The Veil (Hijab) and the Face-Veil (Niqab/Nikab)

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NiqaabipurpleglovesThe question is. Is it really that important?

If all the Niqaabs in UK, let's say, were to be removed and banned completely:

  • Would any of our problems be solved?
  • Would it reduce youth crime?
  • Would it reduce the poverty that we find in our inner cities?
  • Would it make people happier?
  • Would it stop any wars?

So why, one piece of cloth seems to dominate people's minds and arouse passions so much?

Let's for arguments sake say we removed all the Niqaabs from the whole of the UK, not a single one of our major challenges and problems would be solved. We'd be exactly in the same place we were. So it is my strong belief, that there are interests within this society, people of influence, who wish us to be polarised. Who wish us to be arguing about these things, who wish us to be looking inwards. Pointing the finger at each other instead of questioning.

What is the reasons behind some of the deeper social issues which are facing our society? Unemployment, the gap between the rich and the poor, the behaviour of the city and the banks. It is my strong belief that there are powers at be that want us to be preoccupied with these issues - rather than focus on the major challenges which face our society.

Fatima Barakatullah is a writer & public speaker and prominent Islamic da'eeah who contributes regularly to mainstream media. She is married with four energetic children Ma sha Allah. Fatima had a rich Islamic education at an early age thanks to her parents and went on to study Arabic and Islamic studies in Egypt at prominent institutes such as Al Fajr Center, Qortoba Institute and a college of Al Azhar University. She continues to pursue her Islamic Law studies here in the UK and through visits abroad and she has attained a number of ijazahs (scholarly licences). She has contributed to many documentaries and live shows which have been broadcast on stations and channels such as BBC Radio 4, the World Service, as well as BBC Television and Islam Channel. She also regularly contributes to discussions on London Radio stations. Additionally, Fatima has written for the national newspaper The Times as well as contributing to Times Online's Faith section, on topics promoting the understanding of Islam, and has contributed to a number of Muslim publications such as Al-Jumuah Magazine, Emel Magazine, The Muslim Weekly and is a columnist for SISTERS Magazine.Currently Fatima is an instructor and lecturer for iERA.



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Amanda lives in Sacramento, California. She is a recent graduate of the University of Utah where she earned a B.A. in International Studies and Arabic. Amanda intends to pursue a Ph.D. in World Cultures.

styleandsubstanceI am an American non-Muslim woman who has chosen to wear the hijab. Yes, you did read that correctly! I am not conducting an experiment on what the hijab is like or trying to explore the lives of Muslims. I have made a permanent life decision to only show my face and hands while in public, and I love it!

When I was younger, I found the hijab to be beautiful, but unfortunately I thought that a lot of the myths about the hijab were true, and so I was daunted by it. When I started college I studied Arabic and made friends with the Muslim students in my classes. A few of the girls wore a hijab, and even though I liked the look of it and respected their right to wear it, I thought that it was oppressive.

Unfortunately, around the same time, I began to notice that some of the men at my university would openly speak about their female classmates as though they were moving pieces of meat. I would often have to hear stories that I rather wouldn't about what these boys would like to do to this girl or that one, and I began to notice their looks. Before entering university, I would catch men looking at me in an inappropriate way from time to time, and I would just ignore it, but after hearing these conversations and feeling their many looks, I couldn't just ignore it anymore.

I mentioned how I felt to some of my classmates, and often I got responses like "boys will be boys," or "it's just their biology, they can't help their behavior." At the time, I bought these responses, and I thought that my discomfort was just my problem. I thought that these people had a right to behave the way they were, and I had no right to try and stop them. When I got engaged, this all changed.

My fiance is my soulmate. We met in junior high and were friends for years before we began dating. He had asked me out a few times before then, and even though I turned him down, he always behaved around me in a respectful way. It was because of how he always treated me that I eventually agreed to go out with him. The day he proposed to me is, so far, the happiest day of my life. Once I made the decision to make a lifelong commitment to him and only him, it seemed obvious that no one had the right to treat me like their sex object. Whenever I would notice someone looking at me inappropriately, I no longer felt uncomfortable, I felt outraged! But I still had no idea what I could do about it.

Finally, one day I saw one of my hijabi friends at school and ran over to say hi to her. She started to walk towards me, and for some reason I was just struck by her. She was wearing a scarf and an abayaa like she normally did, but in that moment she looked regal and powerful. In my mind I thought, "Wow, I want to look just like that." I started researching the hijab, and I learned more about why Muslims wear a hijab, what makes a hijab a hijab, and how to wrap scarves. I watched youtube videos, browsed online hijab shops (including Haute Hijab) and the more I saw the more I was impressed by how these hijabi women exuded class and elegance. I wanted so much be like these women, and couldn't get the hijab out of my mind. I even started dreaming about it!

There were many things I liked about the hijab. I liked the thought of having so much control over my body and how the outside world saw it, but what I also liked was how well it fit with my feminist beliefs. As a feminist I believe that women and men should be equals in society, and that the norm of treating women like sex objects is a form of unequal and unfair treatment. Women in American society are looked down upon if they don't dress in order to be attractive for others, but I believe that women shouldn't have to conform to some ridiculous and unattainable standard of beauty. The hijab is a way to be free of that.

However, the way the hijab best complemented my feminist beliefs was how it was about so much more than women's clothing. As I understood it, the hijab is about how men and women should interact while in public. Men also dress in a non-revealing way, and both men and women are supposed to treat each other with respect. I was happy to learn that both men and women were expected to be responsible for their own actions, and impressed at how egalitarian the ideals of the hijab are.

At this point, I was certain that I wanted to wear a hijab, but I had a problem. I was afraid that wearing a hijab as a non-muslim would be offensive, and I was too afraid to ask my friends. I found one youtube video on the subject, and though it said that it wouldn't be offensive, I still wasn't sure. But eventually, after weeks of thinking about the hijab, I finally asked one of my friends. She told me that she wouldn't be offended, and then pointed out that Muslims aren't the only ones who wear headscarves, many Jews and Christians do as well.

I started wearing it off and on for a few weeks after that, and once I felt comfortable I always wore it when I left home. Soon after, I left for an internship in Jordan. I was afraid that the Jordanians would not like that I was wearing a hijab, but quickly after I got off the plane I found otherwise! When I told people that I was an American non-Muslim, they were excited to see that I wore a hijab. People often told me that they thought it was a very good thing that I was wearing it, and some people were touched that I would show such respect to their culture. Best of all, I will never forget the sight of a fully grown man jumping with excitement because I was wearing a jilbab! These memories will always bring warmth to my heart, and they give me strength back in the states when I have to deal with angry glares or awkward questions about my hijab.

Sometimes I will still catch men looking at me in a disrespectful way, but I take joy in knowing that though they may try, they still cannot see what they want to. Because of the hijab, I understand that my body is my right, and I will be forever grateful to the Muslim women who taught that to me.

NiqaabipurpleglovesBritish Muslim women who wear the hijab feel generally better about their body image than those who don’t wear the hijab suggests research published in the British Journal of Psychology today.

The research, conducted by Dr Viren Swami from the University of Westminster and colleagues looked at body image issues amongst British Muslim women.

Dr Swami explained:

“In the West anxiety about body image, for women, is so prevalent it’s considered normal. This study aimed to explore how these attitudes differ within a British Muslim community.”

A total of 587 Muslim women aged from 18 to 70 years from London participated in a number of tests. From this group 218 women stated they never used the hijab and 369 women said they used some form of the hijab at least now and then.

Participants undertook a number of questionnaires that asked them to rate their own feelings of body dissatisfaction, how much pressure the media put on them to be attractive and how religious they were. They were also asked to match their own figure to a set of female silhouette images that ranged from emaciated to obese.

The results showed that women who wore the hijab generally had a more positive body image, were less influenced by the media’s beauty ideals and placed less importance on appearance. 

Dr Swami said:

“Although the results showed only a small difference between those who wear or don’t wear the hijab it does suggest the hijab offers Muslim women a small protective effect in terms of feeling positive about their body image. It appears that those who choose to wear it are better able to distance themselves from the Western thin ideal. 

“These results may have useful implications for intervention programmes aimed at promoting healthier body image among Muslim women in the West. For example, by identifying those aspects of hijab use that are associated with more positive body appreciation in future studies, it might be possible to isolate factors that can be targeted in intervention programmes.”

The journal, entitled “Is the Hijab Protective? An Investigation of Body Image and Related Constructs Among British Muslim Women", can be accessed here.

Source: The British Psychological Society

hijabmaroon"And tell the believing women to lower their eyes, and guard their modesty, and that they display not their ornaments except what appears of them. And that they draw their veils over their bosoms and display not their ornaments except to their husbands, their brothers ... And repent to Allah, all of you O believers, that you may succeed." [Al-Qur'an 24:31]

"That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate." [Al-Qur'an 33:59]

American Muslim women today are rediscovering Islam as revealed by Allah, to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, more than 1,400 years ago but without any of the contradictions of ancestral culture. 

Consequently they are essentially engaging in a life-long exercise of rediscovering their own selves; what it means to be a human, a Muslim, and more so, a Muslim woman. Wearing the divinely mandated hijab, the veil or head covering, as a part of their everyday dresses is among the first steps toward this rediscovery. In a society which shamelessly and publicly exposes a woman's body and intimate requirements where nudity somehow symbolises the expression of a woman's freedom and where the most lustful desires of men are fulfilled unchecked, it is of little wonder such an introspection leads many Muslim women to decide to wear the hijab.

However, generalisations about Islam and Muslims are replete in today's media and, by extension, in the minds of many Americans who shape their image of the world through the media. Veiled Muslim women are typically unfairly stigmatised. They are regarded on the one hand as suppressed and oppressed, and on the other, as fanatics and fundamentalists. Both depictions are grossly wrong and imprecise. Such portrayals not only misrepresent these women's strong feelings towards the hijab, but also fail to acknowledge their courage and the resulting identity the hijab lends to them. Amongst such misconceptions is also the belief that any Muslim woman who wears the hijab is forced to do so. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the final determination to wear the hijab is often not easily reached. Days of meditation, an inevitable fear of consequences and reactions, and ultimately, plenty of courage weigh heavily in reaching the decision. Wearing the hijab is a very personal and independent decision, coming from appreciating the wisdom underlying Allah's command and a sincere wish to please Him.

"I believe the hijab is pleasing to Allah, or I wouldn't wear it. I believe there is something deep down beautiful and dignified about it. It has brought some beautiful and joyous dimension to my life that always amaze me," said Mohja Kahf, assistant professor of English and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, in an internet posting.

"To me the hijab is a gift from Allah. It gives me the opportunity to become closer to Allah. Also quite importantly, (it provides me) the chance to stand and be recognised as a Muslim," Fariha Khan, 18, of Rockville, Maryland, said.

However, with this recognition comes tremendous responsibility as highly visible representatives of Islam and Muslims. Anywhere covered sisters go, Muslims and non-Muslims alike recognise them as followers of Islam. In a land where misinformation about Islam and Muslims abounds, Muslim sisters have the opportunity to portray Islam in its true light. But the greatest responsibility related to the hijab is the understanding that there is more to it than just the scarf; the internalised modesty really matters. This internal moral system gives meaning to the external scarf. This can be perceived from the overall demeanour of any Muslim woman - how she acts, dresses, speaks, and so on. Only when the internalised modesty manifests itself through the external hijab can sisters represent Muslims according to the beautiful example set by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and followed by his companions.

"The hijab by itself is just a piece of cloth, at some level. I do not think we should take (it) as an exclusive marker of a woman's moral worth or level of faith. It is the surrounding context - the etiquette, the morals - which make it anything," Kahf said.

Saba M. Baig, 21, is a recent graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. She was 17 when she seriously started wearing hijab, and feels she is still in the process of learning internal hijab:

"My biggest realization was that the hijab was not just about wearing a scarf on my head, but more of a (veil) on my heart," said Baig. "The hijab is more than an external covering. That's the easy part of it all. It has a lot (more) to do with modesty and the way you present yourself."

"In this life, I couldn't think of anything better than being a Muslim. Wearing hijab signifies it and reminds me of it. The hijab is important to me and it means everything to me when I wear it," Khan said.

"Unfortunately, it also has its down side: you get discriminated against, treated as though you are oppressed. I wear it for (Allah), and because I want to. Period," said Imaan, a convert to Islam, currently studying in Australia.

Yet, the general society, to some extent defines the image of the hijab.

"The surrounding context can make it oppressive," explained Kahf. "For example, in social contexts where observing hijab includes (the practice) of separating women from the resources of society including education, mosques, sources of religious and spiritual guidance, economic livelihood, etc., (hijab) develops oppressive qualities. Or when the hijab is literally imposed through punitive sanctions rather than encouraged benignly, this distorts the underlying beauty of it and turns it into something ugly. I believe it is pleasing to Allah, or I wouldn't wear it. I believe there is something deep down beautiful and dignified about it. It has brought some beautiful and joyous dimension to my life that always amaze me."

"(At the same time,) the surrounding context can make it liberating, as we in the United States often experience. For many of us, in a society which imposes degrees of sexualised nakedness on women, wearing hijab has been a liberating experience. To us hijab has meant non-conformism to unjust systems of thought. We have experienced social sanctions for wearing it, and these experiences are seared in our memories, rather than experiences of being forced to wear it," Kahf concluded.

For many women the hijab is a constant reminder that unlike other women they should not have to design their lives and bodies for men.

"Before I started covering, I thought of myself based on what others thought of me. I see that too often in girls, their happiness depends on how others view them, especially men. Ever since, my opinion of myself has changed so much; I have gained (a lot of) self-respect. I have realised whether others may think of me as beautiful is not what matters. How beautiful I think of myself and knowing that Allah finds me beautiful makes me feel beautiful," said Baig softly, her eyes glowing.

