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The Niqab…

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Posted in: Religion
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…An example of female subjugation or merely a religious practice that seeks to preserve a woman’s modesty?

Being a borderline feminist, I think it’s the former, especially as Muslim scholars can’t agree on whether it’s a religious obligation or not.

What do you guys think?


  • I have to agree with you. One thing is to use a Hijab, which a number of American Muslim women happily and willingly use, many using it pretty much as a symbol because they are proud of their heritage and their faith (one of my pharmacists is among those). It entirely covers their heads, yet not their faces, but a Niqab seems quite the extreme. To me, and of course this comes from a Westerner, it is more a symbol of possession and dominance.


  • I’m an avowed radical feminist, and I consider it an instrument — not just a symbol — of subjugation and oppression. If it serves to restrict or limit one group’s full participation in all the activities of life, then it is oppressive. Why are only women required to be “modest?”


  • I think if the woman chooses to wear it, then it’s simply a symbol of her faith. I think it only becomes a tool of subjugation when women are forced to wear it. Different religious groups practice differently. In the church where I grew up you didn’t dare go through the door in anything less than a dress, herls and a hat. Going without hose was positively scandalous. People come to the church I attend now barefoot, and I’ve been known to wear Birkies! My mama would be horrified.

    I used to think much as you do until I read some blog posts by Muslim women whereas they talk about the freedom in modesty. When you’re covered you get to choose when and by whom you’re sexualized. As they see it there’s no freedom and liberation in being, as they call it, naked, because then your body is open to everyone. As someone who struggled with street harassment when I was younger I can see her point.


  • It’s a tricky question for me.

    Just as some women have religious reasons all their own to wear a Hijab, I imagine there are those who wear Niqabs of their own free will, and yet…

    I see Roslyn’s acquaintance’s point, but it still irks me that women have to dress according to male opinions, desires, reactions. Choosing to cover yourself up to the point of impeding normal functioning in the world (really, would you dare drive wearing that? talk about blind spots!) so that you won’t be sexualized…

    Sorry, it simply drives home just how fucked up we are about sexuality.

    Frankly, let men be responsible for their own responses while I’m comfortable wearing whatever the fuck I feel like wearing.


  • Maili
    March 27
    6:58 pm

    Since I don’t know that religion very well, I honestly have no opinion.

    Likewise towards Catholics nuns, Catholic women wear head wraps when in church (some use said head wraps to cover the bottom half of their faces), Orthodox Jewish women (who shave their hair and wear wigs), Russian(?) Orthodox nuns, Hindu women and their head wraps, and Sikhs. Ditto for all women who wear full-on veils at their weddings.

    I don’t understand why they wear/do those, but I assume it’s for religious reasons. This applies to those who wear the niqab, so why not?


  • Catholics obviously do funny things. And they use incense, too! 🙂

    Seriously, I used to be a practising Catholic, and I never wore a head wrap in church. And in my experience, only in very strict orders do nuns have to wear a habit and a veil today. (I used to go to a school that was run by nuns. About twenty years ago – wow, that makes me feel old! – habits became optional in that particular order.)

    If I remember correctly from what my grandparents and my mum have told me about holidays spent in Italy in the 1950s and 60s, women had to cover their heads then when they wanted to enter a church. That had already changed back in the 1990s when I visited Italy with my parents. You just had to make sure that you didn’t expose too many body parts.

    As to the Niqab, I regard that as a symbol of female subjugation and oppression.


  • Jeannie S. (Jeannie189)
    March 27
    9:10 pm

    Catholic women are no longer required to have their heads covered – I’m not sure when that ended, but, its been at least since the late 60’s.

    I’m not sure where I stand on this, I think most women are forced to wear these, or face severe punishments (depending on the country). Then it becomes subjugation. I read A Thousand Splendid Suns a few years ago. It was very moving and gave me a small glimpse of what life was/is for women living in Afghanistan. I definitely recommend it – it was one of those books that stays with you.


  • As Sandra and Jeannie S said, it’s been quite a while since head covering was mandatory for Catholic women, so I’m not sure I feel comfortable equating it to the Niqab myself.


  • I guess it’s understandable that some women would find the niqab or other “modesty” garments comforting, but given that it’s the obnoxious behavior of men that they’re seeking refuge from, I don’t consider that a voluntary choice (redundant, I know). And while the roman catholic church no longer requires head coverings to enter the church or habits for nuns, women are still not considered full human beings worthy of being “priests.”


  • When you cover a woman’s face you take away her identity and that’s unacceptable and wrong. I don’t care what religion it is.


  • The custom of females covering their heads before entering a church was one of the many things “abolished” by the Second Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII in the late 1950s. By the time I was born (1962) women were not required to do so, though many still did. It took a couple more decades for it to completely “sink” in. It went along with mandatory use of Latin for mass, among other things. Sadly, the Roman Catholic Church has not attempted any further “modernization” after that. More than half a century, and we all know that things HAVE changed a lot over the past 50 years. (Talk about feeling “old” 😛 )



  • Jeannie S. (Jeannie189)
    March 28
    1:41 pm

    Mireya – I’m only a year younger than you, so I’m right with you on feeling old. Actually, there have been other changes in the Catholic Church. When I was growing up, girls could not be servers, only the boys. You only had alter boys – my brothers all did it, and it was actually funny to watch them sit there bored and fidgeting, paying no attention to the priest. Now, they’re called alter servers, and it usually is girls up there.

