Friday, 20 September 2013

You don't like the niqab? Get over it.

Give me one good reason why a woman shouldn't be allowed to cover her face in public if that's what she wants to do. You don't object to her covering her buttocks, do you, or her breasts? Do you find it offensive if a woman wears sunglasses? And anyway, what's it got to do with you?

Yes, I deliberately phrase the questions provocatively. I do so because I find the amount of cant that's been spoken and written on the subject of the "Muslim face veil" (note the first adjective, to which we shall return) frankly ridiculous.

Oh, and before you ask, yes, I do think this is an important issue, even though only a tiny, tiny number of women in Britain choose to wear the niqab, or face veil. It's important because it's about what kind of society Britain wants to be in the 21st century. There'll be other opportunities to return to Syria, Iran, Germany, and even the Lib Dems. This week, I want to write about women's faces.

Here goes. Reason one: "It's not acceptable for people to cover their faces in public so that they can't be recognised." Really? So should we ban men wearing hoodies or face-concealing crash helmets? Women wearing outsize sunglasses even in the pouring rain? Anyone wearing a face mask because they're scared of catching flu from someone on the bus? I think not.

Reason two: "It's a symbol of male oppression of women and often imposed on women by fathers and/or husbands as a means of control." Well, yes, sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn't. Some women's fathers/husbands insist that they wear skirts below the knee, or long sleeves -- but is clothing choice really a matter for legislation? And if you argue that even when women choose to cover their faces of their own free will, it's only because they wish to avoid lascivious male attention -- well, isn't that why women cover their breasts?

Reason three: "It makes me feel uncomfortable because it's entirely alien to who we British are." Hmm. Who's "we" in that sentence, I wonder? We, the British Hasidic Jews of Stamford Hill, where the women wear wigs and woollen stockings, and the men wear long frock coats, wide-brimmed hats and side-curls? We, the British Sikhs of Coventry or Leicester, who wear turbans? Or we, the British Catholic nuns who wear cowls and wimples? 

I'm old enough to remember the rows over whether Sikh bus conductors should be allowed to wear turbans instead of peaked caps, and whether Sikh motor-cyclists should be allowed to roar around the streets without crash helmets. I remember the debates over whether schoolgirls from Pakistani backgrounds should be allowed to wear trousers to school, or special swimming costumes for their swimming lessons. I thought we'd moved on, and that Britain had learned to accept that minorities have rights too.

Reason four: "It's important to be able to identify people, and you can't do that if you can't see their face." True, so in those circumstances -- in airports or police stations or court-rooms, for example -- where identities need to be checked, you can easily make arrangements to enable women with covered faces to reveal themselves in a private place. (We don't expect women travellers at airports to be body-checked by men, so if their wishes can be met, why not those of niqab-wearers?) 

As for teachers, doctors or nurses, or others whose jobs entail dealing with members of the public, if it's an issue, write it into their contract. The vast majority of Muslim women do not cover their faces, so I see no problem with religious discrimination legislation in saying: "You want to work as a teacher, or a doctor? Fine, no face veil." (By the way, even in ultra-strict Iran, contrary to mythology, women are not required to cover their faces.)

I find it intriguing that most of the people who sound off on this issue are men. Why do they feel so threatened by women who don't want their faces to be looked at? Why do they think it's any of their business? Personally, I'm not wildly keen on women with metal studs in their lips, or men whose low-hanging underwear reveals far more than I would ever wish to see -- but I wouldn't dream of banning items of clothing simply because I don't like them.

When a man says: "Women shouldn't be allowed to cover their faces in public", what I hear is: "I'm a man, and I have the right to tell you, a woman, how to dress." Sorry, not acceptable.

Ah yes, I nearly forgot. Muslim. It's that word again. The word that seems to be inextricably linked in so many people's minds to other words like extremism, fundamentalism, terrorism. So if the niqab is Muslim, then, in the blink of an eye, the women who wear it must be extremists, fundamentalists or terrorists.

No, actually. Most of them are simply women who, for reasons of their own, whether good or bad, have decided to cover their faces. Would I be happy if my daughter wore a niqab? No, I wouldn't -- but then what I want her to wear has rarely been a major factor in her thinking. Nor should it be.

Because what other people choose to wear is nothing to do with me, or with you. You don't like the niqab? Get over it.


Unknown said...

Very sensible argument and valid points made. Why is this side of the argument not in the news or phone in's?

Anonymous said...

All very well argued Robin, but would you this person as your doctor?

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin
I find your post confusing, as you muddle separate areas of legitimate debate. Surely there are at least five issues here and we should consider them separately....

