absolute non-disclosure

saudi veil


Al-Jazirah (SG)

Imagine a husband and wife who have lived together as complete strangers for half a century.

Better yet, imagine not being able to pick your wife out of a herd of women coming out of a wedding party at night.

Believe it or not, it actually happens here in Saudi Arabia. There are husbands, brothers and sons who have never seen the faces of their own wives, sisters and mothers let alone cousins and aunts. There are wives who never showed their faces to their husbands since they have tied the knot a long or short time ago.

This unspoken tribal non-disclosure agreement is a well-established tradition in some parts of the Kingdom so much so that the faceless women who live, eat and sleep with the rag covering their faces never bother to ask why it is. Despite the vast social and economic developments the Kingdom had seen in all walks of life over the past three decades, this is one bad habit that nobody bothered to kick.

Children should wonder how their parents managed to conceive them when their fathers never saw their mothers. But that's probably just as well because, like their fathers, they haven't seen what their own mothers look like.

It gets better: Strangest of all is that those women can t or won't uncover their faces to women like them. They will become social outcasts if they do.

See no evil

Speaking to the Al-Jazirah Arabic language daily newspaper, Al-Jazyia, a mother of three in her late 20s, said, she has no idea how or when the tradition came about, but she conforms with it anyway.

I received only primary education, said Al-Jazyia, and since the day I got married, my husband, who happens to be my cousin, has never seen my face, neither before nor after the marriage. I make sure to wear my veil day and night, so that there isn t any chance to see my face.

She is not exactly keen to find out the logic behind what she does.

This tradition has been part of my life since the day I opened my eyes on the world, she said. Believe it or not, I have never seen the faces of even my closest female relatives my cousins and aunts.

She said every member of her tribe believes it is a great shame for women to uncover their faces at any time, thus there is no chance for a female face to be seen by anyone.

One day a big fight broke out between two women just because one of them tried to uncover her face, she said. Thank God the fight didn't develop beyond that point. Otherwise, she would have been punished by the tribe.

Nevertheless, she perfectly prefers to observe the tradition rather than even contemplate the alternative.

(Covering my face) is a hundred times better than mixing with men and painting our faces with make-up, she said assertively.

Positive ID

Umm Majed , a housewife in her mid-60s, thinks the tradition is beyond questioning.

Why do you interfere in our personal affairs? she asked Al-Jazirah s reporter. We have been brought up to respect this particular tradition. It never even occurred to me to ask why I have to cover my face in the presence of my father, brothers and my husband whom I married 40 years ago.

She said that for all those years, her husband has never ever seen her face. Even her children don't know what her face looks like.

For God's sake, leave us alone. We are content with our way of life, she said.

Going overboard

Though uneducated, Umm Saud, who is in her 30s, knew several chapters from the Holy Qur'an by heart.

As if speaking through an answering machine, she said the exact same words when the reporter jokingly asked her to uncover her face.

It is an established family tradition that girls should cover their faces in the presence of their guardians, she said.

Married women are not supposed to unveil their faces to their husbands, children and other women regardless of the degree of their relationship. In our tribal culture, women only listen and never ask questions.

Wedaha, a beautiful woman working as a teacher, had no qualms about uncovering her face to the female reporter, but still wouldn't show herself to a man. When her Western-educated twin brother tried to talk her into showing him her face, she wouldn't budge. When he tugged at her veil to see if she was an image of his own self, she never spoke to him for months.

I wanted to teach him a lesson that we respect our traditions no matter how educated we are, she said.

I didn't tell my parents why we were estranged for months on end. They would turn his life into a living hell if they found out.

Umm Fawaz, still stunningly beautiful into her 50s, fell ill for several days and couldn't look her husband in the face anymore, simply because he saw her face by accident.

She said she only uncovers her face in total privacy, after she makes sure her husband and children are out of the house.

Only then I can feel free to change my clothes and remove my veil, she said. One day I walked over to the living room with my face uncovered. I never knew my husband was sitting there watching the TV. He saw my face.

She said her husband screamed when he saw her without a veil.

I ran to my room and I locked myself up for several hours. When I came out, he was very angry at me. It took him several months to get over it. Even in my wild dreams, I could never think of uncovering my face.

Men's Opinion

Meshal, a businessman, thinks it is about time this tradition went the way of the dinosaur.

Even though a woman covering her face implicitly means that she respects the man before her, be it her father, brother or husband, he said, I will never ever marry a girl who covers her face in my presence or in the presence of my relatives. I am a modern man and I will never accept such a tradition even if I stay a bachelor for the rest of my life.

Suhaila Zain Al-Abdeen, a member of the National Human Rights Association, said she couldn't understand why such a tradition needs to be observed when Islam had already guaranteed women the right to an honorable life through less extreme ways.

She further said that women should understand that wearing veil for lengthy periods of time affects their respiratory system

She said she never believed such a tradition existed until she saw it with her own eyes.

During a Qur an recital ceremony for women, an old woman snubbed her and other women when they asked her to remove her veil.

How dare these women prevent their husbands from a right decreed by Allah? said Zein Al-Abdeen.

God created couples to be a refuge to each other. We at the Association want to enlighten women, telling them they are entitled to display their charm to their husbands, exactly as our religion orders us.

She said all the different schools of thought in Islam never differ over wives being entitled to display their beauty to their husbands.

Islam is a religion of moderation and flexibility, and it advocates all good morals without excessiveness. For instance, Islam never allows women to play up their charm to strangers, but orders women to show their charms to their husbands.

Taken from the Saudi Gazette (, but the story is no longer to be found as of August 2012.

Even I (Dave) was not aware that things could get THAT extreme. It may prove inspirational for some tales though...?