Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cover hair, not face, study of Muslim nations finds

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WASHINGTON -- A new report by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research has shed some light on how Muslim women should cover up. Looking at surveys from seven predominately Muslim countries, the researchers found most respondents thought women should bare their faces, but cover their hair -- completely.

The study centred on Tunisia, but included survey results from Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt. While researchers investigated public perception of several hot-button issues including gender relations, politics and religious tolerance, one of their more interesting findings had to do with veiling.

Participants were presented with six images of variously veiled women and asked "Which one of these women is dressed most appropriately for public places?"

Most respondents picked a woman whose conservative hijab covers her hair and ears but not her face. Saudis were the primary outlier, preferring a niqab that covers all but a woman's eyes. But some of the results are counterintuitive to common veiling practices. For instance, while option No. 3 -- a scarf that covers all but the face -- is heavily promoted by religious authorities and conservatives in Lebanon, the majority of Lebanese respondents favoured no head covering at all.

The researchers also found Tunisians were the most supportive of women dressing as they wish, compared to 52 per cent of Turks, 49 per cent of Lebanese, 47 per cent of Saudis, 24 per cent of Iraqis, 22 per cent of Pakistanis and 14 per cent of Egyptians.

The study's authors argue these findings reflect "a country's orientations toward liberal values as well as the level of freedom people enjoy. In Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey, where people tend to be less conservative than the other four countries, the preferable style for women also tends to be much less conservative than the other four countries."

 

-- Foreign Policy

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2014 A9

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