Furthermore, modest clothing and hijab are precautions to avoid any social violations. Contrary to popular belief, this is not limited to women only. Preceding the verse in the Qur'an about women lowering their gaze comes the following verse: "Tell believing men to lower their eyes and guard their modesty. That will be purer for them. Allah is aware of what they do." [Al-Qur'an 24:30]

In addition, on the authority of Sahl ibn Sa'ad, may Allah be pleased with him, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "Whoever can guarantee (the chastity of) what is between his two jaw-bones (the tongue) and what is between his two legs (the private parts), I guarantee Paradise for him." [Recorded by Al-Imam al-Bukhari]

The hijab is not worn especially  for men, to keep their illicit desires in check. Rather, Muslim women wear it for Allah and their own selves. Islam is a religion of moderation, of balance between extremes. Therefore, it does not expect women alone to uphold the society's morality and uprightness. Rather, Islam asks men and women to mutually strive to create a healthy social environment where children may grow with positive, beautiful, constructive and practical values and concepts. Men are equally required to be modest and to conduct themselves responsibly in every sphere of their lives. In fact, in this society, enough emphasis cannot be placed on the necessity for men to keep their gaze lowered, as a concerned brother put it:

"Think about it -- what has the potential to cause more damage a sister otherwise modestly dressed but no scarf, or a brother who goes about gawking in the streets, (or) on campus? I cannot exactly quantify it, but guess the latter," he said.

Islam asks men and women to mutually strive to create a healthy social environment where children may grow with positive, beautiful, constructive, and practical values and concepts.

According to Jabir ibn Abdullah, when he asked the Prophet, peace be upon him, about a man's gaze falling inadvertently on a strange woman, the Prophet replied, "Turn your eyes away." [Recorded by Al-Imam Muslim]

In another tradition, the Prophet, on whom be peace, chided 'Ali for looking again at a woman - he said, the second glance is from the Shaytaan (the Devil).

The concept of modesty and the hijab in Islam is holistic, and encompasses both men and women. The ultimate goal is to to please Allah, and to maintain societal stability. Since Muslim women are more conspicuous because of their appearance, it is easier for people to associate them with the warped images they see in the print and broadcast media. Hence, stereotypes are perpetuated and often sisters seem "mysterious" to those not acquainted with Muslim women who dress according to Divine instruction. This aura of "mystery" cannot be removed until their (the muslim womens') lifestyles, beliefs and thought-systems are genuinely explored. And, frankly, this cannot be achieved until one is not afraid to respectfully approach Muslim women - or any Muslim for that matter. So, the next time you see a Muslim, stop and talk to him or her - you'll feel, God-Willing, as if you're entering a different world, the world of Islam - full of humility, piety, and of course, modesty!

treeblueThe death of 13-year-old Chevonea Kendall-Bryan has driven the debate on the sexualisation of the young to fever pitch, but what will we do about it?

There is a storm coming. I can feel it as I stand on a street corner in south London, thinking about my daughters. Lily and Rose are both 11 years old. One is crazy about dogs, the other loves owls.

They are at that tender age when the hormones have begun to stir, and they could be stomping around the room like furious teenagers one minute but snuggling up for a cuddle the next.

The girls are fast approaching 13, the age that Chevonea Kendall-Bryan was when she leaned out of one of the windows on the fourth floor of a block of flats on this street. A boy she knew was down here on the ground, but this was not Romeo and Juliet. Far from it.

Chevonea had been pressurised into performing a sex act on him, and he had shared a phone clip of her doing so with all his mates. She threatened to jump from the window if he did not delete it. Then she slipped and fell 60 feet to the ground, dying from massive brain injuries.

Her mother says she will now campaign against what is happening to young girls in our society. They are certainly under extreme pressure, having to cope with a world more brutal, more demanding and far more overtly sexual than anything their parents knew.

"Never before has girlhood been under such a sustained assault – from ads, alcohol marketing, girls' magazines, sexually explicit TV programmes and the hard pornography that is regularly accessed in so many teenager's bedrooms," says the psychologist Steve Biddulph, currently touring the country to promote a book called Raising Girls.

It is a follow-up to his best-seller Raising Boys – and they are under pressure too, being led to believe that girls will look and behave like porn stars. Our children are becoming victims of pornification.

"It is usually girls who are on the receiving end of some pretty degrading stuff," says Claire Perry MP, who has just been appointed David Cameron's special adviser on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. "We've got young girls being asked to write their names on their boobs and send pictures. Parents would be really shocked to know this is happening in pretty much every school in the country. Our children are growing up in a very sexualised world."

So this is the storm my girls will soon face. I can already hear the rumblings. For their sake, I want to know, how bad is it? How widespread? I ask to speak to Mrs Perry, and while I'm waiting for the call back I read a report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which suggests it is very bad indeed. Researchers who carried out an in-depth study of the lives of pupils at two London schools in 2010 say that year eight was when they began to feel confused and overwhelmed by sexual expectations and demands.

Claire, who must be 12 or 13, is quoted as saying of the boys in her class: "If they want oral sex, they will ask every single day until you say yes."

Kamal, a boy in the same year, says: "Say I got a girlfriend, I would ask her to write my name on her breast and then send it to me and then I would upload it on to Facebook or Bebo or something like that." The profile picture on his phone, seen by everyone to whom he sends messages, is an image of his girlfriend's cleavage. Some of the boys at his school have explicit images of up to 30 different girls on their phone. They swap them like we used to swap football cards. If they fancy a girl, they send her a picture of their genitals. As one teenage girl said after the report came out, sending pictures of your body parts is "the new flirting".

Boys have always tried their luck, but now they have the technological means to apply pressure, on phones with cameras and messenger networks that no adult ever sees.
Chloe Combi, a former teacher who began her career in "a pretty posh school", has written in the Times Educational Supplement about when it goes further: "The hardest conversation I've ever had was with a distraught, confused man of about 45. I had to explain to him that we had to exclude from school his seemingly non-abused, non-disturbed, well-loved daughter because she had been caught administering fellatio to a line of young men in the boys' toilets for cash."

Ms Combi went on: "A friend of mine, who teaches at another school (much more posh than mine) said that it had got so bad they had to go on patrol every lunchtime to prevent similar incidents."

What is the cause of all this? We need more research, the experts say. But to a dismayed parent, it seems like the horrific result of a massive experiment. Thanks to the internet, our boys and girls are the first children to grow up with free, round-the-clock access to hardcore pornography. Porn has become part of the adult mainstream, colouring everything from advertising to best-selling books like Fifty Shades of Grey. Of course our children are affected.

Diane Abbott, the shadow public health minister, said last week: "I want to highlight what I believe is the rise of a secret garden, striptease culture in British schools and society, which has been put beyond the control of British families by fast-developing technology, and an increasingly pornified British culture."

It starts young, with pencil cases that carry the Playboy bunny logo and Bratz dolls that look like they have just finished a shift at a strip joint. High-heeled shoes are sold to girls at the age of eight, along with knickers bearing slogans that on an adult would be meant to sound saucy. Campaigns by concerned groups like Mumsnet only stop products like these for a while, until new ones are pushed out.

The pop industry, which aims at hooking kids before they hit puberty, teaches little girls to bump and grind. I'm not a prude, but I have been called one for asking why a 10-year-old was copying the moves in a video in which Rihanna prowls like a dominatrix and sings, "Come on rude boy, boy, can you get it up? Come on rude boy, boy, is you big enough?"

Working backwards, Rihanna is inverting the more extreme imagery used by some male hip hop stars, whose videos effectively show women as sex slaves. They, in turn, offer a polished version of the behaviour in hardcore porn, which is only a click away, on imitations of YouTube.

It's not hidden behind a paywall, it's free. And you don't even have to claim to be 18 to watch it. This is not the cheesy porn on the newsagent's top shelf, which was all we could get our hands on when I was a boy. The extreme, violent stuff our children can see so easily now would make a Seventies porn star blush. Or throw up.

The ubiquity of such material has shifted the understanding of what is normal. Three-quarters of teachers surveyed for the TES last year said they believed access to porn was having a "damaging effect" on pupils. One said girls were dressing like "inflatable plastic dolls" while another said some pupils "couldn't get to sleep without watching porn".

However, there is also disturbing evidence that hardcore pornography has become so commonplace that some children see it as "mundane". The pioneering NSPCC study in 2010 found that watching professional porn was seen by boys as a sign of desperation. They would rather watch – and circulate – home-made porn shots on phones with girls they knew.

This is part of the phenomenon called sexting, the exchange of sexual messages or images by text, smartphones and social networking sites. Chevonea Kendall-Bryan was a victim of it, and worse. She had been bullied by boys since the age of 11, a coroner heard earlier this month. At 13, she was forced to perform a sex act on an 18-year-old after a party. A boy of 15 later demanded the same treatment – or he would smash the windows of her south London home. When she obeyed, he filmed her on his phone and shared the clip around her school.

Sexual pressure can cause girls to contemplate suicide, self-harm, develop eating disorders, or try to lose themselves in drugs or alcohol. But does sexting only happen in the most troubled inner-city schools? No, says Prof Andy Phippen of Plymouth University, who led his own research in Cornwall, Somerset and Devon. "I've been into all kinds of schools – including inner city, rural and semi-rural – and I can't remember a single one where sexting was not an issue," he says. "It's not a class thing either. I visit elite schools, and the kids there talk about it just as much."

However, it is important to say that children may be telling the truth if they insist they have never come across it. Estimates of those affected range from 15 to 40 per cent of pupils, depending on where you are. And when I speak to Claire Perry, she admits: "The answer is we don't know. I think it is a growing problem. My sense is that even in the nicest, leafiest part of the country, this is something that children are doing."

Hadn't we better find out? "Yes. That is why it is good that the debate is happening. Bullying has always taken place, but technology means we have given our children a space where there are no adult eyeballs watching. We have to do something about that. I expect there will be lots of difficult conversations this weekend."

Over the past few days, she has been accused of being a snooper, after suggesting that parents should read their children's texts and emails. "If your child was going out with somebody you thought was taking drugs, you would feel you had the right to intervene. Somehow, we don't feel we have the right to do that in the online world. We are on the back foot. But I think that this week's reaction shows that parents do want to be able to do this."

Her first job, though, is to focus on the internet. Last year, Mr Cameron backed an "opt-in" system to block adult content on home computers. The idea has now been dropped, however. A consultation showed that the majority of people thought it too draconian, admits Mrs Perry – but she is now working with internet service providers on a series of changes, including a block on adult content on public Wi-Fi. In the home, customers will have to verify that they are over 18 and want access to adult content, or else restrictions will apply. "You will have to say, 'I don't want that filter.' Once we have this, we will lead the world in online child safety."

All of which is fine, except it won't do a thing about sexting. In any case, technologically savvy boys like my 15-year-old will find a way round it if they want to. Of course, he will seek out pictures of people having sex. Boys do. I'm just scared of the effects of the tsunami of hardcore he must see any time he tries. As Claire Perry says: "Porn is a terrible sexual educator and that is not where our children should be getting their information."

As for his sisters, I shudder. I don't want them to live in a world in which romance means boy meets girl, boy sends a picture of his genitals. Lily and Rose are not their real names, by the way. I'm that afraid of their being drawn in. We clearly need to talk, awkward as it may be.

As adults, we also have to be clear where the blame lies. I'm reminded of that as I travel home to hug the girls, and a text arrives from a 14-year-old friend of the family. Responding to the call to talk about the pressure she's under, she texts: "DON'T bash the kids. We don't sell porn. Grown-ups do. YOU FIX IT!!!!"

Source: The Telegraph

shiningniqaabI used to glare at niqab-wearing women on the street, but then I opened my heart and mind - to a wonderful daycare provider.

Not too long ago, if I saw a woman walking down the street with her face covered by a niqab, I would feel it was my duty to glare. As a non-religious feminist, I had decided that a woman who covers her face is oppressed - that she is uneducated, and that her husband is making her cover up because he's crazy and/or jealous.

OK, I'm exaggerating a little, but you get the point.

And yet until two months ago, I didn't even really know a single Muslim. I went to high school in an Ottawa suburb, where I was baptized a Catholic so that I could qualify for schooling in the Catholic school system, which was considered better than the more open public system.

We had one year of religious education that gave us a glimpse of world religions. But I'm pretty sure my education about Islam came mainly from CNN, or Fox. I went to university in a small town in Ontario. I didn't meet any Muslims there, either.

My real education about Islam came very recently, courtesy of a Montreal daycare.

Last December, I was seeking daycare for my daughter. At only 10 months old, she was still very dependent on her parents, and we wanted to find a place that would nurture her - rock her to sleep if need be, warm up my expressed breast milk and even be open to using our cloth diapers.

I punched our address into the database, and the first one that came up was a 30-second walk from where we would be moving in a matter of weeks. The daycare provider, Sophie, had outlined her views on discipline, praise, healthy foods and the child-centred approach of Montessori. She was someone I felt I could get along with.

I phoned her and we talked for an hour, laughing and chatting and eventually deciding on a time to meet. She shared a great many of the values that my partner and I do. She was also highly educated, trained as a civil engineer.

Before we said goodbye, she added, "Oh, just so you know, I'm Muslim."

I said I didn't care, because I didn't.

She assured me that her daycare didn't teach religion. Cool.

But then she told me that when she's in public, she covers her face.

She said the last time she didn't warn a family over the phone that she wears the niqab, they walked into the meeting and then walked straight out.

I said I didn't care, but when we got off the phone, I realized I did care. The first thing I thought was, "What if my daughter is afraid of her?"

My family drove over to meet Sophie, her husband and son.

She came to the door, dressed in black from head to toe.

It was the first time I had been in the same room as a woman wearing the niqab.

I felt nervous. But my daughter didn't flinch.

The daycare was cozy; most of the toys were made of natural materials. There were lots of books, a reading corner and a birdwatching area. Books on Montessori activities lined the shelves. Nothing was battery-operated; there was no television.

It was perfect.

We spoke for a bit, all together in the room before Sophie's husband put a hand on my fiancé's back and they went downstairs to see the other half of the daycare. Once the guys left, Sophie took off the niqab.

I could feel my heart and my mind open at that very moment.

My daughter has been going to this daycare for more than two months now, and we are very happy with the care she is given.

When they are inside with the children, the daycare providers (the majority of whom are Muslim) are mostly dressed in plain clothes - jeans and a sweater, long hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. These women do not cover their faces in the presence of children, women or close family.

My daughter isn't afraid of any of the women who take care of her, whether they have their faces covered or not. On the contrary, she reaches out to them for a hug every morning. To my daughter, the women who work at the daycare are simply the women who hold her when she's sad, wipe blueberries off her face, clean her snotty nose and change her cloth diapers.

