I was away, as some of you may know. I got the opportunity to visit my university again and spend some time there. I discussed whatever I have learned up till now about blogging Muslim Feminists with my research supervisor and she was happy to read what you all have been writing/discussing. Lots of interesting stuff there!
I also got the chance to reconsider my stance on the face veil while sitting one warm and sunny morning in London’s Hyde Park. On a turf lay a woman sunbathing in nothing more than a towel wrapped around her trunk. My littlest pointed towards her and said “she is barefoot!” It amazed me that he didn’t notice that she was mostly bare! Sometime later an Arabic-and-tourist-looking couple passed by us and sat nearby. The woman was covered from head to toe and wore red shades. My son went near them to fetch his football and took no notice of the woman’s clothing.
I began to think how equally natural a scantily dressed woman is to my child from a woman in a complete veil. Yet how many times I have not been open-minded about the niqaab although I’m uncomfortable with nudity and it is because of this discomfort that I moved to the Middle East hoping that I’d see less flesh! I prefer to wear modest clothing but somehow I began equating face veil with extreme conservatism and felt uncomfortable that it had become a symbol of religiosity.
I discussed niqaab with my research supervisor (whom I consider more conservatively Muslim than myself) and she holds similar opinion about the niqaab to mine. But I’m not sure anymore how I feel about the niqaab. It is an identity for a number of women whether that identity is newly formed or is very old. It makes some women who they are and more importantly what they want to be. To some it offers hope of reward, to others it is devotion to God, and to some it is a means of identification strangely from a lack of clear facial recognition.
I am not blind to the fact that many women are forced to cover their faces either overtly or by being shown examples. There are also women who silently imbibe it from the throbbing placenta of the religious understanding of older womenfolk in the community and household. But should we judge all niqaab-wearers equally?
What do you think? Do you think niqaab should be accepted as a symbol of religion or a symbol of culture? How do you differentiate Islam from Muslim culture? Do you think Muslim women should “do as the Romans when in Rome”?
Thank you and hope you all have had a blessed Ramadan and a joyful Eid!