1. clearstone
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    clearstone New Member

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    Non-Muslim woman wearing the niqab?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by clearstone, Jul 12, 2016.

    I'm currently writing a part where my heroine has to meet with members of a jihadist group in an isolated location at a predominantly Muslim country. She needs to purchase artifacts they have looted from a museum. She fully understands that such dealings are illegal and highly dangerous, but she needs the artifacts really badly so there's no other option. The person who helped her arrange this meeting is a local, and advises her to wear the niqab at the meeting in order to 1.reduce any potentially dangerous situations, as the jihadists are easily offended fundamentalists 2.protect her identity (that is, prevent the jihadists from seeing her face and possibly threatening or blackmailing her afterwards). She accepts the advise. The result is that while she succeeds in not offending the jihadists, they still try to bully her into paying more than the agreed amount because she's a woman nonetheless. (as in: bullies considering women to be easier targets than men, or just preferring targets who they perceive to be "weak" in general. More of a sexist/misogyny thing than their fundamentalist leanings.)

    So my question is, is it likely or realistic for a local to suggest a non-Muslim women to wear the niqab (or hijab or burqa) in such situations? And do you think this scene strongly offend Muslims (because the heroine is a non-Muslim wearing Muslim clothing) or feminists (because the heroine chooses the wear a niqab)? I mean, I know I can't please everybody, but I would prefer to avoid unnecessary controversy. It's just a small portion -- doesn't take up an entire chapter or something, but just in case.
     
  2. SweetOrbMace
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    SweetOrbMace Member

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    In response to the first part of your question, no it wouldn't be that unusual. All women (muslim or not) usually have to cover their hair when entering a mosque for example, although not so far as wearing a niqab too. Also, I have known some non-local, non-muslim women choose to cover their hair when visiting certain areas of certain countries just because it saves on the hassle and does show some respect. Again, never known anyone go so far as wearing a niqab though. However, we weren't living under ISIS... Also if you watch the news you will see that a lot of female (non-muslim) reporters do choose to cover their hair when reporting from certain areas. I would add that a lot of my local friends (both men and women) find it slightly embarrassing that a non-local, non-muslim women should feel forced to cover their hair. But sadly the reality is that it does make things easier in some places.

    In response to the second part of your question, a lot depends on your execution of the situation. Non-muslims wearing traditionally Islamic clothes isn't inherently offensive - unless it's done with mocking intent. Some items like the abaya (the long black gown) can actually be very practical and comfortable. The risk of offence is in portraying the jihadists as somehow representative of a majority viewpoint in Islam/the Islamic world. But it doesn't sound like you are, so you should be alright.

    On the feminist issue, again it depends on how you do it. Of course some people will object, but also remember that feminism is not one set of ideas/values. There are muslim women who would describe themselves as feminist yet also wear a hijab (even the niqab) either because they choose to of their own free will or because they are forced to by social norms and pick their battles.

    A quick note on the issue of the burqa (you may already know this, so apologies if you do): Contrary to what some aspects of the media report, the burqa is not widely worn. It is predominantly an Afghani and Central Asian garment. So if your heroine is planning on wearing one in an Arabic country, they are going to think her a bit odd.
     
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  3. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    I would not worry about american feminists. They tend to focus on western-centric feminism. I know some muslim women who would call themselves feminists and they literally think the opposite. American feminists see women completely covering up and see it as a symbol of oppression to not be free with their bodies. Arabic feminists see uncovered bodies of western women and see it as being sexualized. Muslim women want to be covered, it's not due to oppression, it's because they see it as humble to their god, not their men. Of course, I'm referring to women of free countries. I've never known a muslim who said they would be offended if a non-muslim wore a niqab as long as they're respectful about it.
     
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  4. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    I agree with @SweetOrbMace , she would probably be advised to cover her hair with a scarf, but I don't think full niqab would be necessary (or what a local would advise her to do). I say this having spent a lot of time in pretty conservative Muslim countries, although I myself am not Muslim or from such a country.

    I don't think the scene would offend many Muslims--it's not like head-covering is an "only us and no one else" thing. As for feminists, idk. I think the crux of the matter is that she's meeting with avowed bad guys, whom neither most Muslims nor most feminists take to be representative of Islam in general. So I can't imagine it being that offensive, written like that.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My question would be rather more - would a jihadist deal with a woman?
     
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  6. christinacantwrite
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    christinacantwrite Member

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    I can't speak for Muslims but I don't think many people would be offended by this for feminist reasons. If wearing a niqab is the best way for her to achieve her goal (purchase the artefacts) then it's reasonable for her to do so. From what you're saying it's clear that the fundamentalists are portrayed as the oppressors, you're not condoning their forcing of women to wear niqabs, so I can't see it causing controversy. And if anything she's the one manipulating them because she's voluntarily playing up to their sympathies in order to get what she wants.
     
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  7. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    I'm pretty sure they would deal with anyone, if it meant making money. We are talking about her buying artifacts from them, so it's probably quite a bit of money too.
     
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  8. clearstone
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    clearstone New Member

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    Thank you everyone, you've all been extremely helpful! I guess I'll let her wear a headscarf and abaya (which does look practical and comfortable, especially in a desert climate).
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This was also my first thought. Probably depends on the jihadist group really. Sometimes simply being a Westerner can be too much.

    As for Western feminists. They come in all shape and size and school of thought, but if intersectional feminism is nowadays the biggest "sect" then they wouldn't most likely mind a woman covering up for religious (Islamic) reasons although some might object to cultural appropriation or something, which doesn't make sense 'cause Western women have to cover up anyway if they go to, say Saudi-Arabia and want to walk outside their Westernized compound or workplace. You won't be able to predict a feminist reader's response 'cause we can't agree on everything. You also won't know for sure how a Muslim feminist will react because some of them find hijabs, niqabs and burqas anti-women and misogynistic while some of them think they're part of Muslim women's personal expression.

    I think it'd make sense she would cover up according to the local customs and rules. If niqab is common in the area and the suggested dress for Western women, then it'd make sense for your character to go for that and for her contacts to suggest it.
     
  10. angel2016
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    angel2016 Member

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    My experience has been the opposite! I gave up dealing with customers and vendors in the Middle East years ago, because of the non-responsiveness. My male colleague gets immediate responses from the same. Our industry involves quite a bit of money, too.

    I wouldn't think twice about the situation in fiction, though. And I agree that she'd at least cover her hair.
     

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