My daughter isn't growing up with the same ideas about Muslim women that I did.

I'm glad she's learning something in daycare.

So am I.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Note: Though the message is sincere and heartfelt, the details are not meant to identify one specific individual (i.e. the author) but rather to represent real niqaabis around the world.

bookinkDear Mona,

As much as you no doubt think that you are doing great good by appointing yourself as a champion for (or shall i say against) Muslim women who wear niqaab, I’d appreciate if you stopped and listened to me first.

I am a Muslim woman who wears niqaab, and I neither believe that I am the paragon of virtue nor live in fear of Hell should an inch of my skin be seen in public. I am neither oppressed nor invisible. I do not consider myself so beautiful that I must cover myself to save men from temptation; nor do I believe that men are sex machines who will be turned on by the tip of my nose or the curve of my ear. I am not ignorant or brainwashed. I am not Salafi or Wahhabi...

I am a Muslim woman.

You say that niqaab has been made into the pinnacle of piety. There may be some people out there who say that, but I don’t believe God says that. In fact, God says that none of us are safe from Hell just by doing one specific action or another. Earning Paradise and protecting ourselves from Hell is an ongoing process, a constant struggle 24/7. I don’t feel that wearing niqaab has earned me a ticket to Eden... but I do believe that it’ll help me get that little bit closer.

You say that Muslim women are forced to wear the niqaab in Saudi Arabia. While I don’t agree with anyone being forced to wear niqaab against their will, I don’t see how that has anything to do with me. I don’t live in Saudi Arabia, and never have. I live in America and I chose to wear the niqaab despite my parents’ opposition to it and my husband’s unease with it. He was worried that I’d be considered “extreme” and targeted for my beliefs. Turns out he’s right, but just because people like you want to take away my freedom of belief, it doesn’t mean I’m just going to roll over and let you dictate what I should and shouldn’t do or believe.

You say that niqaab makes Muslim women invisible. I have no idea where you got that from, although invisibility has always been the one superpower I’d love to have. As it happens, people can see me pretty well. It’s just that they can’t see every single bit of my skin or physical features. If you mean that I’m “invisible” in that niqaab reduces my role in society and the public sphere, you’re wrong.

I’m a successful businesswoman, who left a thriving career to become an entrepreneur. The company I founded has blossomed and we’re becoming quite well-known in our field. My best friend, who started wearing niqaab after me, is a high school teacher. She’s been recognized by the school as one of the best teachers they’ve had for several years running. The local Imam’s wife is getting her PhD and volunteers at the women’s shelter – and gets a kick out of going horseback riding on the beach where people’s eyes bug out when they see a veiled Muslim women galloping across the sand.

We Muslim women who wear the niqaab come in all shapes and sizes, of every ethnic, religious, social, and educational background. We are businesswomen and artists; writers and community activists; teachers and stay-at-home mothers; philosophers, intellectuals, and housewives. You have no right to gloss over our places in society, the roles that we have and will continue to fulfill. You have no right to tell me or others that I am invisible when I very much know that I am not.

You say that niqaab objectifies women as sex objects. So does the mini-skirt and tube top. Are we going to ban those too? I don’t deny that some men obsess over women’s bodies – but those men are non-Muslim as well as Muslim. Just as there are men who would prefer that I covered my body completely, there are men who wish I’d walk around half-naked. I don’t wear the niqaab for, or because of, either of them. I wear it for myself. I am not repressing my sexuality nor exacerbating it. I am demanding that you mind your own business about my sexuality, and deal with my ideas, my words, and my actions instead.

You say that niqaab has been the reason that Muslim women have been oppressed in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. It’s not. Poverty, illiteracy, government corruption, backwards misogynistic mentalities that have nothing to do with Islam... THEY are the reason that Muslim women have been oppressed. Hijaab, niqaab, and whatever else is used only as a tool to enforce Islamically incorrect ideologies. It is not the root of the problem.

Furthermore, what of countries like South Africa, Mexico, and Britain where the daily statistics of rape, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, peer pressure, and so much more are all forms of crime and oppression against women? Oppression of women isn’t limited to race or religion. Unfortunately, it extends throughout the entire world, across every racial, social and economic spectrum.

You imply that it is only “extremist Salafis and Wahhabis” who wear niqaab or demand it of their women. That’s kinda funny, because I have a Sufi aunt who wears niqaab; and the nice Indian aunty at the mosque is a Deobandi, and she wears it too. The Nigerian convert who campaigns for women’s space at the mosque and demands that Muslim men stop acting like caveman and behave like gentlemen has been wearing niqaab for several years.

I’m sorry that you have had bad experiences with the niqaab. I’m sorry that you’ve had bad experiences with Muslims who call you a she-devil, a whore, and a scourge against Islam.

Sister Heba Ahmad – the one you debated on CNN – said something really beautiful that I agree with completely:

“Mona is my sister in Islam and even though I must disagree when she misrepresents Islam and Muslims, she still should be protected from the tongue of her fellow Muslims.”

That’s how I feel about you. I strongly disagree with what you say about the niqaab and much about what you say about Islam and Muslims in general. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to threaten to kill you, or swear at you, or condemn you to Hell. What I will do is invite you over for coffee at my place, with open arms and a warm smile that you can detect even beneath my niqaab.

Your sister in Islam,

A Muslim Woman Who Wears Niqaab

beautifulpurpleIt’s a warm sunny day at the park. You see a woman clad from head to foot, only her eyes and hands visible, carrying watermelon to her young child. You can’t imagine how she does it, how intense it must be boiling beneath that fabric. Wouldn’t she like to dress freely and comfortably like the man next to her, in a short sleeve T-shirt and shorts up to the knees? Why is it that men are not required to cover themselves as extensively as women have to in Islam? If Muslim men and women were truly equal, then why does this apparent disparity exist?

It really isn’t an absurd statement. To anyone on the periphery, this is exactly how it appears. Women have to wear hijab; men don’t. Women have to cover from head to foot; men are obligated to cover from the navel to the knee. And the argument follows to claim that women in Islam are oppressed, while men are free to dress, as they like.

To anyone that may consider this apparent bias, I ask one question: Do you think God really would favor a man over a woman? Would Allah, the Just and the Protecting Friend, ask women to do something that is burdensome and free of any reward? To think in such a way is blasphemy, but it is also a testament of how well you understand your faith and Allah’s orders.

A man and a woman can never be the same entity despite being equal in status. We look different, think in different ways, and respond differently to the same situation. Allah has made men and women strikingly different.

One of the major differences is how we physically look and what we are attracted to. Numerous studies have shown that men are attracted to visuals, while women are more attracted to audio. Naturally, the pupil will expand when it sees something pleasurable and contract when it sees something that is not pleasurable. Often, the pupils of men will dilate, while the pupils of women do not dilate in reaction to the same pleasurable image. This inherent difference articulates that men are pulled more towards visuals than women are and it follows that men find it more difficult to remove themselves from such an attraction.

So why is that men are not required to cover what is haraam for a woman to look at? For instance, a man is not required to cover his chest and yet, a woman must lower her gaze, since it is a sin to look at the exposed chest of a man. The situation itself testifies that a woman is stronger than a man when it comes to controlling herself.

Allah, the Bestower of Form and the Fashioner, is actually honoring the woman by giving her the ability to control herself so well. In this way, one of the reasons why Allah has obligated women to cover would be because man may not be able to exert the same level of control as a woman. Without hijab, a woman radiates – biologically, receptors go out to attract the opposite gender. With hijab, however, the attraction is reduced dramatically and it is easier for men to go about without looking lustfully.

For instance, I’m sure at one time or another, we have looked upon an attractive man, whether purposefully or accidentally. It must have been hard for us to look away. But try to envision the task of lowering the gaze as twice or even ten times harder – that is, my dear ladies, what a man has to go through.

Another question- why do women have to pray behind men? It can’t be that women are less dignified or unfavorable in Allah’s eyes. It is because of the nature of man – he will lose himself and become preoccupied with other than that of his prayer. Women, however, are not as susceptible to this temptation and can pray behind men.

Generally speaking, fornication often occurs when a woman inclines the man toward something he already has a susceptibility to. If the woman is strong however, the man may have the desire but does not have the opportunity to sin.

So you see, hijab doesn’t push down on the status of women. The hijab serves as a protective barrier for not only the woman but also for a man, who is inherently attracted to the visual. Just imagine, the next time you step out without a hijab – you may be unaware of so much going on around you. Would you be happy to know the sins you have accumulated, the silent struggles of a brother who found it so difficult to lower his gaze from you?

You may be unaware, but Allah the All Aware, is not. There’s a good reason behind everything, just as there is a good reason behind hijab.

white sands blue skies by corazondediosOne of the multitudinous quasi-reasons given by a certain Conservative MP in the UK and many others for why Muslim women shouldn’t wear the niqab is that it is, in the words of one observer, ‘a blatant obstacle to integration’. This seemingly unequivocal (and ‘factual’) statement is trotted out not only by right-wing MPs, but many a Muslim called upon by the media to offer their two pence worth in the debate. The argument may hold some water if only someone were able to define quite what integration is. Of course there is a lexical meaning which defines integration as “the bringing of people of different racial or ethnic groups into unrestricted and equal association, as insociety or an organization...” ( Accessed 10 Sep. 10)

Or, indeed, as in Tito’s communist Yugoslavia or Zhivkov’s Bulgaria, which of course Britain isn’t, or isn’t supposed to be. To start to address this argument one would start by having to define integration in our context, only to stumble across the first hurdle – there isn’t a consensus definition for integration in the sense that it is being used.

The authors of a report on integration commissioned by the Home office and carried out by a team at the University of Oxford, are a bit more honest about how unambiguously the term can be used as it is:

‘ must be emphasised that there is no single agreed understanding of the term ‘integration’' (Castles S, Korac M, Vasta E, Vertovec S. Integration: Mapping the field. Report of a Project carried out by the University of Oxford. 2002. Home Office online report 28/03. Accessed 10 Sep. 10)
Castles et al are also helpful in dispelling the ‘when in Rome’ notion of integration:
“Integration is a two-way process: it requires adaptation on the part of the newcomer but also by the host society. Successful integration can only take place if the host society provides access to jobs and services, and acceptance of the immigrants in social interaction. Above all, integration in a democracy presupposes acquisition of legal and political rights by the new members of society, so that they can become equal partners. Indeed, it is possible to argue that, in a multicultural society, integration may be understood as a process through which the whole population acquires civil, social, political, human and cultural rights, which creates the conditions for greater equality. In this approach, integration can also mean that minority groups should be supported in maintaining their cultural and social identities, since the right to cultural choices is intrinsic to democracy.”
With this elucidation, the onus of integration, at least in part, is placed not upon those being integrated as much as it is upon the host society. However, herein lays another dilemma. Much of the discourse regarding integration deals with the issue of migrants, refugees and ethnic minorities integrating into society. What then of third generation “immigrants” who are British and may already have been ‘integrated’ and then decide to wear the veil? Or of white British Muslims upon whom many of the parameters of ‘integration’ do not apply? One politician on a radio interview cited the veil as being discourteous to the ‘host society’. What then if the lady behind the veil is an Emma with a double-barrelled surname who is very much part of the ‘host society’? Many cannot accept the notion that the women wearing the veil are in the main not refugees who have been forced to wear it under duress, but British women who have chosen to wear it out of religious conviction.
designniqbCastles et al helpfully contribute to the discourse by setting out a list of criteria against which the degree of integration can be measured – a sort of checklist of indicators that determine the extent of integration with indicators of education, training and employment; social integration; health, legal , political and overall integration. The irony is that there may be women wearing the veil who may tick all the boxes by being educated, working in the public and services sector, voting and being good neighbours, yet be considered not to have integrated because of the niqab. Furthermore, if the veil is an obstacle to integration, the implied meaning by those who use this word loosely is that they will not be able to integrate at all, whilst in the academic sense of the word they may be more integrated into the workings of British society than many thousands of young white working class English (the so-called ‘Chavs’) whose integration may never been questioned on the basis of their appearance. For a politician to assert that Muslim women are not integrated because they wear the niqab and do not converse with male strangers on a street is somewhat of an over-simplification to say the least.
One of the problems in the discourse is that whilst often referring to integration, many of its proponents actually mean assimilation, a totally different concept and certainly not one to be expected in what is supposed to be a democratic country in a post-colonial era that has described itself as being multicultural. (Modood T. Remaking Multiculturalism after 7/7. 2005. Accessed 10 Sep. 10)
As expounded on by Professor Modood (University of Bristol), assimilation involves the ‘newcomers’ becoming as much like their hosts as possible while not disturbing the host society, with the least change in the attitudes of the latter. Integration is a two-way process, while assimilation is a one-way process. What is regrettable is that it is the voices within the Muslim community that are the most vocal advocates of assimilation (whilst still talking of ‘integration’) to an extent that even the generality of British society does not demand of Muslims in 21st century Britain.
There are many reasons for this, and certainly one of them is a pathological sense of inferiority that has persisted, albeit in subtle form and especially amongst South East Asian communities, despite decades having elapsed from the end of colonial rule where the subjugated Asian held the white Sahib in awe. There is a subliminal message that in their difference, there is somehow something superior about British society and Muslims are to integrate upward in to it – in contrast to a lateralised mutual accommodation – and adopt its ways, and aspects of Muslim culture are looked down on and denigrated as being inferior. The Niqab and the Muslim women’s dress is certainly a case that illustrates this conflict, what with it being described as medieval and backward. A certain lack of confidence in their own heritage makes many Muslims echo these same sentiments.
The glaringly obvious reality of the Hollobone bill and the brouhaha surrounding the Niqab across Europe is that it is not motivated by altruistic concerns about social cohesion or courtesy or women’s rights. If so, then banning the English Defence League, countering racism, promoting respect and allowing people to practice their religion in peace are more worthy causes to promote. This is no more than a further symptom of the swelling problem of anti-Islamic xenophobia that is spreading across Europe, with a growing far-right and a dangerous rise in anti-Muslim sentiment that is catalysed by a biased media and closet racists in mainstream parties. It may be argued that with so much Islamophobia around, Muslims should not fan the flames by wearing attire that is seen as divisive. But that is a flawed argument, as it is precisely this argument that gives in to the racist far-right and emboldens them further. It is for this very reason – this dangerous Islamophobia in Europe – that Muslim women should not be allowed to be bullied into taking off the veil, and that Muslims, whatever their views, should support them. It is tremendous naiveté if Muslims think that by a handful of women taking off the veil the racists and Islamophobes will back off or that the growing xenophobia that Muslims are being subjected to will somehow abate.
These law-abiding women have been forced to the cold front, and are taking the bullet for the rest of the Muslim community simply for adopting attire they believe is recommended by Islam and a tradition of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The honourable thing to do for anyone with any sense of justice and concern for both the Muslim community and social cohesion overall is to support them and not let the racists and xenophobes claim a pathetic victory.

pinkgreenAn insightful and personal account of why a Western teenage girl would reject the 'wonders' of fashion, and want to cover herself in the Hijab (veil).

