by Dave Potter
Exclusively for the ‘Tales of the Veils’ website
The four wives gathered in the women’s living room to watch the TV. Normally of course, such a sinful instrument as a television set, which shows uncovered skin and other such temptations, is not allowed, but their husband makes one exception: the thrice-weekly show of ‘Sister Alima’. The wives gather and then sit on the floor, eager for the entertainment which makes a welcome change from Quran recitals, the only other form of diversion they are allowed. Not that they can see a lot of course; three-layer niqaab is mandatory in the house at all times save for when alone in the bathroom or in the bedroom with their husband on each wife’s allotted night, and two of those layers must be down for all activities save for reading or other close work. However, the lack of clear sight is little loss, for there is not much to see; instead one must listen to Sister Alima.
Sister Alima is the star of Saudi TV but although more famous than any other woman in the kingdom, no one knows what her real name is and what she looks like. ‘Alima’ means ‘wise’ and a wise sister is what she is. She hosts a show in which she talks about issues of the day, particularly those concerning women and she is always completely veiled and gloved so that no hint of any skin or eye has ever been seen. Even taking this into account, the master would not normally allow his wives to view such a show – after all, Sister Alima speaks and the sound of a female voice can cause fitna – but he makes an exception for Sister Alima for she is extremely pious and her show encourages his wives – and millions of other women across the kingdom – to go further in their own piety, their devotion to their husbands and their modesty. Indeed, tonight’s topic is voice awrah and Sister Alima starts by acknowledging that she is falling into sinful ways by talking out loud and that she only does it to inform other sisters of the right path, before then detailing various methods of keeping silent including a variety of gags which the wives are of course, more than familiar with.
The wives watch and listen with interest, nodding in agreement at certain points. Second Wife looks across at his sisters and sees by their reactions that they are interested. She looks forward to the discussion that they will have – using notes of course – after the show where what Sister Alima has had to say is analysed. She always enjoys those sessions and finds them useful, helping her own thoughts to take shape. However, that is for later, now she turns back to the veiled figure on TV who extols the virtues of modesty and silence.
Ahmed’s mind was reeling. He had only been in Cairo for a couple of days and already he was shocked by the huge differences compared with his small home town on the other side of the Red Sea. The buildings, the noise, the people, the women! Yes, most of all it was the women who were attracting his attentions.
Ahmed, although a member of Saudi Arabia’s huge royal family, had grown up in a cloistered and almost provincial fashion. His father, Prince Ali al-Saud, second cousin to the king, was a most pious and traditional man indeed and in his household, not an inch of female flesh was ever seen. The town where Ahmed had been to school was also one of the most traditional in the kingdom and it was rare that a woman’s eyes were seen uncovered there, let alone anything else. Yet here in the Egyptian capital, where Prince Ali had sent his son so that he could acquire a BA Hons. Degree in Media Studies from the prestigious American University, women walked around uncovered, with hair flowing, in jeans and T-shirts. And as so many of them were, in Ahmed’s eyes, incredibly beautiful, he just couldn’t stop looking. Like that one walking past there in a sky blue top and figure-hugging faded jeans. She is stunning! Ahmed gets up to follow her and to his surprise she heads into the Media Studies building! He enters himself as he has a seminar and sure enough, she is already sat in the room that he has his class in. Nervously, he sits in an empty seat away from her and the other females in the class and waits for the lecturer.
Soon he arrives. “Hi guys!” he says. “My name’s Dan and I’ll be taking this module on the role of the media in social upheaval. Now, we’ll be doing a lot of project-based work this semester so first things first, I’ve decided to team you all up with a study partner. So, let me read out the names and you can have a chat and get to know each other…”
His partner was one Wafiyah Mafouz. ‘A girl,’ thought Ahmed, ‘oh my God, he’s put me with a girl!’ Ahmed had never spoken to a non-mahram girl before, let alone worked with one. This would be challenge!
“Salaam aleikum! Are you Ahmed. My name’s Wafiyah and I think I’m your study partner.”
Oh my God! This was better than ever; it’s her!
“Yes, I’m Ahmed. You nervous about this module?”
“Yes, a little.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll be ok. I’m glad to be working with you, Wafiyah!”
After the seminar in which they got on well, Wafiyah stuns Ahmed by asking if he wishes to drink a coffee with her. In his town unrelated boys and girls may not even be in the same room together, let alone drink coffee socially. But of course he accepts, for this Wafiyah is amazing.
So, they go off together and in the sunny park where there is a nice coffee shop, she tells him all about her life. She is Egyptian, from a poor family, in the university on a scholarship. She wishes to have a career in film or TV but fears that she will never get anywhere because in Egypt you have to know the right people and her father, a humble taxi driver, knows no one important. Then she asks about him and he tells her that he is Saudi, a prince in fact although that means little in a country with hundreds if not thousands of princes. He also tells her that he is studying Media Studies because his father runs one of Saudi Arabia’s main TV channels and he is expected to go into the business after university. He thinks about telling her more but then stops it there. After all, he doesn’t want to spoil things.
That evening, lying in his bed in the student halls, his mind is whizzing round with thoughts of Wafiyah. Ahmed realises that he is madly in love, but better than that, he suspects that she is too…
Wafiyah in the park
After the show has finished, the wives turn to each other and eagerly begin their discussion.
As always, Alima has said such correct things today, writes First Wife.
The gags she demonstrated looked interesting writes Fourth. She showed the pecker ones exactly like we are wearing but some of the others looked good, particularly the inflatable one with detachable pump.
Yes, adds Third, but I have heard that with that design the air can slowly seep out and when not inflated they are not effective at all.
To me the best idea is the complete leather hood with pinhole eyes and attached gag.
But that looks so hard to wear!
The fires of Hell will be harder still Fourth!
I agree with you First. I suggest we approach the master and ask him about buying such hoods for us all.
We could trial them for a week and if effective, get extra ones.
I agree with you First.
What about you, Second?
I agree. Again I found Sister Alima interesting and again she has helped us become more pious!
It is true. May she be blessed by Allah!
A week later and again we find Ahmed and Wafiyah drinking coffee in the park. They are smiling and laughing because both are ecstatically happy. Ahmed had been correct in his guess that Wafiyah had fallen in love with him too and since that first meeting they have used any excuse they can to be together. However, underneath those smiles there is a growing sense of uneasiness within Ahmed. He adores Wafiyah so much, he wants to be with her physically as well as mentally, to be with her for the rest of his life, but he knows that it cannot be, it is not possible.
“Ahmed, can I ask you something?” says Wafiyah, moving her hand to his.
He moves his away instinctively, even though that hand dearly wishes to touch the delicate fingers of his beloved.
“What is it?”
“Why will you never touch me, even to hold hands?”
“We are not in a relationship, it would be wrong.”
“You Saudis are so strict! But if that is the problem, then why not change that yourself?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do I have to spell it out? Ask me out! Then we will be in a relationship and we could hold hands… and more.”
“Wafiyah, I would love to but you know… like you said, we Saudis are so strict; we can’t go into a relationship with a girl who is not our wife. In Saudi I couldn’t even talk to you like this!”
“But you’re not in Saudi now and who said the relationship had to involve all physical contact. I too am a Muslim and I do not believe in sex before marriage. We could just hold hands, spend time together and kiss, but nothing more. Or is it that you don’t like me?”
“No, no, no, it’s not that please believe me! I would love to, I really would but…”
“My family is pious and traditional and you are so modern and liberal…”
“Maybe I could become more traditional? I have long been thinking about exploring religion more as although I am a Muslim, I don’t follow it properly. If I were to become a little more traditional, would you be my boyfriend?”
His head screamed, ‘No! No! No!’ at him, but Ahmed’s heart was stronger. “Of course, it would be a pleasure and an honour,” he replied.
The next morning in the women’s living room only three black shapes can be seen. That is because Second Wife is not there; she left with her husband earlier to attend her classes at the Women’s College. First Wife does not really approve; she was brought up with the maxim that a good wife should only ever leave her husband’s house in a coffin but her husband offered an education to all his wives and his rule is, after all, final. Thankfully, only Second took the offer up and at least the master had the good sense to stipulate the most traditional college in the kingdom. To attend girls must wear a most strict uniform involving triple niqaab, gag, double gloved hands with chains attaching them to the belt and a thick khimar. It is not ideal but it is the best alternative. And at least their husband has not suggested they get jobs or anything else that could lead to fitna. Well, he never would since his father would probably not allow it but even so…
That morning Second was dressed in her full school regalia and then she walked downstairs where her husband fitted the travelling shroud over her. This is decreed as mandatory whenever a wife leaves the home. It is plain and made of thick black material and presents a totally blank and featureless black cone to the world. First remembers when she wore one, when she was taken from her father’s house to her husband’s. Inside it she was totally blind and within seconds it heated up so that the sweat was streaming off her. She recalls being guided by the master and feeling so nervous yet also glad that he made such efforts to preserve her modesty. Indeed, although he shouldn’t be letting Second out at all, at least he was doing it as modestly as possible. A small blessing but a blessing nonetheless.
However, that was then and First has other things to do. She rewinds the Sister Alima show she has recorded from the previous evening and jots down all the details of the full leather hood with gag. Then she hands them to her maid and tells her to order four of them when she goes shopping that afternoon. Has the master agreed to this? the maid writes back in reply. First does not answer, she merely hands over the note that her husband has written.
