Interpreting the veil: Poems from both sides


Interpreting the veil: Poems from both sides

The Islamic veil, or hijab is perhaps one of the more hotly contested subjects when it comes to women’s issues in the Arab and Muslim worlds. While in the West the hijab is popularly seen as a symbol of female oppression and subjugation, for those women who chose to wear it – both in the East and the West – it often symbolises female emancipation and the freedom to choose their own manner of religious expression. This is a debate that has polarised social and political opinion across the world, and is encapsulated in the eloquent words of these two poems. Coming from both sides of the East/West ‘divide’, these poems reflect the diverse and nuanced attitudes to the hijab and the veiling of women present in both secular and Islamic polemics.


It’s The Right Thing To Do

by Fiona Pearse


So beautiful

You cannot be seen

Cover up

It’s the right thing to do


Your eyes are not your eyes

But windows of desire

They must not be allowed

To call on others


Your skin is not your skin

But a burning flame

To engulf, corrupt

Lead astray


Your smile is not your smile

But a serpents tail

Her ways are too beguiling

To be free




If you leave your shadow

To walk at your own pace

You must be removed

Disowned, defaced


It’s the right thing to do

For society’s sake

It’s nature’s way

Sound, words, veil


So beautiful

You could turn animal

Those who would otherwise be

Men of God


Fiona Pearse is a writer and poet based in London. She has been published in several literary journals, including The Interpreter’s House, ForwardPoetry, Tuck Magazine and Linden Avenue. Her day job is as a software developer in London’s financial hub. When she’s not working or writing, she’s enjoying the city.



I Wore the Veil

by Farah Chamma


I wore the veil

And then so many, so many words were said

I wore the veil

Yet I mostly wore these words

And then wrapped them around my head


You see… it’s never too easy

To act upon a held belief

The earth was after all once upon a time

Said to be flat

And then so many minds had to think

To fight against that

So many had to think, read, and write To disprove that fact


See… we are always misunderstood

Whether we do this or that

It is not the addition or the removal of clothing

That is the problem, in fact


I wore the veil and to me

It was a faithful step

To you it must be a new haircut

Or a fashionable type of hat

Not a political statement

And not a religious act

I do not want to hear your words

Nor do I want to be stared at


Although… I must confess

That in the streets of Brazil

I was slightly overdressed

In a country were suits equals swimming suits

I must have looked like a jest


I had people smiling at me… and taking

Pictures with me… oh well, be my guests

A drunk man actually came and prayed to me

And I pretended to be divine

And said, “Oh Lord may you be blessed!”





I am still so perplexed

I had to question and question

In order to fulfill that quest


And yes…

We do live in a world

Where you are judged by how you dress

Yet I wasn’t forced to wear it by my father

And please stop it with the word “oppressed”

These stereotypes are old

And the world has progressed

So maybe it’s time we give it a rest

And put aside our judgments


All I want to do in life is to follow this faith

And comply with the modesty it requests

I am not here to verify or to manifest

I am neither an Arab uprising…nor a revolutionary conquest

I just want to sleep at night with peace

In my chest


Because at the end, after all your words,

Criticism and protests

It is I who goes back home at night

And lies in my bed alone

After a long day of all this social unrest

My mind starts to float and to rest


That is it more or less

Why call it faith or sacrifice

If the whole world is to acquiesce

Farah Chamma is a young Palestinian poet currently studying at the Paris-Sorbonne university in Abu Dhabi. She began writing poetry at the age of 14 at the same time as she started exploring her personal relationship with her faith. She is one of the youngest members of Poeticians, a group of young poets and writers from the Middle East.