Abu Dhabi: The stabbing death of an American teacher in the capital is fostering wider repercussions on residents across the country as many women who don the traditional abaya and face veil are reporting increased distrust when they go out.
The slaying on December 1 of Ibolya Ryan, 47, in a Boutik Mall washroom last Monday (December 1) has not only rocked the nation and international community, but created a sense of fear among people, they say.
The distrust has been fuelled by word that Ryan’s alleged killer was a veiled woman, as was seen in videos of the attack that were released by the UAE Ministry of Interior.
“I wear a headscarf myself, but am a little bit apprehensive about woman in face veils. That said, this shocking incident has led to a sense of unease for all women, whether they wear the headscarf, abaya or veil,” said R.M., a Jordanian media executive in the capital.
Headscarves and face veils are commonly worn by Muslim women in the Arab World. While the headscarves and modest clothing are mandated by Islam, the niqab is not obligatory and is often worn due to traditional norms.
Women who wear abayas told Gulf News that they have received suspicious glances from security personnel and visitors at many malls across the UAE. Such instances have been reported not only in the capital but also in other emirates.
Public crimes such as the mall stabbing are unheard of in the UAE which boasts a strong record of security for all its people.
And to uphold this, law enforcement and intelligence officials conducted a swift and careful investigation that led to the arrest of the Emirati suspect within 48 hours of the brutal attack.
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Despite this, the fear persists, and perhaps it is most palpable at the scene of the crime.
When a Gulf News reporter donned an abaya and visited Boutik Mall, she was followed by security personnel. Many women also left a restroom when they spotted her inside, while others walked away when she tried to approach them.
The effect has also been felt in other cities. S.S., a Sudanese researcher, said she had been using a public restroom in a mall in Dubai when a woman walked in and demanded that all veiled women leave.
“The woman was perhaps joking, but I felt offended on behalf of all veiled women. The majority of women who wear abayas and the niqab are upstanding residents who are equally shocked by this incident, but unfortunately this has had far-reaching effects on them,” said S.S., a resident of Ras Al Khaimah.
Another Dubai-based Emirati who wears an abaya said that she has come across people who are worried enough to support a ban on the niqab, despite the UAE’s Arab Muslim culture.
One resident who has lived in the capital for more than 20 years said that for the first time, he is worried about encountering veiled women, especially in mall settings.
“It may sound unreasonable because this is the first such instance in the UAE, but I worry that there is no one checking on their identities. My mother and sister however also wear the abaya so I know that they too have been affected by the furtive glances from other people when they go out,” Mohammad, 25, said.
R.M. suggested that malls and public settings include female security guards who can check on veiled women if required.
“We have had similar attacks in my native land of Jordan, and there is now added security. Perhaps this would be a better decision that an outright ban on the niqab, which many women are comfortable in across the Arab World,” she added.
Officials at the capital’s popular shopping facilities said they have not increased security following the incident.
“Though we have not increased our security management and systems recently, we are constantly upgrading our procedures and systems. Our premises are monitored by CCTV cameras, including loading areas and parking structures. And we employ some of the best manpower and technical security solutions that are audited regularly,” said Nauma Thakur, general manager at Al Wahda Mall.