which brought this dictating and predjudism about.
As one who wasn’t allowed to cover in the workplace in the past, it only made us hate and resent our boss and administration.
Thankfully, when I recently telephoned Jeddah Prep, the secretary told me that hair covering is now allowed. Perhaps they realized that the majority was in favor of covering, or perhaps they decided it was not worth making more of an issue over and loosing more students. Or, perhaps they were even forced to allow headscarves.
Whatever the reason, we are glad of the newer position. However, if the administration had been good enough from the beginning to realize that a bit of cloth needn’t be such an issue and that God’s laws are certainly more important than humans, this whole controversy might never have occurred in the first place.