“If the next generation is going to be raised to embrace the strict Islamic values for which the niqab is the expression, it will undermine the project Syria is trying to build, of secularism and coexistence of religions.” Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma
In an apparent attempt to curb what is being deemed a growing religious presence, Syria has instituted regulations banning niqab from university life. Considering the sheer number of individuals who have voiced public opposition to niqab over the past few years, it is only a matter of time before other nations follow in Syria’s footsteps.
Couple that with the recent legislation banning niqab in France, niqab banning legislation being considered in Quebec, and the general condemnation being thrown niqab’s way, and the situation becomes all the more bleak for the future welfare of niqab.
Which begs the question: why? Why the assault on a piece of cloth? One of the biggest mistakes that we fall into as a society is our ability to psychoanalyze reasons behind things and then superimpose that psychoanalysis as the only acceptable narrative for why that thing is done. In the case of niqab, the narrative has already been written: it is worn the majority of the time by force, it is oppressive in nature, and it is primitive. Or so we are told.
The fact of the matter is that there is a gross double-standard present when assessing women’s clothing. Women are without a doubt increasingly being objectified in societies considered more ‘cultured.’ That objectification manifests itself in social pressure intended to tie the value of a woman to her physique. We never question whether or not a woman dressed in a bikini was forced to dress like she is, nor do we question whether or not women are forced to dress suggestively around the workplace, in school, or in the media. Instead, it is the small percentage of women who wear niqab that get castigated from the public sphere and told to take off the veil if they aspire for true acceptance.
This, to me, is what makes the entire enterprise of niqab criticism all the more insidious. In most countries where niqab is roundly criticized, niqabis are a small percentage of the total population and are vulnerable since their voice is never represented in the media. Rather, it is the case that we find even Muslims- some very prominent in their own right- publicly condemning the niqab as anachronistic and incompatible with the dictates of modernity.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter at hand. While some regard the matter of niqab as a subsidiary issue, the reality of it is that the future of Islam in the west is being carved out right in front of us. Our future in the west is predicated on our ability to carve out an indigenous expression of islam that allows for a spectrum of religious thought to coexist. The degree to which we are successful in doing so will determine, to a large extent, the success of a dignified future for generations of Muslims yet to come.
And it starts with our ability to stand up for our most weak and vulnerable. The first Muslims in the history of Islam were the weak and poor. They held no status in society and were disenfranchised in a community that classified the haves and have-nots without shame. Daughters were routinely sacrificed, peoples rights were commonly infringed upon, and shirk was widespread. And yet it was this society, of all societies, that Allah sent the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam to reform. This was the prophetic message, and in assisting those who need assistance, not merely through money or food, but through the promotion of justice, we continue in a legacy set forth for us over 1400 years ago.
May Allah make us worthy of His blessings and allow us to live up to the designation of being His Vicegerents on earth. Ameen.