The Veil in the Middle East

Face coverings in the Middle East are most commonly associated with Islam.  Muslim women usually cover their hair, and sometimes wear an additional veil that covers all or part of their face.  However, the use of the veil and face coverings predates Islam in the Middle East, and Islam is not the only religion that sees meaning in veils (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Before being adopted by Islam, the veil was already being used in the Middle East, especially by Jewish and Christian women, for whom it was representative of their high status, or a “retreat from public life” (“Muslim Veiling”).

Also most commonly associated with women, face coverings are worn by men in some parts of the Middle East as well.

Veiling in Islam

Islam adopted the practice of veiling from local Middle Eastern cultures, and then kept the practice as Islam spread throughout the world (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Within Islam, the veil or covering the face is most closely associated with modesty, which is an extremely important value for both Muslim women and men (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Islamic texts like the Qur’an and the Hadith mention the use of the veil or headscarf for women to preserve their modesty, especially around men, but they are somewhat unclear on whether it is actually a requirement for Muslim women (Lundt).  While Islamic texts do not necessarily require women to wear a veil, many Muslim countries have interpreted it this way, and so it is required by law (“Muslim Veiling”).  The Qur’an does not even refer specifically to a veil, only to some type of screen or barrier to preserve women’s modesty (“Muslim Veiling”).

Types of Middle Eastern Face Coverings

There is a great variety of the styles of veils and headscarves worn by Muslim women, with different types being popular among different regions and cultures (Moghadam).  They are typically worn along with long, loose clothing that covers the rest of the body as well (Moghadam).  The most common type of headscarf is the hijab, and it does not cover the face, only the hair and neck (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Hijab is also often used as a general term for the headscarves and veils worn by Muslim women in the West (Lundt).  There are two main types of veils that cover the face.  The more common one is the niqab, which leaves an opening for the eyes (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  The niqab is worn along with a headscarf to cover the hair, and it can either cover the full face or half of the face (Lundt).  Women who wear a niqab also tend to cover their hands as well (“Muslim Veiling”).  The more conservative style that covers the face is called the burqa, and it covers the entire face and body, with mesh in front of the eyes (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  The burqa is used mostly in Afghanistan, where it has been enforced by the Taliban and certain colors are seen in specific regions (Lundt).  There is also another type of face covering that is now seen extremely rarely.  It is a mask called a battoulah worn around the Persian Gulf (Lundt).  The battoulah goes over the eyes, nose, and upper lip, and keeps dust out of the face (Lundt).  It is usually worn by older married women, and younger generations have not been wearing them as much as in the past (Lundt).  There are also a great number of other styles of veils and headscarves worn in the Middle East.  It is also notable that women are not the only ones who cover their heads and faces in the Middle East.  It is common for men to cover their hair as well, and some groups cover the face as well, usually as a “sign of maturity” or for religious purposes (“Muslim Veiling”).

The Purpose of the Veil

The use of the veil and the practice of face covering in the Middle East has become very controversial throughout the world, and this is partly because of questions over the real meaning of the veil.  The most basic meaning of it is modesty.  Modesty is extremely important in Islam, for both men and women (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  What is usually stated as the purpose of the veil is that it is “so that they [women] will not tempt men and maintain their chastity and honor and the chastity and honor of the men around them” (“Muslim Veiling”).  Statements like this lead critics of face covering to classify it as a form of oppression against women, and this view is especially common in the West (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Veils like the niqab and the burqa which cover the face are most commonly cited as oppressive.  Because politics in the Middle East have such a big role in women wearing veils, the practice has been described as “a mechanism of social control” and “the regulation of women” (Moghadam).  The governments of Middle Eastern nations are the ones telling women whether a veil is required or banned, as some countries, like Turkey, have banned the use of the veil in certain situations (“Muslim Veiling”).  When the veil is mandatory for women, it is also closely tied to the patriarchy (Moghadam).

A different interpretation of the veil in the Middle East is that is it actually a form of protection for women, rather than oppression.  This protection is specifically protection against rape and against “the harassment of leering men” (“Muslim Veiling”).  It works as “protection against the male gaze” because the veil communicates that an individual has modesty, worth, and is owed respect (Moghadam). 

While these views on the meaning of the veil are typically from outsiders or those not wearing a veil, perspectives on its meaning from women in the Middle East who wear veils or cover their face are very often that it is a form of religious and self-expression, and shows their devotion to their religion (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Middle Eastern women in other parts of the world frequently describe the practice as a choice, and not a requirement of Islam (“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam”).  Some women even see the veil as a form of empowerment, a clear contradiction from outsiders calling it oppressive (Lundt). 

The veil has also been used as a political symbol and a sign of national identity, especially during colonization (Lundt).  It tends to be seen as anti-Western, and so it has become a political statement, especially since the 1970s (“Muslim Veiling”).  It is a symbol of “cultural identity” and “religious assertion,” and so has come to also symbolize a rejection of the West (Moghadam).  Conversely, some Middle Eastern countries have taken actions in the opposite direction.  To some, the veil represents “female illiteracy and subjugation,” and so it is in the way of moving forward with modernization (Moghadam).  Some countries, like Turkey, have banned the veil in some situations for precisely this reason (“Muslim Veiling”). 


