“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft‑Forgiving, Most Merciful”.

[Qur’an, Al-Ahzaab (33:59)] 

Key words:

Niqab- The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.

Burqa- The burqa is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

Trigger warning: Islamophobia

In recent years, the ban on hijabs and/or burqa has increasingly found its way in the news. So much so that over time, such violation of human rights does not seem surprising anymore. With the rapid rise in Islamophobia all over the world, countries have progressively either imposed such bans already, or have proposed the idea of the same.

In 2010, France barred Muslim women from wearing any form of dress that covers their faces and heads. In response to this in October 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) said that the ban imposed by France on burqa and other full face-covering veils is a violation of human rights. Similar demands were raised in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia among others. Muslim women in workplaces, educational institutions, and other fields of life have faced some form of discrimination or the other, on the grounds of their dress, besides having to go through unfair/unequal treatment because of gender bias.

A similar tradition of covering the head is observed in Hinduism and Christianity. However, it’s extensively against the Muslim women that we witness exclusion and defaming approaches. Niqab – also a form of pardah in Islam and obligatory for women to sport, has also been criticized and used as an excuse by people to segregate the community and spread hate. This has led to snatching women off their right to freedom to wear the dress of their choice.

In light of current events and with the rapid increase in the number of Covid-19 patients, there has been a compulsion to don the face mask every time we step outside. Social distancing has been under practice ever since the world went on lockdown in March. People without masks have been arrested, beaten up, and not allowed public services, such as fuel for cars, fearing the spread of the virus. What is intriguing here is that, when it was up to Muslim women to wear the dress of their choice, they were looked down upon. But now that the entire world needs to have their faces covered and probably wear gloves when stepping outside or doing businesses, who is to fear now and from whom?

Face mask has become a necessity for every individual across the world. As a matter of fact, masks were a “trend” at fashion shows, even before the Earth was touched by this malignant virus. Models were seen walking the ramp with their faces covered to match their apparels. Were they treated as threatening? Were they barred from being at a public space, did they have to listen to abuses or live in fear or called “jihadis” or terrorists? No, they were not. Because that was fashion.

Today, no one will question you if you step out with a concealed face, regardless of your faith or sex. Let’s say you are a burqa and niqab wearing woman out to buy groceries, you will not have to be afraid of judgmental and filthy eyes or harsh words ringing in your ears. The niqab that is adorned by Muslim women is not only because it’s what their religion teaches them to do. When you come to think of it, covering their faces and heads protects them from the soaring pollution that is hazardous for the human lungs. It secures their hair, skin, and even the eyes if the entire face is shielded. And what did we do when the air around us was so thick with dust that our eyes burnt and we couldn’t breathe? You know the answer.

It’s a common notion that Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab, or the burqa, or the niqab when, in fact, majority of Muslim women do it because they want to. It’s their will and their love for their religion and their God that encourages them to do so. Muslim women are not oppressed in the households for covering themselves, but outside, for doing what is right for them, and that is a violation of a basic human right. People would roll their eyes and give malicious glares to anyone they see covered, and this has called for a ban on women practicing their faith.

Now that the face mask has become an obligation, one wonders if the empathy will continue or will it disappear once the world is free of the pandemic? Will people keep this reflection, the need to protect oneself, no matter what the reason? As a young girl who wears the hijab and has felt the need to replace it with a beanie to cover my head in college, it bothers me that although the world is on its way towards “modernization”, and some Indian traditions are far left behind because “westernization” is more accepted here, that a sense of hatred persists to be instilled in our minds. This doesn’t make us liberal, as some people would like to perceive themselves as. Wearing a hijab, or burqa, or niqab is not backward. For me, personally, it’s my identity, my crown. Nothing gives me more poise and spirit than my hijab does.

I can only hope that my fellow sisters don’t hold themselves back from the dogmatic mindsets and racism that follows them around. I pray that may Allah give them strength, faith and encouragement to do what pleases Him, and that they may attain comfort and pride from it, InShaAllah. I wish for the world to learn lessons from the deep waters that we’re in today so that tomorrow, when we wake up to a new bright and hopeful day, it doesn’t go back to being its bigot and prejudiced self.


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