14 June 2009
The issue of the veil is once again causing controversy in Egypt, and this time over a would-be film.
Ali Abdel-Ghani and Mohamed Esmat wrote the screenplay of a film Taht al-Niqab (Behind the Niqab), which tells the story of a young woman obliged by her father to don the niqab, a veil that covers the whole face and body except the eyes. The man is too poor to afford to buy clothes for his daughter to go to university. The young woman, who owns only one niqab, feels uncomfortable in that the garment restricts her freedom. She expresses her distress to her friends, who dress freely and fashionably. Although she wears the niqab, thereby assuming a religious image, she cannot be bothered about the principles and teachings of Islam. One Friday she goes to the mosque to attend Friday prayers with her father, and there she meets some wealthy young women who invite her to attend religion classes. She likes the idea of mixing with rich and the way they speak about their bank accounts, luxurious trips, the expensive clothes and high quality perfumes they buy. They only take a few minutes afterwards to talk about religion.
However, she feels inferior. She would like to be like them, but the niqab prevents her from landing a good job or getting married because people cannot identify her. She decides to indulge in free relations with men she meets on the street, and quickly becomes addicted to the easy money that comes through such relations.
The film also looks at the widespread incidents of petty crime, theft, harassment, or even murder, committed by men or women who can easily conceal their identity under cover of a niqab.
The screenplay was rejected by the State film censorship because “it defames Islam and State policy and uses ‘exceptional’ instances to denigrate the niqab.” However Mr Ghani is a graduate of al-Azhar University, and thus very well informed about Islam and able to differentiate between what honours Islam and what insults it.
The film is very realistic and draws on some of the incidents regularly published in newspapers. In several murders and numerous robberies the culprits wore a niqab, and countless incidents of harassment were committed by niqab-donned individuals.
Used to conceal
If the film in question was rejected because it affronted the niqab, where was the censorship when Mahmoud Hemeida wore one in the film Harb al-Farawla (Strawberry War), Menna Shalabi in Ouija, and Haifaa’ Wahbi in Dukkan Shehata (Shehata’s Shop)? In all these cases the niqab was exploited to conceal the character of the characters while they committed some violation or petty crime.
And if it was rejected because it offends Islam; Islam did not recommend wearing a niqab, nor is there any Qur’anic or hadith (sayings by Prophet Mohamed) texts that make wearing it necessary.
As to the argument that the film defames State policy; the Ministry of Endowments last year published a book entitled Al-Niqab Ada wa Layes Ebada (Niqab is a Custom, not a Form of Worship) in which it urged people not to listen to extremist preachers who called for wearing the niqab based on a few weak hadiths. Moreover, the State bans teachers and nurses from wearing the niqab.
And if the film might hurt the feelings of some Muslims, many others are strongly opposed to the concept of the niqab. As a young Muslim veiled woman myself, I feel threatened by niqab wearers. It frightens me when any of them comes close to me because I do not know whether that person is a woman or a man, and whether he will just pass by or use a knife to rob me or—at this time when human organ theft is a frightening crime—even to kidnap me to steal a kidney or an eye from my body.
I wonder why the censorship board should reject a film that sheds light on an issue that has become a real threat to our community. That same board approved Bahheb al-Sima (I Love Cinema), a film which definitely used ultra-exceptional instances of the Coptic community to depict Copts in a negative light. When Copts protested, it was said that this was merely a drama and that drama was frequently built upon non-common elements. Why was this logic not applied to the niqab film, which is eminently realistic?