Finally, one Muslim woman tells us why she is scared of the burka
To normalise the veil is to normalise politics that are against women’s right to be free from oppression, she says
“LOL” was the reply I got from my niqab-wearing best mate when I sent her the article that Boris Johnson wrote for The Daily Telegraph last Monday. I don’t like the veil, and like Boris I would never seek to ban it. But the growth of young women wearing it in the UK is concerning, and it’s something we all need to talk about.
My friend and I have had long debates about her choice to wear the veil. As much as she believes it is part of her faith, I feel that it is and was actually a reaction to an identity crisis at a difficult time in her life. After the death of her father she looked to her faith for comfort, and in a post-9/11 world that faith — which is also mine — had become a political one.
I remember first losing my friend to mosque classes and to sister circles and to fundamentalist YouTube videos. Before wearing the niqab, Hannah (not her real name) began by simply wearing the headscarf more. This was something which made her happy and I was supportive; it gave her peace in her hour of need. Faith, and a belief in something bigger, can be beautiful and powerful.Then the headscarf became a more conservative black dress. The more she attended the mosque, the more I saw her slipping away, so I asked if I could attend one of her classes. Behind a curtain a well-spoken man with a North American accent preached of the one Ummah, the international community of Muslims. He spoke of how we had to let go of Western ideals, reject nationalities and ethnic backgrounds and be one community under God. To me it was all nonsense, but I could see Hannah was taken in by it.
I still remember that evening as we walked home past the bright lights of Westfield, I joked: “I hope you’re not considering going extra and wearing the burka — those things are ridiculous!” And I still feel like that; I tease her by saying I would never know it was her walking past me unless I saw my godchild next to her. I might even have used language a little like Boris’s.
I think I have the right to make these jokes, because, even as a Muslim woman, I am scared of the niqab and the burka. What they represent is a choice to opt out of the democratic society we live in, and the one that has given me, my friend and so many of us education and the ability to achieve.Those who wear the veil will tell you voting is sinful; they will say the veil makes them feel safe and empowered, yet they are not allowed to travel without a mahram. This word literally means “unmarriageable kin”, with whom marriage or sexual intercourse would be considered haram, illegal in Islam. They, or other people for whom purdah is not obligatory, must escort a woman during any journey longer than a day and a night.
The idea that a woman with a first-class honours degree from one of the UK’s top universities now has to wait for her brother to come along to escort her because her husband is working is mad. And yet it is true.
I am told that I am being blasphemous for questioning the veil, and the extreme Wahhabist narrative which justifies the idea that it is required by Islam.But as a feminist and a Muslim, to not question, reject and, yes, ridicule this garment would be to accept that my faith, the one that gave women rights well before anyone else, is now nothing more than a symbol of violent misogyny taken up in the name of Islam in the countries where women are forced to wear it.
Wearing the full face veil is deeply controversial even within Islam itself. The burka, which has a mesh covering the face, is worn by very few people. But even the niqab, which leaves a space for the eyes, is rarely worn outside Saudi Arabia. Some scholars believe, as I do, that the niqab is un–Islamic and that devout people should not wear it.
I know many in the UK who wear the veil do it by choice, but that choice is never free or simple. I know too well that trauma is the spur that leads many to take it up. The pressure to wear it is real: even I am having to write this piece under a pseudonym because I am scared of how my friends and relatives would react to it.So I hope you can understand why I am sick of the idea that, even while I am fighting for my right not to cover up and to be seen as a Muslim at all by some within my community, I now also have to fight well-meaning lefties who are defending something that cannot be defended.
To normalise the niqab and the burka is also to normalise politics that are anti-choice, anti-LGBT rights and against women’s right to be free from oppression. Those who deem the veil Islamic also support the covering of children as young as seven, thereby sexualising them. They will tell you it’s acceptable for a child to be married off as soon as she starts her periods, even if she is only 11. Domestic abuse is permitted, as that is what was deemed acceptable 700 years ago.
We cannot have this. We cannot be silent and we also cannot call people racist for saying what I and countless other Muslims say. The truth is, my friends and family members who wear the veil do look ridiculous. And I am determined never to follow them.
The author of this piece is writing under a pseudonym.
– © The Daily Telegraph