Q&A on the Niqab
1. The Niqab is a symbol of oppression?
This is a commonly held opinion among liberals who see Niqab wearing women as an attack on freedom. In their view women have fought and died in the last century against a male dominated world to have an equal voice in society. They have fought to have a right to education, to work and property, to have the right to vote, to have equal pay etc and they see the niqab taking women back a half a century.
This is a western centric experience in the development of women’s rights which is being incorrectly superimposed on Islam and Niqab wearing Muslim women. Unlike women in the west who have gained basic rights, in law at least, in only the last 100 years, women in Islam had the right to own property for over 1400 years. In fact Katijah (ra), Prophet Mohammad’s first wife married him because he (saw) was so trustworthy in looking after her property. In terms of educating women, Muslim men and women are taught hundreds of ahadith related by Prophet Mohammad’s second wife Aisha (ra). In contrast to the widely held opinion in the west in the 1800s that women were intellectually inferior, the Islamic Shariah allows Muslim women to work and to participate in politics. Indeed, the Islamic dress code, whether the Niqab or the hijab, ensures that it is a not woman’s beauty that underpins her engagement in society but her intellect alone.
2. The Niqab is not part of British society
The political class and intelligentsia have failed to define what brutishness is. Adoring British history, eating fish and chips, wearing a suit or venerating the British royal family, no clear definition exists of what it means to be British and thus what constitutes British society. This narrative also contradicts another aspect of British society, that of Britain adopting new ideas, values, innovations and practices. Islamic economics and finance is not part of British society, but like the Niqab both are derived from Sharia law, however this did not stop British Prime Minister David Cameron embracing the Islamic Sakuk.
3. The Niqab is not obligatory, so why defend it?
This is a position that many Muslims have mistakenly adopted as the onslaught has continued against the Niqab. Whilst scholarly differences of opinion exist on the obligatory nature of the niqab, there is no difference of opinion that the Niqab is part of Islam. It is on this basis Muslims defend the Niqab. There are many acts which are not obligatory but practiced by Muslims across the world such as charity, fasting outside Ramadan and maintaining neighbourly relations. We would never abandon these acts of worship if others did not find them appealing or why the abandon the Niqab.
The attack on the Niqab needs to be put into the correct context – as an attack on Islam. We have seen the Hijab attacked in the mainstream media, banned in schools and court cases, even though this is an obligatory aspect of Islam. The women’s Islamic dress – the Jilbaab – has not just been attacked but banned in pubic institutions which has lead to legal cases. All these trends point to one aspect – the Niqab is viewed as part of islam by those who argue against it and that is the fundamental issue.
4. How can anyone communicate and interact wearing a Niqab in wider society?
Interaction and societal progress is not built upon one seeing someone’s face, but whether you uphold respect, kindness and good neighbourly qualities in your interactions with the wider society. Community tensions exist across the UK, but the veil has played no role in any of them. As for issues such as issue identity and security – There is no conundrum here – Muslim women can meet these needs.
Moreover, in the 21st century the development of the internet and social media has altered the basic rules of communication. Social media has drastically changed how the world communicates. Direct communication was already a thing of the past with the advent of the land-line telephone, today, communication is primarily through text messages; instant messenger; email and through the Internet.
5. The Niqab symbolises an oppressed mentality
For many women the ability for them to choose what they wear is considered liberating and being able to choose the latest fashion trends is the peak of this century long struggle.
Does the fact that a veil wearing woman dresses differently to how other women mean she is repressed? Why does the fact that for some women skirts and high heels are not the usual content of dress ring alarm bells for feminists? The reasons lie in the mindset of the feminists and not with the women who dress differently.
This argument is really just a patronizing attack when those who call for a Niqab ban are unable to refute the claims of Muslim women who choose to wear the Niqab.