Veiling at the American University of Beirut: Religious Values, Social Norms, and Integration of Veiled Students

Sunday, 10 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Bayan ITANI, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
This study traces the history of the veil among Muslim female students at the American University of Beirut. Veiling on AUB campus has been in increase since the 1960s, and has reached its peak in the last few years. The increase in the number of veiled students is juxtaposed with the propositions of the institution’s third president, and the first after it was renamed from the Syrian Protestant College to the American University of Beirut, Bayard Dodge. In Dodge’s predictions, the exposure of Muslim youth to western liberal experiences would lead them to restraint Islam to their religion of birth and not of practice. Dodge also suggested that by unveiling, Muslim women would reach modernity.

The study questions the correlation between religiosity and the veil, and the validity of the hypothesis that the degree of religiosity changes with the form of the veil worn. Three prevalent veiling forms at AUB (classic, mild, and fashionable) were identified. Interviews veiled students are compared to others with non-veiled females and males belonging to different religions. The analysis serves in comparing the different social norms, religious exposure, and dress code choices. Most importantly, the larger question of the degree of integration of the veiled students at AUB is addressed, in light of the missionary history of the and the values attached to the veil in western liberal circumstances.

The major findings of the study include: 1) a correlation between religiosity and the veil, 2) a further correlation between the degree of religiosity and the form of the veil, 3) restraint in the dress code and avoidance of sharp and bright colors by veiled interviewees, 4) higher extent of participation in extra-curricular activities by non-veiled student is noticed, and lastly, 5) veiled females selectively surround themselves with a circle of friends from similar socio-religious atmosphere.