In addition to their posing a security risk, these wretched garments variously impede the health of the women who wear them, as well as their fetuses. Here is a listing of problems.
Vitamin D deficiency and rickets: Before looking at news items, here are some medical articles on the subject of Vitamin D deficiency and Islamic dress:
- Niyi Awofeso, "Addressing vitamin D deficiency among veiled pregnant women in Australia," Nutrition & Dietetics: The Journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia, December 2006.
- Terrence H Diamond, Sherel Levy, Angelina Smith and Peter Day, "High bone turnover in Muslim women with vitamin D deficiency," The Medical Journal of Australiai, 177 (2002): 139-41.
- M.Y. Elsammak et al., "Vitamin D deficiency in Saudi Arabs," Hormone and Metabolic Research, 42 (2010): 364-68.
- R. Hobbs et al., "Severe Vitamin D Deficiency in Arab-American Women Living in Dearborn, Michigan," Endocrine Practice, 15 (2009): 35-40.
- A.A. Mishal, "Effects of Different Dress Styles on Vitamin D Levels in Healthy Young Jordanian Women," Osteoporosis International, 12 (2001): 931-35.
Doctors say that an upsurge in rickets among children and osteomalacia among adults in the population of "Asians" (a euphemism for Muslims) in the United Kingdom is partly due to Muslim dress codes which allow little skin to be exposed to sunlight. A BBC report explains:
This can lead to a Vitamin D deficiency in mothers which is then passed on to their children during and after pregnancy. The deficiency stops the bones developing properly, producing bow-legs and thickened wrists and ankles. … If left untreated, the only remedy may be painful and scarring surgery.
Because rickets had disappeared from Great Britain a century earlier, doctors today often have no experience with it and do not recognize the disease until symptoms are advanced. (February 5, 2001) Aug. 3, 2006 update: For a particularly detailed review of this topic, see "UK: Muslim Burkas Damage Babies' Health: Rickets, Vitamin D and Sunlight" by Giraldus Cambrensis. It includes information on many studies, starting from 1931. June 25, 2007 update: A study by Hussein F. Saadi and colleagues at the United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain and published in the June 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that where women wear full-body covers, they need high levels of vitamin D supplementation to raise serum levels, especially for breast-feeding women. A study by Hussein F. Saadi and colleagues at the United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain and published in the June 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that where women wear full-body covers, they need high levels of vitamin D supplementation to raise serum levels, especially for breast-feeding women.
A Reuters news item explains that the investigators
studied vitamin D levels in 90 women who were breastfeeding and 88 women who had never given birth. Many dressed to cover their whole bodies, including their hands and faces, while outside of their homes. Only two of the women, one in each group, were not vitamin D deficient at study. All the women were randomly assigned to receive 2000 IU of vitamin D2 daily or 60,000 IU in one dose each month.
This regime did not do much good, however, in replacing sunlight:
Although both monthly and daily dosing significantly and safely increased vitamin D levels, only 21 of the 71 women (30 percent) who completed the 3-month study reached the recommended blood levels. Vitamin D2 doses "as high as 2000 IU per day were marginally effective in ensuring adequate vitamin D status," Saadi commented.
July 18, 2007 update: Britain's National Health Service has launched a "Healthy Start" program aimed at Muslim women (particularly Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Somali), to encourage them to increase their vitamin D intake. Qualifying families and pregnant women will receive vouchers for fruit and vegetables, milk and infant formula, and free vitamin supplements. In addition, the Government is asking community leaders to inform Muslims that they need more sunlight and better diets.
According to a Department of Health spokesman: "For ethnic groups there is an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency as people with dark and pigmented skin are less efficient at making vitamin D in their skin. They need to spend longer outside to make similar amounts and those who wear concealing clothing are unlikely to make enough. Studies have shown low vitamin D levels in Asian women in the UK - particularly among those who cover most of their skin for cultural reasons."
One official added: "We are not interfering in a Muslim woman's right to wear the hijab, but we are stressing that we all need sunlight on our skins. If you have your head and skin covered, then you risk stopping these natural rays from topping up vital vitamins." Oct. 29, 2007 update: Today's news from Blackburn in East Lancashire, UK, confirms the problem: "56 cases of rickets uncovered."
A study commissioned by the East Lancashire Primary Care Trust found, as the newspaper delicately puts it, that almost all the cases found are in the "South Asian community." Further down, we learn that experts think Asian immigrants are more likely to have this problem "because of their darker skin, and Islam's requirements for clothing to cover limbs." Aug. 20, 2010 update: A study in Jordan by the National Centre for Diabetes Endocrinology and Genetics finds that 87 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 70 suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Breaking that number down, 96 percent of those who wear hijabs (headscarves) and niqabs (face veils) suffer from vitamin D deficiency, compared to 64 percent of the women who do not. June 7, 2013 update: Vitamin D deficiency is also a problem in sunny India, leading to muscle and bone pain, and even to dementia.