I probably do not fit into the preconceived notion of a “rebel”. I have no visible tattoos and minimal piercing. I do not possess a leather jacket. In fact, when most people look at me, their first thought usually is something along the lines of “oppressed female”. The brave individuals who have mustered the courage to ask me about the way I dress usually have questions like, “Do your parents make you wear that?” or, “Don’t you find that really unfair?”

A while back, a couple of girls in Montreal were kicked out of school for dressing like I do. It seems strange that a little piece of cloth would make for such a controversy. Perhaps the fear is that I am harboring an Uzi machine gun underneath it! Of course, the issue at hand is more than a mere piece of cloth. I am a Muslim woman who, like millions of other Muslim women across the globe, chooses to wear a Hijab. And the concept of the Hijab, contrary to popular opinion, is actually one of the most fundamental aspects of female empowerment. When I cover myself, I make it virtually impossible for people to judge me according to the way I look. I cannot be categorized because of my attractiveness or lack thereof. Compare this to life in today’s society: We are constantly sizing one another up on the basis of our clothing, jewelry, hair and makeup. What kind of depth can there be in a world like this?

Yes, I have a body, a physical manifestation upon this Earth. But it is the vessel of an intelligent mind and a strong spirit. It is not for the beholder to leer at or to use in advertisements to sell everything from beer to cars. Because of the superficiality of the world in which we live, external appearances are so stressed that the value of the individual counts for almost nothing. It is a myth that women in today’s society are liberated. What kind of freedom can there be when a woman cannot walk down the street without every aspect of her physical self being “checked out”? When I wear the Hijab I feel safe from all of this. I can rest assured that no one is looking at me and making assumptions about my character from the length of my skirt. There is a barrier between me and those who would exploit me.

I am first and foremost a human being, one of the saddest truths of our time is the question of the beauty myth and female self-image. Reading popular teenage magazines, you can instantly find out what kind of body image is “in” or “out”. And if you have the “wrong” body type, well, then, you’re just going to change it, aren’t you? After all, there is no way you can be overweight and still be beautiful. Look at any advertisement. Is a woman being used to sell the product? How old is she? How attractive is she? What is she wearing? More often than not, that woman will be no older than her early 20s, taller, slimmer, and more attractive than average, and dressed in skimpy clothing. Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated like this? Whether women today wish to believe it or not, they are trying to be forced into a mould. The woman today is being coerced into selling herself, into compromising herself. This is why we have 13-year-old girls sticking their fingers down their throats to vomit and overweight adolescents hanging themselves.

When people ask me if I feel oppressed, I can honestly say no. I made this decision of my own free will. I like the fact that I am taking control of the way other people perceive me. I enjoy the fact that I don’t give anyone anything to look at and that I have released myself from the bondage of the swinging pendulum of the fashion industry and other institutions that exploit females. My body is my own business. Nobody can tell me how I should look or whether or not I am beautiful. I know that there is more to me than that. I am also able to say no comfortably when people ask me if I feel as if my sexuality is being repressed. I have taken control of my sexuality. I am thankful I will never have to suffer the fate of trying to lose/ gain weight or trying to find the exact lipstick shade that will go with my skin color - just to show the public at large. I have made choices about what my priorities are and these are not among them.

So next time you see me, don’t look at me sympathetically. I am not under duress or a male-worshiping female captive from those barbarous Arab deserts. I follow the Law of God, I’ve been liberated!


"Why do Muslim women have to cover their heads?"

beautiful-infrared-photographyThis question is one which is asked by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For many women it is the truest test of being a Muslim.

The answer to the question is very simple - Muslim women observe Hijaab (covering the head and the body) because Allah has told them to do so., "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed..." (Qur'an 33:59)

Secondary reasons include the requirement for modesty in both men and women. Both will then be evaluated for intelligence and skills instead of looks and sexuality. A school girl was  quoted as saying,

"We want to stop men from treating us like sex objects, as they have always done. We want them to ignore our appearance and to be attentive to our personalities and mind. We want them to take us seriously and treat us as equals and not just chase us around for our bodies and physical looks."

A Muslim woman who covers her head is making a statement about her identity. Anyone who sees her will know that she is a Muslim and has a good moral character. Many Muslim women who cover are filled with dignity and self esteem; they are pleased to be identified as a Muslim woman. As a chaste, modest, pure woman, she does not want her sexuality to enter into interactions with men in the smallest degree. A woman who covers herself is concealing her sexuality but allowing her femininity to be brought out.

The question of Hijab for Muslim women has been a controversy for centuries and will probably continue for many more. Often forgotten is the fact that modern Western dress is a new invention. Looking at the clothing of women as recently as seventy years ago, we see clothing similar to hijab. Those active and hard-working women of the West were not inhibited by their clothing which consisted of long, full dresses and various types of head covering.

Even more so, Muslim women who wear Hijab do not find it impractical or interfering with their activities in all levels and walks of life. Hijab is not merely a covering dress but more importantly, it is behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. Dress is only one facet of the total being. The basic requirements for a Muslim woman's dress also apply to the Muslim man's clothing with the difference being mainly in degree. For men, modesty requires that the area between the navel and the knee be covered in front of all people except the wife. The clothing of men should not be like the dress of women, nor should it be tight or provocative. A Muslim should dress to show his identity as a Muslim. Men are not allowed to wear gold or silk. However, both are allowed for women.

For both men and women, clothing requirements are not meant to be a restriction but rather a way in which society will function in a proper, Islamic manner.


The following is a detailed dissertation on the Niqaab, with pictures and references.


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glovesblackIn the past few weeks a British MP sparked a huge controversy in the U.K. on the Muslim woman’s dress commonly referred to by non-Muslim westerners as "the black veil" and by Muslims as the Niqaab. I watched the controversy as it grew fiercely spreading across the western world and how it was being portrayed in the media. Many westerners began preparing for a mighty confrontation with the Muslim women who live in their countries and who still choose to wear Niqaab. Sadly, many westerners have presumed all of them have immigrated from "back home".

Some of them describe the wearing of the Niqaab by Muslim women as “backward”, “uncomfortable for them”, and in the words of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair it is a, “mark of separation”. But although they express their feelings towards it in many ways, the overriding question on the mind of many westerners appears to be: Why are some Muslim women who are not forced to wear Niqaab still choosing to do so in free western countries?

Indeed, many westerners are baffled by this, and instead of trying to understand they turn to their own alternative explanations such as, “They must be brainwashed” because saying these women are “oppressed” just doesn’t cut it anymore. As for these westerners, then I as a Muslim woman who wears Niqaab says: leave them to their ignorant assumptions for it is the same whether we explain to them or do not explain to them; they have chosen not to understand. But there are other westerners who when they see me on the streets look more curious than cruel. And many sincerely wonder the reason for us turning to this traditional Islaamic dress when we simply aren’t forced to. And as for them perhaps it is only more of an explanation from a veiled Muslim woman that they want, and to know how Niqaab benefits us and to them I say fair enough. I have chosen to write this piece for them (specifically) and I sincerely hope that it serves well in explaining this to them.

I have witnessed many non-Muslim western writers and self-proclaimed intellectuals set out to try and explain for themselves how we, the Niqaabis, feel about Niqaab and constantly suggest it is not possible for a rational woman to want this. But I wonder what makes them qualified to speak from the Muslim woman’s perspective on Niqaab. Is there anyone more qualified to say how these Muslim women feel about wearing Niqaab other than one of these Muslim women themselves? So here I go to explain to you the benefits of wearing Niqaab. Before i do so, here is some relevant background information about me:

1. I was born and raised in Canada my whole life and therefore am (of course) a Canadian citizen; the only other country I have been to was the United States. Therefore, occasionally when I am shouted at to "go back home" to my own country I’m not really sure how to.

2. English is my first and only language.

3. I am considered educated by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and I hope by my writing you have observed this on your own.

4. No one on planet earth has forced me to wear Niqaab and at any moment, if i wish, I can take it off and there would be no real consequences from others for doing so. Similarly, no one forces me to defend wearing Niqaab or to speak well of it, and this I also do by choice.

5. At age nine I was told to wear the Muslim headscarf (commonly referred by Muslims as Hijaab) but was able to do so still running around in jeans and a shirt. In grade ten I progressed to wearing skirts on my own. In grade twelve I began wearing the long black robe (abaaya), which is often seen on Muslim women. Later on in the year, I began Wearing niqaab and then I wore a long and loose garment over my abaya, commonly referred to by Muslims as a Khimaar (a head-scarf which covers the hair, ears, neck and ches)]. Then finally, to top it all off, I began to wear gloves. I love dressing like this and am happy to. Thus, I progressed to dressing this way, and most of my life did not do so.

6. Three years ago, I never thought I would ever wear Niqaab and had much disdain for it at the time. Silly me.

7. Among the women I know who wear Niqaab and have helped me to think differently about it are women who have converted to Islaam. Some of them are brown-skinned like me while others are white, black, Pilipino etc.

This is my perspective, and I hope you are now able to see its relevance to the issue at hand. Let's now go on to going through the many benefits there are for me and other Muslim women in wearing the Niqaab and in dressing modestly. Some of the benefits I’ve received were expected and others have surprised me. It may be wondered whether or not I'll mention any disadvantages of wearing it, but by Allah I know of no real or meaningful disadvantages that are of any concern to me.

Benefit 1: It is an Act of Worship that Can Yield Reward

Of surprise to many I’m sure, in Islaam it is well know that an act of worship goes beyond prayer. Wearing Niqaab and dressing modestly for the Muslim woman is also an act of worship, an opportunity to please Allah, which means a Muslim woman can be rewarded for it. Imagine the comfort I then feel to know that every time I wear it I may be rewarded for doing so and to constantly be wearing it throughout life takes its potential reward almost beyond imagination.

shiningniqaabBenefit 2: You are Immediately Identified as a Muslim Woman

As women who dress like me are attributed to Islaam, there is no need to explain to others what religion I am from. Since people immediately know I’m Muslim many of them then expect certain behaviours of mine to be different from theirs because of my different religious teachings. In fact, many people kindly make way for my differences because of this acknowledgement. And truly, it is an honour to be identified as a Muslim woman.

Benefit 3: It Brings the Best Treatment from Men

I have found Muslim and Non-Muslim men alike treating me better than ever before since I began observing Niqaab. They move aside for me to let me pass, never come within my personal space, and practice decent behaviour when it is necessary for them to speak to me. You won’t find them making inappropriate gestures or remarks to me that would be deemed offensive. To my relief I am left peacefully alone to go about my business without the worry that I need to ward anyone off.

Often I’ve seen or have known of women becoming extremely angry because men who find them attractive would bother them and when these women demand that they stop these men do not take them seriously. To many men, the primary message a woman gives off is in her manner of dress which dictates to them how to treat her.

Benefit 4: More Clothes Means more Protection

When we dress in this manner around non-related men we do not incite their desires so that they may want to harm us. Rather, it effectively discourages them from bothering, molesting, or harassing us as the wearing of clothes and the covering up of beauty naturally calms the desires of the other gender rendering you to be left alone in peace. They have no business with us, and we cannot be deceived by them. And how often do we hear of young mothers becoming pregnant thinking themselves loved only to be abandoned when they are finished being toyed with. And how can a man desire a woman whose beauty is not even described to him? So naturally this type of dress is protection, it is the easiest protection to accomplish, and when we are in the company of our male relatives who would not harm us (like others men may) and in whom we can place our immediate trust regarding ourselves and our honour we don’t need to cover to this extent.

The vast majority of the time in fact we are not dressed this way. This same idea of protection can be applied regarding the two genders. As women are generally physically weaker than men and more vulnerable to this type of harm by them, she can balance out this disadvantage by wearing more clothes for protection. So weariiqaab is also befitting for our very nature as women.

Benefit 5: More Protection Means a Greater Feeling of Ease and Peace

Security is a human need that when felt naturally leaves a human being in a state of relief and encourages feelings of ease and peace. For me when I cover, I know I am shielded from every strange man who may have within them perversions, evil thoughts, or may commit lewd acts I may not know about. It is impossible to tell which of them may possess these ill traits in public, and so often do we find the most decent looking person to have committed the most heinous crimes. So we get to choose which men get to see us and we choose for them to be our male relatives (our honourable and beloved protectors). It is truly a unique power for a woman to have this choice. To know then that simply wearing Niqaab does away with much of these threats naturally leaves the Muslim woman feeling at ease and peace beneath the veil.

Benefit 6: It Makes Beauty Easy on Women

Many women nowadays, particularly in the western world, exhaust themselves before going out in public applying make-up, tending to their hair, and choosing an outfit to wear for the day; a process which takes some hours. Before heading out many cram their feet into outrageously uncomfortable high-heel shoes. Some women find the public pressure of body image so intense that they take to greater extremes and suffer from such disorders as bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Ironically, they call themselves free in doing so and equal to men yet do this primarily for the sake of men. And then upon coming home, these women in the presence of their spouse or family do not care to exert the same effort in tending to their appearance. For Muslim women it is the complete opposite, and the Niqaab plays a huge part in that. We need not struggle to please the many men outside of our homes who have no business with us but we need only please our spouse and family and that is a lot less people. After all, the relationship lies between a woman and her spouse, and not a woman and other men in society. Or at least from an Islaamic standpoint that is how meaningful relationships should be.

