The Eyes Have It

THE EYES HAVE IT

Nudging Aside the Niqab

PHOTOS AND INTERVIEWS BY AARON HUEY

Photographer Aaron Huey recently traveled to the Islamic nation of Yemen. While there, he had the chance to photograph and chat with some young Yemeni women who wear the traditional Islamic niqab or burka.

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SAHIRA
18 years old, student, single

Three things I am looking for in a husband:
1. Loves me so much
2. Has good behavior
3. Self-confidence

Recurring dream:
“I have no dreams.”

Hidden talent:
“I have no talents.”

Career aspiration:
“I want to be a doctor.”

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SA’ADIA
20 years old, single, student of English and computers

Hidden talent:
Arabic dancing (contemporary)

Three things I am looking for in a man:
1. Honest
2. Handsome
3. Tall

Favorite passage from the Koran:
“God is one. He does not give birth and was not born, he is alone and confident in himself and doesn’t need the help of any person.”

Why I wear the niqab:
“I took to wearing it by choice. I only began eight months ago. I did it to become invisible. Society and our traditions say this is good.”

If I could meet any person from history (alive or dead), it would be…
“Saddam Hussein. Everyone has got negatives and positives. But he was courageous and was for pan-Arabism.”

Favorite music:
Hip-hop, Usher, Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias

What do Westerners need to know about the Islamic world that they don’t understand?
“The West knows nothing about Arabs. They are very ignorant about Islam. They think Islam is only terrorism. Islam stands for love and peace and humanity.”

Freedoms I wish I had:
“I am forbidden to talk about them.”

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SALAM
21 years old, student, married

Three things I want in life:
“To be a good mother, to be a good wife, and to help Yemen. I also want to be a businesswoman. I want to travel to all the cities in the world and to America.”

Pet peeve:
“Swearing, and when boys in the street say, ‘Look at the tall girl with the nice eyes!’”

Favorite TV star:
“Dr. Phil. He tells us how to solve our problems.”

What is the biggest problem in the world today?
“Palestine. We are sending money to them. Also poverty. We send money to the poor with tithing. The biggest problem in Yemen is women not teaching their daughters. Early marriages are also a problem.”

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RABIA
20 years old, married, English student

Hidden talent:
Writing poetry

Why I wear the niqab:
“All the women in my family must wear this. It is not a choice. It is the decision of the society and a religious duty.”

If I had to be an animal, it would be…
“Some kind of fish. Maybe a very big one, but a very fast one too. There are many places to hide in the sea. It is bigger than the land. I go to the ocean with my family, but I must swim in my clothes.”

Freedoms I wish I had:
“I wish I could live in Europe or America, but that will never happen.”

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WAFA’A
19 years old, single, student

If I could meet any person from history (alive or dead), it would be…
“I would want to meet our prophet, Mohammed. I want to ask him how we can change this nation to be like it was before the modern world and its troubles.”

Hidden talent:
Swimming

What I like about niqab:
“The only thing I like is that a girl can laugh whenever she wants when her face is hidden.”

What I dislike about the niqab:
“I don’t like that it makes some girls seem more attractive than they deserve.”

Why I wear the niqab:
“I have no choice.”

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FATIMA
19 years old, student, single

Three things I am looking for in a husband:
“I will never marry.”

I hate…
“Hamburgers.”

I love…
“Apple Mirinda soda.”

Hidden talent:
“Telepathy. I know what people are thinking.”

Favorite movie stars:
“I like Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas, Denzel Washington, and Tom Hanks.”

What do Westerners need to know about the Islamic world that they don’t understand?
“Islam is not only speaking without doing. They think we are not living happy, but we are living in a peaceful world. Islam teaches us how to clean, how to eat, how to do everything. As you know, there is hell and there is paradise.”

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SAFAA
21 years old, single, journalist

Pet peeve:
“Men spitting mucus in the street.”

Hidden talent: 
Dancing (foreign-modern and Arabic traditional)

Favorite singers: 
Celine Dion, Mohammed Abdu, Shakira, Abu Bakr Salem

Favorite Western film and TV stars:
“I like action and romance films, Dr. Phil, and Oprah.”

Favorite passage from the Koran:
“We are owned by God and we will return to God.”

Why I wear the niqab:
“It is a personal choice, it is not forced. In fact, my family discouraged me from it. But I feel more free when I am wearing it. It is comfortable for me.”

Three things I am looking for in a husband:
1. Handsome
2. He should be famous.
3. He should give me the freedom to do what I want.

What do Westerners need to know about the Islamic world that they don’t understand?
“It may appear at first glance that Yemen is ignorant and backward, but this is wrong. We have more freedoms than you think. There are certain freedoms here that you cannot have in Europe. For example, you can be invisible when wearing the niqab. You can do things unseen, like a ghost.”

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AZHAAR
21 years old, single, journalist

Pet peeve:
“Any kind of scratching sound.”

Hidden talent:
Drawing and tailoring

Favorite film, TV series, and star:
Harry Potter, Lost, and Steven Seagal

Why I wear the niqab:
“When I came of age, my father said I had to wear it. Also, the society I live in wears this, so I must do the same. I like it because I think I am more protected. [long pause] But when I think about it, women that are not wearing the niqab are harassed less. Men want so much to know what is underneath, so sometimes they look harder. Sometimes when you exaggerate something, it can get the opposite result. I distrust men because they are usually—I notice this in society—traitors to women. For this reason I think I will not marry.”

If I could meet any person from history (alive or dead), it would be…
“Saladin. He united Egypt, Syria, and Yemen against the crusaders and captured most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.”

What do Westerners need to know about the Islamic world that they don’t understand?
“Not all Arab women are terrorists or backward or uneducated. They are like women everywhere. There are many girls who have established themselves. Yemeni women are educated and open-minded and successful.”


Feature taken from Vice Magazine: http://www.viceland.com/int/v16n6/htdocs/the-eyes-have-it-909.php?page=1


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