I had the opportunity to wear the Niqab two weeks ago as part of my assignment. I was given the choice to actively participate or observe a bodily movement, so I chose the Niqab. Why? Because I was curious. I was curious as to how it feels to be behind the veil and to view the world through their eyes. I know a couple of sisters who wear the niqab and they're just lovely people. Despite this, I thought that the Niqab was a bad portrayal of Islam. Obviously, this thought was before my experience. Whenever I saw a Niqabi on the street, even though I respected them for wearing it, I still felt slightly intimidated. If I felt socially disconnected to them, then of course others would too. Actually, I was afraid of what others might think of it. Then, after I had gone through it myself, I realised that it shouldn’t matter what they think. What matters is how I feel, and how I perceive it. After all, we are doing it for the pleasure of Allah, not for society.
As my paper was theory based and badly written as I had done it last minute and handed it in late (whoops), I had to do a little editing. Here goes nothing.
Veiled: Through the eyes
Having been a devout Muslim a little more than a year ago since I took that big leap forward by putting on the Hijab (headscarf), I was curious and readily excited to experiment with the Niqab (face veil). Personally, I follow the opinion which classifies the Niqab as non-obligatory in Islam. Even so, I still wanted to wear the Niqab to understand for myself what it’s like to be “hidden behind the veil” and more importantly, to defy the controversies that’s associated with just a single piece of cloth.
So, it was on a lovely Saturday morning when I embarked on a trip to the Dandenong Market with my Step-mum as per usual – except this time I was covered from head to toe in loose black clothing with only my eyes visible to others. The thought of wearing the Niqab in public on my own did seem slightly daunting to me which is why I was accompanied by my Step-mum during this time. After we’ve had our tour of the market, browsed through the stalls and purchased our groceries, we then headed off to Fountain Gate Shopping Centre to run the last few errands.
Hidden behind my “mask”, I felt safe and protected within my own physical space, shielded by the piece of clothing covering my body. I did feel as though I was invisible, in a way. Whether it was walking through the crowded market or spacious malls, I could very much distinguish myself from the rest, in a physical and spiritual sense. Beneath the veil, I was a calm and content individual. To be honest, I felt morally superior than those around me. I knew that nothing could harm me, even if it did. Fascinatingly, the Niqab was freedom, religious freedom, despite what others may think. Unfortunately, the Muslim woman cannot claim her veil as a symbol of religious freedom as to be free means to be seen. It’s unsurprising as to why the veil is constantly being attacked in relation to issues of social cohesion and national identity. To some, based on their own conceptions, the veil is a symbol of oppression, subordination and a sign of “backwardness”. Whilst that may be the case in some cultures, it certainly was not in mine.
The Niqab definitely caught the eyes of the public, though people stared out of curiosity and not out of any apparent sexual attraction. I was conscious of myself being separate from the world, yet also conscious of myself perceiving the Niqab in my own way. Although, the way I viewed myself behind the veil was inherently different to the way my body image was projected to others, which is why I can sort of understand why society would label women who wear the Burka or Niqab as “oppressed”. Sadly, majority of them do not understand my reasons for wearing the Niqab. What they see is simply the end product of me being hidden behind the veil of which my covered body is judged and stereotyped.
Surely, the veil did conceal my facial expression and identity but that does not signify my inability to participate in social intercourse. Had they initiated contact or approached me, they would have been able to sense the friendly vibe that I was giving out by observing attentively to my bodily movements and the warm expression found in my eyes. Actions do too speak louder and more ambiguously than words.
But the veil is not only a material aspect which covers and protects the flesh. The cloth becomes a constant reminder of our duties as Muslims. The Niqab, especially, is a religious symbol in the sense that it serves to seclude ourselves from worldly life. Despite the political and religious obstacles and social boundaries that we encounter in society, the outsider’s prejudices and misconceptions help to keep us separate.
End note: Yeah I had alot of stares! It was kind of cool to notice who were looking at you - the difference in age groups. The young teenagers were probably thinking 'Omg, WHAT is she wearing?' 'She looks ______ wearing that' while others had a different opinion. Overall, it was a really interesting experience, I must say. Will I be wearing the Niqab in the future? Maybe. Who knows. Allahu Allam.