Plain, Niqab, Hijab

Quebec wants to ban the wearing of chador and niqab. That is, they want to outlaw women covering their faces.

Most of us are aware that Islamic custom calls for women to be modest, even to the point where they don’t show their faces. Not many Muslim women who live in the West do this. While many practice the headcovering and modesty of hijab, they don’t feel called to cover completely. The government of Quebec, as well as other places, wants to prevent women from covering to the point of anonymity.

Why does the government think they can legislate religious practice and modesty? It’s just none of their business. If I want to go out in public in a hat with a full net veil, are they going to suspect me of plotting sedition? Western women used to veil under certain circumstances – getting married, wearing widow’s weeds (a long black dress, hat and face veil were common until about eighty years ago) and when they travelled in dusty or contagious conditions. A face veil that partially or fully concealed the features was considered fashionable at certain times.

This singling out of Muslim women is nothing but xenophobia. It is prejudice and hostility toward the religious practices of other cultures. There seems to be an assumption that the woman has no choice in this (according to a columnist here in Ontario) and that women do it because their husbands order them to. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam. Not all Islamic women practice hijab or niqab; not all Islamic men wear the beard or head cover. It is an individual choice. Certainly, some husbands may hypocritically order their wives in hijab or niqab while looking thoroughly Westernized themselves, but that is between the couple and maybe their religious community. Matters of family structure are not public matters unless they cross the line into abuse and violence.

My concern is that those of us who cover in other ways are going to be regarded with suspicion and come under scrutiny. We all look alike to some people, we cover too much of our hair and our bodies; there’s nothing to make us look like individuals. Which is the point. My individuality has nothing to do with my attire, my hair colour, or how much face or ankle I show. It has everything to do with being the person God wants me to be.

Traditional and Plain women need to stand up for their Muslim sisters’ right to choose niqab, the chador, the burkha and hijab. Their rights to religious expression and freedom are just as important as ours. If you want tolerance, you must practice tolerance.

22 thoughts on “Plain, Niqab, Hijab

  1. Anna at veiledglory had a good video link about similar ideas you may want to watch. A lot of laws like this are ignorance or the sins of a few biasing many against all in a group.

    Quebec seems set against outward expressions of religion. A few years ago they chased away the Mennonites who homeschooled. Now this.

    If it’s to counteract perceived women’s injustice, forcing them to change what they wear isn’t going to stop much since the “problem” is cultural, not just clothing. Even if the women are forced to wear a covering by men, the women choose to stay in the relationship or situation. If it’s to counter female terrorism, they should also outlaw overcoats since they can be equally as covering. Perhaps have everyone wear bathing suits.

    • It is very difficult for someone in an abusive relationship, separated perhaps from family and friendly support, to leave. But it is possible. Here in Canada all it would take would be a call to the RCMP. Taking that first step can seem insurmountable. We can’t know just by looking if a woman in niqab is in an abusive, controlling relationship, of course. The Muslim community will have to be self-policing to some extent. But let’s keep in mind that what liberal-minded secular people might call “controlling” we might call “headship”!

      I have written before on family violence. I may expand that topic soon, if only to clear up some misunderstandings that secular people have about traditional religions. Not that “they” will read it!

  2. I think that you are right, there needs to be greater solidarity between religions; Governments appear to be pushing the population further and further towards secularism. In part I don’t have a problem with this however my main concern it that all the religious freedoms that Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other sects have fought and died for over the centuries will be gradually eroded until they become a shadow of their former selves. There will always be those (dare I say fundamentalists) who will carry in regardless; perhaps they could migrate to the “New World”?

    Returning to the niqab, burka and chador my real fear is that it will fuel the arguments of the extremists who will use it as a further excuse to kill and maim in the name of religion. If we look at Europe the hijab has already been banned in public places and the wearing of religious symbols is also banned in many public institutions. If this carries on will it eventually cover, no pun intended all head coverings regardless of religion?

    • Extremists will always find an excuse to kill and maim. They are not trying to stop something, they are trying to gain power for themselves. Quebec has problems with the rest of Canada concerning culture and identity, and instead of being more tolerant, it seems to makes their politicians less tolerant.

      When we follow Christ, there is one choice we make everytime we encounter hostility. We may be called to martyrdom. We have to make the choice to take a stand as a Christian for our faith and our practices of faith, or we may have to give in and give up. Our Lord led us to the way of the cross, and that is never easy. It may cost us our lives.

