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The eyes have it: Is the niqab a symbol of equality or oppression? 

A French parliamentary committee has recently recommended that the niqab — the face veil — be banned in public places. The justification cited is that it is an affront to France's principles of secularism and equality. President Nicolas Sarkozy also stated that wearing the niqab is not a religious obligation. In Britain, the United Kingdom Independence Party has called for a niqab ban in public places based on similar rationale.

Women often wear the face veil because they see it as a religious obligation; some do it because they are seeking a mark of piety above and beyond the basic duty. They may wear it to avoid being defined by their sexuality, to be judged on their intellect instead. Some even argue that the niqab brings them greater equality and empowerment. But they also cover up to be "chaste" and "modest", hiding their beauty from the "prying" male eye — a measure often demanded by totalitarian groups like the Taliban. 

The niqab is an accessory that women can do without. Many scholars say it is not a religious duty and many religious women do not wear it. Women who believe that the niqab is empowering are, in my view, oppressing themselves. No one would expect a man to cover his face to hide his "sexuality". And a woman who defines her modesty in terms of her appearance is in fact insecure. 

I used to wear the hijab (the headscarf), and at times the niqab, because I believed it was a religious obligation. I stopped because I realised three things: if men view women as sexual objects, nothing a woman puts on her face or body will change that attitude; modesty does not lie in outer appearances but in conduct and manner; God judges on actions as opposed to appearances.

I, and many other British Muslims, see the niqab not as a desexualisation of women, but as a symbol of oppression and patriarchal dominance — and one that is, disturbingly, appearing more and more in a society that champions women's rights. It is important that we get this message across to those who choose or are forced to wear the niqab, and to those doing the forcing. 

The answer does not lie in government banning the niqab outright, but only where facial interaction is necessary in public spaces. A total ban would be contrary to the freedom of choice that we uphold in Britain. It is not the place of government to dictate to Muslims, or people of different faiths, what their religious obligations are. But it is the role of Muslim communities, and society as a whole, to debate what we will and will not tolerate.

Umm Carter
May 8th, 2012
12:05 AM
I wear niqab and I am American and I can say I love it. I wear hijab because it is my understanding from the Quran that believing women are commanded to lower their gaze, guard their chastity and bring their clothing over themselves to cover their beauty when among non mahrm men. I wear niqab because I like it. No one has ever asked, suggested or even hinted that I should wear niqab. I love to keep my beauty private. I have yet to meet a woman that went from not covering to covering, weather it be from hoochie girl clothes to westernized hijab or full on niqab, gloved and all or anything between that her self esteem didn't sky rocket. Hijab, and niqab, remind many women to value themselves. No matter what the fashion industry plys as undesireable, that you ARE a beautiful woman not only on the inside but on the outside too. That yes, you are a "sexy mama". Very few woman fit the fashion industry's narrow confines of what is ideal and no matter how confidant you are as a woman at some point you are negatively effected by this. Every woman is beautiful. Both physical and more importantly on the inside. Hijab is a reminder, to many, that I am beautiful and I should value myself. Not just throw it out there like garbage. I wear niqab because I value myself. Because I love myself, because I benefit from its blessings. It is right for me. Isn't there a hadeeth that says there is no compulsion in religion? Anyone that oppresses anyone really should be informed that Allah subhanwalatallah hears the supplications of the oppressed first. Plus its just idiotic. Whats the saying? Its easier to catch a fly with honey than vinegar? Encourage what you know to be pure and good and clearly and effectively discourage the bad. It would be bad for me on a multitude of levels to walk out the house wearing a bikini. (But BTW none of those reasons are because my husband or father or brothers would be angry because they wouldn't. They might worry but not be angry.) And to cartimandua please be informed that I wear niqab and do not suffer a vitamin D deficiency. For 1 thing the sun penetrates many kinds of clothing. If you don't believe me look up clothes special manufactured to keep OUT the sun's rays for children. Also many, though certainly not all of us around the world, it is a big place, have private places where we can catch some rays. Alhumdulillah I love my back yard.

June 19th, 2010
5:06 PM
Well we ban smoking in most public places. There are huge blowbacks from the perversity of veiled women. Women in gender apartheid cultures have 3 xs the rates of depression and suicide. This will effect the maternal/infant attachment and infant mental health. The womans health and the infants health will be negatively affected by a lack of vitamin D. The foetus needs it for brain development and it is implicated in diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Since we pay for each others health this gives us a darm fine reason to object to the indefensible on practical grounds. For women to be judged by their minds means men must be made responsible for and become responsible for, their own behaviour and thoughts. If women cover they are hampering male moral development.

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