Veiled Honor

By Mary Laurel Ross
Lee's Summit, Mo. : Father's Press (2009). 391 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
21.1 (Spring 2010) : 127-129

Reading Veiled Honor took me back to my fifteen years of missionary service in the Muslim nation of Bangladesh. Time and again the images conjured up by Mary Laurel Ross in Saudi Arabia found their counterparts in my own and my wife’s experiences living in a Muslim land. This volume contains information gained only through living among and interacting with Muslims within their own cultures. Ross presents a fair and balanced viewpoint—sensitivity to the Muslims’ view of their own culture and beliefs as well as the objectivity of a keen outside observer. The author interweaves pertinent historical data with her own personal encounters. Cameos of those whom she came to know and love accent her poignant plea for change in the status of women living under the veil in Islam.

A second group of cameos introduces readers to some key figures in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the author informs her readers, attended a Baptist college in North Carolina where non-Muslim students tossed his shoes and the shoes of other praying Muslims into the campus lake (20). This humiliated and frustrated individual became the engineer for 9/11. His nephew, Ramzi Yousef, carried out the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York (29). Abdullah Azzam (23), Osama bin Laden (45-46), Mohammed Atta (230), and Ziad Samir Jarrah (298) make their appearances in brief but informative introductions. One full chapter chronicles the life of Mohammed, the founder of Islam (“Allah’s Messenger,” 317-27). The only noticeably incomplete and potentially misleading piece of information that this reviewer detected occurs in this chapter (322). The author’s description of the Battle of Badr (A.D. 624) provides no name or date for it and implies it was just a normal military engagement (other than the outcome). However, the Battle of Badr stands as the equivalent of Israel’s exodus from Egypt—the defining event for an entire religion. In actuality the battle was a raid by Mohammed’s followers on a large and rich Meccan caravan from Palestine. Receiving information about the raid, the Meccans sent a force two to three times the size of Mohammed’s followers to defend it. However, Mohammed’s force of a little more than 300 obtained the victory. The sword thus became a symbol of the power of Allah and of Islam.

In a chronology of the Islamic world’s recent history, Mrs. Ross points out that 1979 holds a special place (47). She briefly describes each of the events to provide readers with a feel for the historical foundation of current events. Her husband (a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot) brought his family with him to his assignment as a military advisor to the senior staff of the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force. With that setting in mind, the author provides a concise but insightful history of the Royal House of Saud and each of its kings (165-69, 329-39).

One chapter recounts her family’s experiences with their Bangladeshi houseboy (81-97). This reviewer’s fifteen years in Bangladesh provides full confirmation of the author’s observations regarding Bangladeshi household help, Bangladeshi society, and the desire of Bangladeshis to go to America. Nothing was a surprise—not even Sa’eed’s attitude that a houseboy really knew better than the woman of the household (our American author) how to clean kitchens and bathrooms (87).

In her chapters on “Shari’a” (117-45) and honor killing (“In the Name of Honor,” 303-10), Mrs. Ross paints a vivid picture of the abuse of females in the Muslim world. One horrendous tragedy symbolizes the oppression of females in the Islamic world: a March 2002 fire in a girls’ school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (125). Because the girls did not have access to proper attire that would allow them to exit the building, the religious police would not allow them to leave the burning structure. Fifteen teen-aged girls perished in the flames. Only members of the Jordanian royal family have dared to speak in opposition to the practice of honor killings (307). The Muslim concept of honor justifies both the abuse of women and radical Islamic terrorism (310).

In an “Afterword” (363) Mrs. Ross pays tribute to Neda Agha-Soltan the victim of a sniper during Iranian anti-government demonstrations in the streets of Teheran in June 2009. A Muslim woman’s voice and death cry out for freedom from oppression and abuse.

Every person with an interest in learning about Islam and about the Middle Eastern Muslim cultures should read Veiled Honor. Although women will find it particularly appealing, men also need to read the volume. If a reader desires to pursue this topic further, the reviewer recommends following up with Lifting the Veil: The World of Muslim Women by missionaries Phil and Julie Parshall (Waynesboro, Ga.: Gabriel Publishing, 2002).

The end materials for Veiled Honor include an informative “Glossary” (365-70), a list of “Sources” (371-78), and end notes (379-90). In keeping with Mrs. Ross’s journalistic style and current events approach, internet and media references dominate the sources. An improvement for future editions might be the inclusion of more materials from published books like the one by the Parshalls.