In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
The first discussion I had about niqab with a Westerner was with my non Muslim atheist Danish friend, Lotte. She worked as a tram conductor in Amsterdam at the time and I recall her saying : “It really offends me. They are hiding their beauty from me.” I found it interesting that she had picked up on the fact that it is her beauty that a niqabi is hiding. I explained to her in layman’s terms the Islamic perspective and ended with that ultimately it’s about a niqabi’s love and desire to please Allah through her obedience. Lotte found this answer insufficient so I asked the following question: “have you ever considered that the way you dress may be offensive to a woman choosing to cover up?” She was silent for a moment and responded with: “I never thought about it that way. I still don’t agree with how they dress but I can respect it now.”
Often the issue of niqab, like many other societal issues, comes down to a them versus us issue. I have found this to be even the case within Muslim communities. This increases the difficulties niqabi’s face in Western and non Muslim societies, because, if we Muslims are divided on the issue, how can we expect non Muslims to even begin to grasp it?
In non Muslim societies the word feminism is thrown around a lot when it comes to how Muslim women dress. Often branding Muslim women as oppressed or brainwashed. However, I feel that some feminists have misunderstood the true meaning of feminism and that it comes down to a woman’s right to choose. I consider myself a Muslima feminist. Now that may sound like an oxymoron because I certainly will not be burning my underwear or exposing myself in public to stand up for my feminist ideals. Instead, I practice my feminism within the confines of my religion.
In Surah Al Baqarah 256 Allah tells us:
“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Al-Baqarah 2:256)
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖقَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ۚفَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗوَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
Let’s consider this ayat from the perspective of niqab. A woman should not be forced to wear niqab. Wearing niqab is part of her acceptance of her deen. To me this is the most comforting ayat in the Quran especially in this day and age when the media vilifies Islam . But we Muslims with taqwa know better. We know that Allah accepts only the heart that truly believes in His Oneness. Thus wearing niqab is a form of acceptance of the religion. A private choice which is displayed publicly.
The Western world in particular, as well as other non Muslim societies, are in hysteria when it comes to how Muslim women dress. They speak of freedom from oppression and wanting to liberate the Muslim woman . Their brand of feminism and their idea of liberation however is deeply flawed. Why? Because if feminism and democracy gives you the right to choose, then why are more and more non Muslim countries taking away a woman’s right to choose under the guise of protecting and liberating her? Who told them we needed protecting? And why are they under the impression that we are weak women who can’t decide for ourselves how to dress?
Let me set the record straight. Whilst it is an undeniable truth that some Muslim women are forced to dress modestly the vast majority are not. I have only ever met one Muslim woman who had the hijab forced on her and as a result she no longer covers her head. May Allah grant her guidance, Ameen. We hijabi’s and niqabi’s are strong women. I especially give credit to niqabi’s. It takes a great deal of courage, conviction and strength to wear hijab and niqab in non Muslim societies where you are deemed a non person for doing so. Not only is your choice questioned, you are devalued, no longer judged by the content of your character but by the cloth you choose to cover with. Questions regarding why you dress this way are no longer asked because false assumptions are given the status of facts. They are assumptions and will never represent the reality of the majority of Muslim women.
To make matters worse, governments around the globe are perpetuating the myth of oppression by banning the niqab. In France they have even gone as far as to ban hijab in public schools.
I am an American revert living in the Netherlands where niqab has been banned. The ban is imposed only on public transportation, in government buildings and schools. It has been promoted as a ban on all face covering for public safety and communication reasons and not necessarily a ban against niqab, however that is a thinly guised excuse to not call the ban what it is, and that is an attack on Islam and the Muslim woman.
I myself have chosen not to wear the niqab, I simply do not have the courage that those defying the ban have. I applaud them and honor their sacrifices. May Allah reward them abundantly in the dunya and more so in the akhira Ameen.
We face a moral crisis in this world today. Women are still being oppressed and having their rights denied, but not by Islam . As surah al Baqarah ayat 256 attests Allah has protected our rights to accept religion . And has clearly told us what the consequences of non acceptance will be. Instead, the crisis has been created and perpetuated by non Muslim governments who deny us Muslimas our rights and expect us to applaud the move, perhaps by burning our hijabs and niqabs as women burned their bras in the 60’s and 70’s?
To all those who think that we Muslim women need your protecting I say this: We need for you to open a dialogue with us. To step outside of your realm of thinking and be willing to accept a way of life that you can’t completely understand. We need for you to truly protect our right to choose how we dress even when doing so may cause you some discomfort. We need for you to recognize that we are unique individuals. Amongst us are intellectuals, professionals, creatives, mothers, sisters, wives and those who have chosen to remain single.
We are proud women but most importantly of all we are God fearing women. We follow the example (Sunnah) of nabi, our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings upon Him) whom Allah has told us is the best of creation. We obey our Rabb (Lord) who is perfect and flawless. Our choice of dress is not of the 7th century as I have heard some people say. It is timeless, of all ages and needed more now than ever before. The #metoo movement is a testament for the need of modest dress. We are not extremists instead we have chosen the middle road, walking it without compromising our religion.
So if you really want to free me then let me be me and free me from your tyranny and discrimination. Stop telling me that in order to be a woman I need to walk around half naked. Recognize that I am all woman. And that my body is reserved for my husband because that’s what I have chosen. I heard Allah’s command and I chose to obey.
Let me be me by letting me be free.
For all those Muslimas, myself included who are not yet there when it comes to wearing niqab, may Allah guide us towards it and make it easy. And for those niqabi’s struggling may Allah grant you the courage of a lioness, and reward you with beautiful blessings. Ameen.
And for those niqabi’s who have found abundant peace may Allah increase it ameen.
I am Muslim. I am woman. It’s my choice!
Alhamdu’lillah, All Praise to the One Most High!
Nour M. Fox