I wear the niqab, let me speak on my own behalf

I welcome a debate, so long as it respects a diverse range of views including that of veiled Muslim women, but don't we have more important things to talk about?

Share
Related Topics

After the recent (and now revoked) decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to ban the niqab (Muslim-face-veil) and Jeremy Browne MP’s comments, the niqab has once again become a hot topic for many politicians and commentators. There are, however, voices missing in this debate – and I for one think it is imperative for the voices of the face-veiled Muslim women to be heard.

I started wearing the niqab at a the age of 14, although my parents discouraged me. I was motivated by a deep belief that this was the right decision for me and that hasn't changed in the intervening years since.

The common impression that many people have about those that wear the niqab is that we are oppressed, uneducated, passive, kept behind closed doors and not integrated within British society. The terms used in the press often reflect this, as do some politicians statements. Jeremy Browne MP is a case in point with his call for a national debate about whether the state should step in to “protect” young women from having the veil “imposed” on them. Sarah Wollaston MP finds the niqab “deeply offensive”. Enter the Prime Minister and commentators across the political spectrum ready to discuss us.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a proud Welsh and British citizen, a molecular geneticist by profession and an activist in my spare time. I have formerly been elected as the Wales Chairperson of a national Muslim student organisation and held other leadership roles including working with bodies such as the National Union of Students. I wear the niqab as a personal act of worship, and I deeply believe that it brings me closer to God, the Creator. I find the niqab liberating and dignifying; it gives me a sense of strength. People I engage with judge me for my intellect and action; not necessarily for the way I look or dress. Niqab enables me to be, simply, human.

To understand the niqab it helps to understand the religion behind it. Islam has three simple messages – liberation from worshipping anything but the one God, following in the way of His Prophets including Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, and servitude to the whole of humanity. Islam’s practical acts of liberation are many – from the duty of environmentalism (protecting ‘the Creation’ from the ‘excessiveness’ of humankind) to the imperative of modesty for women and men – one part of which is the face-veil. Indeed, in my view, the authentic reading of Scripture does not deem the niqab as compulsory but highly recommended; crucially, a woman has total freedom of choice to decide what she wears.

Concerns associated with the niqab include “security” and whether it represents an obstacle in the pursuit of justice in court. Islam is not a monolithic religion and therefore Islamic scholars may differ in their jurisprudence but most agree that in particular cases, Muslim women are allowed to take off their veils – though each case should be dealt with individually. Muslim women including myself do not find this a problem.

In principle, I welcome the call for a national debate– so long as it respects a diverse range of views including that of veiled Muslim women. However, my work in community-organising forces me to raise the question of significance and need of it. There are more important issues that are not being tackled – including institutional racism, unemployment, affordable housing and growing inequality. 

Perhaps such MPs should rethink their priorities and should not allow the state to interfere the basic individual’s rights to choose, practice and express. We are not living in a state like Saudi Arabia or Iran where the hijab or niqab to some extent are mandated; nor are we living in Turkey or France where militant secularism is deeply rooted, forbidding them. In Britain, public freedom is a part of the fabric of our society. Those public freedoms extend to religious freedoms that give us the right to practice and articulate our religious freedoms and rights. We cannot take this public freedom for granted for the sake of social scares, deep-seated psychological fears, ignorance and fear of the unknown.

The veil-ban and negative prejudices associated with it are old news in the British arena, but what I find new is that we are living in times of remarkable complacency. Comments of anti-Muslim-hatred are not made exclusively by the far-right but by politicians and intellectuals. A widely accepted fear of Islam seems to be fortified, able to justify a sense of collective oppression.

Making such negative comments about face-veiled Muslim women or banning the veil will not enhance integration but rather exclusion, leading to cultural destruction of minorities in the name of equality. Indeed, Muslim women too must raise their heads, speak on behalf of themselves and platforms should be given to them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game