When Wafiyah had said that she’d been thinking about exploring religion more deeply then she hadn’t just been saying it to please Ahmed. Since she’d started university she’d really began to consider such things as a higher being and her mode of life far more than before and meeting Ahmed had only intensified that.
She’d grown up in a rather liberal, nationalist family in a very middle class part of town where everyone else was of a similar mind. However, since entering the very liberal American University, (which her parents had chosen for her because they were so Westernised in outlook), she’d been shocked to come across so many people of her own age who looked at things quite differently. In her Halls for example, there was a girl called Fatima who veiled herself and was always going on about Allah, being a good Musilmah and the oppression of the Ummah by the West, (a bit rich, Wafiyah thought, considering that Fatima was herself studying at a college paid for by America), and there were plenty more for whom religion was such a major part of their lives. She had always considered herself Muslim of course, but never gone further than that and was now beginning to question whether the values that she had always held were in fact correct. Having a Saudi boyfriend, who was obviously from a strict background, only exacerbated it and so the day after their chat in the park, she decided to go shopping for some more traditional clothes. She went into the mall and picked out a long jilbab to wear and a scarf for her head. “That will please him,” she said to herself with a smile, not sure that she liked her new look, and then off she went to meet her love.
Ahmed’s reaction however, was not what she expected. “So how do you like your traditional modest girlfriend now then?” she asked with a grin.
“Traditional?! Modest?! You must be joking, darling,” he said with a hearty laugh.
“What do you mean? Isn’t this like the girls wear where you come from?”
“Not at all, or at least, if they’re not whores or foreigners it isn’t. Where I come from a lady would never be seen in any colour other than black and her face is always covered with a veil whilst her hands are gloved. Still, I appreciate the fact that you are trying to please me and I love you all the more for it!”
He’d hugged her then, for he had genuinely meant all that he’d said, but Wafiyah was still hurt and also a little confused. Why would a woman wear black, veil and glove herself in a country as hot as Saudi, or even Egypt for that matter? That evening she knocked on Fatima’s door to find out.
“Well, it’s not exactly in the Quran,” Fatima had told her, “although we are urged to draw our cloaks around us and be as modest as possible which for me is wearing the veil. You see, our faces and hands can be a source of temptation for men so we cover them. That’s why the clothes are as loose as possible too.”
“But why black?”
“Tradition I suppose, but also it’s the most unobtrusive colour, being an anti-colour as it were, so it shows that we’re not trying to draw attention to ourselves.”
“But isn’t it hot?”
“The fires of hell are hotter still!”
“Hmm, maybe. So, are the clothes that you wear the kind of thing that girls would wear where Ahmed comes from?”
“Yes, most likely. I tell you what, if you’re trying to impress him, why not borrow a set of my clothing, don’t worry I have lots, and wear it to your next date – not that I approve of dating you must understand! – and see what he thinks…?”
“Well, if it’s not a problem…?”
“Of course not!”
The clothes that Fatima gave her felt heavy and uncomfortable. Perhaps because it was made of synthetic material, her veil stuck to her face whilst the gloves were slippery and made grasping things harder. Still, aside from sweating, the weight and heat, it wasn’t too bad. She could move about quite freely and her vision was unimpaired. She wore them to meet Ahmed and the smile on his face said it all: he was overjoyed! “You look like a proper, pious girl now,” he said, hugging her.
“Like the girls in your town?” she asked with a smile that he could no longer see.
“No, not like them, but beautiful all the same. I am so proud of you and seeing your devotion makes me love you all the more.”
There and then Wafiyah resolved that she would wear the veils, hot and heavy though they were, every time that she met Ahmed in public. For lectures though she would dress as before; after all, she didn’t want anyone thinking that she’d turned fundamentalist now, did she?
First Wife would have had the shock of her life if she had broken her maxim of never leaving her husband’s house save in a coffin and had accompanied the master and Second in the car, for instead of driving to the Women’s College as they’d indicated they would, her husband instead drove straight to his workplace, Channel Taqwa, the company that he was a managing director off due to his standing as a minor member of the royal family. Once there, he guided his blinded second wife into the building where she was met by a female member of staff and escorted to a back room where, once the doors had been closed, her shroud and college uniform were removed and in there place a plain charcoal grey abayah with triple faceveil which she then threw back so that her face was revealed. Coming out, she strode purposefully down the corridor, up a flight of stairs and into an office where a group of people were waiting.
“Sala’am aleikum brothers and sisters, now let’s talk about what we shall be doing in tomorrow’s edition of the Sister Alima Show…”
Three years after she had first donned a veil, Wafiyah was sitting in the park with her beloved Ahmed. Little had changed in those intervening years except that she now wore a headscarf whenever she was in the university and a faceveil outside, and that they both loved each other more than ever. However, today is not a happy day, for Ahmed has some news to give his love.
“Wafiyah, darling, I don’t know how to say this but… but it has to be goodbye.”
