Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
Hasna is mad. For about a week the same young man has been approaching her each morning on her way to university, yelling and making gestures towards her. Today he is even waiting right at the gate of her apartment building. It is harassment! She is a modern girl hoping to eventually continue her studies in the U.S. and, although she is Lebanese, like many of her fellow students Hasna likes the clothes of American college youth. She feels good in her tight fashionable blue jeans and the sleeveless t-shirt, and she doesn’t mind showing it, being stalked or not.
But today the young man is walking close behind her and he rudely describes her gait, the swinging hips and her well-formed derrière, although using other words. Hasna keeps on walking as if he hasn’t even noticed him. He has however reduced the distance to just one step behind her. Right behind her left ear she hears the words “I’m sure those wonderful cheeks are just as firm as they look”. Hasna expects a slap any instant to test his words. It doesn’t happen, but this is too much.
She begins walking faster and decides to flag down a taxi when reaching the main road in a minute to avoid taking the bus where he could grope her without her being able to get away. There are plenty of taxis here and the first one stops.
Hasna was right about dressing differently. The young man is seated on the wall waiting for her, but today she doesn’t emphasize her derrière to him or anyone else, although many of his words were true. A thin sleeveless and almost knee length dress gives her an attractive look and is very comfortable as it is loose below the waist.
Hasna confidently passes the young man as if he is not there. She immediately hears his sneakers hit the concrete pavement, and on the two minute walk to the main road he instead describes her slender legs and her long seductively flowing jet black well-cared for hair. Hasna again resorts to taking a taxi.
No legs and no derrière, but still attractive in a sporty outfit with long loose sweat pants, a sports bra and a thicker opaque cotton shirt. The sports look is completed with a small cap that holds and covers the top of the hair. She is also wearing a knit blouse loosely around her neck to cover the shoulders and part of the arms. After Hasna has taken but a few steps outside the gate he is right behind her.
“The girl of my dreams is fit for a dangerously fast ride with me at the back of my sidecar or being caught in my arms after a triple spin that makes the audience go wild at the ice stadium or just exercising alone with me on a mattress.” Well, he is a fit strong looking man and the first two examples Hasna wouldn’t mind trying out with him, but then he shows his thoughts don’t arise in the brain, and she is so insulted that she decides to take advantage of her outfit and run until at the door of a stopping taxi. Luckily the weekend is close she thinks closing the door while noticing him with a broad smile just a few meters away.
The morning after the weekend Hasna just after opening the front door of the building observes that her considerations and preparations haven’t been in vain. The young man is leaning against a tree at the side of the road. Lebanon is a very diverse country, even within the Muslim society to which she belongs. Many, especially young people, dress in Western clothing but also all kinds of traditional clothing and modern, modest Muslim attire is seen as well. For the times she has to visit some of her more devout relatives and for certain occasions Hasna has a chest with a range of conservative Muslim dress which she has browsed through yesterday.
Today she appears as a pious but not totally unstylish Muslim woman showing only hands and face. A large pale silk scarf is the stylish part that covers her head and neck and an ankle length black coat is the conservative part, completely hiding her figure below the neck. There is nothing to point at or to talk about. But the young man straightens as she walks though the gate. There is no doubt that he is following right behind her. She hears his voice just a few meters back, but perhaps her covering has made an impact on him because he only sings a happy wordless tune made up in his mind.
That is until they reach the main road where the tune is formed into the words “My love is a Muslim woman with long red nails and a face becomingly shy but very pretty.” Closing the taxi door Hasna thinks that, although it wasn’t a complete success, it was a vast improvement which she knows how to follow up. In two minutes she can remove the hijab and coat so as to be dressed in her normal on-campus style of jeans and t-shirt that she is wearing beneath the coat.
Gone is the stylish hijab. What can to be seen is all black. She has added black gloves and changed the pale hijab to a black one and added a veil to cover the lower face.
She walks a little slower than usual from the front door to the gate so as not to be recognized by her gait, but also because she cannot immediately see him, neither in front of the gate or seated on the wall. Reaching the pavement she stops to look in both directions without seeing him. “Was yesterday’s covering enough to deter him so she hadn’t needed to veil her face”, she says to herself while starting to walk towards the main street. She then sees movement out of the left corner of her eye. Despite the veiling she has been spotted and he has punished her attempt to walk out anonymously by hiding behind the tree, making her, for a while at least, believe her Muslim clothing had worked. The situation gets worse. He walks up right next to her and speaks. “Hasna my love, black becomes you and especially that veil emphasizes your enchanting brown eyes and gives just a hint of a wonderful nose and sweet lips longing for a kiss.”
Hasna turns her head to momentarily to directly face him, her flashing eyes showing her fury. He knows her name! Probably he knows her full name, at which apartment she lives, and her destination each morning. Despite the long coat, some distance before reaching the main street she starts running, waving her hand for a taxi, but the young man stays almost at her side. “My name is Bilal. I work afternoons and evenings. Maybe you can leave an hour later tomorrow?” “No? Perhaps a half an hour then?” – “I don’t working on Saturdays.” Before the taxi has stopped completely Hasna pulls the door open and jumps into the back seat and the driver, having seen her being stalked, drives away while she pulls the door closed. After having got her breathing under control, calmed down and told the driver where to go Hasna tells herself that those wearing the full veil are right, that just the eyes reveal a lot, but of course also it helps a good deal to know that the person you seek will appear within the same short time span each morning. It was horrible he spoke her name, but at least she got his first name as well. Her first impression of him being a total loser, just harassing her to make something happen in his life, he proved wrong by saying he is employed. No she has known this for some time because actually he is always well groomed and wearing a new set of stylish clothes each day. She wonders if she can handle a relationship and study at the same time. Lebanon is still in many ways a conservative country and a long time relationship without getting married is not well received and may easily question the honor of the family. Hasna doesn’t approve of it either. If they meet they soon have to decide to marry or go their separate ways. And marriage most certainly means she has to stop studying, especially if she becomes pregnant. Hasna of course would like to have children, but she has more than two years to go if she wants to complete university. She has until tomorrow morning to decide what to do. From this moment she has to concentrate on the upcoming lecture as usual, because removing this strict attire in public while people, even just a taxi driver, watch shows disrespect to veiling and what it means to Islam. She decides she will have to make a detour to a restroom when she reaches campus and if someone recognizes her before that she will tell them she is observing mourning for one of her uncles. Besides her semi-transparent head covering makes her attire appear much less strict at close range. She will remove the gloves when having to pay the driver.
Yesterday’s lecture was highly educational, amusing and inspiring giving Hasna no time to spend thinking of Bilal. She hasn’t hesitated playing her last card from the chest. Wearing a thick black wrap reaching her waist, held close around her face, she carefully looks out the front door. No one is in sight.
She reaches up under it to pull the front of the large chiffon veil beneath down to cover her face completely.
It is semi-transparent but at a few meters distance only black cloth is seen as she has tested in front of the mirror.
Slowly, with head bowed to look older, she walks to the gate. Outside she looks in both directions without seeing him, but at the moment she turns towards the main road there is suddenly someone behind her. Appearing in such an abrupt manner it has to be him. He must have been crouching along the inside of the wall, able to observe the front door without being seen. It doesn’t take long for her assumptions to be confirmed. Bilal is right at her side singing to her veiled form “Hasna my love, to me your beauty shines through any covering. I would have recognized you even if I hadn’t got a peek at your lovely face just before the veil came down. I don’t mind you being inside a black shell like a hidden pearl, because then I won’t have any competitors.”
Hasna lifts a little at her coat to be able to walk faster, but either she has lifted too high or the now clearly clicking sound against the concrete reveal her bare feet in high-heeled sandals to Bilal “My love, your covering isn’t perfect but shows you have perfect feet just like your perfect legs, perfect hands, perfect hair, a perfect face and not at least a perfect tight butt. I know it’s disrespectful to address an unrelated veiled lady, so let’s go to a place where we can talk and you can show your beauty without the entire city as drooling bystanders.” At least he knows what good manners are even though he doesn’t seem to think they apply to him” Hasna reflects while flagging down a taxi.
