Qatari writer’s TV appearance sans hijab sparks debate

Maryam Al-Subaiey

Video still

Maryam Al-Subaiey

A local woman’s appearance on a France 24 TV program last week has reignited a debate about whether Qatari females should cover their hair while representing their country.

On Oct. 13, writer and entrepreneur Maryam Al-Subaiey was featured in an episode on the France 24 Arabic channel to speak about “how a Qatari woman views herself.”

According to the host, this was the first time in 10 years that a Qatari woman had agreed to appear on his show.

In response to a question about whether Qatari women are media-shy, Al-Subaiey said, “I think we need to do more to show who we really are.”

But she added that she and her peers are making great strides:

“The entire world is patriarchal, not just the Arab world. But the Gulf countries are specifically stereotyped as patriarchal which is problematic and untrue. Take me as an example, I am educated, I now work and live my life freely…

Qatari woman have been able to reach higher positions in the work force. We now have female judges and female ministers in the cabinet. We also have female representatives in CMC and we have many female entrepreneurs.”

‘Held accountable by God’

Though Al-Subaiey spent much of her time talking about the successes seen by Qatari women, some took offense to the interview, mainly because she appeared onscreen without hijab.

In a piece in Al Arab yesterday, Qatari columnist Noura Al Msefri criticized Al-Subaiey, saying:

“A genuine Qatari woman does not dare appear unveiled in a conservative society that respects its religion and holds high all traditions that adhere to that religion.”

She added that being unveiled is a sign that a woman’s male guardian “did not look after her properly,” saying both she and the man would “be held accountable by God for squandering something precious.”

The debate over wearing hijab is not a new one in Qatar, where fear of losing one’s culture and identity are commonplace.

However, in recent years, many Qataris have said they do not agree with or adhere to certain cultural expectations and restrictions.

Twitter reaction

On Twitter, several people waded into discussion about the TV interview:

Some agreed that Qatari women should cover their hair while speaking on behalf of the community:

Translation: I hoped the hijab was part of your identity, my Qatari sister. The headscarf does not prevent evolution and development. May God bless you.

Translation: There is no good in an education that results in disobeying God’s orders. I’m not honored by the appearance of a unveiled Qatari woman no matter how educated she is. 

But others asserted that wearing a hijab is not a reflection of one’s worth or beliefs.

And some said the whole hijab debate is much ado about nothing.

Amid the debate, some people recommended discussing ideas, not appearances.

Translation: Who is the Qatari woman? If the answer is what (was discussed) in that article, then I think that robs the woman of her mind. Discuss ideas, not appearances. 

Translation: Whether or not you’re honored by her or her hijab, she didn’t ask for your contentment, and everyone is responsible for themselves. Her hijab is for her, not for you.

Thoughts?

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