1 What acceptable for someone is public service

2 What should be available as an act of personal choice

3 Is this being used as a proxy for Male suppression of females

4 Issues of identity / security re courts / airports / banks etc

5 Ability to communicate

1 What acceptable for someone is public service
Public service surely means serving the public, which implicitly means the vast majority of the public, and by extension means complying with whatever the vast majority of the public needs/wants/expects.
The challenge is to figure out what this means.

2 What should be available as an act of personal choice
Everything should be allowed as personal choice - up to but not including harming other people
The challenge is to figure out what this means.

3 Is the veil being used as a proxy for Male suppression of females
This is a larger and possible wholly separate discussion. I cant comment. The answer is probably Yes - sometimes, and No at other times

4 Issues of identity / security re courts / airports / banks etc
In all places where identity matters, surely the citizen must choose either to comply with the identification, or to choose to exclude themselves from the service. Banks wont allow people wearing crash hats, or Guy-Fawkes masks. We live in a world that is using more and more biometric data. Should your credit card or Oyster card be linked to you - personally.
The challenge is to figure out how far this goes.

5 Ability to communicate
We are often told that words are just a small fraction of the communication between people, and we know this to be true, as email is bereft of nuance in the way that face to face communication is not. Clearly face to face behind a veil falls between these extremes. FaceTime/Skype video are much more communicative than audio only.
The nijab is clearly worse of this metric, but who should have the right to choose how expressive communication is
The challenge is to figure this out.

And finally - I'm half deaf - I lip read. I study faces, I maintain eye-contact. I find it harder to understand people who degrade the pronunciation of "th" to "f". I don't like mustaches, and struggle with people who wont show their teeth/lips when speaking.

David said...

I normally find myself nodding in agreement with everything Robin Lustig says. But on this occasion, I strongly disagree. One reason of many for this is that we communicate so much with our faces. How can I exchange a friendly smile with someone wearing a niqab? I can't. She is deliberately cutting herself off (or being forced to cut herself off) from many meaningful interactions with her fellow human beings.


dceilar said...

Interesting points Robin. Three issues:

I, like Anonymous, am hard of hearing so I use lip reading and facial expressions alot to understand what people say. Whenever I meet women wearing the niqab I just ignore them to avoid conversation. Is that why some women wear it?

Secondly, people feel threatened by others who cover their faces. That's why people are scared of 'hoodies'. Europe is not used to the niqab.

The wearing of the niqab is not a religious issue. The Koran does not say women must wear the veil, on the contrary, the prophet Muhammad didn't like the niqab either.

Robin Lustig said...

In reply to David, perhaps women who wear the niqab don't wish to exchange a friendly smile with you. Perhaps you shouldn't take it as a personal slight and simply recognise a woman's right not to be smiled at. To you a smile is a friendly gesture; to her it may feel like something entirely different.

Unknown said...

Thank you Robin for the great post.

It is no surprise that when an issue has to do with Muslims, most people do not address it objectively.

In response to the issues raised by Anonymous, I will like him or her to answer these questions.

1 - How many women in Niqab have you seen take up work as public servants?

2- How does wearing of Niqab cause harm to other people? Please give example and back it up with figures.

Women in Niqab have been seen to travel from one country to another, that can only mean that they have complied to security rules to be allowed to travel.

To David, I will really like to know if you go about sharing a friendly smile with everyone on the road, if so, I think that is rather weird.

But again that is the way you want to do your thing and you are FREE to choose to do it that way without anyone criticizing or condemning you.

The women in Niqab are not comfortable sharing "Friendly smile" or having conversations with strangers,she just like be in her own space. And in other not to hurt the feelings of others who love conversions and smiles when they don't get the same response from her, she make it easy by covering her face and yet you criticize her.

Islam is a way of life that is based on knowledge. Thus, seeking knowledge is compulsory on both Muslim males and females.

I am shocked that someone will post publicly that the Prophet Muhammed (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not like the Niqab.

The internet has made it easy to access FREE information, thus it is very easy to seek knowledge about an issue before coming publicly to comment on it.

Most women who decide to use the Niqab do so out of their own FREE WILL, especially women from these parts of the world.

These are women who have lived the so called free life and decided it was not for them, after a lot of research and study, they decide to wear the Niqab.

People argue that they are forced to dress that way.

The only pressure and disrespect we get comes from people who see us as oppressed and wants to give us "a voice". In simple terms, anytime someone says women in Hijab or Niqab are forced to dress so, what we hear is you telling us that we are not smart enough to make our decision, thus the only person oppressing and calling us stupid, is YOU.

Here is something I wrote a while ago about women in Niqab, maybe it will give you a little insight of who they are, so you can worry less about their affairs.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful response, Railu.
Need I say more David and anonymous?

You are total strangers to these women and they do not need your smile or conversation.