“Hasna. At least let me ride with you. Were we both comfortably seated perhaps we can talk easier, learn more about each other and make an appointment for a longer meeting – dinner if you like.” She has to admit he is as bold as brass suggesting a date before they have even informally said hello to each other – in fact Hasna doesn’t think she has addressed him with a single word, kind or rude. But in Lebanon, and for most Muslims, it is not unnatural that the male takes the initiative – sometimes without the female having any say or even being asked. She has no more cards to play but perhaps something will come up within the next twenty four hours that can make her desist from addressing Bilal and without turning she enters the taxi to drive away on her own.
Five minutes before she usually leaves Hasna still hasn’t decided how to dress today. All through her morning routine and while eating a light meal she has hesitated between two options. Just go out as she is in the jeans, t-shirt and blouse she is wearing now. If Bilal approaches run, and if he tries to stop her hope that some passerby intervenes when seeing she is being physically harassed. The second option is to cover completely in black like yesterday, relying on the veil to stop Bilal from making physical contact and, perhaps after a couple of days like this, hope he realizes he has to comply with his own words, that addressing a veiled woman is shameful. Veiling is a natural part of the Lebanese society and the culture in which Hasna has been brought up. Her own mother normally wears a coat and hijab, and if doing the same means she can complete her, studies then neither the social implications nor the physical nuisances is a problem to her.
There is a knocking on her apartment door just a few meters away from where she is standing and the voice of Bilal creates a whole new situation. It comes to her mind that there have been many heavy footsteps on the stairs for some minutes, probably indicating someone moving in or out, and then often the front door to the apartment block is prevented from closing by a rock jamming it.
After some lines in his usual singing manner about her beauty he suddenly speaks in a normal voice. “Hasna, do you know the Khawar Trading Company supplying most of the Lebanese supermarkets? My full name is Bilal Khawar. I am the second son of the founder Mohsen Khawar. I work in the company, learning its operation from the bottom with the aim of my brother and me gradually taking over the management within five years. We are a respectable, honorable and wealthy family as you can understand. I sincerely apologize if my streetwise manner of getting to know you has been offensive to you. If I had just introduced myself as the heir to the Khawar Trading Company you would never notice that I’m much more than that. Secondly, my harassment showed that you are resourceful and able to represent all Lebanese women, showing in that you own clothing spanning from just above indecency to full modesty. Shouldn’t we say hello to each other?” Hasna is shocked and disbelieving.
By speaking for less than a minute Bilal has turned her view of him totally around. Well, all along his appearance and some of the words in between all the bad talk had showed he was not a complete loser, but what he has just said means he has to be one of the richest young men in the entire country. While thinking this, her right hand subconsciously has reached for the door handle. Of course they should say hello. The man outside is the same person as the previous days but the impression is totally different. He stands politely a few steps back where he can’t reach her, he has got a haircut and now has a serious look on his face that matches what he has just said. When he takes a step forward lifting his hand Hasna lifts her hand as well, but his hand grabs at the door handle and he pulls the door closed between them again.
Through the door she hears him say “Hasna my love. Now that we are to meet one representative of a respectable honorable family to another, but are yet unrelated, we are non-mahram and according to our holy book and traditions the female should hide her beauty which you can simply do by covering like yesterday.” As her black clothing is already in a neat pile on the dining table in case her final decision had been to walk out veiled, it doesn’t take long for Hasna to put on the coat, the scarf, the gloves, the veil and the head wrap without having other thoughts than she has to greet the Khawar heir. A little more than a minute later it is a gloved hand that reaches for the door handle.