Benefit 7: It Helps to Preserve Praiseworthy Virtues

Among the virtues we Muslim women try to strive for, and indeed we consider them virtues, are the virtues of modesty and chastity. These are virtues all Muslims, whether male or female, strive for. When the women of society possess them then the whole of society benefits. That is because we find there is a direct link between how women of a society generally dress and how much temptation there is for men and women to fall into fornication, adultery, and other despicable acts. And it is these acts that destroy families and cause all of society to fall into corruption and weakness. Having these virtues also paves the way for gaining other virtues such as decency, honour, uprightness, integrity, piety, discipline, honesty etc. The Niqaab helps to preserve and maintain these virtues.

Many westerners mock Muslim women in veil, and praise other types of women such as Hollywood actresses and instead endeavour to be like them. I wonder what good example we can take from them. Even though these women can publicly be seen in movies performing acts that at one point in time were done only in a bedroom, they are still seen as a beacon of light for the many women of the western world and are constantly called role models. And I have never witnessed the condemning of their behaviour by westerners whilst the condemning of Niqaab and the wearing of modest clothes has been vicious. I fear it would be painfully hard and degrading to always attain their fake appearance, to be seen as a sex object, and to answer each call of this sickly vain society. So let it be seen by us in which way this leads to their happiness, goodness, and freedom. And let it be seen by us some meaningful and lasting relationships they are able to carry with their boyfriends, spouses and families as a result of their behaviour. We do not see it and we have not seen it. That is why, the behaviour of many western women and what they value can likewise be baffling to us Muslim women.

Benefit 8: It Means Freedom for Us

Can it be denied that everyone has their own notion of what freedom is? For Muslim women, freedom is not as absurdly simple as: the fewer clothes you wear the more free you are. And it does not mean you are able to do whatever you wish. We, as well as all Muslims, consider us bound by religion and our worship is to Allah not to our own vain desires. Freedom first comes to us in worshipping Allah alone and not ascribing partners to Him or giving what belongs to Him to others. This is freedom in that it satisfies the natural inclination of a human being to worship their Lord and does so in a manner that can be easily understood and that gives Him His due respect. The way Niqaab offers Muslim women freedom is that it frees us from all kinds of harm, which may come to a woman from many angles; further, it allows us to serve our Lord. Primarily I am referring to the harm that can be inflicted on women by men, when women incite their natural desires. And it also frees us from going against our nature, as we are allowed to have shame and we are not pressured into displaying our bodies to strangers. We are also freed from the expectation to please by way of our appearance every man in public - this is what we consider to be freedom. Even if westerners were to consider whether or not we are "free" according to their standards, even they would have to consider us free because we are doing what we want to do out of pure choice.

Benefit 9: It is a Befitting Action, Especially in Today's World

In the eyes of many, Niqaab is a backwards thing, a thing from the past, a tradition, and something no longer needed nowadays. On the contrary, I have found the need to wear it more than ever especially because harassment, molestation, and assault on women are more wildly rampant than ever as the morals of society as a whole have decreased. The Niqaab effectively shields against the increase of these crimes.

Although others may express their hatred for the Niqaab and those who wear it, it cannot be said by other than a Muslim woman who chooses to wear it how we feel about wearing it, and what we consider it to do for us. In light of this great Niqaab controversy I know of nobody more knowledgeable or experienced in the field of Niqaab other than the veiled Muslim woman. And I know of nobody's opinion being more relevant and important in the Niqaab debate other than hers.

Yes, I know of the Niqaab more than those who don’t wear it... And of my face-veil I know only good.


“The burka is not a religious problem, it’s a question of liberty and women’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That is not our idea of freedom.” – Nicolas Sarkozy.

rednikabHere we go again. After the hue and cry following the comments made by Jack Straw in 2006, another political statement made very publicly by a notable politician in Europe has sent the Muslim Ummah into a defensive global backlash and rhetoric. As for the tremendous vocal support Sarkozy’s comments have garnered, both from non-Muslims and secular-minded Muslims, it is indeed a shame, a staggeringly startling shame, for people who claim to be champions of ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’, to support any kind of ban on an individual’s choice of dress.

Whether a woman chooses to don the burka out of cultural factors or religious ones, – what difference does it make? She is making a conscious choice to clad herself in this garment. For the onlookers to assume that she was oppressed into wearing it just screams of naïveté and a purported facade of concern. Also, if the burka is restrictive and isolating, isn’t that the wearer’s prerogative? Since when is it ‘unacceptable’ for a woman to choose not to mingle with men or roam around freely sans outer garments? If that is her choice: to be home-bound, largely unidentified and covered-up; can we not let her be!?

Perhaps not being offended by one’s wife’s nude photographs being auctioned off for thousands of dollars speaks more aptly of ‘freedom’, liberty and the pièce de résistance: women’s “dignity”? Since when is it “dignified” to peel off a woman’s clothing and commoditize her body for the world to ogle and wow at as a piece of artwork? What if a woman chooses to do the absolute opposite i.e. wear layers of clothing that gives this clear message to men: “hands off”, “eyes off” and last but not least, “back off”? That is a sign of “subservience and debasement”? Subhaan Allah!

British Muslim Ms. Saira Khan, who was extremely vocal of her views about the burka in the UK in 2006, and reiterated her stance this year after Nicolas Sarkozy’s comments, claims to have once tried it on and found it to be,

“...the most horrid experience. It restricted the way I walked, what I saw, and how I interacted with the world. It took away my personality. I felt alienated and like a freak. It was hot and uncomfortable, and I was unable to see behind me, exchange a smile with people, or shake hands.”

There are many other dresses that are equally, if not more, uncomfortable for woman to wear; that never stopped them from wearing them, did it? Be it the hideous combination of garish angel-wings, gaudy underwear and monstrous boots that starved, underweight, so-called ‘icons’ of fashion strut on the catwalk amid scores of cameras (where are the champions of women’s dignity now? Oh sorry, they’re probably drooling too profusely to be able to talk!), or the bandage designer dresses that fitness-freak celebrities squeeze themselves into for public events, or the voluminous swathes of fabric that Eastern women meticulously fold around their bellies every day, accompanied by a clinging excuse-for-a-blouse, to go about their domestic duties in this traditional sari, taking pains and tolerating discomfort to carry off their preferred choice of dress is something women have been doing since centuries. Trust me, donning a full-length cloak over loose, comfortable clothing and tying a piece of cloth over your face is actually much easier to carry off than those male designers’ couture creations for women, that are supposed to send us into frenzied, money-busting jaunts of retail therapy. It seems while Ms. Khan did endeavor to don the burka for a television programme, she forgot to cast off the walls of prejudice and disdain from her mind before doing it.

Whenever any person, be they the likes of Muslims like Saira Khan, or of prominent world leaders such as Nicolas Sarkozy, claims to have problems with women cladding themselves in top-to-toe religious garb that covers them completely, it is actually their own innate issues, having to do with Muslim faith, Islamic identity and assimilation into foreign society for the purpose of worldly gains, wherein lies the crux of the problem. They are not concerned about women being oppressed by men in the name of religion, restricted physically in bodily movement and outdoor recreational activities, or isolated socially by these layers of cloth, or about not being ‘equal’ and ‘free’ to do whatever they want in society. They are confused as to how other women can persistently carry off a garment which they have chosen to throw off or refuse to wear.

It is actually a major slap in their face to see Muslim women having the so-called freedom to take off their burka’s and sprint about in clothes worn by the people of their country, but choose not to; for them to have the legal and social liberty to laugh and mingle freely with men, shaking hands and cracking jokes, but choose not to; for them to have the power to exploit their feminine sexuality to garner monumental worldly gains, but choose not to. At their wits’ end, they write emotionally-charged articles and make flambouyant statements about so-called equality, freedom, dignity and liberation of women, because they can just not fathom why a woman in her right mind would choose to dress this way.

And yet, with each passing year, more and more educated, free and liberal-minded women are choosing to dress this way. Women who grew up in the culture of parties, drinking, casual dating and random sex. Women with jobs, active love-lives, careers and money. Women with loving families, husbands and/or children. Isn’t it worthy of reflection why a woman would give up so much to don a garment that the world adamantly insists on banning?

I have been wearing the burka for several years now, and over this time, have gained the friendship of an increasing number of educated, confident and devout Muslim women who dress the same way, whether in the East or the West. While its true that we made a conscious choice to start wearing this garment, what is worthy of taking note is that just deciding to wear it is not the tough part. The tough part is dealing constantly with the skepticism, silent antagonism and outright hostility that other Muslims – yes, Muslims -  show us time and again when they see us performing our daily lives in public with this garment on. A small number among them, sadly, are also those modestly-dressed sisters who themselves wear hijab, whom we mix with at parties and weddings, who can’t seem to fathom why we haven’t given up on the face-veil yet. They sometimes criticize the burka too, because according to them, much like some claims made by non-Muslims, it is not ordained anywhere in the Quran; else, they consider it sufficient to meander out of having to wear it by quoting scholars and jurists who emphasize how it is not obligatory. There are many things Muslims do for the pleasure of Allah that are not obligatory, so where’s the argument, really?

We do not want to enforce our choice of wearing burka on other Muslim women; what we would, however, appreciate is to be left alone to wear it if we have chosen to.

And don’t pity us, please. Pity the botoxed, image-obssessed teenaged girl with the eating disorder, roaming around barely clothed on the beach, wondering if the sun is highlighting her cellulite, or if her body is in anyway less than perfect for the world to judge.


...Wearing my niqab is a choice freely made, for spiritual reasons... put on my niqab, my face veil, each day before I leave the house, without a second thought. I drape it over my face, tie the ribbons at the back and adjust the opening over my eyes to make sure my peripheral vision is not affected.

Had I a full-length mirror next to the front door, I would be able to see what others see: a woman of average height and build, covered in several layers of fabric, a niqab, a jilbab, sometimes an abayah, sometimes all black, other times blue or brown. A Muslim woman in 'full veil'. A niqabi.

But is that truly how people see me? When I walk through the park with my little ones in tow, when I reverse my car into a parking space, when I browse the shelves in the frozen section, when I ask how to best cook asparagus at a market stall, what do people see? An oppressed woman? A nameless, voiceless individual? A criminal?

Well, if Mr Sarkozy and others like him have their way, I suppose I will be a criminal, won't I? Never mind that "it's a free country"; never mind that I made this choice from my own free will, as did the vast majority of covered women of my generation; never mind that I am, in every other respect, an upstanding citizen who works hard as a mother, author and magazine publisher, spends responsibly, recycles and tries to eat seasonally and buy local produce!

Yes, I cover my face, but I am still of this society. And, as crazy as it might sound, I am human, a human being with my own thoughts, feelings and opinions. I refuse to allow those who cannot know my reality to paint me as a cardboard cut-out, an oppressed, submissive, silenced relic of the Dark Ages. I am not a stereotype and, God willing, I never will be.

But where are those who will listen? At the end of the day, Muslim women have been saying for years that the hijab et al are not oppressive, that we cover as an act of faith, that this is a bonafide spiritual lifestyle choice. But the debate rages on, ironically, largely to the exclusion of the women who actually do cover their faces.

The focus on the niqab is, in my opinion, utterly misplaced. Don't the French have anything better to do than tell Muslim women how to dress? Don't our societies have bigger problems than a relative handful of women choosing to cover their faces out of religious conviction? The "burka issue" has become a red herring: there are issues that Muslim women face that are more pressing, more wide-reaching and, essentially, more relevant than whether or not they should be covering with a niqab, burqa or hijab.

At the end of the day, all a ban will do is force Muslim women who choose to cover to retreat even further - it is not going to result in a mass "liberation" of Muslim women from the veil. All women, covered or not, deserve the opportunity to dress as they see fit, to be educated, to work where they deem appropriate and run their lives in accordance with their principles, as long as these choices do not impinge on others' freedoms. And last time I looked, being able to see a woman's hair, legs or face were not rights granted alongside "liberté, egalité et fraternité".

As a Muslim woman living in the UK, I am so grateful for the fact that my society does not force me to choose between being a practising Muslim and an active member of society. I have been able to study, to work, to establish a writing career and run a magazine business, all while wearing a niqaab. I think that that is a credit to British society, no matter what the anti-multiculturalists may say, and I think the French could learn some very valuable lessons from the British approach.

So, three cheers for those women who make the choice to cover, in whatever way and still go out there every day. Go out to brave the scorn and ridicule of those who think they understand the burka better than those who actually wear it. Go out to face the humiliating headlines. Go out to face the taunts of schoolchildren. Go out to fight another day. Go out to do their bit for society and the common good. Because you never know, if Mr Sarkozy and his supporters have their way, there could come a day when these women think twice about going out there into a society that cannot bear the way they look. And, who knows, I could be one of them.

And, while some would disagree, I think that would be a sad day.

Source: Times Online.


53652-golf-course-sunset-wallpaper 531x331I spent seven years of my girlhood heavily veiled - not in a Muslim niqab but in a nun's habit.

We wore voluminous black robes, large rosaries and crucifixes, and an elaborate headdress: you could see a small slice of my face from the front, but from the side I was entirely shielded from view. We must have looked very odd indeed, walking dourly through the colourful carnival of London during the swinging 60s, but nobody ever asked us to exchange our habits for more conventional attire.

When my order was founded in the 1840s, not long after Catholic emancipation, people were so enraged to see nuns brazenly wearing their habits in the streets that they pelted them with rotten fruit and horse dung. Nuns had been banned from Britain since the Reformation; their return seemed to herald the resurgence of barbarism. Two hundred and fifty years after the gunpowder plot, Catholicism was still feared as inassimilable, irredeemably alien to the British ethos, fanatically opposed to democracy and freedom, and a fifth column allied to dangerous enemies abroad.

Today the veiled Muslim woman appears to symbolise the perceived Islamic threat, as nuns once epitomised the evils of popery. She seems a barbaric affront to hard-won values that are essential to our cultural identity: gender equality, freedom, transparency and openness. But in the Muslim world the veil has also acquired a new symbolism. If government ministers really want to debate the issue fruitfully, they must become familiar with the bitterly ironic history of veiling during the last hundred years.

