Unveiling the reality

Umm Abdullah writes her own personal experience of life with the Niqab.

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In the Name of Allah the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

‘Ban the Burqa!’ was the latest one. I would have used the powerful verb ‘hurled’ as per usual, except this time it was more of a forced, cringe-worthy, schoolboy ‘tryin to impress me mates’ type. Abuse, nonetheless.

As a British ‘Niqabi’ (as I am sometimes labelled in the long list of politically correct labels and titles) I should be quite used to these types of remarks, no? Unfortuntely not. It still winds me up, still frustrates me and yes, quite frankly, it still upsets me six years on. Despite all this, one thing that the abuse has paved way for is the love for my Niqab and with each hurl it has burned bigger and brighter.

I started wearing my Niqab at the age of 18; an age I truly believe is an age for either make or break. Usually, at this point in life it is decided whether we’re turning left, right or going straight ahead at the crossroads. I was a typical teenager who loved (and still does!) clothes, make up and dressing up so it was only natural for me to be a little apprehensive towards the idea of completely veiling myself. Although I had been wearing the Hijab from a very young age and the Abaya more recently, I simply was not feeling the idea of the Niqab. I was extremely image conscious. I was paranoid. I was embarrassed.

Weeks turned into months wherein I did research upon research through classical texts, poring over books to unveil the history behind the Niqab. At the start, I was quite simply looking for a loophole to sooth my mind’s voice, to stroke my more ‘holy’ side into a lullaby; a lullaby of lies sung in the loudest voice drowning out the other voice that was telling me the Niqab was Wajib (Islamic obligation). However, over time I came to realise myself, slowly but surely, that I was fooling nobody but myself. Allah says in the Qur’an, ‘O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks over their bodies’ (33:59). Similarly, this was echoed in authentic Prophetic narrations, when the verse ‘they should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms…’ was revealed, the ladies cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces’ (Bukhari, 1:4:148). That was the first step for me – understanding and whole-heartedly accepting that the veil is mandatory on all Muslim, mature women in order to protect themselves. There were no loopholes. Allah’s order is Allah’s order and for me there was no running away from it.

I firmly disagree with the notion of it being a black cloth used to cover the face, however, that WAS my perception pre-niqab days. And that’s the thing with perception – it can deceive. You may be wise and knowledgeable (not that I was or am in any way!) but even then can be overtaken by the sweet lies of perception. On the topic of perception, some people perceive women in a Niqab as being oppressed and socially controlled and to be honest, this view cannot completely be diminished as there are some for whom this is the case. But it would be outrageously ignorant to believe that this is the case for all. Out of the 354 women who were fined for wearing the Niqab in France, not one said she was forced to. Now, we don’t have any sort of data like that to compare with in Britain but what we do have is a free society. Every woman has the liberty and choice to make her own decisions. And if it’s anything to go by, the women who appeared on the Channel 4 Niqab debate all said it was their own choice to wear the Niqab. And saying that, I know I would have hit the roof before I let anyone force me!

Similarly, there’s the conception of Niqabi women being uneducated and basically at the back of the queue with a colander when God was dishing out the brains. Being a qualified teacher myself and having friends and family who wear the Niqab with professions varying from cancer research doctor to speech therapist to pharmacists, I beg to differ. And quite rightly so, I’d say! I mean, come on, don’t start on me with that one.

Some people believe wearing the Niqab is a litmus test for piety. As much as I disagree with that, I won’t hesitate to say that the Niqab can be a sign of piety if it is fully recognised as a lifestyle rather than just a face covering. I recently read an article wherein the writer wrote about how the most rudest Muslim woman she had met wore the Niqab. That is a real shame and without trying to condone her rudeness, I’d just like to put across that women in Niqab are not angels.That’s right, we are humans and sometimes, just like with everyone else, our behaviour and temperament can let us down. And just for the record, the most beautiful woman in terms of character and personality that I am blessed to know is one who wears the Niqab.

Alhamdu Lillah, I am now in my sixth year of wearing the Niqab and I have to say it has been an exhilarating journey. It has been a LOT more than a black cloth. In fact, I quite loathe calling it a ‘black cloth’. I feel it deserves a lot more respect and love than that. It is my Niqab, my protection, my motivation, my love. From the day I started wearing it, I immediately felt a heavier sense of responsibility upon my own actions. My Niqab stopped me from acting in certain ways and prompted me to act in certain other ways. I began to notice small changes in my behaviour and I was liking that.

Although it has been six years, I believe I have a long way to go. I started off as an ‘amateur’ and I am nowhere near ‘professional’ yet.  I still have days where I slack and I still groan and moan when it gets beautifully hot outside (try having an ice cream with a Niqab on!). Saying that, I have mastered the art of eating and drinking with my Niqab on and keeping it crumb-free! On a serious note, in my opinion the Niqab is more of a lifestyle than a piece of Islamic clothing and nobody can take that away from me.

Umm Abdullah
1st Dhul Hijjah 1435
Allah grant the Muslim women Hayaa (modesty) and Iffah (purity) and Ismah (protection), Ameen Ya Rabb.
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