jump to example.com

Saudi graduate student asks non-Muslim women – and portrait viewers – to move past the veil

Nourah Alhasawi invites viewers to confront their preconceived notions about face-veiled Muslim women. Not as an American, or a Christian, or a member of any demographic – but as one person to another.

emu muslim women

Frances Flannery (right), director of James Madison University’s Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace, with Trina Nussbaum, director of EMU’s Center for Interfaith Engagement, at the gallery.

Alhasawi is a professor of Islamic Studies at Princess Nourah University in her home country of Saudi Arabia. She also wears a face veil.

For her capstone project to earn a master’s degree in conflict transformation at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Alhasawi gathered 20 women and interviewed them on their feelings about face veils. Then, each participant was photographed in various stages of the veiling process – unveiled, partially covering the hair, fully covering the hair, wearing a colorful face veil, and wearing a plain black face veil. Each participant was again interviewed about their experience, and some met for group discussion.

The Margaret Martin Gehman Art Gallery was filled to capacity for Alhasawi’s presentation.

“These women are not terrorists … they are not even Muslim,” she told the crowd.

For the presentation, Alhasawi hung twenty hinged portraits in the gallery – the viewer first encountered a fully veiled woman, eyes appearing somber or powerful, a few mischievous – then “opened” the portrait to reveal the subject with only partially covered hair.

In America, Alhasawi says, “The more visible my face-veil is, the more invisible I become.” In light of the invisibility, harassment  and oppression she endured as a face-veiled Muslim woman in America, she created this project with the hope that viewers would set down their cultural baggage and encounter the portrait subjects as individuals.

“It’s not about systems, it’s not about ideology, it’s about you and me,” says Alhasawi. She explained the various “problematic responses to difference” that people exhibit: acting as if the “other” has no personhood, demonizing and dominating the “other,” and portraying the “other” as exotic and therefore not dignified. Alhasawi also pointed out a problematic response that can stem from a desire for equality: minimizing the other’s differences.

“If you don’t see my difference, then you don’t see me. Or you don’t see me fully,” says Alhasawi. She pointed out that unveiled faces are not a universal norm: she had to become accustomed to seeing American clothing (and lack thereof).

Alhasawi also explained the danger of moral overcorrection: according to a Pew Research Center study, only 12 countries in the world legally require some form of religious garb for women, while 39 countries legally prohibit some form of the same. “They have this assumption that women would only wear this by force, so they force them not to wear it.”

“Nourah is a social entrepreneur, willing to take risks and cross her comfort zones,” says Professor Carl Stauffer, her practicum and academic advisor. She also enlisted the help of Howard Zehr, Soula Pefkaros, and Adriana Hammond to photograph the subjects of this social experiment.

“We overcame so many things in less than an hour,” says Alhasawi. One participant first described women in black face veils as “scary,” but closed their last interview by presenting Alhasawi with a gift of a black scarf.

“It made me think much more about myself than it did face-veiled Muslim women,” says participant Frances Flannery, director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace at James Madison University. The project made Flannery reflect on society’s “claims” on women – such as how they should appear and express themselves – characteristics which are covered by a face veil.

Alhasawi hopes there will be other opportunities to display the photographs in the United States, and intends to write further about the project’s implications. She has returned to Saudi Arabia to teach two graduate classes and continue research projects on women’s rights and English-language representations of the prophet of Islam.

   
Discussion
 
Highlights

Another new poll gives Northam big lead in Virginia governor race

One Virginia governor race poll released yesterday had Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie tied.

Poll: Trump unpopular in Virginia

President Donald Trump is well under water among Virginia voters, according to new poll results released by the University of Mary Washington.

UVA alum Chris Long to donate first six NFL game checks to fund scholarships

The Chris Long Foundation announced today that Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long will donate his first six game checks of the 2017 NFL season to fund two scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville.

Events Calendar

Upcoming events in the Shenandoah Valley, Central Virginia and statewide from the Augusta Free Press Events Calendar. Don't see your event listed? Email augustafreepress2@gmail.com.

Game Preview: VMI, Chattanooga look to get back on track on Saturday

VMI knew the 2017 football season was going to be a rebuilding year. Chattanooga, coming off a playoff appearance in 2016, had its usual high expectations.

Game Preview: UVA has a chance at Boise State

Vegas and the ESPN Power Index don’t give UVA much of a chance to win at Boise State on Friday night.

Street Knowledge with Chris Graham: First look at UVA-Boise State

Chris Graham and Scott German take a first look at the UVA-Boise State game set for Friday night.

The Petty Hearts bring Tom Petty tribute to Wayne Theatre on Sept. 22

Tom Petty tribute band The Petty Hearts are coming to the Wayne Theatre on Friday, Sept. 22.

Web Design, Marketing

Augusta Free Press LLC provides clients in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia and beyond with marketing and PR solutions including web design, TV/radio, social media and overall marketing campaign design and implementation.

   
Recent Posts
   
Your One-Stop Media Shop
Augusta Free Press LLC provides clients in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia and beyond with marketing and PR solutions including web design, magazine/brochure, TV/radio, social media and overall marketing campaign design and implementation.
  • Web Design

    You want a new website, but don’t have the first clue as to how to build one. That’s our job. We take care of all facets of web design – visual design, layout design and content development. Get your business online for as little as $1,299.
    Learn more about AFP Web Design services.
  • Graphic Design

    The staff at Augusta Free Press Publishing has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association for excellence in layout and design. Whether you need a fresh business card design, rack card, ad, flyer or full magazine design, we can help with all your graphic-design needs.
    Learn more about AFP Graphic Design services.
  • Marketing

    Augusta Free Press manages advertising campaigns for small- and medium-sized businesses across Virginia. You don’t need to hire a full-time marketing coordinator. Bring the experience of the Augusta Free Press team to work for you – for a fraction of the cost.
    Learn more about AFP Marketing services.