Women in Riyadh feel more at ease without niqab

Women in Riyadh feel more at ease without niqab

Understanding change

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Rawan Al-Wabel
Rawan Al-Wabel

By Dina Al-Shibeeb

THE land-locked Saudi capital Riyadh has long been culturally conservative in comparison to other areas in the Kingdom requiring its women to cover their faces with what it is known as niqab. But women there no longer feel fully obliged to move around its streets covering their faces with a veil known as the niqab, now considered by many as non-mandatory requirement in Islam anyways.

Instead, more and more women are opting to wear the Islamic veil that covers the hair known as hijab, sometimes even with strands of their hair showing, combined with colorful abayas or cloaks instead of the traditional black color.

“I know families [in Riyadh], the eldest sibling could not wear hijab alone — she had to wear niqab, but the youngest sister can now walk even without a scarf on her hair in some places,” Rawan Al-Wabel, a mother of three and a healthcare worker, told Al Arabiya English.

Women sit in a cafe in Riyadh.
Women sit in a cafe in Riyadh.
Al-Wabel says women in Riyadh now can walk even without a scarf to cover their hair in some places.

Wabel, who is also a columnist, has long enjoyed the cultural freedom of a being a modest Muslim woman, wearing her hijab and not niqab, as she originally hails from Dammam, the capital of the Eastern Province.

“I have been living in Riyadh for the last four years, but I am the daughter of Dammam,” she said. “In Dammam, it was much easier to be a hijabi,” attributing her home city’s much liberal climate due to its “diversity” where “people come from different areas.”

With the intermingling spurring more of a freer space in Dammam, the port city of Jeddah, a gateway for pilgrimages to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, “is the most liberal,” Wabel said, where “one could see Saudi ladies without scarfs over their heads.”

Asked if women in Riyadh are becoming bolder in their dressing like their eastern and western counterparts in the Kingdom, Najla Al-Sulaiman, 30, told Al Arabiya English, “Of course.”

People in the capital are becoming “bolder, and more accepting,” said Sulaiman, who works as a compliance manger in an international bank in Riyadh.

Sulaiman, who has did a Master’s in the United States from 2011 till 2015, said “the difference through the three years was extremely striking” when she returned to Riyadh. “You see more colorful abayas, more women who are not covering their faces.”

Sulaiman, who does not wear hijab when traveling outside Saudi Arabia like many other compatriot women, said: “While the overwhelming majority are still covering the hair, I have seen girls without head scarfs.”

“Before, when we used to see girls wearing really bright colors and not wearing veil to cover their hair, we used to feel surprised,” she added. “But now we see this and not at all feel surprised.”

Nouf Al-Wabel, 33, who works in the human resources sector in Riyadh, said the “change itself is in wearing more colors and not just black.”

“While there are women, who wear the traditional abaya with hair showing,” they are “still not the majority in Riyadh,” she said.

“We see it in hospitals, medical centers, and banks,” she added. “The change is happening in media, and media is changing many people.”

This “noticeable change,” however, cannot be “generalized all over Riaydh,” said Sulaiman, who nevertheless dons her trendy abaya with colors ranging from baby blue to beige and brown, and head scarf not to be an “oddball.”

“There are parts of Riyadh more modern than others,” said Sulaiman. “When I go to south of Riyadh or other areas in the capital, status quo is still there.”

The compliance manager is from northern Riyadh, considered “more modern.”
But with all the changes, Sulaiman still feels “surprised” if she sees a woman not wearing abaya.

Like her, the human resources employee Wabel also concurred that it is “strange” to see a woman not clad in abaya.

Different cultures coming together, whether it is Saudi Arabians coming from different parts of the Kingdom or expats, social media, globalization or women going to work and earning their own income, are all factors these women consider behind the change.

A law passed by the Saudi cabinet in April, which restricts the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, often referred as “the Haia” to pursue and arrest violators, has also helped.

“The law passed has helped but it was not an obstacle earlier,” the columnist said. “Before, women did not prefer to appear when they [the Haia] were present.”

Sulaiman said “people were leaning toward being bolder, more courageous which led to the formulation of the law,” dubbing it as a “request.”

