By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
Every time we see or hear about burqa we think about religious and sociological aspects but seldom do we ponder about the health and psychological aspects related to the burqa, which are equally, if not more important.
When we see (or don’t see!) women covered from head to toe in a burqa we mostly think either of the two things: a) she is a deeply religious person; and b) she is an oppressed victim of male domination. But rarely do we bother about her feelings and the experience of being all but invisible. Nor do we worry about her health or what psychological changes are taking place in her body and mind with this seemingly unnatural practice for someone not living in a desert and trying to protect herself from sandstorms.
It is time we thought about it and did something about it. There is evidence that a lot of things are going on in a burqa-clad person’s mind unconsciously and a lot of health-related changes taking place in her body, without her being aware of it, even in desert-based societies.
In the medical community there is a good deal of concern about the health and psychological effects of the extreme styles of Islamic dress. The main issue is the lack of Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of skin being exposed to the sun. According to A.A. Mishal: “There is huge amount of credible scientific evidence that almost all women who observe the full burqa are deficient in Vitamin D and since Vitamin D is a vital nutrient, its deficiency can lead to various kinds of diseases. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to a whole host of devastating disorders including cardiovascular diseases, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. There is also a strong association between deficiency in Vitamin D and an increased risk of developing several deadly cancers, including breast cancer”. (1)
Since most of the Vitamin D intake is from sunlight exposure, there is concern for women who wear the full burqa, covering from top to bottom, leaving only the eyes and wrist. This greatly reduces the surface area of the body which is exposed to sunlight; hence this leads to low amount of Vitamin D being synthesized. Such low rates of Vitamin D production will quickly exhaust the body’s excess emergency stores of Vitamin D contained in the fat and the person will likely go into a deficient state.
A study performed by doctors at King Fahd University Hospital in Saudi Arabia (2) showed that out of all 52 women tested, all had seriously deficient levels of Vitamin D and were at risk of many serious health problems, despite living in one of the sunniest places on the planet. Furthermore, in a study undertaken in Jordan, 83.3% of women wearing the most covering style of Islamic dresses were found to be deficient in summer time. Jordan, like Saudi Arabia, holds the distinction of being one of the sunniest places on the planet, so the effect of wearing the burqa on Vitamin D levels and health is profound.
There is a strong association between deficiency in Vitamin D and an increased risk of developing several deadly cancers, including breast cancer. (3) The concern is not only towards the woman who chooses to observe the more covering forms of Islamic dress but also towards any potential children she may carry. Infants born to vitamin D deficient mothers have been found to suffer from an increased prevalence of seizures. If these children observe the full hijab in childhood, they run the risk of not reaching the height they would have otherwise reached if they were not vitamin D deficient.
It has been noted that those who wear burqa feel constricted and will have very low chance of exercising. Burqa can and does discourage exercise both psychologically and practically. They are being conditioned to remain in a limited space and attract as little attention as possible. Since exercising, even minor and easy ones, require body movements these women just cannot push themselves to do it and because of their mind being conditioned to remain in the limited space, they feel that “something is not right” when they try to exercise and finally they quit very early.
According to The Economist magazine’s world rankings, (4) the countries with the highest obesity rates among women are Muslim countries and a 2006 study (5) found that up to 70 percent of women living in the Gulf Arab states were overweight or obese.
The Other Aspect
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Over the past 31 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for adults and the second most common for young people. The vast majority of mutations found in melanoma are caused by ultraviolet radiation.
Science today has indeed confirmed that women are far more susceptible to catching skin cancer from the sun's ultraviolet rays than men. Science today has also confirmed that women's skins are a lot more sensitive to pain then men's, and hence, damage to their skin is a lot more painful and hurtful than damage to the men's skin.
So I would like to suggest that one should not follow either extreme, i.e., do not wear a head to toe burqa and do not wear fully revealing clothes; wear according to the climate and the surrounding but make sure it is modest. It would be uncomfortable to wear a burqa in a sultry climate; similarly it will be uncomfortable to wear skimpy clothes in a cold climate.
Disclaimer: This article has focused only on the burqa-clad women’s health and psychological issues arising out of the full veil and does not take into account any religious dictates.
1. ‘Effects of Different Dress Styles on Vitamin D Levels in Healthy Young Jordanian Women. Osteoporosis International, 2001. 12(11): p. 931-935.’ By A A Mishal.
2. Elsammak, M.Y., et al., Vitamin D deficiency in Saudi Arabs. Hormone and Metabolic Research, 2010. 42(5): p. 364-368.
3. (Holick, M.F., Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2004. 80(6 Suppl).
4. (Caroline May – ‘The burqa may be making Muslim women fatter by discouraging exercise’ - The Daily Caller, July 1, 2010)
5. The study was presented by Qatari expert Issam Abd Rabbu at the "Facts About Obesity" seminar.