Niqab or Not: All Tunisian Women Deserve Education

Friday, December 2, 2011

A secular-Islamist confrontation overtakes a Tunisian campus and a month ago a woman wearing a full-face veil was banned at another university. Hajer Naili criticizes both sides of a social conflict constricting the hopes of the revolution.

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Moving the Country Forward

The Tunisian revolution was meant to move the country forward, not backward. If we really want to see a democracy in Tunisia, people should sit at the same table and talk in order to reach a consensus. You cannot build a democracy by using violence to impose your views. A democracy should be based on the plurality of perspectives and ideas.

I believe it is up to people to leave their stereotypes aside and try to establish communication with women wearing niqabs.

A face veil is often said to obstruct communication. I once believed this myself, because I had no actual contact with women wearing niqabs. But since then I've had numerous interactions that changed my mind. This past Ramadan, as I was breaking the fast at a mosque in Manhattan, I had a conversation with an American face-veiled woman. She was well-educated, eloquent and persuasive. Seeing her face would have changed nothing about our discussion.

What really hinders the ability of face-veiled women to communicate are preconceived notions about the veil's inhibiting effects.

Most of the women I have met have made a free choice to wear the niqab. Contrary to what many Westerners might assume, they aren't forced. According to their interpretation of the Quran, no man except their relatives should see their face. They also feel closer to God by being totally covered.

As for the concern about security risks, campuses are full of women who can check these students' identities.

A permissive attitude towards the niqab might cause visions of such women filling up classrooms and dominating the atmosphere. But let's be realistic. The majority of Tunisians may be Muslim, but Tunisia is a secular state. It is not an Islamic state, so we don't need the single-sex classes called for by the Salafists. There are always private schools for families that don't like mixed classes.

Tunisian universities should let their doors be open to everyone.


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Hajer Naili is an editorial intern for Women's eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.

2 COMMENTS | Login or Sign Up to post comments


Equality/Women’s Rights

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This is why you do not even begin to compromise with extremists: "Iranian women are fighting the controversial 'Family Protection Bill' that would reduce Iranian women's rights even further, Amnesty International reported Nov. 30. If passed, the bill will allow men to take up to three additional wives without the consent or knowledge of their first spouse." (from womensenews Dec 2, 2011). This clearly does not protect families, it protects men's rights to destroy women's equal role in their own family, in their and their children's lives.

This article deals with the crucial issue of where education and religion interface. With respect, I disagree with the stance taken by the author. Tunisia has accomplished a relatively high standard of education for women, because it has not bowed to extreme Islamist positions on women. If you begin to do so, it will only get worse, with the Islamist men making more and more demands as time goes on, and soon it will be impossible for women in Tunisia to even think about equal rights. I agree with the Tunisian university that said that proper communication is impossible with veiled people. I take this another step, and say that communication by the veiled person is impossible; that is one of the worst problems with veiling. Another problem is health, simply not having access to sun rays every day decreases vitamin D severely, and I doubt that this is made up in their diets. You cannot prevent a divide by acceding to ways based upon lack of education and respect. You can only try to reach these women and men, and to make the case for not veiling on respectful, true, educational grounds.
I wish Tunisia great success in their revolution for both men and women.