Nouf Al-Wabel also said college girls now enjoy far more freedom than her time when she graduated in 2007, as now they could leave their campus with their faces uncovered, although there are colleges that mandate young women to cover their faces.

“This is a far cry from my time,” she said, remembering her high school days when it used to be drilled into them how niqab was compulsory, that it became almost “holy.”

“But we started reading and learning as we grow older, and we started comparing with other cultures,” she said. “I have realized that moderation is the way to go, and it will always succeed.”

For her, a Saudi woman is far more “protected with good morals than a piece of cloth on her face,” stressing that modesty begins from within.

30 COMMENTS

  1. it would be best to impose a law that all females working in public areas (hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, supermarkets, malls, markets, etc) should not wear niqab, so that all women can blend in to have a proper ID of their faces in public areas, and males will be less having bad thoughts about any women with uncovered faces to get used to fenales’ faces.

    • In Islam, Men and women are taught to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. Islam is a religion of prevention. As they say, Prevention is better than cure.
      Islam focuses on purity of the heart and intentions. While most of the world – looks, status, material gain are a focal goals of most people, which only last for short time, Islam focus on one`s relationship to their Lord. We are taught, we are here for a purpose and time, the Hereafter is everlasting. True appreciation comes those who has been given understanding, wisdom, good character, etc… There is no need to be able to look at any face to know people, rather it is by there character and good deeds…

  2. I love you my sisters of Saudi Arabia.

    How do I express.

    I was born in the darkness some mistake for freedom. There is nothing good coming out of walking in that direction.

    You have no idea how bad it is there.

    I feel so sad after reading this article. I love you my sisters. If you would consider.

    Don’t you know.

    My beloved sisters.

    How blessed you are.

    • You are so right sister in your message.
      As a convert to Islam, one of the most difficult aspects was wearing a hijab in the West. Being in Saudi Arabia has been wonderful because of the ease of being able to cover properly.
      I urge our Saudi sisters to not be swayed by media representations of so called ‘women’s freedoms’ because these are merely illusions.
      Be proud of being Muslims and happy that Allah has placed you in such a revered position within society!

  3. Shaykh Muhammad al-Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:

    The hijaab prescribed in sharee’ah means that a woman should cover everything that it is haraam for her to show, i.e., she should cover that which it is obligatory for her to cover, first and foremost of which is the face, because it is the focus of temptation and desire.

  4. Associating “moderation” and “modernism” with this choice is rather condescending and telling of how shallow this article and interviewees are. It is a choice that has to do with beliefs, not with success and modernity described here.
    Thinking that mingling with other cultures as a reason for such a choice isn’t accurate I believe, as women historically in the places described as more liberal had been opting for covering their faces, and Riyadh itself receives many people from different regions since long, how many people in Riyadh actually say they are originally or at all from Riyadh?.

    This acceptance for such choices should br respected and hailed, not used to affirm a stereotype, and falsly associate status que to people donning covers by choice everywhere including south of Riyadh.

    This ugly self-entitlement isn’t surprising, but sad all the same.

  5. These are but tricks of Shaytan to come up with the beautiful slogan of women’s freedom. A woman loses every thing she possesses in her quest to be free from the restrictions imposed by Allah, the All-Knowing the All-Wise. Those who advocate and subscribe to this slogan have experienced its bitter fruits in the form of emergence of numerous social disorders, moral degradation and promiscuous societies. The very slogan has resulted in erosion of family institution. Our enemies have lost the most valuable of their assets and now they want us to be like them. Allah has said in the holy Quran: Translation of meaning: They wish that you reject Faith, as they have rejected (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like one another). May Allah guide our sisters and mothers to straight path, May He help them preserve their dignity and personality. Aameen

  6. Sister u don’t know how blessed r u? All of u can think u r in the dark but it is not true. U r in the brightness, covering ur head. Shaytan is always calling us towards his path in different ways here saying about womens freedom. In Islam women r free the if we go through the path shown by our prophet ( pbh ).People respect those who are in cover. Those who are uncovered r they happy ? Now a days women r using as show piece. All we know it is Haram in Islam. So sister give thanks to Allah being a covered woman.

