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Women now make up more than half of the kingdom’s university students.
When King Abdullah started a royal scholarship program for study abroad in 2005, women were included among its initial scholars; as of 2014, more than 35,000 Saudi women were enrolled in foreign undergraduate and graduate programs, with more than half studying in the United States. This is not to suggest any sort of parity for male and female professionals; Saudi women with advanced educations complain of underemployment and frustration in a society only beginning to accept females into high-level jobs.
When our families follow imams who insist the face is awrah, even though other imams say it isn’t. ”) It was Noof Hassan, in fact, who articulated the pithiest veiling explanation I heard, while she was at work one day and caught me watching her deft adjustments as she entered and exited the women-only factory area.
Every society in the world has its own versions of awrah, and the Saudi Arabia of the past few decades has instructed all its faithful to regard as awrah not only a woman’s hair, as is widely taught across the Muslim world, but also her calves, her arms, and perhaps—depending—her face.That lawyer, a 30-year-old named Aljawharah Fallatah, plays in women-only gyms in girls’ schools or health clubs. Because that is where the young men go, and it would be cumbersome to play good basketball in an abaya.The point, Fallatah reminded me after a practice one evening, is that she’s a working attorney in a nation where, until the early 1960s, most girls had nowhere to attend school.The cloth was sheer, evidently woven with this purpose in mind, and outside the car windows things were dimmer and grayer, but visible. because a female Saudi acquaintance with a mordant wit had suggested that the fraying abaya I’d been wearing for weeks might best be retired by burning it.Emergency shopping help pls, I texted Noof, and Noof had texted back, sure my dear. She had rearranged her tarha to half veil—men don’t hang around abaya shops much.
“So I’m—‘Please, Noof, cover your face,’” Sami said. “My answer will be, this guy, he’s a Muslim, but he doesn’t follow Islam in the right way,” he said finally. “If I fight with the guy,” he said, “that means I fight every day.” Noof chuckled.