Tuesday, June 28 2016

Newsnight Looks At Why UK Muslim Women Adopt the Niqab

 Why are more British Muslim women, without coercion from their fathers or husbands, choosing to wear the face veil (niqab)? On Monday 23rd August, Newsnight aired an interview with four women to ascertain why they adopted the niqab when their mothers did not.

Ramaysa (sp.), one of the sisters interviewed, says,

“My decision to wear the niqab was to help me in my religion as I saw it as an act of worship. It helps me and protects me, I feel. It empowers me because when I talk I feel I have a voice and I have an opinion. I’m my own person; therefore people are judging me for who I am rather than what I look like”.

Sarah (sp.), a fellow niqab wearing sister, comments in a similar vein,

“I see the face veil as a form of liberation because it says ‘judge me for who I am, not for what I wear’”.

One of the comments made by all the sisters wearing the niqab was that when they chose to don the face veil, they were asked questions by both friends and family alike – Muslim and non-Muslim. When their reasons were explained, friends and family were accepting. There is a lesson to be learnt in this.

Asked why they choose to wear the niqab when their parents’ observance of Islam made no mention of it, Ramaysa comments that, “they came here and their purpose was to earn a better livelihood for their children and… give a better life to their children. But now, the thing is, we are born and bred here. Their aim was to work and fit in with the society and we are saying ‘hang on, we are born here; we are part of the society’. I see myself as British”.

Ramaana (sp.) further adds, “People, perhaps, feel more comfortable in expressing their religious beliefs or sexual orientation”.

The Newsnight piece then interviews Houla (sp.), a sister who wears the hijab and formerly wore the niqab. One of her reason for choosing to wear the veil was her experience of being influenced by scholars coming from the Arab world. She notes,

“One of the main topics of discussion by the scholars was that Muslim women, especially, and Muslim men need to be as different from non-Muslims as possible… and that the woman must be completely covered from head to toe, even the hands and the feet”. “I started feeling guilty about the fact that I didn’t cover my face, my hands and my feet and so I started to”.

The other sisters, who wear the veil, are heard commenting, “this is her opinion, this is why she chooses to do it”. They note that they have never been influenced by scholars preaching segregation. Sarah stresses that “the intention isn’t to reject Western culture. We are Western. In our home we wear jeans, go out shopping, go to drink coffee with our friends. We go out with non-Muslim friends that I know. And I’m British and I was born British and I’m proud to be British. But I’m a British Muslim. Just because someone’s got a different religion, it doesn’t make them less British”.

Asked whether she can understand why some people might say that she is shutting them out, Ramaysa replies, “the answer I would give to them is, ‘Are we shutting ourselves out or are they shutting themselves out from us?’ I believe I integrate fully in to British society. I go to work and the people I work with, majority of them are non-Muslim and they’ve absolutely been fine with me and I’ve been fine with them”. “They see me for who I am and they see beyond the niqab. We mix with people if people actually give us a chance”.

That the choice to wear the niqab is a rejection of Western culture or Britain is just one of the myths that the comments by the niqab wearing sisters dispel through the Newsnight piece. It is refreshing to hear their voices be aired amid this debate. In July last year, another piece by Fatima Barkatullah in The Times dispelled other popular myths surrounding the niqab.

Unfortunately, Houla recalls a different experience to Ramaysa when she wore the niqab. She remembers, “I was sensing this sense of racism and as I started to realise slowly, well maybe the fact that I dress so differently is not helping. The fact that I speak English and don’t sound very different doesn’t matter. The first thing people see is my appearance”.

The piece says that Houla thinks that Muslims should think carefully about the consequence of wearing the niqab, as “the whole situation at the moment in Europe is just so edgy and there is so much disrespect for Islam and Muslims – especially Muslim women. And in this situation, anything inflammatory about the hijab and the niqab just does not help”. “And no matter how hard you try to be friendly and nice and everything, people have already made their judgement about you – that you’re different. In our context today in modern Europe, where there is a lot of Islamophobia, it’s very dangerous and Muslims really need to try and help the situation, not make it worse and I just think that the niqab is a very visible way of making things worse for Muslims”.

Is the growing intolerance and xenophobia in Europe a reason for some British Muslims to abandon certain aspects of their identity? Should not this be challenged instead of appeased?

Houla recalls that, “I think my generation was very unhappy. We had experienced quite a bit of racism in the 70s/80s. We were very aware of the fact that our parents were immigrants. We were not, but we were not accepted and we’ll probably never be accepted”.

British Muslims are searching for a cultural space in which they can express their unique identity. Do we want a new generation of British Muslims growing up feeling rejected by their society?

The full Newsnight video can be seen here.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 August 2010 10:21


0 #1 Niqab Iftikhar Ahmad 2010-08-27 11:47
Europe is needlessly focussing the "veil issue" which relates to the lives of a very small portion of European society. It is estimated that there are only about 2000 Muslim women in France and 30 in Belgium who wear burqa. European Establishments concern with the affairs of such a tiny minority represents a clear instance of cultural bigtory. Those wearing burqa were ridiculed as "walking-coffins" or " asymmetrical cylinders". In very cold winter people walk about with scarves tightly wrapped around their face. In those cases no security issue arises, but the wearing of burqa raises security concern. Burqa is regarded as a symbol of male domination by the self-proclaimed torchbearers of liberty but they do not know that Islam gave women the rights that the west could not even think about till 20th century. Burqa is worn as a matter of choice. Nowadays young women choose to wear full veil seeing it as a powerful statement of identity, The parliaments of various European countries are voting to legislate the banning of the veils, In Switzerland a ban on minarets was imposed. The campaign against Islamic symbols is on the rise because of a sense of insecurity in some Europeans. A ban on the burqa is bound to widen the differences rather than bridging them. It will just encourage discrimination against Muslims in European society.

Niqab is part of freedom of expression and religion. It might be something you don’t like or respect, but it is the choice of women to make, if they want to cover their faces then they should and in many societies are free to do so.

Wearing the Niqab has never been a security threat, and if one was to say in case it becomes a security threat, let’s BAN women from expressing their beliefs and determining for themselves what they want, then I say INCREASE and IMPROVE the security of institutions.

There might be some Muslims who deny the niqab as having any legitimate basis in Islam, but when faced with evidence from Islamic traditions, I wonder, what evidence to they bring to support their preposterous arguments.

And, Let’s for the sake of the argument say this has nothing to do with Islam, it still has everything to do with the right of women to determine for themselves how they want to dress.

According to some western feminists, ban on burqa is violation of fundamental human right to choice for dress. To them the law does not aim at defending Muslim women rights but restricting the same. The burqa ban is, in fact, liberticide, they argue. And it will not defend women dignity but increase racist aggression against Muslim women wearing veils.

The niqab, hijab, and burqa are all Islamic, as they have been customary in parts of the Muslim world and are bound up in Muslim scripture and tradition for hundreds of years. Such clothes may very well have been inherited by Islam from pre-Islamic cultures, too. But that doesn’t change the fact that the clothes are closely identified with Islam. As for any rules REQUIRING or BANNING clothes are unnecessary.
Iftikhar Ahmad
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