Abstract Chatter

To Niqab or Not to Niqab
April 25, 2011, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

The Hijab. The Scarf. The Veil. All seem like a ubiquitous topic at the tip of everyone’s tongue these days.

Interestingly enough, an article entitled, “Lifting the Veil, Muslim Women Explain Their Choices” by Asma Khalid came out within a month or so of France’s decision to ban the niqab – a face veil.

I’ve definitely had an evolution of thought on this issue ranging from apathy to fury. Not sure why there’s such a wide continuum of emotions here– but maybe the variety is simply a reactionary reflex to other people’s comments and/or thoughts rather than my own opinion on the matter.

Initially, I had no strong outlook regarding France’s ban on the niqab. But after briefly reading online commentary, speaking with a few folks on the topic and watching this clip as Hebah Ahmed and Mona Elthaway, both Muslim women, debate France’s decision to ban niqabs in public spaces, I became much more grounded in my own stance.

As a hijabi, and a Muslim woman for that matter, I was actually torn between France’s decision, knowing full well that it was a product of racism and a political move to mobilize a frightened base of French citizens.

So what led to these internal points of contention, and what was I trying to reconcile? I felt that the ban was legitimized given my understanding of the following premises:

1)   That the niqab is not a mandatory requirement. According to the majority of scholars, the niqab is not an obligation or necessity upon a woman, and no sin is committed if it is not worn.

2)   Given that the niqab is not a necessity – and Muslims are generally obliged to abide by the laws of the land in which they reside as long as they are not forced to commit a sin—I felt that the law was justifiable.

I’ve revisited the statements above after watching Hebah’s talking points on the ban.

Freedom of expression, freedom of speech and the ability to freely follow one’s religion is the epitome of any democracy, and should be a foundational crux of ideals represented in the West- or anywhere for that matter. Along with the premise mentioned above, I also had pragmatic concerns. How will a niqabi appear in court, or take a drivers license picture, or generally be identified? These concerns were easily appeased after realizing that as long as niqabi women are able and willing to meet societal concerns of safety, for example, that they should be free to choose their religious method of practice. And the outcome of a ban such as the one in France will only marginalize its Muslim community members and cause deeper rifts within the nation.

Beyond the debate about whether or not this was a constructive decision- we as Muslims need to delve deeper into the issue of women in our society. As much as I desire for Hebah to be representative of all niqabi’s—I have a glaring suspicion that Muslim women worldwide are oppressed- and forced into situations where they are pushed to wear the niqab—or even hijab. One doesn’t need to read between the lines to see that it was indeed a pre-Islamic practice that isn’t currently carried out in all parts of the Muslim world.

Even IF the niqab is a form of enslavement- or perpetuates men to continue abusing their women- or facilitates hiding them from society—the prohibition will not tackle the underlying issue. Men who believe that it is a requirement will continue to influence their opinions through legislation and will in turn institutionalize the niqab.

If we follow suit on this ban, and allow freedom of religion to deteriorate, we are no better than the fanatic men who might believe that Muslim women only have the right to cover their face—and can experience no other freedoms.