We use cookies for site personalization, analytics and advertising. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it



Questions that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this, your section,
and be answered by other readers. Please address your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.

What proportion of Muslim women cover their faces in public? Is the practice increasing?
And do women who cover their faces suffer any discomfort or health problems?

I don’t know what proportion of Muslim women currently veil their faces, but it does seem to be on the increase. Many women find the wearing of a constricting garment on the head very uncomfortable, especially in hot climes. It restricts activity and the long types of head coverings can get caught in escalators and machinery. Due to the skin’s lack of exposure to the sun, women may also suffer from osteomalacia (softening of the bones) and exacerbation of common skin ailments such as eczema.
In recent times women have been flogged or imprisoned for not wearing a veil or for wearing it improperly. But veiling was not introduced by the prophet Mohammed; it had already existed for centuries in the Middle East and was used by Greeks, Romans, Jews and Assyrians as an indicator of social status. Nowhere in the Qu’ran is it explicitly prescribed except in that women are instructed to guard their private parts and throw a scarf over their bosoms (sura 24: 31-32).

Throughout Mohammed’s lifetime veiling was observed only by his wives. Exactly how the custom spread to the rest of the community is not known. The Muslim conquest of areas in which veiling was commonplace among the upper classes might have been a factor. The taking of Mohammed’s wives as models of Muslim womanhood might also have contributed.

Dr H Kazim
London, England

During the two years I worked as volunteer at Kabul Public Hospital, scores of women came to the Ringworm Clinic with babies and toddlers infected by their mother’s long chaderi (a head-to-toe cover with an oblong lattice over the eyes). The infections were stubborn in the absence of sunshine and antiseptic soap, in some cases persisting for years.

Eye-infections were also endemic among women in chaderi and their small children. There’s no proof that the chaderi was to blame, but when women could be persuaded to burn the infected garment and apply simple hygienic measures, infections vanished.

From personal experience I can say that trying to walk around a busy city like Kabul in a chaderi makes you feel like a blinkered horse: there is no peripheral vision. I could not see what was at my feet and needed a guide. I have seen women in chaderi stumble on uneven footpaths and even fall down manholes. There is also the annoyance of having one’s bottom pinched through the chaderi – being anonymous and blinkered it’s even harder to fight back.

Dorothy Brewster
Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand.

awaiting your answers

How much energy is needed to manufacture an average-sized car?

Leigh Cavanagh
Staines, England

How are the features added on to a globe? I can think of no convincing way that complex images
could be printed directly onto a sphere without distortion or numerous joins.

Paul Fitzgerald
Manchester, England

Is there an organization that collects medical goods (not drugs) past their expiry date?

Felicity Roberts
Kidderminster, England

If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities, New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK, or to your local NI office (see inside front cover for addresses).


Cartoon by POLYP

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 275 magazine cover This article is from the January 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Subscribe today »


Help us produce more like this

Editor Portrait Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.

Support us »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop