Niqabs and Burqas as Impediments to Health
by Daniel Pipes
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:
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:
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
This regime did not do much good, however, in replacing sunlight:
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.)
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
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:
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.
(May 1, 2013)
Respiratory disease: Rebecca Kreston reports for Discovery Magazine that,
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:
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:
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:
(December 16, 2013)
Reader comments (3) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes