FOR ME, NIQAB IS FREEDOM :WHY I COVER MY FACE
- A MUSLIM WOMAN'S STORY
by Aliyah bint Les Yaqub
Tuesday October 24, 2006/Shawwal 2, 1427
Bismillahir Rahmanhir Raheem-in the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Merciful.
Lately, there has been much controversy about "the veil" in the media. Certain people (e.g. politicians such as Jack Straw) have been making statements that, should he have directed them towards any other group in society, they would most probably elicit much derision and uproar. Yet, when such ignorant, hateful and insightful remarks are directed towards members of the Muslim community, there seem to be many who are "jumping on the band wagon". Why is this? There seem to be quite a few reasons why some are opposed to women wearing the niqab (the piece of fabric which covers the face). Some are saying that a woman who wears a niqab cannot be fully integrated into society & that it is a hindrance to communication. Others are saying that it is "scary" & "frightening" & may hinder her being able to be identified; or that they want to "liberate" those "poor oppressed" women who are "forced" to wear it. Well, whatever the so-called reasons that are causing people to call for the removal of the niqab from the faces of some Muslim women, it is without a doubt as a result of 9/11 in New York & the bombings in London. What is not happening is these people respecting the rights of women who want to wear the niqab. So perhaps the question needs to be asked: not of why women shouldn't cover their faces but why they choose to do so and why this choice (and their right to do so) should be respected.
I wear the niqab for a several reasons. One reason I wear it it is because I am a Muslim woman. If I weren't a Muslim, I highly doubt I would ever choose to cover my face. I say this also because I personally have not seen any non-Muslims wear it (though I have heard accounts of some Christian & Buddhist women covering their faces). Primarily, I wear it because I seek to please Allah, but not everyone who seeks to please Allah wears a niqab. I wear it to be more modest, but not everyone who wishes to be more modest chooses to wear a niqab. I wear it to help my Muslim brothers (& other men) to lower their gaze, but not everyone who wants to stop men looking at them does this. I wear it out of respect (but not by his request) for my husband, but not everyone who respects their husband (or whose husband requests it) wears a niqab. So, I wear it because for me, it is easier to put a piece of material on my face to achieve all these things as I don't know any other way to do so as completely & easily. I also wear it because, in the past, when I have worn just the headscarf & abaya (long cloak) I found myself becoming increasingly shy & loathe to show my face around men. I discovered to my surprise (after reviewing my feelings & behavior) that in the presence of strange men (men who are not very closely related to me or 'mahrams') I would either lower or turn my head, turn my whole body, use my hands to hide my face by pretending to touch my upper nose area or hide completely and I found that I was reluctant to leave the house even when I needed to. So, as you can see, this is was a problem. In fact, by NOT wearing niqab I was turning into a recluse; I was NOT a functioning member of society. In essence by NOT wearing my niqab, I was becoming as they say "segregated" & was not "integrating" into society. So in a nutshell, niqab allows me to feel comfortable enough to go outside my house for my needs, it allows me the feeling of liberty to be in the presence of non-mahrams without dread & embarrassment on my part. It is for me, a freedom. I know this may seem difficult for non-Muslims to understand and to be honest it probably would have seemed so to me prior to my entering Islam.
My journey towards wearing niqab "full-time" has been many things. It has been frustrating yet encouraging, confusing yet enlightening, difficult yet easy, heartbreaking yet uplifting; basically full of ambivalence. What is has always been is wonderful because this journey has drawn me much closer to Allah. I first started by wearing niqab "part-time" using a half-niqab (which covers only the nose & mouth). It is put on underneath the headscarf & the elastic back would allow me to pull it up or down in a fraction of a second. I would wear it for a few minutes at home & then for short trips out depending on where I was going. For instance, if I were to go to the masjid (the more correct term of 'mosque') or my husband's shop I would wear it. If I were going to the grocery store I would leave it off. At first (when I drove on my own) I wouldn't wear it while driving. When I was more confident wearing it while walking around I would then wear it while driving. I laugh now to think of the picture I must have made plus what the other drivers must have thought when they saw me-niqab plus sunglasses in a little hatchback! I currently wear the "headband-style" of niqab, the under layers exposing the eyes with a top, sheerer layer to cover the eyes which can be flipped back for better visibility. It is worn over the headscarf and sits just on (covering) my eyebrows, like a headband and is secured at the back of the head with either ties or with a velcro fastening. This allows me to conceal or reveal my eyes depending on where I am, what I am doing or to whom I am talking with. I do not drive now on my own out of personal choice (much to the frustration of my husband, I think) previously I drove just twice a week, to & from my Qur'an lesson- and I drove with the eye screen up and I find it did not in any way hinder my ability to maneuver my car.
To be quite honest a major impetus for me to even consider wearing something to cover my face came from visiting my husband while at his shop. I would see the interest many of his customers would have in me. Being a very pale-skinned person with western features & colouring, my husband would often receive enquiries about me. After a while, he started to get quite annoyed, as did I, with the questions about where I was from, why didn't he marry "his own kind", why did he marry me (i.e. why did he marry an Australian, a revert?-for some Muslims here these seem to be dirty words when used in the same sentence as 'marriage'), why did I enter Islam, did I have a sister (for the purposes of marriage)? I used to think, "what do they care, can't I be just a MUSLIM?" I (& my husband especially) was becoming increasingly upset with men (many of whom are Muslim & should know better not to do this), to put it plainly, ogling me for whatever reasons. We also were afflicted, we believe by "al-'ayn" or the jealousy eye-which is very real-and suffered a short period of intense marital hardship which we had never experienced before. Alhamdulillah, after becoming educated about how to gain the protection of Allah & the cure, this trial lifted. But it left me with a valuable lesson-that it would be better to cover my face for a variety of reasons. I think the final straw (no pun intended) was when one day after dropping my husband off at his work, I had a minor car accident. The first person who came to the scene was a non-Muslim, an acquaintance of my husband. He asked if I were OK & in the meantime my husband came running back after hearing the noise of the crash. He was later asked by this non-Muslim acquaintance who had spoken not more than ten words to me (covered in my long headscarf & loose abaya, both black) if I "had a sister". This made me realize that even to the non-Muslims the headscarf & abaya of the Muslim woman were not enough to deter interest. I said to myself at the time, "right, that's it! I've had enough! I'm wearing my niqab everywhere from now on!" And I have, Alhamdulillah and I have never once looked back.
I truly believed that it was enough to wear what I was wearing (headscarf and abaya) to deter men's interest; I thought to myself, "what else is there to cover when everything sexual or desirable IS covered?" Well, the answer is, the things left to cover are the face and hands. And when you think about it, a woman's face & hands are the focal point of beauty ESPECIALLY when she has covered every other part of her body with loose clothing. I mean, what else is there to look at? When you say a woman is beautiful you are not talking about her feet or her knees;you are talking about her face. What areas of a woman's body have more money spent on them than the face and hands (besides hair)? Multi-billion dollar industries are devoted to selling products for the face and hands. Hours and hours are spent in the further beautification of these areas. Beauty spas/salons and manicure centres are plentiful all over the world. And there is nothing really wrong with this except that is causes men to further desire women (and also perhaps can be seen as a major waste of time.) Which for the Muslim woman is a problem, unless the man happens to be her husband! So anyone who says that the face and hands are not important or desirable-even sans cosmetics-is underestimating the beauty of women and the ability of men to find beauty in the women around him.
So I spent many hours pouring over the evidences, days, in fact looking at ahadith and of course, ayat in the Qur'an. I did this because in my "part-time" wearing of niqab I had discovered that my father-in-law was somewhat opposed to niqab (for reasons I did not [and still don't fully] understand). Also, I had encountered a sister who said to me, "you know, you don't HAVE to wear it!?" So, I wanted to be fully equipped to handle any questions and oppositions; basically I wanted to be able to justify to Muslims why I wear niqab. As I delved into the evidences, I discovered that there are two views: mustahabb (highly recommended) and fard/wajib (obligatory,compulsory). To the common-garden variety Muslimah like me I was a little frustrated. Why with something that seemed (to me) so crucial, was there such a difference of opinion? I had decided to wear niqab anyway & to make it easier on myself I really wanted the covering of the face to be obligatory and was searching for such (clear) supporting evidence from scholarly interpretation; main reason being was my belief that my father-in-law was going to oppose me on this issue & forbid me from wearing it. I finally came to a personal decision (from looking at the evidence from the Qur'an & Sunnah & taking the more correct of scholarly opinion) about this issue; that covering the face is fard/wajib. After realizing that if the scholars can't agree on the status of covering the face then the common Muslim isn't going to agree either, I really had to look at WHY I wanted to wear niqab so much, basically so I could justify my decision to my father-in-law. I had also made the salatal-istikhara (prayer of guidance) so that whichever path I did choose it would be with guidance from Allah. I thought again about all the things that had happened to me in the time since I became a Muslim and I also looked at my level of faith. So why did I feel this compulsion to cover my face in the presence of strange men? I discovered I really wanted to wear niqab because I fear Allah. Wallahi I fear the Day of Resurrection (Yaumul-Qiyaamah) and what I may have to answer to Allah for. If covering the face is obligatory, I fear He may ask me why I didn't do it. If covering the face is "only" highly recommended & something for which extra rewards are given, I fear he will ask me why I didn't do something that I knew to be a highly recommended Sunnah (Sunnah is that which the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did, which he enjoined, and which was not forbidden by him when done in his presence) knowing what fitnah (trial) I was perhaps causing others. I know of saheeh ahadith that support this and after seeing them, and after knowing them and understanding them I couldn't truthfully plead ignorance to Allah on the day when our hands, our eyes, and our limbs and even our Qur'an will speak for us, even if we do not wish to tell the truth. So after considering all these (many) reasons, I understood that I had more reason to wear it than not to. And the reasons for not wearing niqab suddenly seemed so insignificant compared to the real reason why I should which is to gain the pleasure of Allah insha'Allah (Allah willing) and to insha'Allah lose the displeasure of Him.
