The Science Behind the Veil
By Karima Burns (MH, ND)
The moral duty of wearing the veil in Islam is an often-discussed topic among Muslim women. However, little has been written about scientific reasons that the veil is beneficial for society. There are, in fact, a number of health benefits that wearing the veil can provide, as well as many behavioral science studies that suggest that the veil is the best attire for women.
Protecting the head is very important from a health perspective. Results of medical tests show that 40-60% of body heat is lost through the head, so persons wearing head coverings during cold months are protected about fifty-percent more than those who do not.
Chinese and Muslim medical texts take this concept even further. In the Hua Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Internal Medicine), wind is said to cause sudden changes within the body, and shaking, swaying, and other movements that potentially upset the body’s equilibrium; thus, creating bad health. These texts attribute the common cold to wind elements entering the body and causing the typical symptoms of sneezing and a runny nose.
In the traditional Islamic medical texts of Al-Jawziyya, we can find numerous references to the "four elements" of fire, water, air, and earth, and how these affect the body in adverse ways. In particular, we are advised to stay away from drafts and to protect our heads in wind, breezes, drafts, and cold weather. All outdoor workers should wear some sort of head covering for this reason.
Protecting the head is even more important in warm weather. V.G. Rocine, a prominent brain research specialist, has found that brain phosphorus melts at 108 degrees; a temperature that can be easily reached if one stays under the hot sun for any length of time without a head covering. When this happens, irreversible brain damage, memory loss and loss of some brain functions can result. Although this example is extreme, brain damage can still be measured in small degrees from frequent exposure to and overheating of the head. Bernard Jensen, a naturopath and chiropractor, states that this is because the brain runs on the mineral phosphorus, which is very effected by heat.
Last, but not least, a veil or head covering should be worn by all public workers serving society to ensure cleanliness and purity. Workers in a number of professions wear "veils" - nurses, fast food workers, deli counter workers, restaurant workers and servers, doctors, health care providers, and many more. In fact, when we compare the number of workers who cover their heads to the number who do not, we find that more people probably cover their heads than do not.
Aside from personal and public health benefits of the veil, it has numerous other benefits to society. In Analyzing Visual Data, Ball and Smith discuss the acknowledgement of sociologists that visual representations are influential in shaping people's views of the world and their interpretations of life. Men use visual data to interpret their relationships with the women around them.
Many studies have found that when a person tries to rewire their instinctual perceptions, they are usually only rewired on the surface; their original perceptions still exist on some level. Brain studies show that we exist in a world of constantly varying light variables that force the brain to perform what is called "lateral inhibition;" consequently, it provides us with a "steady" image as opposed to a "true" image of what we see. Furthermore, lateral inhibition networks operate as part of the "unconscious" brain; largely, without providing any information to the "conscious" part of the brain about what they are doing. Therefore, the brain can provide varying perceptions of the world without our even being fully conscious of what it is processing.
Further studies cited in Encyclopedia Britannica show that how a female presents herself to society falls under the category of ritualized behavior through which animals provide specific information to other animals, usually members of its own species. Virtually all higher animals, including humans, use displays to some extent to do this, and the best-known displays are visual ones. Some biologists actually restrict the term display to refer to visual signals or gestures. These visual signals, which in animals can be simply a bright color or plume, encourage attraction. In humans, they are usually exhibited in ornamental hair, make up, or clothing.
In our society, most of the time attractive hairstyles and clothing are worn for the purpose of making the adorner more attractive (advertising and television have institutionalized this reality). The ever-changing variations in fashion tend to affect the brain because it typically has trouble constantly adjusting to changing shadows and forms in the world. Reasonably then, through "lateral inhibition," the brain automatically simplifies these images into the unconscious message that attractive hair and clothing are MEANT to attract. Joining these two concepts together, we can see how the human male could receive the signal of "attraction" from the brain before he has enough time to "block" it by "lowering his gaze."
Having to re-form an image already processed by the lateral inhibition network is a cause of stress for most people. Doing this day after day, after seeing many "displays," potentially causes a great cumulative stress on society.
In early times, stress caused the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in an outpouring of the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids that were essential to the life-preserving fight or flight reactions of primitive man. However, the nature of stress for individuals living today is different. It is only occasionally that one is confronted with unexpected, overwhelming, life-threatening stresses.
Present day stresses arise from many things; among these are the vast amounts of visual and physical input we are bombarded with in this "information age" of personal freedom. The problem we face in this is that the body still continues to respond in the same fashion as during primitive times, releasing large amounts of these hormones, which can be very harmful. They can cause an increase in blood pressure, damage muscle tissue, lead to infertility, inhibit growth, damage the hippocampus, and suppress the immune system.
The two most effective solutions to this problem are, first, to convince the advertising industry, and society as a whole, to alter the presentation of women to our males. The second and more viable way is to simply influence women to dress modestly, which will help ensure that they do not send inappropriate visual signals to men.
Covering the hair can also have a beneficial effect on the female psyche as well. Studies of women being interviewed for jobs show that there is a high correlation between what they wear and their perceptions of how successful they will be in their interviews.
There are many more examples of how what we wear can influence how we act. Wearing a veil can serve to remind women of their religious duties and behavioral expectations. It can also serve as a reminder to women that we are not only individuals, but also representatives and diplomats of our "Ummah."