The Veil: Marrakesh

Two years ago I noted that an increasing amount of women were wearing the veil in Istanbul.

A month ago I went to Marrakesh, having not been since May 2006. There were some notable changes in under three years.

In the past, women had often covered their hair, but very few had covered their faces. Now, many more women seem to chose to wear a veil that covers part of their faces. This photo shows the Niqāb - which does not cover the eyes.

There has also been a huge increase in tourism, and also in bad behavior.

Young men, behaving as they had seen actors behave in movies and television shows, and trying to re-create the scenes they saw without understanding the context. So a gang of young men will call out various things to a woman walking down the street, and become aggressive when they fail to 'pick her up'. Some also seem to behave in a 'ghetto gangster' manner clearly learnt from television rather than being indigenous to Moroccan culture.

In the past I felt comfortable visiting Marrakesh as a woman on my own - now Moroccan men grab my arm as I pass, and a suspiciously high number of men 'accidentally' slapped my arse with the palms of their hands as I walked by.

Some of this may have been 'learnt' from tourists, but ... most of it comes from television (there is now at least one satellite dish on every roof).

The 'bad' West is not the only thing coming through via televisions - so is Islamic preaching.

On the 6th of March Morocco cut ties with Iran, claiming that the Iranians were trying to push Shiism in Sunni Morocco - the number that 'converted' is not clear, but enough prominent people did for this to be called a "Shiite Tide".

The Pentagon has been worried for some time about the Wahhabi push in Mauritania and then up into Morocco proper through Western Sahara.

Throw in the Islamism in neighbouring Algeria, and preaching being piped in via satellite television ... and you have all the makings of a resurgence of Islamising in Morocco.

The women pictured here had a full face veil - not even her eyes showed - and wore gloves. Five years ago she would have been an extremely rare sight, but now women dressed this way are not unusual (though still uncommon). This full facial covering is known as a Boshiya, and tended to be limited to the Gulf (it covers more than the 'Shuttlecock' Burqa that is worn in Afghanistan, and which at least allows a hint of the eyes to be seen through it).

I find some of the behavior I see in London quite shocking - mass tourists on holiday in a Muslim country are probably even more shocking to the locals, and partly I feel that it's a reaction to increasing contact with the West.

Where it starts to bother me is when I see children wearing veils - which are not meant to be worn until puberty. With some children one has to factor in some leeway for looking younger than they are. Others are clearly five or six years old. They are not wearing veils for religious reasons. It could either be that they are trying to emulate their mothers, as children often do, or that they are being pressured to wear veils by their families.

1 comment:

  1. Great observations. I was in Marrakesh in 2004 and came away surprised at how tolerant and western, if you will, the city seemed. I wondered if there was a more conservative cultural face there that I wasn't seeing. I get he sense that you are a frequent visitor there, so your observations are interesting. I wonder if the change is profound, or populist?

    I have dug out some photographs from 2004 in Marrakesh which are illustrative to your comments. They show fewer sat dishes and veils (and pretty shapes and colors). I will send them to you.

    Also I didn't know that there was an age element to wearing one, but that only makes sense. I just taught some kindergartners and one girl was in a veil. Something seemed off to me about it. In reflection I can see that it was her young age.

    Really cool post, thanks. -R


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