Pregnant women and babies at risk in Ireland: Miriam Casey, of the Osteoporosis Unit in St James's hospital in Dublin warns that Muslim women wearing the burqa in cold countries like Ireland are at increased risk of pelvic fractures during childbirth because of vitamin D deficiency due to a lack of sunlight, writes Colin Gleeson in the Times (London). Also, babies born to such women are more prone right after birth to "serious complications such as seizures, growth retardation, muscle weakness and fractures." Subsequently, as toddlers, "carrying the weight of the torso can force the development of a bow-legged appearance and a waddling gait. Later, there can be rickets, which is caused by vitamin D deficiency, with swollen wrists and bones that fail to fuse in adolescence."
In contrast, the sun in hot countries, she maintains, gets through the cloth enough for them to absorb adequate amounts of vitamin D. "Ireland's temperate climate doesn't have the intense sunlight that keeps burqa-clad women from becoming vitamin D-deficient in their own countries." Further, darker skins produce vitamin D far less efficiently than fair skins, sometimes as little as 1 percent as much. (December 28, 2008)
Burqas suffocate, leading to headaches: Burqas are hot, stifling, and don't allow for proper air circulation. Here's an 18-year-old Afghan woman on the subject: "When I wear a burqa it gives me a really bad feeling. I don't like to wear it. My family are not really happy with me wearing a chador namaz [the long, billowing dress widely worn in Iran], they tell me to always wear a burqa. But I don't like it, it upsets me, I can't breathe properly." And here is her cousin, in her early 20s: "My family says I have to wear it, they say the chador namaz is bad. You understand that if you don't wear a burqa and your face is open, people will just gossip about you. But it does give me bad headaches, it puts a lot of pressure on my head, especially if it's sewn too tightly." (July 7, 2009)
Strangled in go-kart accident: A 24-year-old young Muslim woman died when part of her burqa got caught in the wheels of a go-kart she was driving at Bob's Farm near the town of Port Stephens, north of Sydney, strangling her and causing the vehicle to crash. (April 8, 2010) Apr. 13, 2010 update: In the Netherlands, a woman wearing a hijab also got it entangled in a go-kart in 2007 and was partially suffocated. She, however, survived – and went on to sue the Linnaeushof playground in Bennebroek for €11,000 on the grounds that it had insufficient safety measures and supervision.
Obesity due to lack of exercise: The niqab & burqa, along with social mores surrounding them, discourage exercise, leading to unhealthy weight gain.
One study finds about 70 percent of women in the Persian Gulf states obese, though The Economist reports about half that rate. It does rank Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon as the countries with the highest obesity rates among women, while Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates fill out the top ten. (I.e., Arab countries fill 7 out of the 10 spots.)
Countries with the highest percentage of obese women, 1999-2003..
The Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures: Family, Body, Sexuality and Health by Suad Joseph and Afsaneh Najmabad (2006), reports that obesity, especially among women, has become an "epidemic" in many Arab countries and that "High obesity prevalence among women may be partially due to cultural prohibitions against physical activity."
Caroline May of the Daily Caller finds that the same problem in the United States: Mubarakah Ibrahim, a fitness expert at BALANCE fitness Studio For Women in New Haven, explains that
Many, especially Muslim women, think it will be difficult to exercise in their burka or hijab. In some ways it is prohibitive. I exercise in the hijab but I cannot always do normal activity. For instance, if I workout outdoors I need to be very aware of the weather. If it is too hot or humid, it is not reasonable to exercise outside.
Ibrahim adds that she does not take off her hijab even in all female gyms because "if anyone were to describe me to a man it would be as though he had actually seen me." She also adds another dimension to the discussion:
There is no bikini season for Muslim women and little incentive to look like the models in the magazines. A normal woman may see her figure in a store window and think "oh dear I need to lose some weight!" With Muslim women the whole idea is to hide the figure. It is an internal struggle because nobody will see your efforts in the gym.
In addition, the cultural predilection for fat women makes things worse, as symbolized by the grotesque leblouh (gavage, force-feeding) in Mauritania. (July 1, 2010) March 13, 2012 update: ANSAmed reports from Qatar (slightly edited): "the abaya (a long black tunic) for women makes playing almost any sport nearly impossible, obliging a compromise between cultural and religious traditions or the possibility to conduct a healthy life by engaging in physical activity."
Rashes: Doctors in Kulob, Tajikistan in the heat of recent weeks have treated more than 100 female patients for rashes, itching along the neck and arms, and festering skin irritations. An investigation figured out the cause: wearing head coverings made out of inexpensive synthetic fabrics imported from China that cost about 20 percent of garments out of natural fibers. (August 31, 2012)
Multiple sclerosis incidents way up in Iran: MS may be another affliction resulting too much covering up of women and the resulting vitamin D deficiency, writes Libby Copeland in Smithsonian.
Multiple sclerosis has skyrocketed in Tehran, increasing almost sevenfold between 1989 and 2005. In Iran's central province of Isfahan, the incidence nearly tripled from 2005 to 2009. Now Oxford University researchers suggest, for the first time, that the 1979 Iranian Revolution may deserve some of the blame for the extraordinary jump. They say the revolutionary mandate for modest dress and head coverings for women may have inadvertently fueled the increase by limiting their exposure to sunlight.
(May 1, 2013)
Respiratory disease: Rebecca Kreston reports for Discovery Magazine that,
in a 2001 study on the effect of the niqab veil on incidence of respiratory disease in Saudi women, researchers unexpectedly found that bronchial asthma and the common cold "were significantly more common in veils users;" wearing the veil may have contributed to dense, wet spots close to the mouth and nose which could facilitate the growth of organisms that lead to infection
The source for this information is Ahmad Efem et al., "The Effect of Wearing the Veil by Saudi Ladies on the Occurrence of Respiratory Diseases," J Asthma. 38 (2001): 423-426.
Kreston also notes that Middle East men get the new Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) three times more often than women (74 to 26 percent) and speculates that "the low rates of infection among women may be due to an emphasis on the wearing of the face veil." She goes on:
Saudi Arabia has some of the most stringent interpretations of Islamic laws governing the dress and behavior of its citizens and the covering of the mouth and nose by the niqab may have decreased the likelihood of airborne transmission of the respiratory-borne disease. I suspect that the wearing the niqab may also decrease the amount of contact between contaminated fingers and the mucosal membranes of the face. Additionally, the prohibition of casual contact between unrelated sexes and the social seclusion of women through the enforcement of purdah may have resulted in an asymmetrical transmission effect, in which only men were exposed and women were unintentionally "barred" from exposure.
If this is in fact the case, it would be an unusual instance of the niqab having a favorable health impact. (June 20, 2013)
"Woman mistaken for monkey, shot dead": Here's one I never expected. The full report in the Saudi Gazette reads as follows:
TAIF — A man accidentally shot a Saudi woman in her 60s. The Saudi, who is in his 30s, mistook the woman for a monkey. The woman was on top of a tree harvesting fruit. The man shot her and she dropped dead on spot. The man rushed her to hospital but she was pronounced dead upon arrival. The man handed himself to the authorities.
Presumably, the man shot the monkey to eat its brains. Presumably too, the woman's dark clothing made him think he was seeing a monkey. But the whole episode boggles the imagination. (November 7, 2013)
Niqab used to hide 15-year-old's facial injuries: A Muslim teenage girl living in the Auckland area of New Zealand was beaten at home by at least one family member over two or more months, leading to a broken nose, damaged teeth and extensive bruising, then was forced to hide her injuries behind a niqab and was kept out of school. To make matters worse, members of the Muslim community hushed up the abuse.
According to child protection officer Detective Sarah Boniface: "The case was brought to police attention when a school friend of the girl was made aware of the abuse and was able to borrow a cellphone from another child at a neighbouring school to call 111. The girl was not able to get access to a phone herself." The New Zealand Herald article by Sam Boyer continues:
When officers visited her home, the girl was allegedly instructed by family members to cover up with a burqa that left only her eyes exposed [DP comment: a burqa with only the eyes exposed is in fact a niqab] - a covering the girl told police she would not usually wear. At school, she wore a head scarf. She was absent from school long enough for a friend to become anxious about her whereabouts, police say. When the friend learned of the abuse through community networks, she called the police.
"At this stage it is clear that a number of members of the community were aware of the extent of the abuse and did not seek medical assistance for her injuries or alert authorities," Ms Boniface said. "This included people who were in positions of trust and who should have been relied upon to provide help." Police believed that family members were also instructed to lie to investigators about the abuse, and did so out of fear for their own safety.
(December 16, 2013)
ISIS vs. Vitamin D: It's fitting that the fans of an organization, ISIS, which demands that all women be covered from head to toe, thereby getting no sunlight and no vitamin D, should hack the website of the Vitamin D Council. (March 19, 2015)
The Vitamin D Council homepage as hacked by an ISIS supporter.