  3. In the UK they want to drive cars in their veils, the fabric kind with a small ‘grille’ of threads for the eyes and I know from wearing one to work in Saudi how dangerous that is. The other thing that bothers me about Muslim veiling is that they will not take them off for police officers unless it’s a woman and that means they put themselves above the law. In the investigation of a crime you can’t waste time waiting on female officers to arrive because someone thinks she is so precious no-one but God and her husband should look at her face. Apart from that I don’t much care what they wear.

    • Well, I don’t drive wearing a face-shading bonnet, so why should someone think she can drive well in a burkha? There’s religious freedom and common sense…

      Personally, I’m not uncovering my head just because some officer asked me to. He’d better call for a female officer. Passng through airports wearing Plain dress can be intimidating. I’ll just stop flying if it comes to taking off cap, cape, boots and whatever else they want me to remove in the name of public safety and humiliation. How often does it come up that investigation of a crime involves a veiled woman? Police need to be a little more acommodating and a little less intimidating, in my opinion.

  4. I agree that religious people should stick together because we do have a lot in common and a common wish for religious rights. I agree with you that banning the nikab/burqa might create a slippery slope situation and what is next? Which religious freedom will be at jeopardy next? I wrote about this when Switzerland banned minarets. Today it might not have anything to do with Christians, but who know about what will happen next.

    Summertime 75

    The hijab is not banned in Europe, it is banned in schools in some countries like France and France has discussed banning the burqa/nikab but I am not sure if that bill has passed. “Europe” consists of many countries and most Europeans are offended when people see us as one country. In Sweden (where I live) and in most European countries there are no restrictions on wearing the hijab or nikab in public.

    • Thanks for the information. I have read that Denmark was considering banning the niqab, which surprises me,as I think of the Danes as being so tolerant that you could dress like a curcus clown and no one would ask why.

  5. I’m with Magda.The law says only a police woman can search a woman.Even in airports it is the law.I always get frisked and only by women.Up to just 50 yrs ago no one would ask a woman to take her bonnet or hat off.Such a thing would be disrespectful.The headcovering is about modesty and being humble so how can a woman feel “precious” in an arrogant way, while being humble and modest?

    • If you read hijabi sites, you’ll know how that it can get out of hand in terms of modesty and vanity! The Quakers called it “Plain but vain.”

  6. Yes, Denmark has discussed banning the burqa/nikab but the law was not passed. Denmark is a very special country. It is indeed tolerant and liberal, but also to people who are not tolerant. They have a very intolerant party (in my view) which wants to minimize immigration and lessen the rights of people from other cultures to make choices that are different from the rest of the Danes. Also here in Sweden it looks like an intolerant party might get into the parliament next election. I pray that it will not and try to convince people not to vote for them. To me the rethoric they use is almost the same as the Nazis used. “The immigrant/muslims take over out country, they are too different from us and do not understand democracy, they want to ruin our country, we need to promote Swedish culture before it is extinct, our country was great until all these foreigners started stealing our money”….

    As a Swede I often find Danes to be very direct and opinionated about everything, good and bad. Sweden is more of a consensus culture and people often do not want to offend others which Danes do not seem to care as much about. Both approaches have their good and bad sides, it is sometimes hard to have a different opinion in Sweden, but if you can explain it people they can often agree to disagree. However, if your opinion is not well-thought out and you cannot motivate it you are often expected to shut up and not state it. Stating your opinion just to state it is not very popular in Sweden.

    • My experience of Danish and Swedish culture is in North America. I have lived in settlements where Swedish or Danish were still spoken, and they still had vestiges of their home culture. My last parish was the only Danish-English Anglican parish in the world, as far as I could determine. My experiences among the Americanized Scandinavians was much as you relate. My Swedish neighbours and the parishioners would hold back any opinion or dissent. This left many conflicts simmering for years. Shortly after I left there was a big rift in the sister Lutheran church, which led to murder and suicide. My Danish neighbours and parishioners had no trouble at all telling me if they thought something was a bad idea, and while feuds were rare, fights were more frequent. But the Danes were much more “live and let live” than their English and Scottish descended neighbours.

  7. Yes, the Swedish approach risks leaving conflicts simmering, that is true, but most conflicts are instead solved long before they are real conflicts and everyone is happy. Also, when problems are dealt with a compromise is often the preferred choice so usually few people oppose to the solution. I also think that this approach makes people more prone to overlook other people’s faults and conflicts do not arrise as often from isolated incidents.

