Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Proud Niqaabis

It is practically a truism that women who wear the niqaab (face veil) are forced to do so. The first image that comes to mind for many people of my generation when hearing “burqa” is that of blue-clad Afghan women, forced to cover from head to toe by the oppressive Taliban. While it is absolutely true that some women are forced to wear it (and hijab) by governments, parents, or spouses, there are also many women who, for whatever reason, choose to cover their faces as well.

In my last post, I linked to a poem entitled, “The Jilbaabi, Hijaabi & Niqaabi is who I am.” The poem, written by Hiba Ukhti’Fillaah, is about taking pride in who you are, with a hijabi twist. Here’s an excerpt:

I am who I am; guarding my modesty and not seeking for modernity.
They call us oppressed
But we Jilbaabi’s & Hijaabi’s aren’t depressed or stressed.
Rely on your Jilbaab, Hijaab & Niqaab for the Sake of Allaah
So don’t delay your Salat. Pray; do not go astray.
Because Deen is what is in our hearts & upon the Sunnah is all we want.
We sisters in Islam believe in Tawheed
So that none of us seeks grief.
Jilbaabi’s, Hijaabi’s & Niqaabi’s go out coz they don’t doubt.
The daleel in The Quran is for us to dress Halal.
Such a beautiful Act of Faith to be seen.
So don’t be lame to play the game,
In this world make sure you follow The Prophet (Pbuh) and worship The Lord.

There is an emerging blogosphere that I’ve been looking at for various reasons over the past couple of years: that of Muslim women who write in English. Of course, you can’t say that Muslim women make up one blogosphere any more than you can say Africans do…at the same time, there is an obvious grouping of Muslim women who blog in English, about Islam, and more often than not, about Islamic dress and what it constitutes. When I wrote about them for Bitch magazine this past winter, I called them “hijabloggers.” They share a sense of sisterhood online, apparent in the way they address one another (which is not all that different from the way Muslim women address one another in person, and in Arabic, but seeing it online evokes something different for me).

In any case, a segment of this hijablogosphere (if we may call it that, for brevity’s sake) is made up of wearers of the niqaab, or face veil. Not just wearers, but proud wearers. Many are converts. Others are not. All are adults who made the decision for themselves.

When I was living in Morocco, I had a student named Lamiae who wore hijab. She talked in class about her parents’ desire for her to become a lawyer, despite the fact that she wanted to study English literature. She was generally shy and quiet, but once said that her hijab gave her a little bit more self-confidence. One day, she showed up at school with long auburn locks cascading over her shoulders–I barely recognized her. In class (fortunately a class made up entirely of girls), I asked her why she had taken it off. She said that her parents had told her that if she ever wanted to be taken seriously, she needed to stop wearing hijab.

Now take this example of Aishah, a PhD student whose story has been posted on a blog about niqaab:

I come from a not specially religious family and no one made me veil my face. It was what I wanted to do, and I had to persuade my family it was no silly juvenile fancy, but an adult decision come to from what I had read and seen. The proofs I used to convince myself are shown somewhere else here so I won’t take up time by telling them all again. All I will say is that I was 16 when I first wore niqaab and since then its a natural part of my life and something which I think is right for me.

Just as it is true that some women are forced to wear niqaab, others have to fight for it.

I’m not advocating in favor of niqaab, rather, in favor of listening to Muslim women. And yes, that means listening to Muslim women who oppose the niqaab as well as those who favor it.  Frankly, I think too few of the people involved in this debate have ever spoken to a Muslim woman, let alone one who wears niqaab.

If you’re up for doing some reading with open eyes, here are a few articles, all from Muslim women, across the spectrum of the niqaab ban debate:

8 Comments

  1. Emphasizing appearance over core is a trend appearing in the Muslim community since the last 20 years. Such emphasis on the form is the only similarity between the author of this piece and this cult of Niqabi who approaches this issue in a superfluous manner.
    Such justifications only help in spreading more darkness and oppression within communities which are already overflowing with darkness and oppression.
    There is no pride in locking yourself inside a coffin and say it is your life choice.

    • Emphasizing appearance over core is a trend appearing in the Muslim community since the last 20 years.

      That reminds me of an argument I once had with a boyfriend in Morocco. We were in a cafe, and saw a muhajjiba smoking a cigarette. He argued that a woman wearing hijab shouldn’t be smoking. I argued that she was doing one thing right, so to speak, and one thing wrong. Had she been a non-smoking non-wearer of hijab, my argument would’ve held up. He thought I was being ridiculous.

      In any case, as a non-Muslim observer, I agree, and think that such a trend is unfortunate. Then again, it’s not all that different from trends around Christianity in my own country: go to church, but act like an asshole the other 6 days of the week.

      There is no pride in locking yourself inside a coffin and say it is your life choice.

      Agreed, but there’s no crime in it either. In fact, there are a lot of things for which I could (personally) argue there is no pride: prostitution, plastic surgery, and all sorts of other things that are legal in Europe.

  2. A few days ago I read a blog post from a hijaabi, where she shared her pride of wearing a hijab. Before that, I used to think wearing a hijab was mandatory.
    That’s one of the countless virtues of blogging: enlightening.

    • That’s one of the countless virtues of blogging: enlightening.

      Yes, definitely!

      There’s a lot of debate within Islam as to whether or not hijab is mandatory. It’s fair to say that most women who wear it believe it is, and even some who don’t. In any case, I think it’s always best as a personal choice :)

    • If it was not mandatory, then she will have the freedom to take it off as well as the freedom of wearing it.

  3. It is a very narrow angle just to argue against the shortcomings of the ban and it’s negativities while disregarding the negativities of what is banned.
    .

    • Possibly – but it’s rather ludicrous for so many people to throw their weight behind the French ban while mostly ignoring women in Afghanistan, Saudi, and elsewhere. How many of the French legislators behind the ban give a shit about Muslim women’s rights?

      At the same time, perhaps you’re right; I’ve been focusing on the xenophobia and patriarchy that is so clearly behind the ban. I suppose it’s what I’m more equipped to do.

  4. Priapus_D, if we’re going to talk about the neagativities of veils, isn’t it awfully narrow to limit ourselves to veils? What about the rest of the range of incredible and bizarre physical strictures women endure because their faith or culture demands it? What of shoes with heels high enough to cause real damage in the long run? Skirts you can’t run in? Orthadox women shaving their heads or christian sects that force women into sack cloths?

    My largely christian culture insists that my bum and boobs should be hidden when I leave the house. Endless debates rage over whether a bandaid across the nipple will suffice or not, whether the crease of my bosom is too bosom to expose. We’ve largely drawn the line at collarbones, but plenty of my peers think I dress like a nun in my crew necked shirt. I prefer not to be on display. Am I complicit in my own opression because I do not leave the house with my boobs open to the breeze, or is that somehow different?

    If anyone, france included, wants to improve the lot of women, muslim or not, I can think of a hudred and one places to start that increase our options rather than decreasing them.

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