Oppressed or in Serenity?
So who are these women covered from head to toe, are they oppressed and burdened as depicted in the morning paper or are they women who embody serenity? Are they enslaved under a patriarchal system or at peace- as free as they can be.
There are three main types of Islamic dress relating to women when in public:
- Headscarf (Known as Hijab): This is the most common type where the woman is fully covered with only the hands and face visible.
- Niqab: This is normally a dull coloured gown that covers the whole body except the eyes.
- Burqa: This is like the Niqab but the eyes are covered too or sometimes thick netting is used in the eye area- just enough to see.
They are worn in the presence of men who are classed as Non-Mahrams- You can read more on them here.
Less than 0.2% of Muslim women wear the face veil. The most common reason is to devote their efforts towards attaining the nearness to God. There are Islamic traditions where some women completely veiled themselves from social life; It is not simply covering up, it is a practise that entails embodiment of complete servitude. This means as an individual you adhere to Gods manner 110%- a life full of complete honesty, integrity, fairness, kindness, forbearance, humility, compassion, selflessness and forgiveness. However this is not the intention of some, for them it’s emulating the wives of the Prophet ﷺ (out of love) or veiling their beauty from strange men.
Undoubtedly the Niqab has an Islamic basis, Islamic texts make it clear that the ‘hijab’ is compulsory for Muslim women to observe. However scholars have differed as to whether the Niqab is compulsory or an optional act of virtue.
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, as well as all believing women, that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments [when in public]: this will be more conducive to their being recognised as decent women and not molested, And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”Quran 33:59
To understand this difference further please see my additional post: What is the Niqab?
Now, we are at a period of time where the Niqab is portrayed as something barbaric, oppressive and suppressive of female empowerment. Media campaigns have been launched, brainwashing the average Joe, and now many countries have banned the wearing of this garment, while others have considered banning or limiting its use.
Looking closer at the issue, why is it that we alienate those who choose to veil themselves and applaud those who wear the bare minimum. If having freedom of choice is female empowerment, surely the Niqabis should be respected too. As much as you may argue that men enforce the Niqab, it’s also men who use women for sexual objectification. Its a simple fact. Societies at large applauded Kim Kardashian for her recent bare nude pictures – but really, is this what we’ve come down too?
J.D. Unwin, a behaviourist of Cambridge University, studied 80 primitive tribes and 16 civilized nations in regarding sex and culture. He concluded ‘that the cultural behaviour of any human society depends first on the inherent nature of the human organism, and secondly, on the state of energy into which, as a result of its sexual regulations, the society has arrived.’ From his findings, low level culture was found in tribes insisting on sex without marriage and high level civilisation was found in tribes insisting on pre-marital chastity. Therefore limitation of sexual opportunity is key in reduced rates of rape, harassment, oppression and abuse of women.
This does not necessarily mean every woman should veil but looking at society around us, its difficult to deny the truth. And it certainly does not mean the veil will prevent all cases of rape and molestation but the idea of modesty- not only protects you but society too. G. A Parwez proposes that, ‘in both primitive and modern societies, it can be evaluated that observing modesty plays a key role in the development of a purer richer culture’.
A question of choice
Furthermore, regardless of the many connotations the niqab holds, should it mean that a woman’s freedom of choice should be taken away? Modern societies are based on the emphasis of democracy and human rights, from which, every person has the right to freely practise their religion. As the Niqab has a religious facet, it goes against this core human right.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion… either alone or in community with others and in public or private..”Article 9 ECHR
Therefore whilst claiming to protect Muslim women- a ban would make life intolerable for those who wear the Niqaab, by forcing them to choose between defying their beliefs and leave the house or not leaving the house at all.
It should be noted that even amongst Muslims there is disagreement on the veil but differences in opinion are respected. Its unanimous that the Niqab does have a place in Islam, the Prophet’s ﷺ wives wore a Niqab. As they are the Mothers of the Believers, they are also role models for Muslim women, so some Muslim women wish to emulate them in every respect. Let’s look at some common questions and issues raised:
It is oppressive – Muslim women who choose to wear the Niqab do so out of their own free will, believing it is an act of worship and a form of liberation from the objectification of women in modern society. In fact, preventing Muslim women from practising their religion is what is truly oppressive. When it comes down to being oppressed, the problem is not the Niqab but the man, it is him who is possessive.
It is backwards – The Niqab is not part of a short-lived fashion trend. It is a religious garment and act of worship which is not subject to time and therefore, does not become outdated. In fact, the Niqab is gaining much popularity in modern societies, especially amongst Western convert women.