    However when problems are huge and must be dealt with it is very hard being the one who stands up and demands a solution. If you are lucky, others have thought the same thing and stand up for you once you have spoken out, but that does not always happen. However if you speak up and people think that what you say is resonable you will almost always get your way, no one will oppose just to oppose.

    I come from a very atypical Swedish family, we are quite opinionated and loud most of us, and that means I often have to take the role of saying what everyone else is thinking for example at work. It is hard but I know that I do this for the benefit of my colleagues and myself in the long run. Sometimes I am scared the boss won’t like it but I am rather true to my personality.

    However, I really like solving problems the Swedish way, discussing and twisting and turning the issue instead of just choosing the first suggestion. I also, like most Swedes hate causing conflicts or making people angry. Within my family there is no tiptoeing around but still I was like most Swedes taught that “The person raising his voice has lost the argument”, meaning that if you lose you temper you have (most likely) lost the argument.

    Controlling ones temprament is a highly regarded skill and making your point in an understated and controlled way is preferred. I think this is often why Swedes are so active in diplomacy and trying to solve conflicts in the world. Listening to others and genuinely trying to find a middle ground is often our aim in daily life so trying to find it in bigger conflicts comes natural really. When discussing something in Sweden you should always give credit to the other person if they make a fair point, only stating your own thoughts and your own perspective is rude, however, you are not forced to give credit unless you feel it is due. That is how you can judge the intencity of the debate, not by tone of voice mostly.

    • Swedish culture is so different from the immigrant Scots-Irish family I grew up in – hot tempered and quick tongued! Shouting was our usual form of communication. I’ve had to work on temper and volume as I became more Plain and Quakerly. I’ve had problems with banks transferring funds this week, and yesterday I delayed calling the bank to complain because I knew I was on a short fuse and would likely explode. One can hardly be called peaceful if one is blasting some poor bank manager with a volley of Irish-tinged invective.

  8. The natives here in Alaska (especially those from villages) often pause before answering questions. Sometimes it makes people wonder if they heard you or understood what you asked (especially simple questions). However, they decide what to say first rather than blurting the first thing that comes to mind. That cuts down on misunderstandings quite a lot.

    • I noticed that when I worked with Native Americans. They give you some room to finish your statement or question, then stop to think before answering. They don’t interrupt. Conversations are slower, but more productive.

  9. Magdelaina,

    i couldn’t agree with you more!! We, as modest dressing, headcovering Chrsitians, it is essential that we forge bonds of solidarity and understanding with our sisters of differeng faiths – with our Jewish sisters, Muslim sisters and others who due to faith and/or conscience have made this very counter cultural decision.

    I was listening to a presentation yesterday on-line by a Catholic Hijabi; she made this point (along with others) that genuinely stood out to me.

    Paraphrasing, she brought up the usual, secular, (based on ignorance and assumption) that women cover and modest dress due to being forced to do so – if not all the time, in some instances, which automatically marrs this practice as repressive. Afterwards, she turned the whole concept on its head; What of the millions of women who wear miniskirts and heels? without secular society raising an eyebrow? have the naysayers ever stopped to consider that women are also forced to wear miniskrts and heels? Anybody who believes this isn’t so is willfully and stubbornly ignorant!! Every day, women and girls are forced into the sex slave trade in latin America, Asia, and even the deepest darkest west!! is the fact a sign that all women who dress this way are repressed? Immediately, the gaping flaws in this type of argument become bleedingly obvious!! Indeed, women who believe feminist freedom equates to exposure in public are the ones truly captive; captive to objectification, sexualization and fettishization. i haven’t even begun to start on the topic of the sacrementality of modest dress and covering – and the way our twisted society equates these with dubious character, missogeny or untrustworthiness!! To the English lady who has expressed beliefs that covering modest dressing women see themselves as overly precious; this is not the case. not by a long shot. spend a little time reading the various articles on modesty and headcovering by women for women at http://www.quakerjane.com and the various articles penned on this blog, plus additional material over at http://www.quakeranne.com http://www.veiledglory.wordpress.com, plus additional commentary by both men and women at http://www.traditioninaction.com, http://www.teaattrianon.blogspot.com and even http://www.catholicknight.blogspot.com. My cape stays. My dress stays. my boots stay and my headcovering, no matter its design,also stays. I would rather not travel at all than be treated like a criminal when the girl in front of me in the queue wearing hotpants and a halter top is simply waved through without a second thought EVen 20 years ago, the securitist attitude of our authorities would be considered unconscionable; but secularists will not stop until all our rights are stripped. A frog will leap clear of that pot of boiling water, though she will allow herself to be simmered alive if the water is cold to start with but gradually heated – until it is too late and there is no escape.

