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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 09:22 GMT
Libyan women consider the veil
Woman walking past store in Tripoli

The BBC's Rana Jawad in Libya's capital, Tripoli, explores the moral and religious dilemmas women are facing over wearing a veil.

It is a typical day for Najat Tarhouni; she's come back from work and her friend drops by for a chat.

Najat normally wears a veil in public but prefers not to when standing outside her building as she flaunts her thick, long hair.

Her friend compliments the healthy shine and a discussion ensues about where and when to wear the veil.

Most young girls my age wear the veil in a trendy way
Jihan

The veil has experienced a popular comeback in recent years among North African women.

Najat wore the veil a few years ago because her teenage daughter suddenly decided to cover up. She has since been caught in a moral and religious battle with herself.

There is a general consensus that wearing the headscarf is a religious duty in Islam but there are also other factors dictating whether a Muslim woman covers up.

"My husband is open-minded and we sometimes travel on holiday, so I was thinking the next time we do that, what if I feel like going to a nightclub with him? I can't do that with a veil - I'm seriously thinking of removing it permanently - I feel so restricted with it."

Following fashion

Her friend Afaf wears her veil Tuareg-style, tightly wrapped around the forehead and cascading below the neck as she reflects on a bit of history.

Find out about different styles of Muslim headscarf

"I think the beginning of the hijab trend which appeared in the 1980s in Libya was mainly due to economic reasons like things becoming more expensive and low state wages."

"Women needed a sizeable budget for their fashion needs, so their solution was to wear the veil and cover up with a simple cloak to escape from the economic strangulation."

That was then, this is now and today Libyan women and girls are covering up for different reasons and in different ways.

Hala, a housewife, says that given the choice she would not cover up at all.

"If you don't wear it here, people look at you as if you're doing something horribly wrong - this is the only way you'll fit in this society - to feel that you belong."

Disagreement

My next street encounter is with a young Libyan, Hala al-Mgadmi, who wears the niqab, with her entire face covered in a black veil.

Tuareg
Women needed a sizeable budget for their fashion needs, so their solution was to wear the veil and cover up
Afaf

"I did not choose to wear the veil this way, this is how Allah and Islam requires you to wear it. Seduction is in the face," she says.

"Those who reveal their faces are not really veiled although there's disagreement amongst intellectuals about that. Some say it's ok to show your face and hands but most agree it's not."

When asked if wearing the niqab posed any social restrictions in her life she said:

"In a way, yes it poses a lot of restrictions because this way of covering up is generally not acceptable here."

A little-known fact about Libya is that teachers are not allowed to teach with their entire faces covered.

It is not a Libyan law that imposes that restriction, but rather an undeclared one that the educational community agrees on.

And while schools here carry lessons in Islam, teachers are not allowed to preach and influence their students on how to implement it.

Personal choice

Jihan demonstrates her faith with a fashionable edge. She wears tight blue jeans, a grey shirt under a tight pink vest, an olive-green veil with sequins and matching accessories to go with it.

Some might argue this defeats the purpose of the hijab, but Jihan disagrees.

"I don't think it's a contradiction. I respect girls who wear the cloak but it's a personal conviction. I like fashion and I don't feel that looking attractive, and wearing the veil interferes with Islam. Most young girls my age wear the veil in a trendy way."

In a country where the majority of women are publicly veiled, their private thoughts and personal reasons for covering up are often overlooked.


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