It is intimidating – While the Niqab may appear intimidating to some people, it is not worn with the intention of being threatening or frightening. People are often intimidated by what they have no knowledge of, and the Niqab is a piece of clothing which should not warrant fearful reaction. Underneath the Niqab is a person simply trying to practise their religion. It is interesting to note that other forms of dress and appearance are no longer considered intimidating, as they have become accepted by the wider community. Tattoos, extremely short dresses, revealing clothes, body piercing and outlandish hairstyles are all examples of this phenomena.
Form of male domination – Wearing the Niqab does not in any way suggest that women are inferior to men. Claiming that the Niqab is a symbol of male domination goes against the fact that many women voluntarily wear the Niqab, some even wear it against their husbands wishes.
Barlas 2003 said Female inferiority was not an ideology in Muslim societies, but Muslims had family laws that were based on male authority. The purpose was to lead the family in to a rich and respectable family. Islam does not disallow women to work or take charge, but emphasis on men was placed to show there is a duty.
Anti-social – There is nothing in the Niqab that prevents a woman from interacting with other members of society, or from participating in the community. In fact, neither the Hijab nor the Niqab are required when among women only. Every woman who wears a Niqab is a unique individual, and it is unfair and inaccurate to make a sweeping judgement about all such women based on one item of clothing they have in common. Community values necessitate that people should not be judged by what they wear, nor discriminated against or mistreated, based on their choice of clothing or appearance.
It stops women from contributing to society – Wearing a Niqab does not stop a woman from contributing to society or from pursuing higher education. Many women who wear the Niqab are very highly educated, or lead very successful careers. From the very advent of Islam, Aisha, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), was and still is renowned as one of the greatest Islamic scholars to have ever lived. The fact that she wore the Niqab did not, in any way, hinder her from becoming such a prominent scholar or from teaching the men and women of her society.
It is a security risk – Niqab are no more of a security risk than a motorcycle helmet, big fashion sunglasses, or a big beanie, and can be removed when identification is required for security reasons. Of course, the request for removal should be done by another woman and not in the presence of men (where possible).
So to conclude, when you come across a woman in a Niqab, always remember that she is an individual, she has her own interests and personality. The moment you paint her with the same brush as Fox News, all you do is distant yourself from interacting with another human. In the modern world we are all striving to be ourselves and live amongst each other, its important to understand that religious belief is not mere opinion, it is very dear to some people. So if a woman chooses to wear a veil as part of her religion, then honour and respect that. But if you suspect that a woman is wearing a veil out of oppression, then be there, and support her. It helps no one in pointing the finger. Many women who practise the Niqab are in serenity, no one should have that taken away from them. To finish this post I have shared some snippets of thought from a few Niqabis,- Also there is a gallery of women in Niqab below. Enjoy!
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The niqab is a religious symbol and wearing it is considered by many Muslim women as an act of worship. Certainly the niqab is a spiritual journey that not many will take or understand, but those women who choose to wear it, believe that it brings them closer to God, their Creator.
Personally, Muslim women wear the niqab to build a stronger and closer connection with the Almighty. It provides you with a sense of safety and protection. Not only that, it lets others know about your religion, and that is where the pride comes from. Alhamdulillah we are blessed to be Muslims and i love embracing that through wearing the Niqab. Also, due to the huge amount of fitna nowadays, i feel safeguarded and modest in my Niqab.
See me for me, not my beauty.
Because its her choice. 🙂 Muslim or not, a woman has the right to choose what she wishes to let others see, and if she wishes to guard her modesty entirely by not allowing others to see her face then that is perfectly acceptable.
Because personally, i felt that the Hijab wasn’t enough. Its like covering the ring but flaunting off the diamond.
Being an active student of knowledge for the past few years, my ‘image’ became less important and the person inside became more prominent, something I really needed to focus on. I simply understood the beauty of modesty. In actions, in words and in physical covering. My beauty should be for my husband only, I refuse to be looked upon like I’m some prey, and even hijab wasn’t enough to keep perverted eyes away. Sacrifices were definitely worth this feeling, and I have never felt more at peace in my life.
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My body is not for your eyes to hold,
You must speak to my mind, not my feminine mould,
I’m an individual. I’m no man’s slave,
It’s Allah’s pleasure that I only crave,
I have a voice so I will be heard,
For in my heart I carry His word,
“O ye women, wrap close your cloak,
So you won’t be bothered by ignorant folk”.
Man doesn’t tell me to dress this way,
It’s law from God that I obey,
Oppressed is something I’m truly not,
For liberation is what I’ve got,
It was given to me many years ago,
With the right to prosper, the right to grow,
I can climb mountains or cross the seas,
Expand my mind in all degrees,
For God Himself gave us liberty,
When He sent Islam, to you and me!
A collection of Niqabis
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