    As for Quebec, remember the French Revolution and the massacre of the Vendi? tens of thousands of humbly devout men, women and children were massacred by the revolutionary forces, a three-year reign of terror… Freedom, Equality, Fraternity? DOn’t think so! And this has permiated into the very heart of French (and by extention, Quebecci) sensibilities hence draconian laws that violate God’s word!

    We must stand together lest we all become victoms of this new reign of terror, in the guise of ‘democracy’ sweeping the supposedly civilized world. I will quietly yet persistantly stand in the truth.

    Blessings,

    Sarah,
    sydney,
    Australia.

    • I was once asked to uncover for a driver’s license photo; I said no, and the clerk just shrugged and took the picture anyway. Then, a bishop asked me to stop wearing a clerical collar since I wasn’t under license in the diocese where I lived. (Honestly, I’d only put it on to meet with him, out of respect.) That piece of plastic was gone before I got to the door! And I haven’t looked back…Because I’m not going to wear it again, bishops or no.

      If anything is egaliterian, it is the leveling of socio-economic indicators in Plain dress. Pretty much, we look the same. It’s hard to have a “fancy’ Plain outfit, because it so quickly crosses the line. St. Paul’s injunction to us was to pay less attention to our appearance, and more attention to our hearts; to give no cause for scandalous talk amongst unbelievers; to continue in the practices of the ancestors and not to lose sight of where we came from and where we are going.

      I am comforted in the knowledge that I am continuing a millenia-old practice that kept God’s people in the right way. It is that important to me.

    • Oh, I also mean to defend Margaret’s position a bit. By “precious” she may mean “delicate,” not “valuable,” as in better than others. Some Muslims do have the belief that women are frail, and need to be covered up like rare inlaid furniture. I’m afraid this is supportable in the Koran, too. Even the Bible has passages that imply women are weaker than men. Those (male) writers didn’t have the opportunity to meet me! All right, at fivefootthree and nothing more, about one hundred thirty pounds, I am not as strong as my burly husband, who could squat lift almost seven hundred pounds. I didn’t make it past four hundred. So there. They must be right! I’m afraid I might agree with Margaret on this: Delicate women, start lifting weights! You will not break!

  10. Magdelaina, and Margaret,

    Please accept my appology for misinterpreting the comment to which I replied. and, Magdelaina, I can see where you’re coming from; could lack of physical strength and stamina in women (and men, to a certain extent) be influenced by our modern mechanized lives? Those know of this type of thing put forward that even in the last 30 years, we have lost the equivalent of 2.5km walking per day simply due to lessening of incidental exercise; everything from less walking on the way to school or work, less manual work around the house and the like. in 1980, I learnt to type on an old Olympic manual typewriter; any of my fellow touch-typists out there? imagine going back to the manual after not only electric and electronic use, but the supremicy of the computer keyboard… I can’t imagine reaching 90wpm on a manual – but hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women and men did – every day; and more!!

    Please excuse my uber-passionate defence…

    blessings,

    Sarah,
    sydney,
    Australia.

    • No worries, it enlarged the discussion! Most certainly, we are not as fit and strong as our ancestors, assuming they hadn’t died of contagion or injury at a young age. I know that we have the popular view that people befor eus suffered nutritional deficencies and so on, but that may be so much progressive propaganda that I’m not sure how true it was. A lot of our information is gleaned from incomplete historic sources, from paleontology and surmises…But they must have been strong and tough and healthy, or we wouldn’t be here!

  11. Thank you for posting on this topic! I am an American Muslimah who wears a headscarf (hijab) and has worn niqab at certain times along my Path. While I have met some who wear niqab who have a bit of an ‘attitude problem’, the majority of us who choose to wear it do so because of modesty (including a specific definition of what is appropriate that may come across as a preciousness, whether of self or of attitude), or as a religious practice (as I have). Niqab seems to me to be a bit like the bonnet: a garment in addition to one’s usual headcover, that definitively sets one apart even among one’s own. It is both a statement of religious devotion and a reminder to the woman wearing it to always be mindful of her behavior, and mindful of God. It is an act of worship. (Or should be!) Thank you also for sharing your own thoughts and experiences through this blog; my husband (who is not Muslim) attends Quaker meeting, and I myself am working toward a Plain Islam.

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