The face meeting her is still the handsome Bilal but his expression reminds her of her father the day she told him she had passed the test for the university. Bilal, instead of stretching his right hand forward takes it to his heart and bows saying “It’s a pleasure finally being able to formally greet you Miss Wehbe.” Hasna puts her hand to her heart keeping it inside the wrap and bows likewise saying “I’m honored Mr. Khawar. My feelings towards the handsome man in front of me are almost the complete opposite of the one who has stalked me for almost two weeks.” Bilal bows to his right to reach for a rather large box in a gift wrap leaning against the wall which, while facing Hasna and bowing at the waist, he holds towards her saying “When it comes to matters of the heart we still understand very little of human nature my dear. I would like you to accept this as a token of our love and open it right away and to wear it so that everyone can see you associate with the Khawar family.” With a bow and an expression on her face as if she was receiving a present at her ten year old birthday, which she is not sure Bilal is able to see, Hasna walks with the quite heavy box back to the dining table and opens it without lifting her veil or removing her gloves. To her great surprise, and some disappointment, all that she retrieves is black fabric. She shakes the empty box and pats the black fabric at several places but it doesn’t seem to be some bag or covering for other non-clothing items. She turns towards the door, where Bilal has stayed outside the open doorway, to now give her an encouraging nod to go on. She starts unfolding the contents. Some is the finest silk while the remainder is thick cotton, but when she has spread it all out on the table it is still all black and she sees it is a complete set for the strictest veiling. Hasna has seen such outfits in the street, but there only the outer layer was visible. No one in her family, or those she has associated with, has worn something heavier than what she wears now, but her mother always says ‘Allāhu Akbar, she is really pious’ when they pass an extremely veiled woman. Again she faces the doorway. Bilal still looks at Hasna as if she is a daughter who is able to perform any labor and he nods insistently saying “It should compliment what you already wear. I think the cotton items go inside your coat and the silk ones on top. Expecting that you might be unfamiliar with handling this type of outfit the saleswoman wrote a guiding list on the inside of the box. As it looks to me as if you can’t put the shirt on without removing the coat so I’ll close the door to preserve your modesty, but please don’t take too long, you have a timetable for this morning I know and I don’t want this to spoil it too much.” Hasna tears the box apart to read:
1. Cotton socks (on top of anything worn under the coat)
Hasna removes all her black items and starts going through the list beginning with the socks. A few minutes later she pauses in shock having caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror while straightening. After donning the socks Hasna there are a further four cottom items remaining. These consisted of gloves, a balaclava-type hood, a shirt and trousers. The loose trousers and the loose shirt hid both the slender waist and legs that she is proud of as well as the derrière that Bilal has praised, and the thick cotton hood enclosed her head completely except for three holes where her eyes and mouth show. Although still pretty, these last visible parts of her face look strange, like parts of another being, because they are visibly detached from her normal facial appearance. Hansa now begins to draw shut the drawstrings that will hold the parts of the outfit she has put on so far together. There are strings at each wrist and ankle to hold the gloves and socks in place, one at the neck to hold the hood with the final one holding the shirt and trousers to prevent them sliding apart. As she has been told to hurry, she immediately goes on to let these last three parts of herself almost disappear when quickly going through the next three list items, which is to put on her own veil, head wrap and coat again. Now that the coat is to go on top, making the wrap become like a hood for the coat and both this and the veil reaching deep below the coat collar, it makes access to her face and, most importantly, her mouth, quite complicated.
There is an unnumbered line in the list saying: Put on shoes.
Hasna has to loosen the lacing of her sneakers before, with difficulty, being able to get into them as the thick socks have made her feet half a size larger. Now the last four items of silk, which is all that can be seen from the outside, are to be put on. First an overhead butterfly abaya almost does it on its own reaching from the top of her head to barely sweeping the floor, but as its face opening leaves her eyes and mouth visible at close range through the chiffon veil, it is covered by a three layer niqab making her face practically a black silk surface, but also making Hasna almost blind. The abaya’s butterfly form hides the arms while still allowing the use of hands, but as this suggests what is inside, the abaya is topped by a knee long khimar that requires it being actively being lifted before the hands show. The khimar prevents the niqab from being lifted, sealing her face behind four layers of silk and chiffon. Finally, when the hands need to be shown of course they have to be covered in silk as well, meaning the now almost blind Hasna has to spend several minutes pulling the opera length items up over her coat sleeves, the almost blinding niqab being unimportant, as this has to be done under the khimar and inside the abaya. She realizes that this order has been chosen as tying the khimar with the loose slippery mittens that now surround her hands would have been very trying. Hasna takes a short detour past the mirror to vaguely see a human sized, featureless black, slightly cone shaped form, making her say to herself ‘Allāhu Akbar, she is really pious’ and wonder if her mother knows how heavily the body of a pious soul is covered. Then for the third time she opens the door to Bilal.