I tell you how to use that; smile to the
older citizens and converse with them.
Thank you.

dceilar said...


The wearing of the facial veil is not a Koranic injunction but a local custom.

Unknown said...

Really dceilar?

Am I allowed to ask which local custom is that? And Pleeeeaaaase, do not say Arab's.

Everyone who knows the smallest piece of information of Arab history knows the status (the way she dresses, the way she is treated in the family and society etc) of the woman in Arab before Islam.

dceilar said...


I know fully well of the rights of women before Islam in Arabia. The Koran declares women as the spiritual equals of men, invokes men to be gentle to their spouses, allows women to be active in both communal and military affairs, and to be intellectually active. One of Muḥammad's wives Aisha being a prime example.

The facial veil pre-dates Islam and is not a Koranic injunction.

A quick search on the internet gave me this:

Unknown said...


I am indeed glad with your statement "A quick search on the internet gave me this:".

Islamic ways are not decided based on quick searches.

The first point of call on any issue is the Qur'an. Thus, with regards to the veil:
‘O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks ("Jalabib") veils all over their bodies (screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way Tafseer Al-Qurtabi) that is most convenient that they should be known (as such) and not molested: and Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful."

- Q24: 30 and 31
‘And Say to the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head cover, apron), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms).

Then we look at the hadith of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him) to get how he interpreted the verse(s), or how he and the people during his time lived it.
So from the hadith of Rosullulah (SAW):

Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Hadith # 282
Narrated Safiya bint Shaiba (Radhiallaahu Ánha) "Aisha (Radhiallaahu Ánha) used to say: "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.


Unknown said...

Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 1, Book 8, Hadith # 368
Narrated 'Aisha (Radhiallaahu Ánha) Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) used to offer the Fajr prayer and some believing women covered with their veiling sheets used to attend the Fajr prayer with him and then they would return to their homes unrecognized . Shaikh Ibn Uthaimin in tafseer of this hadith explains "This hadith makes it clear that the Islamic dress is concealing of the entire body as explained in this hadith. Only with the complete cover including the face and hands can a woman not be recognized. This was the understanding and practice of the Sahaba and they were the best of group, the noblest in the sight of Allah (swt) with the most complete Imaan and noblest of characters. so if the practice of the women of the sahaba was to wear the complete veil then how can we deviate from their path? (Ibn Uthaimin in the book "Hijaab" page # 12 and 13)

Abu Dawood Book 32, Hadith # 4091
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin (Radhiallaahu Ánha) "May Allah have mercy on the early immigrant women. When the verse "That they should draw their veils over their bosoms" was revealed, they tore their thick outer garments and made veils from them. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalanee, who is known as Ameer Al-Mu'mineen in the field of Hadith, said that the phrase, "covered themselves", in the above Hadith means that they "covered their faces". [Fath Al-Bari].

Imaam Malik's MUWATTA Book 20 Hadith # 20.5.16
Yahya related to me from Malik from Hisham ibn Urwa that Fatima bint al-Mundhir (Radhiallaahu Ánha) said, "We used to veil our faces when we were in Ihram in the company of Asma bint Abi Bakr As-Siddiq (Radhiallaahu Ánha). "This again proves that not only the wives of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) wore the Niqaab and that even though in Ihram women are not supposed to wear Niqaab but if men are there they still have to cover the face.

Abu Dawood Book 10, Hadith # 1829
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: (Radhiallaahu Ánha) who said, "The riders would pass us while we were with the Messenger of Allah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam). When they got close to us, we would draw our outer cloak from our heads over our faces. When they passed by, we would uncover our faces.
Recorded by Ahmad, Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah, Narrated 'Aisha. [In his work Jilbab al-Marah al-Muslimah, al-Albani states (p. 108) that it is hasan due to corroborating evidence. Also, in a narration from Asma {who was not the wife of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam)}, Asma also covered her face at all times in front of men.] Shaikh Ibn Uthaimin in his tafseer of this hadith explains "This hadith indicates the compulsion of the concealing of the faces as an order of Shariah, because during the Ihram it is "wajib" (compulsory) NOT to wear the Niqaab. So if it was only mustahab (recommended) to cover the face then Aisha and Asma (Radhiallaahu Ánha) would have taken the wajib over the mustahab. It is well known by the Ullima that a wajib can only be left because of something that is also wajib or fardh. So Aisha and Asma (Radhiallaahu Ánha) covering the face even in Ihram in the presence of strange (ghairMahraam) men shows that they understood this to be an act that was wajib or fardh or they would not have covered the face in Ihraam.

and a lot more.......


Unknown said...

