Originally written for SISTERS magazine, by Umm Zainab Vanker (aka UmmTheSalafiFeminist).
Over the last few years, the topic of niqab (the face-veil) has stirred up much controversy and debate, not only in the media but amongst Muslims themselves. We can agree or disagree on the ayaat and ahadeeth regarding the hijab, the facts speak for themselves – niqab is not cultural, but can be taken as either wajib (compulsory) or mustahabb (highly recommended).
Unfortunately, our Muslim sisters can be our own worst enemy! When we see a niqaabi today, some of us feel the need to ‘advises’ her that she does not need to be forced by her husband or any other man to wear it. Many feel that it is their responsibility to inform a niqabi woman that she is free to choose how she wants to dress, and that a “liberated” woman would never wear it!
What many do not realize is that in the West, or in other countries where Muslims are a minority, those sisters who wear the niqab choose to do so, without coercion from their menfolk. It is a conscious decision made after a great deal of research, reading, and asking for His Guidance. For many, they are supported by husbands who are happy that their wives have made this choice; for others, they are still battling to convince their husbands to at least support them, even if they do not approve of it wholeheartedly.
It is a tough decision that is not made lightly for the majority of niqaabis.
Is Niqab the Right Choice for Me?
When it comes to the issue of niqab, there are usually two types of sisters: Those who have already made up their minds about it being “wrong,” and those who are still struggling to find the truth about it.
As for those sisters who have a negative view or understanding of the niqab, who only wish to debate and argue with sisters who wear it or are thinking of wearing it, there is no need to spend time in pointless arguments. In cases where it’s clear that there will be no benefit in prolonged discussions, the hadith that encourages speaking good or keeping silent should be practiced.
For those who are sincerely seeking the truth about niqab, focus on the evidences from the Qur’an and Sunnah and less on arguing about modern-day “proofs” against the niqab. Ask Allah to guide these sisters to the truth which they seek.
Making the decision to wear niqab is not just about saying, “I have read, researched, asked questions to niqaabis, and I believe in wearing it.” You must also ask yourself the following questions: Do I believe it as being mustahabb or wajib? What will I do if I have to remove it after wearing it for a while? How will I deal with my family if they don’t want to accept it? How will I explain the “new” me to my co-workers? Is this a long term intention or a passing phase? How will I act and behave while wearing this piece of fabric? How will I deal with the negative and nasty comments and remarks from both Muslims and non-Muslims? And most importantly, who am I doing this for?
These are just a few very important questions that one needs to answer truthfully to themselves and Allah. Again, the decision to wear niqab is in no way an easy or light decision.
The Etiquette of Niqab
Over the years, I have seen sisters put on the niqaab thinking that they will be the ones to show the West that niqaabis are allowed to do everything other people can. This not a good reason to wear niqab!
Islam has set examples for us to follow, and the best examples of Muslim women are the Ummahaat al-Mu’mineen and the Sahaabiyaat (radhiAllahu anhunna). Let us look to them and follow their footsteps before parading ourselves in public just to “show them.”
For example, it is not appropriate for niqaabis to go rollerblading in crowded or public areas just to prove that we can do it, too. This is not to say that Muslim women, and niqaabis in general, should not or cannot have fun or take part in physical activities; rather, it is about being discreet and taking into consideration our surroundings, our modesty, and our dignity.
After all, did A’ishah (radhiAllahu anha) race the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) in front of everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim, just to “prove” that veiled Muslim women are not oppressed? Of course not! RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) kindly asked those who were with him to move ahead of them so that they could enjoy their race privately. Yet today we think that we can forgo such modesty of action in public, just to seem cool or be accepted.
Dealing with Negative Reactions
Before you start wearing niqab, realize that you will encounter negativity from Muslims as well as non-Muslims. From Muslims, you will be treated as though you suddenly think you’re better or more pious then them. Others will view you as stuck up or even unfriendly just because they can’t see your face. Non-Muslims will view you as a terrorist or an extremist that is trying to take over their country.
Sadly, you may well be called names by both types of people; others will make comments such as “Go back to your country!” (even though you are in your country), “Oh, you speak English very well!” (even if it’s your first language), or “Take that thing off your face!” Some may even swear at you or use filthy and vulgar language.
How you decide to reply to such nonsense and ignorance and allow it to affect you is in your hands. You can choose to ignore it, reply with a snarky comment, or use it to initiate da’wah. This also depends on the type of person who is being negative towards you. Sometimes it’s best just to leave it alone and walk away.
Fear of Public Reprisal
There are many sisters who are convinced of its importance but are afraid to wear niqaab due to all the negative treatment that they heard or read about happening to other niqaabis worldwide. However, we need to stop being afraid of people and put full trust in Allah to protect us, while using common sense and being cautious of where we are.
Always remember that the Sahabiyaat faced torture and harassment before the ayaat of hijab were even revealed! So don’t expect that you won’t be tested in any way.
At the same time, don’t try to be the one who sets an example of stubbornness! Remember that Islam advises us to be moderate – so if you’re traveling to another country, don’t fly via any country that has banned the niqaab; choose another route even though it takes a little longer to get to your destination. When being checked by security at any border or airport, use your common sense. If there are no female guards available to check your ID, do not make a fuss. Just stand aside and lift your niqaab in such a way that only the guard can see your face to check. Should you decide to make an issue of it, blame no one but yourself for any difficulty that you end up facing. Remember the times we are living in and that we can make minor compromises in certain situations. Don’t try to be a martyr!
Try It Out
I always advise sisters who want to wear it, but are also slightly afraid of the reactions to it they’ll receive, to try it for a while before making any final decision. Wear it for a few months at those times when you feel strong enough to go out with it doing regular everyday things, such as grocery shopping or taking your kids to school, and not just to the masjid or Islamic gatherings. Don’t feel that you are a hypocrite or doing something bad; you’re not!
If anyone should ask you about why you’re wearing it, explain to them you’re just trying it out for a while. Before going to work wearing the niqaab, talk to your co-workers to see what they think about women who wear it.
Make sure to inform your boss ahead of time if you plan on wearing it not only into work, but at work as well. If you find that wearing it at work or even into the building is going to cause you problems, you need to decide if you’re willing to lose this job and find another where they will accept you with it, or not wear it at all now until your situation changes. Be reasonable when dealing with family and friends.
At the end, it truly is YOUR choice. If you really want to but the time is not right for you to apply this, insha’Allah Allah will still reward you for your intentions. Remember that Allah does not burden us with more than we can bear and actions are by intentions.
UmmZainab Vanker has been a niqaabi for over 20 years and lived in a city where she was the only Niqaabi for almost 2 years. She was wearing it on 9/11 while walking her kids to school and travelled around the world with it as well. She has never had any problems while wearing it, and it is only Allah Who has protected her from all harm.