  7. There is differences of opinion regarding the explanation of Hijab and Niqab. The Modest covering of the head and body for the female is obligatory is agreed by all Ulema and Sheikhs. But the covering of the face is not a must as some sheikhs mentioned very clearly. They also advocated not to cover the face during Tawaf Al Kaaba. Now a days the terrorists ( Erhabi ) have opened a new chapter where identification of male and female is a must by the security personnels. Then Why you will not show your face ? A country where it is a Law to keep open the face, we must obey that or we should not go there.
    Again my question that are we mixing the local customs-traditions-culture with the religion Islam ??
    Thanks the columnist and the readers.

    • Also, This agreement you talk about by the ullama isn’t the case. Unless you feel selective about who is a scholar and who is not, which isn’t the kind of respect people usually have for the ones who know better than they do.

    • Muslim women choose to wear the hijab or other coverings for a variety of reasons. Some women wear the hijab because they believe that God has instructed women to wear it as a means of fulfilling His commandment for modesty. For these women, wearing hijab is a personal choice that is made after puberty and is intended to reflect one’s personal devotion to God. In many cases, the wearing of a headscarf is often accompanied by the wearing of loose-fitting, non-revealing clothing, also referred to as hijab.Niqab is a fitting face cover, which according to some scholars is not
      mandatory.
      Dear Doctor ABDUR Rahman, removing face cover for women, is like removing head cover for men
      and is a requirement of Ihram. However a woman is advised to just shield herself with a scarf when in the midst of men in TAWAF.
      Allah made these rules for the safety of women from lustful eyes and gaze of men.
      The Niqab for men is to lower the gaze as explained by some scholars.
      If an official wants to check identity she can and will in the presence of he MAHRAM.
      There is no obedience to mans law in disobedience to the law of Allah.

      • I am not sure if you are talking about a face cover as we know it or a ninja mask to be form fitting to the face. Covering the face is here because it is a ALLAH’S law, in His book clearly specified.

  8. This is indeed how the shaitan intends to stray our women from the dignity and honor that Islam raised them to be. The Niqab is an important of Islam and for a Muslim woman`s life. The best part of a woman is her face, it is better that it be cover.ed Amongst the true scholars of Islam, the main difference regarding this issue, whether it is sin, if the woman doesn’t wear, but all agree it is better to do so.
    For the righteous woman in Islam, her life is based upon pleasing her Lord, not how she looks to the people or the world, because when she faces her Lord, All the people in every time and place, all together, cannot help her, in front of Allah.

    There would always be people who would try to follow their desires, and pick and choice what they want to follow and sighting ignorant people as their source.

    Advise to all the Muslim women and those who written this article and the newspapers and those who read these types of articles, Fear a Day where No one would be able help you before your Lord…

  9. Leaving religion aside, from a psychological and social point of view compulsory covering of faces is repression of femininity and womanhood. This is symbolic of repression of femininity and of females in any place. Sometimes such repression is necessary to protect a lady from the evil eyes and prying hands but on long term basis we have to make our society strong in order for females, children and even men to move about freely and to express themselves in all possible ways to the maximum. Hair is a strong symbol of femininity and repression includes covering (hiding) of hair especially those of women. In places which afford freedom, women can display their hair, do hair style etc. Even men do hair style in such places which enhances their femininity i.e their personality.

    • Shabbir, please be careful of what you say. The dress code is what is prescribed by Allah in the
      Quran. Please refer SURAH Ahzab and SURAH Noor. Allah knew about whom he created. Despite
      Allah warning Adam and Eve about Iblees, they listened to Iblees who lied and made them eat
      of the forbidden tree. They too ate this in spite of all the other good things in Paradise and were
      sent down to earth and here we are their children, who do not appear to have learnt from this.
      The Quran starts with our seeking refuge from SHAYTAN when beginning SURAH Fatiha.Again it ends with our seeking protection from the whisperings of jinn in the last Sura An Naas.Allah commands
      us to seek refuge from SHAYTAN when beginning our recitation of the Quran.
      May Allah protect us all.

  10. This is indeed how the shaitan intends to stray our women from the dignity and honor that Islam raised them to be. The Niqab is an important of Islam and for a Muslim woman`s life. The best part of a woman is her face, it is better that it be cover.ed Amongst the true scholars of Islam, the main difference regarding this issue, whether it is sin, if the woman doesn’t wear, but all agree it is better to do so.
    For the righteous woman in Islam, her life is based upon pleasing her Lord, not how she looks to the people or the world, because when she faces her Lord, All the people in every time and place, all together, cannot help her, in front of Allah.
    There would always be people who would try to follow their desires, and pick and choice what they want to follow and sighting ignorant people as their source.
    Advise to all the Muslim women and those who written this article and the newspapers and those who read these types of articles, Fear a Day where No one would be able help you before your Lord…

  11. Dear Brother MichaelEdwards my advice to all Muslims and not just the women is “Fear a Day where No one would be able help you before your Lord…”

    Not only selected verses of Quran and Sunnah are applicable to us but all of it.

  12. One should study Quran and Hadith to learn the exact Compliant of clothing and directions given to down gaze
    I am an arab or non-arab…. does’t make sense or can’t be make as apologies in learning Quran and hadith brother Saad Al-Hoshan
    Code of women’s dress:
    It should not be translucent or tight that create vivid images.
    It should not attract the attention of the opposite gender;
    It should not be perfumed.
    It should not resemble the clothing worn by men.
    It should not resemble the clothing that is specific to the non-Muslims.

    • It is important to know Arabic well to read and understand an Arabic book, or why else do we have to pray in Arabic and not any other language?, doesn’t this point to something?. Had you read the Quran and understood it properly, you would find the dress code regarding the face described there clearly and directly, and not just in the generalized notion you are suggesting.
      Having a native pure Arabic tongue would mean something I guess when it comes to have a better understanding, it is the language of Quran. Although I didn’t claim that my opinions are based on my race, as Arabic could be a mother tongue for different people based on their life circumstances, it seems that you jumped to this conclusion for some reason brother, as I didn’t claim that, and would never imply such a thing.
      I still believe what I read in Quran, not people’s whims, and certainly not the insensitive claims in this article. Whether people complay or not, they think the same or not, isn’t something I decide, all I reserve for them up to this point is respect, as all of us are susceptible to mistakes and different understanding of life. But when they claim something, especially belittling and distorting what I and millions of people believe, I have the right too to say what I know, using the resources and assets I have, including my natural command of the language of the holy Quran.
      May Allah guide us all to whatever is good for us.

      • I don’t want to enter in debate with you and I am not in favor of women showing their faces but it’s up to me and you…
        Ibn Abbas (ra):
        He with reference to Surah An-Nur “except only that which is apparent” as Ibn Kathir narrated with a Sahih (authentic) chain of narrators, said it’s “The hand, the ring, and the face.”
        A woman should cover all her body except the face and the hands [Imam Malik, Imam Abu Hanifa]
        A woman should cover all her body except the face. [Ibn Hanbal, Dawood]
        Woman is permitted [not obligatory] to show her face and hands because covering them would be a hardship on her, yah if there is a chance of fitnah let she cover her face. commanding in Quran for lowering gaze to men, make sense when women faces are not veiled
        Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the messenger of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) wearing thin clothes. The prophet of Allah(SWT) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands. (Narrated by Abu Dawood # 4092).
        والله اعلم

        • I have no intention to enter into a debate with you either, as it is as easy to find proof for covering the face as it is easy to you finding what suits your narrative and whims. But to me, the greatest and ultimate is what I read in Quran, said simply and clearly. Differences occur, but as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: a Mo’min’s guide is his heart, and my heart, and mind, says follow the holy Quran.

  13. the writer is not in hijab or niqab she is wearing close a western type of dress even in India we cant see Muslim woman like this type of dress finally its a western propaganda writing.. i was in in Saudi for two year i never seen a single saudi woman showing her face .. in public ..maybe i am wrong..

    • It seems that women covering themselves for protection from men who lack self control is prudent. If men are not to be trusted and that is acceptable to any society, perhaps the men should change

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