As regards the article you quickly got from the internet, it is obvious that whoever wrote it interpreted every quote to suit what he/she want to portray.
For example: "The covering of the face is only mentioned in three hadith and never by the command of the Prophet Muhammad.".
I want to believe that the person is not aware of all these other hadiths and not trying to cover up the truth.
Unlike other ways of life where people make and interpret the laws, in Islam, Allah makes the law and the interpretation is given by the Prophet (SAW) and Allah says in Q33 vs 36
"It is not befitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Apostle to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Apostle, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path."
He or she also wrote "In fact, in one hadith, the companions of the Prophet Muhammad are even surprised at one woman's wearing of the niqab during her time of bereavement."
There is the real story:
Abu Dawood Book 14, Hadith # 2482
Narrated Thabit ibn Qays (Radhiallaahu Ánhu): A woman called Umm Khallad came to the Prophet (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) while she was veiled. She was searching for her son who had been killed (in the battle) Some of the Companions of the Prophet (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) said to her: You have come here asking for your son while veiling your face? She said: If I am afflicted with the loss of my son, I shall not suffer the loss of my modesty. Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Álayhi Wasallam) said: You will get the reward of two martyrs for your son. She asked: Why is that so, oh Prophet of Allah? He replied: Because the people of the Book have killed him.

Then the person went ahead to say that the wives of the prophet (SAW) were command to wear the Niqab, this was for them alone and not for all women and backed that up with Qur'an 33 vs 32

"O Wives of the Prophet! You are not like any of the other women."

I guess he/she forgot Q33 Verse 59
"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks ("Jalabib") veils all over their bodies (screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way Tafseer Al-Qurtabi) that is most convenient that they should be known (as such) and not molested: and Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.".
And that Muslim women aspire to do what the wives of the Prophet (SAW) did.
Lastly, he/she said:
"Some contemporary scholars have gone further in their rulings about the niqab in the West. Although they may agree with its practice in Muslim countries, they say that it is harmful in the West and should therefore be avoided."
This statement tells me a lot about the writers understanding of Islam.
No Islamic scholar who is worth being called an Islamic scholar will ever say any part of the Qur'an or the sunnah of the Prophet (SAW) is harmful and should be avoided.


Unknown said...

The Qur'an for Muslim women in Saudi Arabia follows is no different from the one for Muslim woman in the West.
Islam is a practical religion and does not place on anyone a burden more than they can bear.
Qur'an 2 verse 286: "On no soul doth Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear.
Amongs the scholars, there are some who says it is compulsory to use the niqab, and those who follow their line of thought sees the use of the niqab as compulsory. On the other hand, others say it is not. Those who agree with them say, it is not compulsory.
But one thing is clear, none of them said it is not in the Qur'an and therefore should be discarded. We all respect each others' view and do not criticize or condemn people for wearing or not wearing the Niqab.

Most women, especially in the West, decide to wear the Niqab of their own FREE WILL.

The irony of it all this is, the people complaining and making comments about the use of the niqab are those who either have no knowledge whatsoever of ruling regarding Niqab or of the reason(s) why the woman wearing it, decides to do so.

The veil can be categorized into three:
1 - Covering of the head with a scarf.

2- The use of hijab, leaving the face and the hands uncovered. This is based on the authority of Prophet Muhammad (Allah’s blessing be upon him), in which he says: If the woman reaches the age of puberty, No (part of her body) should be seen but this – and he pointed to his face and hands.”

3 - Niqab - The total covering of the whole body.

The one that uses the niqab is not classified as more pious than the one who does not use it and the women who does not use the Niqab, should not justify their action by saying the niqab is not a Quranic injunction.

In Islam every action is judge according to the intentions of the doer.

Unknown said...

There are two major issues here that are intertwined, and usually are so in this topic. 1. Am I free to wear my clothes like this? 2. Is this part of my religion? Regarding the face veil, most western countries are open to you wearing a face mask, but probably not in a bank for example (amung other places). Its your right to dress out of the ordinary, and you should expect stares to go with your "unique" style. 2. Is this a part of religion? There are some things that the Koran is quite clear on. No alcohol, no pork, etc. Modesty is clearly mandated in the Koran where as the niqab and hijab are not. The same verses are constantly quoted in the Koran, and Muslims dont agree on their interpretation. Thats because the verses do not clearly state that women should cover their faces. But on the flip side, what if Muslims focused on what the Koran says about modesty for both men and women, instead of being so devisive. Now a Jalabiya is a loose full dress that does not cover the face, and women should cover their jayoobihinna right? Jayoob is the plural of jeeb which means pocket or crack, So what it means is cover your cracks women. I have come to the conclusion that Jeyoob = women's cleavages, which some native speakers find hard to agree with. But it is clearly not a mandate to hide women behind a cloak.