My story is neither every Muslim woman’s story nor do I consider myself a benchmark against which to measure Muslim women. I am, however, someone who wears the face veil (niqab). And I wear it unflinchingly and unapologetically. There are many women who share my experience, who feel neither oppressed nor limited by the veil and consider it an integral part of their identity.
Most of us choose to wear niqab because we believe it is encouraged by our faith. Let me be clear: most of us do not consider it obligatory, and we certainly don’t denounce women who do not veil their faces as less pious or less modest. It is simply how we manage our own relationship with Allah.
As vociferously as the media shout that Muslim women who don the niqab do so out of fear of the men in their families and communities, I have seen the opposite. In my world, most women who have taken niqab adopted the custom while they were single, and many of them removed this contentious piece of clothing after marriage at their husbands’ request.
If anything, I would argue most Muslim men dislike for their wives, sisters and daughters to wear niqab. When a man asserts, “Women shouldn’t be allowed to cover their faces in public!” I hear this: “As a man, I have the right to tell you how to dress.” And to that I say, “It’s too bad you can’t see my ‘I don’t care about your opinion’ face.”
So no—we do not need to be saved or liberated, not by Muslim men and certainly not by the West. Suggesting that we do without knowing our story is an affront to our freedom to dress how we choose. It is precisely because of the assumptions made by everyone about the niqab and the women who don it, that I’d like to share just some of the reasons why I like wearing the niqab.
17 Hidden Benefits of Niqab:
- Because I conceal my face, people, particularly the opposite sex, only know me through my words, my behavior, talents, and my personality. They cannot use my body, hair or face to measure me. To put it another way, I have the privilege of living my life inside my words, not within my physical form.
- People might initially stare because they consider me an oddity, but they quickly move on and, as an introvert, I enjoy the invisibility of being visibly Muslim.
- I’ve noted that many people choose their words with particular care and seem especially conscientious when interacting to me. Maybe they find it disconcerting to carry a normal conversation with a person who has no face! Maybe they feel insecure saying or doing anything inappropriate around a woman wearing a face veil (I sincerely hope it is not because they assume we are especially devout, because a single article of clothing doesn’t confer piety on a person). Or maybe they fear that a woman wearing a niqab will pull out the haram stick, lecturing them on everything that is forbidden! Regardless, if I walk into a group cracking a dirty joke, they sheepishly change the subject.
- Now I don’t encourage this of course, but eating in class is a major plus. When you’re famished and the professor’s lecture is never-ending, slip in some food from beneath your niqab and enjoy. Oh, and popcorn or spinach stuck in my teeth? Not an embarrassing problem. It can happily nest there until I go home and brush my teeth.
- OMG! Breakouts? No foundation or concealer needed. I look fierce nonetheless. Fiercely black.
- The niqab allows me the advantage of hiding my emotions. You can never tell if I’m anxious, afraid or confused–unless you got some mad eye reading skills! Interestingly, children seem able to figure out my invisible expressions through my eyes alone. A little smile behind the screen evokes grins from them, which, in turn, makes my smile even wider.
- Niqab is a terrific smell blocker and let’s agree that there are plenty of noxious odors a person might want to escape.
- Niqab also blocks germs, smoke and dust.
- We expect women to look a certain way: slender build, silky hair, large doe eyes, full lips and the list goes on. As if all women can be measured by this myopic definition of beauty! As someone who wears the niqab, I feel liberated from all the superficial expectations foisted upon my gender.
- I can eat freely. Though newbies might find it challenging to eat while wearing niqab, once you get the hang of it, trust me, you will relish your meal much more than everyone else. While others are trying to eat in a well-manner, sophisticated way, I gulp, slurp and munch to my heart’s content. So much so that I sometimes have to audibly whisper to myself, “Get it together, girl.”
- I can sleep in public with my mouth wide open, and rest assured that my little nap won’t go viral on YouTube.
- I can easily avoid someone I don’t want to see. Run into a high school bully at the local park? Spot your boss at the mall? Walk right on by.
- I can recite prayers and perform kind acts all while remaining anonymous, and this anonymity both preserves my humility and keeps me from doing good to impress others.
- Other women feel secure in my presence because my niqab makes clear that I’m not interested in attracting their man’s attention or interest.
- These days every dermatologist and skin care advertisement is promoting the benefits of wearing sunscreen. Well, my niqab acts as a natural additional barrier to the sun’s damaging UV rays, so fingers crossed that I’ll have fewer wrinkles, blemishes and sun spots down the road!
- My niqab automatically makes me an ambassador for Islam. This role can feel heavy at times, but it does keep me in check. I know that I have chosen to dress in a way that immediately identifies me as a Muslim, and with that decision comes a responsibility to set the best example of a Muslim woman that I possibly can in my everyday interactions.
- The best part is, I don’t carry apologies or excuses in my pocket. Sorry, I didn’t wear makeup. Sorry I didn’t blow-dry my hair. Most of all, sorry you can’t see my face. Sorry. Not sorry.
Samina Farooq is the Co-founder of AYEINA (www.ayeina.com) and Co-creator of the #AlhamdulillahForSeries – A gratitude journal for Muslims. She has a degree in engineering and currently devotes her time to her family and studying the Qur’an and the Arabic language
Illustration Credit: AYEINA