    I think the church could use some more changes, but like a lot of things, change is slow in coming. I don’t like to disparage any religion, because they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Lately, I feel there has been a lot of Catholic bashing in the U.S., so I am reluctant to join in. When I read Splendid Suns, I saw that while there were men who enjoyed subjugating women, there were others who were very sympathetic, or did it because they felt it was right in their hearts. It wasn’t black and white.


  • JoanneF
    March 28
    1:48 pm

    It was later than the 1950’s that women were allowed to go into a Catholic church without head coverings. I was born in 1959, and clearly remember always wearing a hat or veil to go inside a church. It was most likely during or after Vatican II (1962-1965)that the change happened. In any case, I don’t think that equates with wearing a niqab. Catholic women had to cover their heads only when entering a church, much like Jewish men wearing yarmulkes to enter a synagogue or Muslims removing their shoes to enter a mosque. They were not required to wear any specific clothing in their daily lives, outside of church. Nuns chose their vocation, which went along with wearing a habit, just as priest wear a collar or vestment. Again, definitely cannot be equated with Muslim full-body coverings for women IMO.


  • Mireya
    March 28
    2:22 pm

    Oh, you are absolutely right, Jeannie. I’ve forgotten quite a bit during the years, it does show that I stopped practicing years and years ago for very personal reasons (all of them based on disagreement with the organized aspect of the Church itself, not the faith).



  • Jeannie S. (Jeannie189)
    March 28
    2:42 pm

    I understand where you’re coming from Mireya. My family (4 brothers and 1 sister) are all over the place here. Lapsed, devout or converted, we all try and understand the other’s position. For the most part at least.


  • JoanneF, I think the Catholic women no longer covering their heads to attend mass took longer in some places and less in others, but for quite a few decades it has been the individual’s choice.

    And as you say, becoming a nun/priest has been the individual’s choice for much longer than that, and so it cannot be equated to having your very identity obliterated by an outside authority (i.e., a religious state that forbids women to show their faces in public)


  • amousie
    March 28
    11:17 pm

    It’s subjugation when acceptable attire is backed by tacit or explicit treats of violence.


  • Bethie R
    April 2
    1:57 pm

    The idea that a woman has to take any special measures – in what she wears or how she acts or where she goes – in order to be “free” from being sexually harassed is the ultimate form of oppression, in my opinion. That men can’t be expected to behave like civilized human beings and keep it in their pants at the mere site of a female, thus requiring women to cover their hair and faces, is not only pathetic, it’s a crime. I see the niqab as yet another example of how men have always subjugated women. Sisters need to revolt.


  • Hemo M
    April 9
    2:14 pm

    Religion does not say woman have to cover themselves from head to foot with only a slit in their eyes.Women wear the niqab out of pressure from their families, husbands or to move around incognito.


  • Sadia
    June 20
    7:55 pm

    Peace and greetings to all on this thread 🙂

    It has been quite interesting reading everyone’s comments, and I can totally understand why some women might think of the niqab as oppression and subjugation.

    I am a muslim woman and have been wearing Niqab for the last 8 years, all praise be to God. My reason for wearing it is that I want to please my Creator and submit to His Commands, and live a life of obedience to Him in all my day to day affairs.

    My journey has not been easy. When I was 21, I started reading the Quran and found it an amazing source of guidance and an explanation for why we are here on earth and what our purpose is. Even though I was born muslim, it was now that I decided to live my life according to Islam, all praise be to God.

    Without going into details, I first started wearing the head scarf, then after some years the loose outer garment, and then after some years the niqab. At every step, I faced criticism, opposition, rejection, by my father, brother, my own family. So the idea that women are being forced to wear the niqab is not true (there may be cases out there of women being forced to, but I have never come across any one or even heard of any woman with whom this has happened). Rather, the opposite is true, women who wear the niqab have gone through a lot of struggle to be able to wear it.

    Also, with the negative portrayal of Islam in the media, it has become increasingly difficult to do my day to day chores living in the West (I live in London) . When I go out, there is always a fear of someone verbally or physically abusing or harrassing me. If on the one hand people feel that the women who wear niqab are being subjugated, then why such a negative reaction when such people meet or come across a woman wearing the niqaab? I have received so many insults and hurtful comments, just because I have chosen to follow my faith. I am a responsible citizen of my society, I help whenever I can, I stay away from crime, I try and contribute positively to my community. Yet people treat me like this because of what they see in the media.

    So even though I do appreciate everyone’s views on the niqab, please realise that the women wearing it have (for the most part) worn this out of free will, and as an act of obedience to their Creator. I do not wear it to protect myself from men’s lust (that is a side benefit – and having spent 21 years without any covering, I am in a position where I have experienced both lifestyles – one without and one with niqab – and I am being honest when I say that I am so grateful to God that He enabled me to reach this stage in my life where I am wearing this. I much prefer this way of living. It is modest, and I feel so safe and content, and I feel so happy. )

    I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to read this. I understand and respect your opinions, and I sincerely hope that you will empathise with and respect my opinion and reason for wearing the niqaab.

    We live in a time of freedom of religion. We live in a society which is tolerant and supportive of each other. We respect each other’s differences. We share and care for each other as we are all part of one humanity. I pray to God that He places goodness in what I have written.

    All the best xxx


  • Hammam
    June 21
    8:36 am

    A few years ago a respectable Sudanese Islamic scholar, Hassan El Torabi, said that covering of the hair with a hijab was not a requirement of Islam,hence, the niqab has nothing to do with religion.


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