Most of the reasons that I did not wear niqab (which seem so silly now) were because I was worried what people would think of me. The main person I was worried about was my father-in-law, I just didn't want him to think that I was going against his wishes and 'challenging' him. Then I was worried what other Muslims will think, for instance, "who does she think she is to wear a niqab, she's only a 'convert' ." I was also worried what westerners and non-Muslims will think; they will be confused and /or frightened; I will be harassed; I will be discriminated against; I will be put in danger etc etc. Not to mention the (initial) discomfort and inconvenience of wearing niqab. At that time of confusion, the only opinion I didn't worry about was Allah's and what He thought of me. For me, that suddenly put it all into perspective. All the other reasons, the staring, the insults, the discomfort, the questions, even what I thought was the opinion of my father-in-law (whom I love dearly) didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was Allah. For Whom we have no reason to exist but to worship Him. I knew without a shred of doubt that as I would be covering my face in the hope that I would gain Allah's pleasure, He would make it easy for me and He would protect me from all harm. And that any hardship I faced as a result of covering my face would insha'Allah only be an increase in any rewards I would gain.
Alhamdulillah, Allah has made my journey of wearing niqab easy (well, easier than some sister whose stories I have heard). Yes, sometimes people stare and whisper, sometimes they say some remarks under their breath and once someone called me a 'ghost' while standing in line at the checkout counter (to which my bearded and fierce husband gave a menacing reply) and recently I was harassed on my way to my Qur'an lesson (while driving on my own, so now I have arranged a time when my husband can drive me). However, in general, Muslim and non-Muslim men have afforded me with greater respect than even before. Hijab (with or without covering the face) enables a Muslim woman to no longer cringe with embarrassment when walking past a group of men; a Muslim woman if properly covered can be fully assured that those said men cannot gaze lustfully at her chest and will not be waiting until she passes to take a look at better look at her back view. I have come into contact with many non-Muslim women go out of their way to smile and to be polite and kind as if they instinctively know the hardship the we Muslim women especially the "niqaabis" face due to the ignorance of our fellow Australians. On a lighter note, I am always amused at the expressions of surprise on peoples' faces when they hear my very Australian-with-no-trace-of-an-accent voice. And then when they (if it is a woman) see an amused set of blue eyes, I think then they suddenly feel embarrassed at their misconceptions and stereotypes. I hope then they realize that underneath I'm just a normal woman with a family with hopes and dreams who just happens to cover her face & body. And that this woman does not represent "The Enemy". It is also my hope that other Muslim women (even the ones who wear niqab) do not create difficulties for their Muslim sisters who wish to cover their face. I have found that some munaqabahs (niqab-wearing Muslim women) have harassed "part-time" niqaabis for not covering all the time. It is my hope they understand that this step requires patience, understanding, support and lots of eman. And Allah knows best. As with any other religious action whether you deem it fard or "just sunnah" (ooh, that's a term that just gets on my nerves) we should be encouraging and definitely not discouraging other Muslims to perform them.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I wrote this fisabeelAllah (for the sake of Allah) to help non-Muslims understand why some women cover their faces despite such opposition (even from other Muslims) and to encourage those sisters who are wanting to.
Anything good and correct I have said is from Allah and anything incorrect is from me or the shaytan (the devil). Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika, 'ash-hadu 'an laa illaaha illaa 'Anta, 'asaghfiruka wa 'atoobu 'ilayka.
Sister Aliyah entered Islam two years ago. She met her husband first briefly when they were unmarried while attending an Australian high-school together and tutoring him in English and then again, 15 years later and about six months after her entering Islam. She happened to walk into his butcher shop (as a Muslim) to buy halal meat.
Taken from http://muslimconverts.com/niqab/niqab-aliyah.html