He quickly approaches, apparently having been leaning against the wall causing Hasna to have to step to the side as he enters if it was the door to his own home now being opened. He gestures for her to close the door but, as after he has taken a quick look around, doesn’t start a conversation Hasna, surprised at how muffled her voice sounds, says “My parents and the rest of the family will be surprised but my mother will love it.” Bilal simply nods making Hasna take a step towards him and ask “May I continue my studies?” He nods again making her step directly in front of him and ask “May I call my father and ask him contact your father to draw up a contract?” He reaches down into a pocket of his jeans saying “If you accept wearing this as well – it may be removed on campus.” He holds a black ball gag on a leather strap up in front of her as he continues to speak “It can easily be tied beneath the niqab, but as you have to flip your khimar fully back to reach there, I am going to use your bathroom meanwhile.” Hasna hasn’t thought of the matter of extremely modest pious women maintaining voice awrah to match the strict covering and that she could easily disgrace her attire being used to directly expressing her thoughts in words. When putting the ball to her mouth it meets her chiffon veil, but as this can’t be lifted it has to go with the ball into her mouth. Doing up the strap is no problem even with her slippery mittens because the buckle has a ratchet, allowing her just to pull until the strap is tight. Its simplicity makes Hasna too eager, the strap hurting her cheeks and she tries to loosen it off, but she discovers that the small recessed button to release the ratchet can’t be reached with her mitten covered fingers. Speaking, and removal of the abaya, is no longer for her to decide. Ready to go she takes her handbag only to be aware that now she is no longer able to phone.
Shortly after Bilal comes out of the bathroom saying “Hasna, I still see your beauty, although to everyone else you are now indistinguishable from my mahram female family members. This means I don’t think it’s dishonorable to give you a ride to the university. Let’s go.” Hasna shakes her phone in front of her mouth making Bilal say “Of course! I have your father’s number and will call him while you get smarter. But seeing your hand marks me as unmarried, not used to the responsibilities of a Khawar husband. Please hold both your hands towards me. Don’t worry I’ll hardly touch you.” Hasna is a little unsure as to whether to show her palms or the back of her hands but Bilal reaches for her right wrist. Soon the drawstrings of the abaya’s hand openings are tightly tied around her wrist, allowing only her hands to show outside and preventing her from taking her hands inside to unbutton the coat and untying the cotton layer if she would get really hot or desperate. While taking her handbag and Bilal helping her lock the door Hasna realizes that dressing more and more modestly was in vain. Hasna Wehbe didn’t continue her studies but fell in love. To pursue her love means becoming the first wife of Bilal Khawar, and as a Khawar woman she can only appear in public as a luxurious moving black silk cocoon who is mute, restricted and almost blind, implying she has to be guided around. The figure closely following Bilal out of the apartment building is not Hasna but yet another anonymous, extremely strictly veiled female student who has to manage her studies by getting the oral part of lectures only, discuss subdued with other women only and learn to write with thick slippery mittens to do the rest.
As might be seen from the pictures this story is inspired by a music video from YouTube titled ‘ SOS BURQA! … et encore’. Despite the French title words the lyrics are in Arabic implying I have no idea if my story follows the lyrics. But if you understand the lyrics I would be happy to receive a translation.
Copyright © 2010, Bo_Emp ; bo_emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com
Thanks to Nye North for proof reading