“A Brief History of the Veil in Islam.” Facing History and Ourselves. 2021,, Accessed 3/31/21.

Lundt, Jennifer. “Veiling Trends for Muslim Women.” IstiZada. June 14, 2019,, Accessed 4/7/21.

Moghadam, Valentine M. “Veil, In Middle Eastern and North African Cultures.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2019,, Accessed 4/14/21.

“Muslim Veiling: Hijab, Niqab, History and Interpretations of the Qur’an,” Facts and Details. 2019,, Accessed 4/7/21.

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Homemade Covid-19 Masks

The Beginning

While I was moving out of my dorm due to the pandemic in mid-March, 2020, was the first time I heard anything about masks.  This was before anyone really knew much about what was happening, and so only a few people were wearing masks.  I remember while I was moving out, I only saw one person wearing a mask, and since it was so early on, my first thought was that they were from an area of the country where cases were more common, or they were more at risk.  My mom had a slightly different reaction.  She immediately assumed that the person was either sick, or they had been exposed, and she was very worried.  After this brief moment of panic from my mom, I heard more about masks from social media and my parents when it was starting to be recommended that everyone wear a mask.

I know that I decided to wear a mask in public as soon as it was recommended, but I don’t remember when I actually first wore a mask, largely because for the first few weeks, or possibly even months, starting in March, I wasn’t even leaving my house.  I had gone home to my parents’ house to finish the semester, and so there was no place I had to be.  It might have been recommended for us to wear masks even when I was moving out of my dorm, but I didn’t wear one then because that was the first I heard anything about it, and also I didn’t have any.  I would guess that I actually started wearing a mask in late March or April, because by that point it was definitely being recommended for safety.  I understood from the beginning, in March, that wearing a mask would be necessary for keeping people safe, so I’ve never had a problem wearing them, but I still found it less than ideal in the beginning.  Since I was staying home almost all of the time in the beginning, I was rarely in a situation where I needed to wear a mask, so when I did have to wear one, I found it extremely annoying.  I wasn’t used to it at all, and it was hard to get used to it, because the times when I wore masks were generally very short and very spread out.  I was also a little concerned about how well they would work, because the only masks I had were homemade.  The stores ran out of medical masks very early on, and so my family used homemade cloth masks instead.  I was skeptical of their functionality because in my mind, they were somehow lesser because they were thrown together at home.  Now I have a whole bin of them near my door.

My slowly growing collection of masks, most of them are homemade cloth masks!

The first mask I wore was one of these cloth masks that my mom made from fabric remnants that she already had from previous projects.  I still have it, and I wear it fairly often.  It has two layers, and a short piece of wire inserted at the nose area.  The outer layer is a brown and light blue floral pattern, and it was one of the first masks my mom made, so the elastic for my ears ended up being too big.  I have knots tied to made it fit right.

My first mask, made by my mom.

The Musician’s Mask

The mask I use most often during rehearsals!

My mom ended up making an immense amount of masks for my whole family.  I only have a few that are not made by her.  The homemade masks have worked out really well.  My family and I did have to try them on a lot while they were being made so that adjustments to the size could be made, but they are very nice finished.  My mom also experimented with different patterns of masks to find out what would fit best.  My mom also made me several musician’s masks.  I play the French horn, and ensembles went back to in person when we came back to campus, but I needed a mask that would allow me to play.  The masks I use have two overlapping panels that can be pushed aside to allow me to play.  Worn socially distanced from others in the ensembles, the masks at least somewhat reduce the spread of aerosols more than if we had no masks, while still allowing us to play.

After some trial and error, this mask design worked the best.

My Current (And Favorite) Masks

The masks I have worn most often since March are the cloth face masks my mom made.  They have two layers, and are pleated, so they are essentially the same shape as the blue medical masks.  Most of my masks are made from patterned fabric, so they have become an article of clothing instead of just something for protection.  For a short time during the winter and spring of 2021, I was double masking.  I used a blue medical mask with one of my cloth masks over it.  I did this because cases in the US and especially on campus seemed pretty high, and I was going to classes in-person every weekday.

Double masking for class!

One of my favorite masks is a cloth mask made from fabric with sunflowers on it.  It was made by my mom, Barb Stucke, likely around May of 2020, in East Aurora, NY.  She used a desktop sewing machine, cotton fabric, and thin white elastic.  There is also a piece of wire, about 2 inches, in the nose area to hold the mask in shape on the face.  This mask is one of the pleated ones done in the same style as the blue medical masks, and it covers the face from the top of the nose to under the chin.  It has two layers.  The outer layer is patterned fabric with a black and gray background, and stylized sunflowers in brown, yellow, and green.  The inner layer is pale green, and the thread used in the mask matches this color.  The mask is sewn all around the edges so the two layers stay together.

My favorite mask!