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Egypt TV- Fully Covered Women
By Micah Halpern

July 27, 2012


Her name is Mariyah.

She is a new Egyptian television satellite station set to launch on July 20, 2012. It is a satellite station like no other. Mariyah will be staffed from on air talent to behind the scenes producers to volunteers running a phone-a-thon - by women and women only. And every woman will be wearing a niqab a full facial covering.

Every interviewer and every interviewee, will be in a niqab. And if the production staff cannot find an expert guest who wears a niqab, for either a studio or field interview, they will request the guest's permission to blur her face. If permission is not granted, that guest will not appear on Mariyah.

The wearing of a niqab in many parts of the Arab world is commonplace. In Egypt, it is not. As a matter of fact, for decades it was even illegal for a woman to cover her face with a niqab. And it was certainly against the law to wear a niqab on Egyptian television and in Egyptian schools. Mariyah is a response to the anti-niqab dictate.

For many years Egyptian Muslim leaders went so far as to say that the wearing of a niqab was pagan, that it emanated from pagan tradition in far off lands. They said that ignoramuses and pagans brought the tradition to Islam and the great Islamic scholars of Egypt will not be dragged into that behavior by non-scholars from Afghanistan. In one blatant and recent example of anti-niqab sentiment a grand scholar of Islam in Egypt addressing a girl's high school spotted a young woman wearing a niqab and demanded in very strong and colorful language that she remove it on the spot.

Maryiah is meant to shock Egyptian society. Founders of the station are intent on educating Egyptian women in their understanding of Islam or more correctly, in re-educating them. The satellite station head is El-Sheikha Safaa Refai, a very popular female preacher who says that the niqab is an absolute 'red line' for her and for the station. In an interview for the news outlet al Aram, Refai explained that her new channel is the brainchild of El-Sheikh Abu Islam Ahmed Abdallah, the owner of the Umma Channel, which has already aired several programs featuring women wearing full face veils.

Refai asserts that there is a programming need for niqab-only TV. She promises that the station will address topics of a serious nature and not shy away from controversy. They have already scheduled a program called 'Memories of a Woman' which addresses the issues of immorality and adultery.

Even the name chosen for this woman-only station is imbued with history, controversy and Islamic culture. Mariyah was Mohammed's concubine/wife. There is a long and detailed argument which continues to this day between Muslim scholars of Koran as to whether Mariyah was a wife or a slave. Without a doubt, she was a Copt given to Mohammed as a present after the treaty of al-Hudaybiyah by Muqawqis a Byzantine leader in Egypt. Almost all scholars agree that Mariyah converted to Islam.

The argument about whether Mariyah was wife, slave or concubine is a significant one. There are different kinds or levels of wives in Islam. The word in the Koran for concubine is actually 'sarryiah' and the word for marriage is 'sirr.' The similarity to Mariyah is obvious. The concept of concubine in Islam has important and deep rooted tradition in Koranic and Islamic tradition. Ishmael is the product of the relationship between Ibrahim (Abraham) and Hajar (Hagar). It was an established fact of tradition in Islam (although her name is not in the Koran ) that Hajar is a sarryiah. There is no more authoritative text in Islam than the Koran and so tradition must embrace the concubine in order to embrace Ishmael. For his part, Mohammed had four concubines and Mariyah was his favorite.

In Islam, names are not accidental. Great thought is given to names and names resonate with history and tradition. People do not invent names. They could have named the station Faith or Believer. They could have named it Freedom or Independence. They did not. They named this television satellite station after a concubine/wife who converted from Christianity to Islam and bore Mohammed progeny.

The choice of the name Mariyah is a direct attack against non-Muslims. The assertion is that this beloved woman found Islam and converted. Mohammed benefited from her, Islam benefitted and she, Mariyah, benefitted from her conversion.

The station's backers, of course, are betting that they, too, will benefit from this radical introduction of all-woman, all-naqib television.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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