After the British occupied Egypt in 1882, the consul general, Lord Cromer, argued that veiling was the "fatal obstacle" that prevented Egyptians from participating fully in western civilisation. Until it was abolished, Egypt would need the benevolent supervision of the colonialists. But Cromer had cynically exploited feminist ideas to advance the colonial project. Egyptian women lost many of their new educational and professional opportunities under the British, and Cromer was co-founder in London of the Anti-Women's Suffrage League.

When Egyptian pundits sycophantically supported Cromer, veiling became a hot issue. In 1899 Qassim Amin published ‘Tahrir al-Mara’ - The Liberation of Women - which obsequiously praised the nobility of European culture, arguing that the veil symbolise everything that was wrong with Islam and Egypt. It was no feminist tract: Egyptian women, according to Amin, were dirty, ignorant and hopelessly inadequate parents. The book created a furore, and the ensuing debate made the veil a symbol of resistance to colonialism.

The problem was compounded in other parts of the Muslim world by reformers who wanted th eir countries to look modern, even though most of the population had no real understanding of secular institutions. When Ataturk secularised Turkey, men and women were forced into European costumes that felt like fancy dress. In Iran, the shahs' soldiers used to march through the streets with their bayonets at the ready, tearing off the women's veils and ripping them to pieces. In 1935, Shah Reza Pahlavi ordered the army to shoot at unarmed demonstrators who were protesting against obligatory western dress. Hundreds of Iranians died that day.

Many women, whose mothers had happily discarded the veil, adopted the hijab in order to dissociate themselves from aggressively secular regimes. This happened in Egypt under President Anwar Sadat and it continues under Hosni Mubarak. When the shah banned the chador, during the Iranian revolution, women wore it as a matter of principle - even those who usually wore western clothes. Today in the US, more and more Muslim women are wearing the hijab to distance themselves from the foreign policy of the Bush administration; something similar may well be happening in Britain.

jilbaab657In the patriarchal society of Victorian Britain, nuns offended by tacitly proclaiming that they had no need of men. I found my habit liberating: for seven years I never had to give a thought to my clothes, makeup and hair - all the rubbish that clutters the minds of the most liberated women. In the same way, Muslim women feel that the veil frees them from the constraints of some uncongenial aspects of western modernity. They argue that you do not have to look western to be modern. The veiled woman defies the sexual mores of the west, with its strange compulsion to "reveal all". Where western men and women display their expensive clothes and flaunt their finely honed bodies as a mark of privilege, the uniformity of traditional Muslim dress stresses the egalitarian and communal ethos of Islam.

Muslims feel embattled at present, and at such times the bodies of women often symbolise the beleaguered community. Because of its complex history, Jack Straw and his supporters must realise that many Muslims now suspect such western interventions about the veil as having a hidden agenda. Instead of improving relations, they usually make matters worse. Lord Cromer made the originally marginal practice of veiling problematic in the first place. When women are forbidden to wear the veil, they hasten in ever greater numbers to put it on.

In Victorian Britain, nuns believed that until they could appear in public fully veiled, Catholics would never be accepted in this country. But Britain got over its visceral dread of popery. In the late 1960s, shortly before I left my order, we decided to give up the full habit. This decision expressed, among other things, our new confidence, but had it been forced upon us, our deeply ingrained fears of persecution would have revived.

But Muslims today do not feel similarly empowered. The unfolding tragedy of the Middle East has convinced some that the west is bent on the destruction of Islam. The demand that they abandon the veil will exacerbate these fears, and make some women cling more fiercely to the garment that now symbolises their resistance to oppression.

Source: The Guardian.


almuminahI am an American woman who was born in the midst of America's "Heartland." I grew up, just like any other girl, being fixated with the glamour of life in "the big city." Eventually, I moved to Florida and on to South Beach of Miami, a hotspot for those seeking the "glamorous life." Naturally, I did what most average Western girls do. I focused on my appearance and appeal, basing my self-worth on how much attention I got from others.

I worked out religiously and became a personal trainer, acquired an upscale waterfront residence, became a regular "exhibiting" beach-goer and was able to attain a "living-in-style" kind of life.

Years went by, only to realize that my scale of self-fulfilment and happiness slid down the more I progressed in my "feminine appeal." I was a slave to fashion. I was a hostage to my looks.

As the gap continued to progressively widen between my self-fulfilment and lifestyle, I sought refuge in escapes from alcohol and parties to meditation, activism, and alternative religions, only to have the little gap widen to what seemed like a valley. I eventually realized it all was merely a pain killer rather than an effective remedy.

By now it was September 11, 2001. As I witnessed the ensuing barrage on Islam, Islamic values and culture, and the infamous declaration of the "new crusade," I started to notice something called Islam. Up until that point, all I had associated with Islam was women covered in "tents," wife beaters, harems, and a world of terrorism.

As a feminist libertarian, and an activist who was pursuing a better world for all, my path crossed with that of another activist who was already at the lead of indiscriminately furthering causes of reform and justice for all. I joined in the ongoing campaigns of my new mentor which included, at the time, election reform and civil rights, among others. Now my new activism was fundamentally different. Instead of "selectively" advocating justice only to some, I learned that ideals such as justice, freedom, and respect are meant to be and are essentially universal, and that own good and common good are not in conflict. For the first time, I knew what "all people are created equal" really means. But most importantly, I learned that it only takes faith to see the world as one and to see the unity in creation.

Quranhifdh55One day I came across a book that is negatively stereotyped in the West, The Holy Qur'an. I was first attracted by the style and approach of the Qur'an, and then intrigued by its outlook on existence, life, creation, and the relationship between Creator and creation. I found the Qur'an to be a very insightful address to heart and soul without the need for an interpreter or pastor.

Eventually I hit a moment of truth: my new-found self-fulfilling activism was nothing more than merely embracing a faith called Islam where I could live in peace as a "functional" Muslim.

I bought a beautiful long gown and head cover resembling the Muslim woman's dress code and I walked down the same streets and neighbourhoods where only days earlier I had walked in my shorts, bikini, or "elegant" western business attire. Although the people, the faces, and the shops were all the same, one thing was remarkably distinct--I was not--nor was the peace at being a woman I experienced for the very first time. I felt as if the chains had been broken and I was finally free. I was delighted with the new looks of wonder on people's faces in place of the looks of a hunter watching his prey I had once sought. Suddenly a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer spent all my time consumed with shopping, makeup, getting my hair done, and working out. Finally, I was free.

Of all places, I found my Islam at the heart of what some call "the most scandalous place on earth," which makes it all the more dear and special.

While content with Hijab I became curious about Niqab, seeing an increasing number of Muslim women in it. I asked my Muslim husband, whom I married after I reverted to Islam, whether I should wear Niqab or just settle for the Hijab I was already wearing. My husband simply advised me that he believes Hijab is mandatory in Islam while Niqab is not. At the time, my Hijab consisted of head scarf that covered all my hair except for my face, and a loose long black gown called "Abaya" that covered all my body from neck to toe.

A year-and-a-half passed, and I told my husband I wanted to wear Niqab. My reason, this time, was that I felt it would be more pleasing to Allah, the Creator, increasing my feeling of peace at being more modest. He supported my decision and took me to buy an "Isdaal," a loose black gown that covers from head to toe, and Niqab, which covers all my head and face except for my eyes.

shiningniqaabSoon enough, news started breaking about politicians, Vatican clergymen, libertarians, and so-called human rights and freedom activists condemning Hijab at times, and Niqab at others as being oppressive to women, an obstacle to social integration, and more recently, as an Egyptian official called it, "A sign of backwardness."

I find it to be a blatant hypocrisy when Western governments and so-called human rights groups rush to defend woman's rights when some governments impose a certain dress code on women, yet such "freedom fighters" look the other way when women are being deprived of their rights, work, and education just because they choose to exercise their right to wear Niqab or Hijab. Today, women in Hijab or Niqab are being increasingly barred from work and education not only under totalitarian regimes such as in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt, but also in Western democracies such as France, Holland, and Britain.

I call on Muslim women to assume their responsibilities in providing all the support they can for their husbands to be good Muslims. To raise their children as upright Muslims so they may be beacons of light for all humanity once again. To enjoin good, any good, and to forbid evil, any evil. To speak righteousness and to speak up against all ills. To fight for our right to wear Niqab or Hijab and to please our Creator whichever way we chose. But just as importantly, to carry our experience with Niqab or Hijab to fellow women who may never have had the chance to understand what wearing Niqab or Hijab means to us and why do we, so dearly, embrace it.

Most of the women I know wearing Niqab are Western reverts, some of whom are not even married. Others wear Niqab without full support of either family or surroundings. What we all have in common is that it is the personal choice of each and every one of us, which none of us is willing to surrender.

Willingly or unwillingly, women are bombarded with styles of "dressing-in-little-to-nothing" virtually in every means of communication everywhere in the world. As an ex non-Muslim, I insist on a women's right to equally know about Hijab, its virtues, and the peace and happiness it brings to a woman's life, as it did to mine. Yesterday, the bikini was the symbol of my liberty, when in actuality it only liberated me from my spirituality and true value as a respectable human being.

I couldn't be happier to shed my bikini in South Beach and the "glamorous" Western lifestyle to live in peace with my Creator and enjoy living among fellow humans as a worthy person. It is why I choose to wear Niqab, and why I will die defending my inalienable right to wear it. Today, Niqab is the new symbol of woman's liberation.

To women who surrender to the ugly stereotype against the Islamic modesty of Hijab, I say,

You don't know what you are missing.


How much do you really know about the Niqab? An insider guide to common misconceptions...

mujaahidaat671. The Niqab is a symbol of female subjugation.

None of the Niqab-wearing women who I know, wear it because they have been forced to. They see it as an act of devotion to their Creator: the culmination of a spiritual journey. In fact most of them are women who were born and brought up in the UK; many are White or Afro-Caribbean Muslim converts to Islam who have chosen to observe it. The Hijab, Niqab and Abaya are outer garments and are worn only when outdoors or in the presence of men who are not close relatives and so, contrary to popular belief, underneath their robes, in family and female-only settings Muslim women are often very fashion conscious and outgoing. They dress in everyday clothing; they get their hair done, go on holiday and even buy lingerie!

2. Women who wear the Niqab cannot possibly contribute to society.

People are surprised to hear that Niqab-wearers come from varied vocational backgrounds. They include doctors, teachers, dentists, authors, social workers, university graduates, lecturers and more. They usually prefer to work in a female environment and so would not wear the face-veil all the time. Other women say that wearing the Niqab actually makes them feel more comfortable when they are working with men. It is ironic that the very women who are the subject of debate are far from being a burden on society: they don’t get drunk and disorderly, don’t smoke and are likely to be very good citizens. Many of them are full-time mothers who take pride in raising well-educated children who will be an asset to British society.

3. The Niqab isn’t in the Qur’an.

The Qur’anic worldview presents a complete system of living, which permeates the daily lives of observant Muslims. This includes everything from rituals of personal hygiene, advice on neighbourly behaviour and animal rights to regulations for dress. Some women see the niqab as a religious obligation, others, as an act of worship following in the footsteps of notable Muslim women of the past. Numerous verses in the Qur’an contain directives for Muslim women’s dress, amongst them,

{O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the Believers to draw their outer garments all over their bodies. That will be better, so that they may be known and so as not to be annoyed, and God is Ever-forgiving, Most Merciful.} (33:59)

The Qur’an was interpreted by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his disciples and their teachings form the basis of Islamic law. There are two orthodox schools of thought with regards to the interpretation of this verse. One orthodox interpretation is that it means covering the whole body including the face. The other school of thought is that, though not obligatory, covering the face is a virtue.

4. Wearing the Niqab implies that all men are predatory.

Just as locking our doors at night doesn’t imply that all members of society are burglars, wearing the Niqab doesn’t imply that all men are predatory.

The Islamic worldview recognises that attraction between men and women exists and, if left unharnessed, has the potential to break down the moral fabric of society. It also acknowledges the physiological and physical differences between men and women and therefore Islamic legislation for dress and behaviour reflect these differences and aid adherents to avoid situations that could lead to extra-marital sexual relations. Hence both men and women have been commanded to lower their gazes and are given directives on dress.

5. The Niqab poses a security risk at banks and airports.

By simply going to the side and showing their faces and ID to female members of staff, Muslim women who wear the Niqab, have been, for decades, passing through airport security in major airports all over the world without cause for security concern. The same sort of arrangement can be made for any situation where ID needs to be checked.

6. Niqab wearers can’t possibly be teachers.

There are many highly qualified and experienced Muslim teachers. A Muslim teacher, who wears the Niqab, would not need to do so if men were not present, therefore many female Muslim teachers choose to teach women or children and uncover their faces whilst teaching.

7. Banning the Niqab will free those Muslim women who are coerced into wearing it.

Banning the face-veil would be totally counter-productive: it would cause many Muslim women to feel targeted and persecuted and is likely to cause many talented women to withdraw from society. The majority of Niqab-wearing women in Europe, wear it out of personal choice, so if, for the sake of a suspected minority, the Niqab was to be banned, this would be clear discrimination against the majority. If we want to empower women from any community who are oppressed or abused, effective public services where such abuse can be reported need to be made more available and accessible to the women involved.


gate-and-cloudsLondon, 1984: A dark, triangular figure emerged from the door of a limousine parked directly in front of Harrods' Department Store. It was the body of a woman, covered from crown to ankles in the darkest of garments, so black that it stood stark against the overcast horizon. When she turned, I saw no face. Instead, a slit in a black gauze cloth revealed only a glimpse of brown skin and black eyes rimmed with kohl. As she and two similarly costumed companions moved steadily towards the door, other shoppers moved out of their way.

Snickers, stares, and startled head-turns failed to evoke a reaction from the women as they passed through the halls with the rest of the shoppers, selecting items for purchase, comparing opinions with each other and passing on the same pound notes as everyone else. While all eyes were on them, they looked at no one and soon passed out of the doors in the same deliberate walk, reboarding the limousine that had waited for them. All around people stared, shook their heads or sighed in relief.

I felt angry: at their men for forcing them to dress in such a degrading fashion and at them for accepting to wear it. I was furious that they dared to violate the rules of Western society so blatantly, without the slightest attempt to tone down their attire to suit the norms of English society. It was arrogant and insensitive. If they rejected the West, even in its dress, they never should have left their own countries, I thought and shivered with relief knowing that this could never happen to me.