“But why Ahmed, why after all these years?”
“It just has to be, that’s all!”
“Do you not love me?”
“Of course I love you, I love you more than life itself but…”
“But nothing, love is all that counts! We can marry, be happy…”
“No! No! Oh how I wish it were so, but no!”
“But why, Ahmed, why? I deserve an explanation, at least give me that!”
“It is better that…”
“Whatever it is, I must know!”
“Ok then, but I have a confession to make; there was something I have not told you.”
“I am… I cannot marry you because… because I am… I am already married!”
“”I am married, Wafiyah.”
“You…. You cruel, two-timing, heartless…”
“Wafiyah, darling, it is not like you think, you must believe me!”
“Then how is it then?!”
“My father… the prince… he is very strict and traditional; far more so than I told you. My marriage was arranged when I was three. She is the daughter of a local sheikh, very pious and good and also influential. It was political. I do not love her, I hardly know her but…”
“What is her name?”
“Your wife… what is her name?”
“She… she does not have a name. She was called Noor I think before we were married, but like I said, we are strict. The rule in our house is that names express personality and such egotism is reserved for men. She is just called First Wife, that is all.”
“First Wife?! So that implies there are more…?”
“There will be, yes. All our family’s men have four wives. Father has arranged my second marriage for when I return. The last two though are my own free choice.”
“Then if you can choose, why not choose me?!”
“Wafiyah my love, you don’t understand! Polygamy is only part of our lifestyle; for the women it is strict, too strict for a Westernised modern girl like you!”
“I can do strict! Have I not worn the veil for three years out of my love for you?!”
“Well yes, but not in uni. But even the veil that you wear now would be considered lewd in my town. My father’s wives… and First Wife, they all veil at all times, including the eyes and they are gagged to ensure voice modesty and they have their hands gloved and restrained and when outside they wear shrouds that blind them completely. They can live in such a way for they know no difference but for you, I could not put you through such hell!”
“Hell for me is life without you! Yes, I cannot be dishonest and say that such a lifestyle is what I would choose, it does sound bad but without you would be so much worse. Besides, surely there are ways around…”
“Not in my house, no.”
Wafiyah was silent for several moments and then she nodded slowly. “Yes, that’s it,” she said softly before turning to Ahmed. “My love,” she announced, “in my life you are the Number One, nothing else matters. However, beyond that, what else is there? You say I may have a life and a career here yet how can I? No life without you and no career as I don’t know the right people. However, you do know the right people. How about I live as one of your wives in the strict fashion you outlined during the times I am at home, but in the day I go out and work in TV under a different name.”
“It is possible… so long as no one ever knew that you are my wife.”
“And I do want to be your wife so much.”
Ahmed took Wafiyah’s hands in his and squeezed them tight. “Yes, yes, you could! We could wed here before I return home and so you would become my second wife and then when I return to Saudi, the one that my father has arranged could become the third instead. Oh Wafiyah my love, your plan is a crazy one and your devotion overwhelming but I do believe it can work, it can work indeed!”
Second Wife readied herself behind the door, nervous and yet excited at what was to come. She had wed the love of her life a week before in a mosque in Cairo and had flown to Saudi a couple of days ago. She and her husband had enjoyed a couple of days’ honeymoon on the Red Sea Coast before coming home to Jeddah where she was to embark upon her new life as a nameless, faceless, voiceless wife of Prince Ahmed al-Saud. She was conscious on every level of her new clothing which she still found strange, restricting, exciting. She was blinded by three veils and a shroud, hot from the black layers that covered her, silenced by the large pecker gag in her mouth, her hands gloved and then covered in slippery mittens and chained to her belt so as to render them almost useless, her feet clad in stockings, high-heeled boots and linked by a short ankle chain so that she could shuffle along at best. She was helpless, dependent, oppressed, silent and anonymous, a mere accessory to her spouse and yet, that was what she herself had chosen.
“Are you ready Second?” asked her master.
She nodded and he opened the door to her new home.
Sister Alima walked boldly into the studio and checked that everything was in place. Then she sat at her chair, carefully draped her clothes around her and pulled a pair of thick gloves onto her hands. She then dropped the three layers of her niqaab over her face before her assistant approached with a charcoal grey satin khimar which she fitted over her head and smoothed into place. Now the well-known image of Sister Alima was ready.
“Take One!” shouted the director, clicking his board.
“Sala’am aleikum sisters,” said Sister Alima, “and welcome to the show. Let us thank Allah for today’s topic which I am sure will be of great interest to you all as it certainly is to me. Today sisters, we shall talk about Devotion to Your Husband and Master…”
And with those words Sister Alima, Second Wife and Wafiyah smiled unseen under all her veils, happy at the path that her life had taken her, a path unknown to all except herself, her beloved and Allah…
Copyright © 2011, Dave Potter