Gender equality and women rights

The Niqab would make me feel alienated, and no law will ever force me to wear it

gender equalityThis article is a rebuttal by a Muslim Moroccan woman to an article published by The GuardianThe Niqab makes me feel liberated and no law will stop me from wearing it.

As Muslim women fight for their emancipation, 20 year old Semaa Abdulwali publishes in the Guardian: “The niqab makes me feel liberated, and no law will stop me from wearing it.”

It is not difficult to believe that the complete black cover that Semaa freely chooses to wear in public liberates her. Semaa makes a personal choice, which can be quite empowering for a young Muslim woman standing up for her beliefs and self-identity in a western society in Islamophobic times.

However the same Niqab that is so liberating to Semaa who lives in a free society, is also experienced as a real burden to millions of women around the world. If tomorrow, I was forced to wear the Niqab or veil, I would, as a Muslim woman, be so desperately miserable. I do not agree that Islam requires from me to hide behind a black veil, nor that my brain and my physics are in a continuous fight over which represents me.

As humans, over 60% of how we communicate is through nonverbal. Looking at each other’s faces helps us recognize happiness or sadness, decipher facial expressions, anger, joy and other emotions. It allows us to better engage and communicate with our fellow human beings. Showing our faces is truly showing consideration, as a face expresses much of how we feel about ourselves and about the others. My face, my eyes, my mouth are not sexual organs, they speak to who I completely am.

I have long pondered this Niqab practice and its place in our modern world. Europe is full of examples of young Muslim women fighting for the right to wear the veil. And it sounds more like an identity crisis. Whether at age 13 or 20, who amongst us didn’t make unconventional dress choices to express their independence and anti-conformism? Just ask your parents.

Let’s ask the eternal question yet again: when it comes to clothing, where does our freedom begin and where does it hurt? Our society is built around public norms and conventions, and dress codes are part of customary social contracts. If it weren’t the case, imagine the number of people who would make it their freedom and right to go out naked. Would we call them exhibitionists? Imagine if freedom meant everyone can express their beliefs and fantasies through a “wear whatever you want, wherever you want” rule, not just the Niqab, even masks, or other unconventional outfits. If we were all entitled to translating our religious and non-religious beliefs into original dress choices, the whole world would live in a Venetian festival, hopefully a happy one, where none would even single out Semaa.

As a Muslim living in an Islamic country (and not in the west), I hold the belief that God doesn’t instruct us to wear the Niqab or Burka. Our king is the commander of the faithful: his wife, his sisters don’t wear the veil either. It is also true, that here in Morocco, Niqabs are mushrooming, a symptom of Salafist influence. Should we wonder why Semaa’s parents oppose her decision?

Suffice it to say that the veiling of women as a patriarchal practice and a tool for male dominance in society supersedes Islam. In her book The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner describes how the veil tradition in Mesopotamia served to distinguish noble women from prostitutes. The latter could even get punished if they usurped such outfit only fitted for the noblesse.

As many Muslim women continue to stand up to patriarchy and repression, it is disheartening to see other Muslim women use their freedom to perpetuate it.

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