Underneath the veil

Val Vita | Managing Editor

They walk quietly around campus and wear veils that may leave only their eyes visible. Most students know little about their culture, making it even harder to learn who they are. Who are they? They are the 70 or

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so Saudi Arabian women studying at Pittsburg State.
“Yes, they (PSU community) still look at us, but not in a sarcastic way,” said Mashael Abu-shail, freshman in medical technology. “They look at us with eyes full of questions.”
Abu-shail says she usually gives students the green light to question her. And that was the goal of the Saudi Ladies Night, on Nov. 16, at Parrot Bey: answer as many questions as possible about their culture.
There was one exception: Men and cameras were excluded from the event. Only women were allowed to attend, and those who did saw the Saudi students wearing something different from the traditional veil. The women wore dresses, high heels, makeup and jewelry.

Azhar Sigh, graduate student in English, is showing the different clothes to Helena Viana, exchange student in Biology, on Friday, Nov. 16.

Azhar Sigh, graduate student in English, is showing the different clothes to Helena Viana, exchange student in Biology, on Friday, Nov. 16.

Why the veil?

The habit of wearing the hijab (veil) was something the Saudi wmen explained during the event. According to Abu-shail, the hijab is not a matter of culture; rather, it is a religious custom.
“Women are commanded by God to wear it,” she said. “Wearing the hijab is a religious obligation. We got used to what we wear, and some Saudi ladies don’t feel like going out without covering. For some reason, I feel like wearing hijab gives more beauty to girls.”
For Azhar Sigh, graduate student in English, another reason for wearing the hijab is their privacy.
“Protect your body is a way to respect yourself as a human being,” Sigh said. “When you are covered, no one is going to treat you better for being pretty; nobody is going to treat bad if you are ugly. We are all people.”
Abu-shail says girls in Saudi Arabia start wearing the veil when they get their first period. After that, they are allowed to go without the veil in only three situations: when they are alone, when they are around only women or when they are in the presence of men in their family, like their father, brother or husband. So they are required to wear the veil outside the house.
“But we don’t sleep with it and we take it off when we are home, as long there are no other men there,” Abu-shail said.
Saudi women, she says, are allowed to have Facebook. They must be covered in their photos, which was also required for the pictures in this story. Sigh says the only pictures in which they can appear uncovered are for IDs and passports.

No drinks, no boyfriends

Sigh says Saudi women are not allowed to drink.
“Saudi culture is very conservative about it. We can have fun, as long as the environment is safe,” Sigh said. “But we can go to dance clubs, only for girls, of course. We are separate in everything.”
Meshael Alassaf, graduate student in human resources, says another prohibition for women is having boyfriends.
“When a man proposes, we have the right to say yes or no,” Alassaf said. “We can’t have sex before marriage, that’s a really big thing. Having sex with a man that is not your husband is one of the biggest sins.”
Women in Saudi Arabia also can’t drive. Alassaf says she learned how to drive in Pittsburg, where she’s allowed. But when she goes home, is not able to.
“It kind of bothers me, but in Saudi Arabia most houses have private drivers, because it is cheap labor,” Alassaf said. “But the king, (Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud), said that women will drive soon.”

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