While reading your column "The Canvas of Emotion," I felt the annoyance that usually comes over me whenever people start talking about how the niqab (veil) is this, that, or the other.
That annoyance has not faded. Though I appreciate your honesty about how you really feel about the veil, and what you think it really is, I remain frustrated that you have not taken the time to research more deeply why some Muslim women wear the veil, and the reasons given for its practice within Islamic Law. At the very least, could you not have contacted a Muslim woman who wears the veil? After all, you do live in Ottawa, where the veil isn't entirely uncommon.
In any case, since you didn't take the time to learn more about the veil from someone who wears one, I have taken the time to come to you.
First of all, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Zainab. I'm 21 years old, and although I currently live overseas, I was born a Canadian citizen and spent every year of my life there (except for the last two). I am a passionate believer in social justice and a fierce feminist. I've been writing since I was 14 - fiction, poetry, and articles for newspapers, blogs, and magazines. I am both independent and outspoken.
I am a Muslim woman, and I started wearing the veil when I turned 17, after years of begging my mom (who also wears it) to let me (shocking, huh? A teenage girl being forbidden from wearing the veil, not being forced into it!).
I do not wear the veil to segregate myself from society; I do not wear it to "smother my identity"; I do not wear it to remain aloof from others or assume that I'm better than them, or any of the other theories that so many journalists have been sharing within the last two days.
No. I wear it because first of all, I believe that God commanded it. In the Qur'an, the veil has three purposes: to test just how far you'll go to obey God; to identify yourself as a Muslim woman; and for the sake of modesty. (Specific Qur'anic verse: http://quran.com/33/59
To expand a little upon the last point, it has nothing to do with Islam considering all women to be wicked seductresses bent on luring innocent men into frenzies of lust. Instead, it has to do with Islam's concern for societal welfare. Men and women are allowed to interact in any number of settings, whether it be for business, education, or otherwise, but there are certain limits placed on those interactions. By restricting men's ability to physically assess a woman's face or body and treat her according to how attractive he considers her (a human-nature practice studied and proven extensively in psychology), they are forced to deal with the woman on purely intellectual terms: her ideas and her actions.
In this kind of setting, no man can ever make judgments about a woman based on her physical features (like, oh, I don't know... how about promoting a woman just because she's got bigger boobs than the competition? Don't tell me this doesn't happen in the corporate world.)
Now, with regards to the claims you make about the veil - that it cuts off one's identity; that communication is hindered and restricted; that the ability to emotionally connect disappears - I can say with full confidence that while it might make sense theoretically, in reality none of those things take place.
I went to school, to the mall, to the park, to every place imaginable while wearing the veil. I hiked, I debated, I studied, I smiled and said "good morning" to passers-by... and they were all able to recognize that I was interacting with them and reaching out emotionally. My teachers, classmates, and neighbours never saw my face, but that didn't mean that they didn't trust me less; that they felt cut off from me or separated from me.
I built both short-term and long-term relationships - whether with the librarian or the grocery store clerk; my favourite teacher or the mailman.
Identity, emotions, and expressions of the two are not limited to facial features. In a society which is no longer tribal but cyber-connected, this is evidenced in the popularity of web forums, text messaging and more, we have effectively proven that there are practically no more barriers that hinder communication. When walking around veiled, people could easily tell if I was happy or sad, smiling or frowning. That's because body language involves more than just facial expressions (which, by the way, you can detect on a veiled woman because you can still see her eyes).
Muslim women may cover their faces; but that doesn't stop us from talking or taking action. And as I was taught in kindergarten, we deal with people based on how they act, not how they look.
You may be interested in taking a look at thiese webpage (video, article, and comments) to get a better idea of the issue of veiling amongst Muslims (and especially how it does not stop us from being normal, functional, friendly human beings!):
(Yes, I wrote this one.)
I sincerely hope that you are able to consider the reality of veiled Muslim women over psychological hypotheses (which might sound fancy and all, but don't actually translate into real life), and realize that there's more going on behind the veil (as though this pun isn't overused already... *sigh*) than what you think.
Zainab bint Younus
Musings of a Muslim Mouse: The Original Ramblings of AnonyMouse al-Majnoonah
Sisters: The Magazine fo Fabulous Muslim Women!
With respect, I did not assume that any women who wears a veil does so involuntarily. What I argued is that, due to the nature of human psychology and communication, any woman who wears a veil will find her ability to interact with others severely limited. Not entirely truncated, please note. But severely limited.
You say that's not so because you interacted and developed familiar relationships. I'm sure you did. But to what extent was the veil a barrier you had to overcome in doing so? How many people were disturbed by their inability to see your face and engage in the non-verbal communication that is an inherent part of any human interaction? What was lost in your communication and interaction? How much richer might it have been if you had the face-to-face contact that human nature craves? How many contacts and relationships never occurred? I'm afraid that last one is a rhetorical question. You cannot possibly know the answer. This is why your personal experience, though interesting, hardly settles the matter.
I also take your point about body language. You're quite right that it's communicative and important. But it's not nearly as critical as the face. That is just a fact of universal human nature. (I also take your point about the eyes.The niqab is certainly less odious than the burka. But frankly, this point only supports my position.)
Now, all that aside, thank you for taking the time to write this. I don't agree in the least. But it's interesting, intelligent, and wonderfully put. Would you mind if I posted it on my website and tweeted a link? I could do that with your name attached or without, whichever you prefer.