Vision meets Nahla Al Fahad, the co-director of a new film exploring the veil's origins and place in society through a rich series of interviews
In some countries, variations of the veil are banned in certain places. In others, it is mandatory. Journalists often don the simple scarf to experience how people react to it. And at the time of writing, a quick search online shows dozens of news pages from the past week featuring the hijab from the New York Times’ Linda Sarsour Is a Brooklyn Homegirl in a Hijab to the Times of India’s Wear it with pride: Hijab now a choice.
“Nobody has the right or clear picture about the hijab,” says Nahla Al Fahad, the Emirati co-director of a new documentary exploring the veil’s origins and place in society. “I believe that politics and media play big roles in bringing the subject into the world, allowing it to dominate discussions about Islam.
I think we all need to calm down a little about this small piece of cloth, there are so many misconceptions and stereotypes attached to the veil
“I think we all need to calm down a little about this small piece of cloth, there are so many misconceptions and stereotypes attached to the veil so it was important to give access to real people and their opinions on wearing the veil.”
Provocatively-titled, The Tainted Veil is a 78-minute journey featuring a broad range of ideas from those who wear the veil, those who don’t, religious leaders and academics.
“I wanted to showcase everyone’s experience, either in wearing the hijab, taking it off, the stories, the histories," adds Nahla.
There are viewpoints from some who have taken it up having converted to Islam and, controversially, from one woman who has removed the veil. The practice of covering one’s hair in other religions and societies is also explored.
Veteran documentary filmmaker Ovidio Salazar filmed the interviews in 2008 across nine countries, while Nahla and Mazen al Khayrat worked on postproduction more recently in the UAE.
The Tainted Veil is a discussion of knowledge of a certain topic, without adopting the cause itself
“The unknown is what raises our interest and obscurity is behind agitation and troubles, it becomes a fear of what is different,” says co-director Mazen. “The Tainted Veil is a discussion of knowledge of a certain topic, without adopting the cause itself, roaming through the interconnected ideas in history, religion and people to reveal a truth and the facts.”
Produced by Anasy Media, the premiere screening was held in London in June.
“We wanted to show the audience that the veil might not be what you think, and show the story behind it and demonstrate that it’s not only in Islam, it’s in other religions as well,” continues Nahla. “The most challenging aspect was finding a way to condense 13.5 hours of footage, to get the best out of it. It wasn’t easy at all. Every statement from every person was valuable, it has a lot of meaning.”
While sifting through the interviews, Nahla discovered more about the converts who faced difficulty in adopting the veil.
“It’s challenging stuff,” she says. “Hearing these stories from normal people is quite interesting, how they took the decision to wear it and still cover after 12 years. It’s not easy for people who are born into Christian families, to then tell their parents that they are going to wear it.
I do hope people will leave with a very clear understanding of the veil. I don’t want politics or the media to get in the way
“I do hope people will leave with a very clear understanding of the veil,” says Nahla. “I don’t want politics or the media to get in the way.”
As for the director’s personal relationship with the veil, she says it forms part of her identity.
“This is who I am,” she says. “I’m really happy about that, it’s something I am very proud of. It’s within our Islam. We say that the veil is to cover a precious thing; the Ka’aba is covered. It’s based on a philosophy of modesty.”
Looking ahead, The Tainted Veil will likely make the festival circuit rounds and be screened across the GCC towards the end of this year. As for Nahla, as well as running her film company in Dubai, she is currently working on her first feature film – a moving family drama.
“I have been working on the script since 2011,” she says. “I can’t wait to see it on cinema.”