Boulder, Colorado, USA 1986: Triangular shapes appeared all around me at the University of Colorado. Some wore long cloaks and headscarves, some long black abayas that ran from head to toe. A few covered completely, revealing only eyes that offered no clue as to who was inside. They walked quietly past the stares and comments that followed them everywhere. I watched in silent curiosity.

Although most large university cities have sizeable Muslim populations, Boulder in the 1980s had an especially large group of graduate students from all over the Islamic world. Unlike undergraduates, these students were usually married and brought their often large families with them. Although not all of the wives studied, they could be seen throughout the city in their Islamic dress.

They walked with a modest dignity that suggested that they were something other than the oppressed, subservient slaves to men that everyone said they were. Where I found them in class, their intelligence and confidence shone through. Where I bumped into them on campus, in the library and in stores, they seemed encased in a bubble from another world. No matter what people said out loud about them, they never shrank back or ran off in tears. Something lay beyond the mysterious veil that I could not understand with my American mind. I had to put a foot in through their door to comprehend.

On the first day of a course I took on Islam, the professor warned us that many students found Islam to be irresistible and converted right in class. This frightened but intrigued me. Several other students must have felt the same fear. The class fell to half its number by the next meeting.

The more I learned, the more I realized how ignorant I was about this religion. All I knew, I had learned from books, newspapers and magazines... everything written by non-Muslims. One by one, myths fell apart. Evidence came from the Islamic texts themselves. In our small class, we were able to get to know one another well. Several American students had grown up in the Middle East and wanted reminders of their childhoods. One Arab Muslim man recited Qur'an (Koran) for us and chanted the call to prayer. One American woman was engaged to a Saudi and wanted to know what to expect. I absorbed their admiration for the religion, pleasantly shocked at Islam's simplicity and straightforwardness. White was white, black was black and everyone had a specific place and job in society. In such a permissible society as the U.S., the idea of daily laws to govern even minute actions appealed to me.

It wasn't until Aisha, the professor's research assistant and an American convert to Islam, delivered a talk that I could actually believe that Islam indeed preached a high regard for women. Here was a highly educated woman from Iowa, standing in front of a class covered in her veil. Her clothing concealed her beauty and figure, but revealed her mind and personality. She could draw back or let show exactly as much as she wanted. I realized that the veil was just the opposite of what I had always believed it to be. Rather than oppress and hide, it empowered and gave a woman control, forced others to contend with facets other than her physical appearance.

Aisha explained that real incidents of abuse and horror fuelled the misconceptions about the veil. Muslims did not always practice what Islam prescribed. The veil was meant to liberate, not oppress, but many still used it that way. Some women were forced into the veil; others wore it as a cultural habit with no religious meaning. Some Muslims took it to mean that because men were not religiously required to veil, they had complete control over women. There were Muslims, she explained, who sometimes misunderstood their religion or disregarded its teachings. And then, she said, there was Islam.

Islam was an ideal that had not changed in over 1400 years. Those who practiced it fully--the so-called fundamentalists--were branded medieval and violent. Aisha was neither. She was modern and serene, fully devoted to her religion, no matter what other people may have thought about it.

The Arab Muslim friends I was slowly gathering all demonstrated the same love for their religion, the same certainty that they were in on the truth. Never did they try to force me to convert. They accepted and answered all my questions, often apologizing for what I perceived to be inconsistencies. They often said, "We really aren't supposed to do that," or "We are bad examples. Don't look at us, but learn what Islam teaches."

As part of my university studies, I travelled to West Africa and worked with Muslims on a construction project. In the rain forest of the Ivory Coast, Islam came to life in front of me. This time there were no apologies, though. Prayers were made on time, alcohol was forbidden and women were veiled and treated with honour. My bare arms and uncovered hair met with disapproval in the town until I expressed an interest in learning about Islam. Then I was excused: I would learn, I would understand and then I would do the right thing.

Returning to the U.S., I longed for the peace and certainty of faith I had felt among the African Muslims. I looked for that same tranquillity among the Arab Muslims I knew, but did not find it right away. Most of the Muslims I knew were westernized and shy about the actual practice of their faith. Few of them could answer my questions or direct me in any other way but to say, "If you become Muslim, you will be happy."

As I studied Islam, I tried hard to turn back to Christianity, to make sure I was ready to leave it. The more I studied the Bible and the history of the church, the more Islam made sense to me. I found questions in the Bible, answers in the Qur’an. I found verses requiring women to cover their heads in the Bible, which satisfied my questions about that. As I sat in class with Muslim men who dressed like Jesus and women who dressed like Mary, I began to confirm what the Muslims had told me --that they followed Jesus more carefully than Christians did. The Christian faith that I had tried hard to grasp and study since childhood but had never been able to believe slipped quietly away. . I was certain in my belief in God, but for several months I hung between Christianity and Islam, with no religion. Before I converted, I wanted to make sure I was not adjusting my beliefs to fit Islam -- that I truly believed in my heart what I was accepting. I could not turn back after having known Islam, but I was not sure I could dive in, either.

quran-illumunatedThe more I resisted Islam, the more it drew me in. The more I tried to convince myself that I could never live an Islamic life, the more I realized I could not live any other way. I "practiced" being a Muslim. I gave up pork and alcohol. I wore more modest dress. I read the Qur’an on a regular basis, looking for the answers to my questions. I sought out more religious Muslims, more women. I spent more time simply asking God what to do. Facing certain difficulty at work, with my family and friends, swimming in the middle of a society that only knows bad about Islam, I made my decision. Hard or not, I knew it was what I believed and I was willing to accept what came with it.

I walked through the door of Islam in 1989 by pronouncing the testimony of faith in front of my closest friends. We all cried, in both joy and fear: joy for the step that had been so painful for me to make and fear of what I faced as a Muslim in America.

Everything changed: my clothing, my manners, my sleeping habits, my friends. I changed jobs to one where I thought I would feel comfortable covering my hair. First, I wore a scarf and loose clothes. Then longer clothes. Then an over cloak. The more I learned about Islam and devoted myself to it internally, the more I longed to express it externally.

Many of my friends covered their faces. Some covered out of custom, following what the people in their countries did, but the ones who drew my admiration and interest were the Western Muslims who covered by choice. They insisted on being respected for whom they were, not for how they looked. After living in an open society all their lives and experiencing the dangers and discrimination, the threat of men's eyes that many American women faced, they had set a barrier. No men except very close family could look upon them, let alone dare touch them or harass them. Among women, they were free and uncovered down to modest clothing. Their relaxed laughter when unveiled reflected the safety they felt in the company of their sisters.

I knew it was not easy, though. The veil was difficult to get used to. It could get hot in the summer. Until a woman practiced walking in it for some time, it was easy to trip over the abaya or get it caught in doors. Some women had tried it and just could not adapt to the stares, the clumsiness, and the "un-Americanness" of it all. It was often hard to dress completely covered and realize that men did not follow the same. They, too, were to observe modest dress but to a lesser degree due to the more public nature of their Islamic duties. However, many wore tight jeans and T-shirts -- even husbands of women who were totally covered. Fully veiled women often encountered criticism from unveiled Muslim women who insisted, in spite of clear evidence from the Qur’an and other Islamic writings, that it was not part of Islam. For a woman to accept the face cover, she would have to be able to stand firm in the storm of all these difficulties.

What made the veil worth it all, though, was that it was an expression of religious devotion, much as a nun’s habit marks a devotion to God rather than to man. Although covering the hair and body is the minimum requirement for an adult Muslim woman, covering the face is a commendable act. I found in the face cover a means to externalize what my heart was feeling. I loved being a Muslim and I wanted the world to know exactly who I was. I wanted to be protected by the veil, covered in the expression of my faith.

* * *

I wind an oblong black scarf around my head. A gauze veil covers my face, all but my eyes. I put on an abaya, then socks, and then gloves. My heart pounds when I see myself in a mirror. I remember the Muslim women I had seen in Harrods' and realize how brave they had been. May God help me do this, I pray.

My husband has seen me "practicing" in the house with this clothing, but I have never gone out in it. He offers his encouragement, knowing it may be very hard for me. He puts his hand on my arm and we walk out the door together.

I see but cannot be seen. The veil does not suffocate; I feel free and strong. I thought I would feel tremendously self-conscious, but I feel certain and assertive.

As we drive along the highway, I am aware of stares and snickers, fingers pointing. I do not return the looks of the others. I simply don't care what they are thinking, I don't care if they understand. No one can see my reaction, my expression, my features beyond the veil. No matter how hard they look, they can see only my abaya and veil. I feel not smothered or hidden, but protected. No one can enter that private area behind my veil unless I allow it. From now on, I choose who sees what of my body, just as I choose to whom I wish to reveal my deepest thoughts. I sink into this refuge of cloth and wonder how I possibly could have come to the point that I could embrace what I had once so passionately hated.

The veil has become beautiful to me, not for its outward appearance but for what it says about what I believe.

Again, I shiver with relief, but this time because of the liberation I feel.


In a speech delivered on the 22nd of June the President of France said,

“The burqa is not a religious sign — it’s a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic.”

flowersniqabHaving already banned the Hijaab in public schools, France seems eager to move even further with a complete ban on the Niqaab and as a result we feel it is necessary to provide some advice on the matter so that Muslims living in the West are not caught unaware and unable thereby to articulate an accurate Islamic perspective on the issue.

Generally speaking there are three methods to answering questions when being interviewed:

(1) focusing on the content;

(2) the delivery of the content and,

(3) the perception of the audience.

Muslims who are interviewed on Islamic matters tend to focus solely on how the audience will receive their answers and tend to lose track of the real content that needs to be addressed. In stark contrast the Quranic dialogue with non-believers is very much content focused; delivered in an awe-inspiring way. We too, as followers of the Qur’an, are commanded to “Speak the truth”, albeit with wisdom and eloquence. Our Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) told us that whoever tries to please the people at the expense of Allah’s pleasure will certainly displease Allah and he will also find that the people will eventually dislike him and that whoever speaks the truth to please Allah will find that the people will end up liking him.

In light of this I would like to provide some answers to questions that are often asked by non-Muslims, be they our neighbours, colleagues, or from the media. It is hoped that these answers will empower us to take the debate forward in a constructive manner.

1) Why do Muslim women wear the Burqa (face veil)?

All of us, we believe, have been created by an all-Knowing, all-Wise being who blessed us with a short life here on earth and then an eternal life in an abode in the Hereafter. The purpose of this life is to achieve success in passing the trials and tribulations God has decreed for us; the greatest test being sincere submission to His divine Will. Abiding by the guidelines and legislation decreed by God brings harmony and tranquillity to the hearts of the believers which is then followed by eternal happiness in paradise. Every piece of guidance legislated by God has copious amounts of goodness and wisdom behind it, including the dress code specified for both men and women.

Muslim women who adopt the face veil, for example, have a deep conviction that they are following the guidance of their Creator. The wisdom behind the injunction, such as protecting women from abuse and harassment, are of peripheral value as the main aim is to seek the pleasure of God.

2) Would you like all women in the western society to cover themselves up?

We would like all of mankind to live by the guidance of their Creator and understand their purpose in life. Many Muslim women including those who accept the message of Islaam do chose to adopt the traditional Islamic dress code.

Interestingly the majority of converts to Islaam are women. I recall once a lady had made an appointment with us to take the testimony of faith. When we went to meet her we found a woman fully dressed with Islamic attire. When we asked her if she knew of a non-Muslim woman wanting to become Muslim she replied that it was in fact her!

3) Does the Qur’an speak about the Niqaab?

It is very saddening to see so called ‘Islamic experts’ categorically deny the mentioning of the face veil in the Qur’an when it is in fact mentioned in two specific verses,

{O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.}

And in Surah Noor chapter 24, verse 31,

{And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like palms of hands or one eye or both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex.}

Therefore, one cannot deny the fact that covering the face is an authentic orthodox opinion held by a great number of scholars based on Quranic texts.

Even if one was to deny its place in the Qur’aan this by no means shows that it hasn‘t been legislated elsewhere in the Prophetic Guidance, the Sunnah. For instance the Qur’aan does not specify the number of daily prayers as being five or the obligatory annual charity as being 2.5% but such fundamentals were learnt from the Prophetic Guidance and are not disputed over by any Muslim.

4) Is the Niqaab obligatory?

The question is somewhat irrelevant as there exists a consensus amongst jurists that observance of the Niqaab is a legislated act within Islamic jurisprudence, that is to say, it is not merely cultural attire as many ignorant individuals claim. Though a great number of scholars opined that it is Mustahabb (recommended), many others thought it was obligatory. Thus, whether it is obligatory or not is not the issue as every Muslim woman has the right to adopt the Islamic dress code regardless of the opinions of others. The question concerns those who want to adopt it and would like to clarify their position so as to provide theological grounding.

5) Is the ‘Non-Niqaabi’ immodest?

The women who champion the Niqaab are raising the standards of modesty in their respective communities. If we say that modesty is essentially covering up ones beauty than inevitably the face veil does this more so than any other garment. However, modesty must be defined in the framework of Islamic tradition which means that while the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Prophetic Guidance) provide a general guideline for how to be modest (for instance the word Jilbaab is mentioned in the Qur’an and refers to a single garment that covers the body) the specifics of style and manner can depend on the cultural norms of the society.

A common pitfall Muslims find themselves in is when they simply refer to the Niqaab and Hijaab as a means of being modest without providing any sense of the general guidance of Islaam on the matter. This implies that clothing is completely relative and so what is modest in Saudi Arabia is inappropriate in Miami since a revealing dress in Miami could, in all seriousness, be deemed modest given that the norm there is a Bikini!

6) Why don’t men have to wear the Niqaab?!

Men have been commanded to lower the gaze and to cover that which is between the navel and knee but women have been commanded to cover much more. Why? Because they are physiologically and physically distinct and so the legislation, logically, encapsulates these differences.

7) Do Muslim men force their women to adorn the Niqaab?

We encourage each other to perform acts of piety and righteousness. If I felt that my nearest and dearest were going off the rails I would help them and actively advise them do change their ways. I would advise the women in my family to adhere to Islamic dress code because it is a call for righteousness.

