Monday 28 May 2018

Explaining Niqab Badly

I have to say that I have heard some pretty awful explanations of hijab and niqab in the past, including by the Muslim women that wear them.  I especially cringe when words like rape figure in any such conversation.

I think part of the problem is that sometimes people are not good at articulating themselves or feel uncomfortable discussing this type of topic.  Other times, I think people have a clear thinking about hijab but are taken by surprise by a question and don’t quite have a short, clear “elevator pitch” ready and explain it badly or say the wrong thing.

I found myself in an interesting situation a few weeks back during some Unconscious Bias training at work.  One of the sections of the training analysed different religions and their approach to diet, dress and prayer.  The trainer mentioned that Muslim women wear a hijab and a thing on their face called a…hijab?  I told the trainer it was called a niqab.

At this point someone asked why women wore it. I remember the tone of the question rather than the question itself.  The whole training had been not good enough in my view, so this was one more thing that got me going.  I explained the difference between hijab and niqab and acknowledged that it was an emotive subject for people.  I also explained that it wasn’t about hiding away, protecting yourself from assault or being better than anyone else.  It was about your relationship with your Creator and about your interpretation of a command to be modest and present yourself to the world in a way that you are judged on your good deeds and good character and not your face or body.  I explained that there was a multiplicity of ways Muslim women interpreted the injunction and wore hijab and that what was really important was talking to them to understand why rather than assume why.

I think I probably went on a bit too long and slightly embarrassed myself.  But as I said to someone at a Diversity workshop in the city recently: I have held my tongue too often and that means that young women that will follow me will have to deal with the same ignorance I have.  I have never actually held my tongue before and will talk your ears off at any opportunity that Islam is mentioned, but it sounded more dramatic 😊

Perhaps the answer is to have a clear elevator pitch (a concise, clear explanation) about why you wear hijab or niqab and share it with others. It doesn’t have to be a “right answer” but just one that is true to you.  Certainly, I think niqab is misunderstood and wrongly maligned, I feel very protective of my niqab-wearing sisters because quiet a number of my friends wear it and I get an insight into what amazing, beautiful people they are, but also how much abuse they face because of it.  In any case, I love it when people ask questions because I feel it’s a million times better to ask a question and expand your thinking than to make your mind up and refuse to consider a different person’s position.


  1. Anonymous28 May, 2018

    You had a very diplomatic anf good answer ready, but the niqab is awful and has no place in any society...especially not when the man walking next to the woman is in shorts and a t-shirt.

  2. Anonymous28 May, 2018

    How can a woman wearing niqab take her place in wider society? And why should a woman assume responsibility for men's thoughts and actions? It has no place in an advanced liberal society. I would also like to know how many women wear it out of free choice and how many are pressured to do so. As we live in a free society I will tolerate it but nothing will make me like it.

  3. Anonymous08 June, 2018

    To the first anonymous person. First, in Islam, a woman does hold men to such a high esteem that she wants to follow everything he does, including wear shorts and t-shirt. But instead women have their own awesome female predecessors that they love, respect and want to emulate in their own lives. Women are different, and are happy to be different to a man. There is so much more to a woman than her dress, you should try to extend your thinking beyond that. And the only awful part about wearing niqab is having racist, ignorant, judgemental people be abusive to you because they fail to understand another humans way of life.

  4. Lol. Not liking the niqab does not make you racist.
    Are all these women "happy" to be different to the men? Funny that you have a religion where there is one standard of modesty for women and one for men...I accept it when the man walking next to the woman is in a robe and thobe, but when he is wearing a shirt and shorts it is sheer hypocrisy and nothing else. The only thing i agree with in your comment is that there is way more than a woman than her dress, I agree.

  5. Niqaab is most special and beautiful because i have observed in my day to day life whenever i did not wear niqaab because of excess heat and headache people stare at my face, some boys see, comment and laugh looking at my face i really feel uncomfortable but when i wear niqaab i notice nobody would like to look at me.
    But this is really a gift from Allah to a woman and she is protected in Niqaab by the divine.