Covering the face has been a highly emotional and politicized issue in the Muslim community for the past two decades. I have written about it before and called it the sixth pillar of Islam. It has become a false banner for Islamic piety. Islam is now reduced to a dress code. It does not matter if you lie, steal or slander your friends and neighbors, if you cover your face you are perceived by society as an untouchable religious God fearing person.
When I read that the ban has gone through the French parliament with an overwhelming majority, I was unexpectedly ecstatic about it. I don’t live in France and I don’t even to plan to visit anytime soon and yet it made me happy that women there don’t have a choice. Yes this is one area where I’m anti-choice. Covering the face is the very essence of objectifying women. With her face covered, a woman is reduced to an object that needs to be protected by a male guardian. For every woman who truly chooses of her own freewill to cover her face, there are hundreds if not thousands forced and pressured to by the religious establishment, family and society. Who would you sacrifice, that one woman who can manage to find God in something else or those hundreds, so that one can liberally choose?
The number of times I have heard Saudi women here, who are conditioned to believe that covering is an unquestionable issue, sigh as they watch uncovered women on TV and say لهم الدنبا ولنا الأخرة (they get the world and we get the afterlife). These are the women “choosing” to cover, brainwashed into living to die. I wish I had the power to take the choice away from them.
What are women covering from? They believe that the sight of their face will cause men to commit sin. Fitna they call it. And yet the places where most women cover their faces, like in Saudi’s central region, you can’t take a step outside your house without being harassed, it doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80. It’s much more dangerous to walk the streets of Riyadh as a woman than it is in New York. Hence what the face cover is protecting us from has proven to be the complete opposite upon implementation.
It doesn’t stop at face covering. The subtle difference between putting the abaya tent style over your head or leaving it like a cloak on your shoulders decides if you’re “asking for it”. In both cases the face is covered but in the first the shape of the shoulders isn’t defined and so it’s a more religious and respectable style. Covering the face escalates into such silly issues like the seductive powers of a woman’s toes. Isn’t it about time that men take responsibility for their actions instead of using the centuries old argument “she seduced me into it by not dressing properly”?!
How many public Islamist women figures (do they even exist?) do you know advocate face covering? The majority out there calling for it are men; Muslim men who brazenly stand there in Western clothes and with clean shaven faces and say it’s their religious belief that women should cover. Walk down Oxford Street London in July and see how many abaya swathed women with their niqabs are accompanied by their shorts wearing clean shaven male guardians. I want to take these men and shake some sense into them. I want them to consider the humanity we all share regardless of the genitalia we’re born with or the amount of testosterone in our bodies. Can they stand having their faces covered? “No but women are used to it”, they always answer when I ask them. “It’s their cross to bear for being so womanly and feminine.”
Well-meaning liberals and Human rights activists are trying to stop the French ban. They say it’s Islamaphobic and driven by the right-wing in a thinly veiled racist campaign. To them I say the old Arabic proverb خذ الحكمة من أفوه المجانين (take wisdom from the mouths of fools). If the Islam they are afraid of measures my piety by how much I hide my identity, then I share their phobia.
If there’s one book that I wish I could put into the hands of every Muslim woman who says that God wants her to cover her face and hand over her affairs to a man it’s this one:
It’s written by a Jordanian, Abdulrahman Omar Al Khateeb. He accompanied his sister and her kids to Makkah and the muuttawa there yelled at her “cover your face you hurma“! He had been thinking about the issue before due to how the face cover had been used against Islam in Western media but that incident was what got him working. He went back to Jordan and meticulously researched every argument that the muttawa used and showed it for what it is; political and fundamentalist propaganda.