8) Is the Niqaab a security issue?

There should always be a spirit of tolerance and forbearance in people, especially the natives as where ever there is a will there is a way. Muslim women who are accepted for who they are will be more appreciative of the state and help to develop stronger ties of cohesion in their communities. Forcing Muslim to uncover their faces will sow seeds of mistrust and even hatred with the state. And so banning the Niqaab would be grossly counterproductive.

9) Is Niqaab a symbol of subjugation?

The word subjugation, when spoken of in the West and addressed to Muslims or non-Westerners smacks of a colonial will to dominate through a preponderance of the view that European values are not only better than those of others, but that their being ‘better’ elevates their imposition on to others to the status of liberation.

What is frustrating to many Muslims is that over and over again Muslim women have spoken out claiming that what they wear is out of their own choice and a deep sense of spirituality. Yet the media and prominent figures in the West continue to ignore these voices and imply that only ‘they’ truly know what is going on inside Muslim women’s head, something which even the Muslim women – subjugated as they are – are not privy to. This obscene hypocrisy highlights the continuing Orientalism that still operates in the West when it comes to its discourse on Islam.

From a Muslim perspective (although many non-Muslims agree), the tyranny of fashion shows, billboards with air-brushed pictures, the use of scantily clad bodies to sell consumer products is a form of subjugation for Western women, who, if not dominated by men are certainly dominated by the demands and dictates of the market.

How, at any rate, is one to decide whether someone is subjugated or not? Banning a religious practice in a society where no Muslim is demanding its imposition seems more a fundamentalist move than a liberal one, but then perhaps that is exactly what we are witnessing: the fundamentalising of liberalism. What’s more is that Muslim ought not to feel cowed by media pressure or hawkish tactics by commentators who merely claim that such Islamic dress codes are oppressive – the onus of proving this, after all, lies with them and not with Muslims.

For our part we have firsthand accounts of women who have donned the burqa/hijaab/niqaab who repeatedly pronounce their individuality and choice as well as the fact that the majority of women who seem to be adopting the burqa are Western educated women all born and brought up in countries like France and Britain many a time at odds with their mothers from the East.

So, is the Burqa an Eastern or Western phenomena?!

muslimahindesertWhen American writer Samuel Cole's feminist sister converted to Islam and donned the Hijab, it shocked her family. This is his defence of Muslim women's status in Islam.

Sometime in 1987 my sister, an ardent feminist with a degree in civil engineering, converted to Islam. She now lives in Lahore, Pakistan where she is a full-time Muslim wife and mother of five—soon to be six.

As is required by her adopted Qur'an, she stops all activities to pray five times each day; and when she goes out in public she covers herself from head to toe in the Hijab.

The term "Hijab" comes from the Arabic word "hajaba," which means to hide from view. It is the long dress and veil worn by many Muslim women with the function of distinguishing them from non-Muslims, reminding them of their Islamic faith, and concealing them from the public view of males. In many of the more traditional Muslim societies women tend to remain outside the public sphere of men, devoting themselves to child rearing and taking care of the home. In part because of this apparent restriction from the public realm, many Americans see the Muslim Hijab as a symbol of female oppression.

Despite this perception, Islam is growing rapidly in America - and female converts outnumber males four to one. Indeed, according to my sister the Hijab is not a symbol of oppression, but is instead a symbol of liberation. Naheed Mustafe, a Canadian woman who converted to Islam, writes,

"Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab. . . to give back to women the ultimate control over their bodies."

Yet to most Americans this is a strange assertion. How can a law that restricts a woman's dress be liberating?

To Muslims the answer is easy. The Islamic tradition of Hijab frees women from being perceived primarily as sexual objects.

"[Non-Muslim] women are taught from early childhood that their worth is proportional to their attractiveness,"

writes Mustafe. It's not hard to understand this: leafing through the ads of any woman's magazine, even a male reader can sense the incredible pressure on women to conform to some ever-changing and abstract image of female beauty. Is it any wonder that American women spend billions of dollars on hair and beauty products; or that they subject themselves to plastic surgery, drugs, and diets; or that in despair they fall into neurotic cycles of anorexia and bulimia? It is the pursuit of a mirage—one that degrades and sickens the pursuers.

But the sacrifice of health (and self esteem) in a futile pursuit of physical attractiveness is not the worst effect of sexual objectification. Societies that view women as sexual objects have a horrendous rate of violence toward women. In the United States, one out of every four women will be sexually assaulted at some time in her life. And even in relatively non-violent Canada, one woman is assaulted every six minutes. Women in our society live with the awareness that they must always be cautious of dark alleys and fearful of strangers. This is true oppression, a type that stems directly from the perception of women as sexual objects.

quranbluemushafIn the few societies that closely adhere to the Qur'an—and many repressive Islamic regimes do not—this sort of violence toward women is quite low. In 1990 the number of reported rapes in Egypt, a relatively westernized Islamic society with a secular government, was only 17 (Israel reported 369 rapes that same year). And my sister has told me that as a Muslim woman, she feels a respect and security on the streets of Pakistan that she had never felt in 30 years of living in America. It does seem hard to ignore the fact that many Islamic women enjoy a level of protection and respect that is unheard of in the West. In some countries there is no doubt that this is due to the result of Islamic law that imposes punishment on offenders. But enforcement of religious law is not practiced in moderate Islamic countries such as Egypt or Pakistan; and there it seems Muslim tradition alone protects the dignity of women.

Nevertheless, Islam and its tradition of Hijab can seem to be an extreme solution to the sexual objectification of women. Can't society simply be changed through more education? Or perhaps through encouraging men to practice some self-restraint? In fact this has been a goal of the women's movement for years. But although there has been some success at increasing career and educational opportunities for women, the oppression of women continues unabated. One only needs to peruse the horror section of the local video store to see that the most common victims of violence portrayed in popular films are women. And not surprisingly statistics in the United States point to more violence directed at women, not less.

The problem in western society, as some Muslim writers see it, is that predominately Judeo-Christian cultures have no convention of equality between men and women. Instead, these traditions hold Eve to be ultimately responsible for original sin and the downfall of man. The story in Genesis is a cornerstone in the foundation of our culture. As such, it has institutionalized an essentially inferior status for women. This is not so in the tradition of Islam: Eve is not blamed for tempting Adam. Together they sinned, together they are guilty, and together they both begged for and received forgiveness from God. It is true that Islam holds women and men to be different in the most integral qualities. But unlike Judeo-Christian doctrine, the Qu'ran puts women and men on equal footing before God and thus as equally, and innately, valuable to society.

Unfortunately, many of us see Islam as a religion of suicidal bombers or of bearded zealots intent on returning us all to a cultural stone-age. But this image is perhaps unfair. All religions have their own fair proportion of crazies. Islam, however, is the largest and fastest growing of the world's monotheistic religions. Still, the Muslims have something to offer for women. Pierre Craibites (an American judge) writes,

"Muhammad, 1300 years ago, assured to the mothers, wives and daughters of Islam a rank and dignity [still] not generally assured to women by the laws of the West."

The conversion of my sister to Islam was a shock and then a mystery to me for many years. It did not seem possible for an intelligent feminist woman to, without coercion, suddenly chuck her ideals and embrace Islam. Within my family the subject is beyond the bounds of rational discussion, and it is only from my sister's very recent letters that I may have finally acquired an understanding of her unique brand of feminism: You see, in adopting Islam she has rejected a culture that assigns value to a person based on a masculine ideal of success. In exchange she has adopted a culture where she is valued as an equal...for no other reason than that she is a woman.


POLITICAL opportunist Nicolas Sarkozy forgot three fundamental lessons when he decided to denounce the burka.

treesdeepinthoughtThe first one is that men should stay well clear of becoming embroiled in expressing opinions on women’s clothes, unless of course you happen to be called Lacroix, Gaultier, Lagerfeld or Ghesquiere.

This was a lesson learned the hard way by former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who was pilloried when he questioned the nikab after asking a female constituent to lift her veil so he could see her face.

Could you imagine him making the same request of any female members of the Saudi royal household during one of his galloping missions to the Middle East?

Foolishly Scotsmen Gordon Brown and John Reid, hailing from a country where men wear pleated skirts and paint their faces blue, then waded in with the grace of a couple of dancing bears.

Even the Bishop of Rochester - a man who wears a pointy hat and a purple dress - chipped in his dislike of the nikab, full face veil or burka.

Of course they were all despatched very quickly by Muslim women in Britain who proved themselves to be anything but oppressed, subjugated creatures. And just to show there'’s real solidarity across women of faith and no faith, quite a few western feminists expressed their disdain at Straw and co-while standing shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim sisters.

The second lesson is try and be sincere if you are taking up a cause. Sarkozy feigned his utmost respect for women by saying he felt the burka represented the unacceptable symbol of women'’s  enslavement - today I can unveil him to be a purveyor of weasel words.

If he really cared about the subjugation of women he would seriously tackle the appalling levels of domestic violence French women suffer at the hands of French men - two million are victims of bullying, violent partners ... a staggering 400 are murdered by their spouse.

So how many women in France actually wear the burka? The answer is a very tiny minority - so much so that when the BBC'’s Emma Jane Kirby went to interview a burka-wearing woman in Paris she couldn’t find a single one!

The former BBC’'s Europe correspondent went to the Muslim quarter in the capital but all she could find were lots of women of North African origin wearing hijabs. She was given blank expressions and shrugs of the shoulder when she asked if any of them knew women who wore burkas - and the local Islamic dress shops didn’t stock any.

So why would Sarkozy launch such an onslaught on the burka, describing Muslim women who wear it as,

“Prisoners behind a grille, cut off from social life, deprived of their identity'?

As pointed out by one Islamic observer,

'“The irony is that many Muslim women would say the current headscarf ban in France has created exactly this situation for them”'.

Well the real reason had nothing to do with the burka and everything to do with Sarkozy putting pressure on the Liberal Left, throwing a few cheap shots at the expense of Muslim women while trying to pick up a few votes at their expense as well.

Sarkozy, like many male politicians, is pretty gutless so in a pathetic attempt to disguise his real motivations in wanting to pick up votes, he invents a proposed ban of the burka as a defence of women's rights. This, he knows will go down well with the French electorate who see veiled women as a threat to their liberal self esteem.

Using women to win votes is a common political ploy - I remember when Tony Blair and George W Bush claimed their invasion in Afghanistan was in defence of women’s rights and designed to liberate Afghan women.

Those two even used and pushed their own doting wives to stand in front of the world'’s media to justify their husband'’s invasion of the country - on a recent visit I can tell you there are few career women emerging from the rubble of Kabul.

So next time a politician tries to drive through any form of controversial measure or make a spectacular announcement, please don’t fall for the mealy-mouthed excuse that they're doing it for the liberation of women and/or ethnic minority groups.

Reading the weekend newspaper opinion pages and columnists, I was amazed at how many supposedly intelligent, feministas fell for the Sarkozy bull. But they did - hook, line and sinker exhibiting an astonishing shallowness in their writing.

I genuinely have a feeling Sarkozy is one of these weak-kneed, lily-livered men who trembles at the thought of empowered women. And I think the sight of a woman in a burka makes him feel inferior.

Could it be that because his wife - as beautiful as she is - has bared all for every man on the planet to ogle, that the very sight of a burka-clad female makes him feel insecure in his own relationship?

As any European schoolboy can testify from the pictures Blu-tacked to his ceiling, to the crumpled, sticky torn out, somewhat crusty pages of last year’'s GQ hidden under their bed, France'’s First Lady is the stuff of male fantasies.

I suppose there must be some men around who might get a kick out of the thought of pre-pubescent boys fumbling over pictures of their wife in the buff ... or even dirty old, syphilitic men playing with themselves, but I wonder if the pocket-sized French Leader (a mere 5ft 5ins tall) is secure and confident in his marriage to a much younger woman?

niqaab344Consider this, if a woman chooses to be veiled rather than show her face to a man, is she doing so to protect her husband’s feelings, in which case she could be seen as being compliant and servile, or - more importantly - is she doing so to protect her own face from the violation of a man's eyes?

Could it be that some of these women, when peering out of their burkas at the French leader, feel so special that they do not want the likes of him staring at all of their features?

And this, I believe, is what disturbs Sarkozy because if burka-clad women don’t want to be peered or leered at by men like him then this would be seen not as a show of subjugation but a sense of female superiority.

Could it be that because every bloke on the planet who wants to, can study in detail every curve and crevice of his naked young wife, that the very sight of a burka-clad female makes him feel uncomfortable in his own relationship?

After all Mrs Sarkozy can be viewed in all her naked glory by anyone who can access the internet or a copy of last year’s GQ.

And then someone paid $91,000 for a naked portrait at a Christie’s auction in New York.

On top of that it appears someone stole hundreds of “highly intimate” images of France’s First Lady and an ex-lover a couple of months ago.

Fascinating stuff, but let’s not dwell too long on this subject, I'’ve yet to raise the third lesson Sarkozy needs to learn and that is: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

A quick scratch beneath the thin veneer of public office reveals the French leader to be a sauteur.*

And the source of this information is non other than the long-suffering Cecilia Sarkozy, who had to put up with 18 years of being married to a man with behavioural problems including being mean, cold and a serial womaniser.

In the book Cecilia, published by Flammarion in January 2008, she said of her husband,

"He has a ridiculous side. He is undignified. Nicolas doesn't come over like a president. He has a real behaviour problem ... He needs someone to point it out to him. I did it for 18 years and I can't do it any more. I am the last person who can do it."

These, and other, extracts incensed Sarkozy and his estranged wife'’s lawyers sought an injunction to prevent publication on the grounds that the book had invaded the former first lady's privacy – not that it was inaccurate. The former French first lady Cécilia Sarkozy, divorced in October 2007, is quoted as criticising her ex-husband's morals, his parenting skills and his fitness to be president.

That must have been extremely crushing and hurtful for France’s 'little emperor’. But no more hurtful than attacking and scapegoating harmless Muslim women. I wonder if he feels as though they are judging him from behind their veils?

Well we'’re all judging France'’s ‘Little Emperor’ now and the verdict isn’t a good one

*Sauteur: A vulgar term for a serial womaniser.