Author: Sister A Abdullah
Published on: January 21, 2001 :suite101.com
There is a lot of debate among Muslims as to whether or not it is required for a Muslim woman to cover her face and hands in addition to the rest of her body when appearing in public or in front of non-Mahrem men. The purpose of this article is not to fall on either side of that debate, but to urge all Muslims to show respect for sisters who have chosen to wear either the khimar (full face covering) or the niqab (face covering which leaves the eyes exposed.) Some Muslims give these sisters a hard time, saying that they are doing above and beyond what has been commanded by Allah SWT, and that the “extreme” appearance of these fully-veiled women projects a bad image to the non-Muslims who already view the Muslim woman as weak and oppressed. They argue that such individuals, upon seeing fully-veiled Muslim women, will be “turned off” by “Islam, and we will have forever lost potential Muslim converts, or even the understanding and sympathy of the non-Muslim community.
Think about it carefully: would we ever think of criticizing a Muslim who fasts extra days outside of “Ramadan? Do we belittle the Muslims whose prayers exceed the prescribed daily five? Are we upset when Muslims give more zakat than required by Islamic Law? Of course not. We admire such people for their apparent dedication to Allah SWT, just as we should admire Muslim women who cover their faces for the same reason. Whether they veil because they take the so-called “most-conservative” viewpoint that covering the face is a requirement of Islamic Law, or because they simply believe that they will earn extra reward from our Lord and Creator for doing something more. Praise be to Allah, veiled women are engaged in halal, and that is the bottom line.
As for the question of non-Muslims being “turned off” by Islam upon seeing fully-veiled Muslim women, Muslims should not waste time and energy worrying about such matters. To the contrary, some non-Muslims are not critical of the face-veil at all and are so intrigued by it that they actually become interested in Islam as a direct result of seeing fully covered Muslim women.
One non-Muslim woman wrote about her impressions of the face-veil in our local newspaper after crossing paths with a veiled woman on a busy city street. The writer was struck by the confidence with which the Muslim woman walked, seeing all that was around her, but not being seen by others, secure in the knowledge that no man could make a lewd comment to her about her shapeless body and invisible face. She confessed a twinge of jealousy as she contemplated her own short skirt and tight blouse, realizing in a split second that, no matter how much she tried to convince herself otherwise, society’s men were probably not judging her solely for her intellectual and professional capabilities. She now felt embarassed in front of the Muslim woman who must’ve, she imagined, felt somewhat sorry for a “liberated” western woman like herself who could not even make it from one end of the street to the other without fear of harassment. (Please note that these were the writer’s own sentiments and my intention is not to put her down but to show that there is more to equal rights than rules and regulations: it also has to do with belief, mindset and the reality of how men and women interact with one another as opposed to how we think they should in a perfect world.)
Contrast this powerful piece of writing to an article authored by a Muslim woman in another newspaper. In it, the woman practically begged non-Muslims not to judge Islam by the face-veil, which, she claimed, is a mere cultural tradition having nothing to do with Islam. This article served to divide local Muslims into two camps, understandably upsetting veiled women and their families. Even if one wanted to take the “least-least conservative” point of view and say that the veil is nothing more than a cultural tradition, it should not be forgotten that such a tradition has sprung forth from a culture of Muslims who are seeking the reward and pleasure of Allah, Most High. We should, in fact, respect the sisters who, in spite of the intense scrutiny placed upon them by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, continue to veil, refusing to abandon a halal garment which provides them (and the community as a whole) with extra doses of security, honor and pride.
Islam is a light that Allah SWT puts into one’s heart, and He will undoubtedly help those sincere individuals who are seeking the Straight Path to get there one way or another. It really has nothing to do with what people “think about Islam.” One of the best things we can do as Muslims is to behave well, dealing with people kindly and fairly, remembering that it is ultimately up to the will of Allah, Most Glorious if a particular individual is to become a Muslim or not. We should never think that we have to change the good things about ourselves in order to attract new converts to Islam. This strategy is not only demoralizing to one’s iman, but it also does not work.
In conclusion, I would like to note that I do not wear the face-veil myself (only the basic hijab) but that I do have enormous respect for the women who cover their faces. I was prompted to write this article after hearing from many of my fully-veiled sisters in faith that some of the harshest criticisms they receive are from within the American Muslim community itself and not from non-Muslims as they had anticipated before adopting the veil. I really think that all Muslims should realize how much courage and confidence it takes to veil one’s self in modern-day America and that we should be their best supporters in the struggle for the Muslim woman’s right to veil.