In 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.
Benefit 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.