Does The Niqab Impair Communication?

Does The Niqab Impair Communication?

Answers to all the questions you had about the face veil.

When you see a woman wearing a face veil, what do you do? Do you try speaking to her? Or do you hurry through the aisles, trying to suppress the questions surfacing in your head? How do you feel?

What do you feel exactly?

Many European countries have banned the niqab (face veil) because of what they feel – from France, who felt it wasn't "dignified" and "a barrier to Muslim assimilation in French society", to Germany, who recently outlawed the veil to promote "cohesion in [German] society" as more refugees arrive.

And there's the problem.

When powerful nations take away the rights of minority individuals in order to appease society, they do not promote assimilation and integration. Instead, they promote a lack of tolerance, diversity and empathy in their communities. Countries where being "foreign" is considered a negative trait and being "Muslim" is a connotation for terrorist are now dealing with the eruption of mayhem in their societies.

Since France banned headscarves in school, outlawed the niqab altogether and began prohibiting burkinis, French society has become increasingly Islamophobic.

Britain's troubles became apparent right after the Brexit was passed, and the frequency of hate crimes spiked. In British society, the segregational lines between races, religions and cultures have deepened over time.

Veiled Muslim women also struggle to be accepted in the United States, where there is a widespread misconception that the niqab severely impairs communication between people. This is not the case. I would know, because I am a Muslim niqabi living in the United States.

The niqab empowers me and a variety of Muslim women to be confidently assertive, expressively clear and Islamically goal-orientated.

So what does that mean?

Well first thing's first, what is a niqab?

A niqab is a face veil that covers a woman's entire face except for her eyes.

Some niqabs come in layers, where the first-most layer looks like the image above, followed by a second, thinner layer of sheer cloth through which the woman can see but others cannot see her eyes clearly. A few niqabs also have a third layer of sheer cloth for design or use, depending on how many layers the individual chooses to wear.

Here's a three-layered niqab with the only first and second veil drawn down over the face.

A woman who wears the niqab is called a "niqabi". Being a niqabi means the woman covers her hair (hijab), covers her body (abaya) and covers her face (niqab).

For kids, that means a niqabi is a ninja. I have yet to meet a child who disputes my ninja status, and honestly, that's one stereotype I'm totally ready to embrace.

Because the niqab symbolizes religiosity, oftentimes veiled Muslim women are stereotyped as "submissive" and lacking personality. This assumption is not the fault of the niqabi. It is the fault of the people who pigeonhole veiled Muslim women based on their assumptions about a piece of cloth covering a person's face.

Yes, covering oneself (for both males and females) symbolizes modesty in Islam, but the niqab itself does not define a woman's character and religiosity all on its own. The veil is just one of the many defining traits of the woman wearing it. Wearing a niqab does not guarantee that the woman is a good or bad person. In fact, wearing a niqab only symbolizes one thing: an association with Islam.

To understand a niqabi's mindset and experience her personality, you must interact with her. To learn more about anyone, you have to get to know them!

Niqabis are humans. We are people. Don't assume that what you see (or what you don't see) is all there is to a person. Reach out to people, interact and always have an open mind and open heart – only then can you begin to understand.

Is the niqab an Islamic obligation?

Yes, it is.

The proof can be found in the Quran and the Hadith. Here are just some of the quotes proving that niqab is obligatory in Islam:

Allah Ta'ālā says in Surah al-Ahzāb, verse 53:

"O prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw down their jilbāb (shawls) over them."

The method of dawning the jilbāb is a point of contention amongst the 'ūlamā; Imam Qurtubi mentions in his tafsīr:

"People have differed in regards to the method of dawning it (the jilbāb). Ibn 'Abbās (radiyallahu 'anhuma) and 'Abīdah as-Salmānī (rahimahullah) state: It means to wrap it up in such a way that everything is concealed except that (the area of) one eye is left open for her to see with. Ibn 'Abbās (radiyallahu 'anhuma) (in another narration) and Qatādah (rahimahullah) say: It means to wrap it up above the forehead and to fasten it, then to fold it till above the nose even if both eyes are left open; although, she will have to cover her chest and majority of her face. Hasan (rahimahullah) says: She will cover half of her face." [Ibid]

Narrated Safiya bint Siba: 'Aisha used to say: "When (the Verse): "They should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms," was revealed, (the ladies) cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces." Volume 6, Book 60, Number 282: (Sahih Bukhari)

In a short talk, Mufti Menk explains how people should always continue to do their best to become better Muslims.

Does the niqab impair communication?

To some extent, yes. That's part of the reason why it's worn.

The niqab impairs communication with men and women who are not permitted to see the wearer's face. In front mahrams, however, a niqabi does not have to cover her face.

If (without a legitimate reason) Muslim women do not properly cover (with hijab, abaya and niqab) in front of non-mahrams, it is a sin – even if the Muslim woman doesn't cover herself at all. This is because veiling oneself is compulsory in Islam.

Further detail about the niqab can be found in the Quran (translation and tafseer, which is interpretative commentary by Islamic scholars), the Hadith and other trusted sources, such as certified Muftis like Mufti Menk, who has many funny, engaging lectures available on YouTube.

But contrary to all the black cloth you may see, any covered Muslim can wear colorful clothing, as long as it remains within modest boundaries.

My niqab empowers me to confidently assert myself.

Personality is expressed through a person's words, actions and behavior. When I choose to wear my niqab in a different style or pair a complimentary colored hijab (headscarf) to my abaya, I am personalizing my clothing to fit my style while still maintaining religious modesty. There is no need to sacrifice my religious values to reassure people that I'm wearing what I choose to wear. Rather, society should realize and accept the fact that most Muslim women voluntarily wear the niqab and are perfectly capable of expressing themselves with it.

Just because my entire body is covered in one long, loose dress (abaya) doesn't mean my body language and nonverbal cues cease to exist. I can and still do cross my arms when thinking something over, use hand gestures when explaining and tap my feet when impatient. My body language may be less conspicuous, but it's still there if anyone cares to pay attention.

However, there are some nonverbal cues that I have to do without, such as raising an eyebrow or flashing a smile. I compensate for those by emphasizing other nonverbal cues, like scrunching up my eyes when confused or flashing the "eye-smile" to show that I'm happy. I will never forget how excited one professor became when he figured out that he could tell exactly what facial expression I was making, just by familiarizing himself with my quirks and vibe.

Yes, I have a limited amount of nonverbal cues I can use, but I make up for that by using my voice.

My niqab empowers me to be expressively clear.

I used to be the kid who sat in in the back with a perpetually anxious look on her face – never raising my hand to participate in class or ask for clarification. I got away with keeping mum, just by scrunching up my face and primarily using nonverbal cues to communicate. This bad habit persisted until I got to college where I began covering my face. I could no longer compensate for conversation using nonverbal cues to avoid the fear of verbally asserting of myself.

Two things became clear within the first week of class: I would have to assert myself, and I would have to speak in a slightly different manner.

If I wanted to understand something better in class, I had to raise my hand and ask, because the professor couldn't see me raise my eyebrows in interest. If I wanted to voice opinion to add to a discussion, I had to pay close attention to the timing between people's conversations to seize my chance to talk without sounding abrupt.

Not many people notice this, but when others are speaking to them, people tend to focus on the person's facial features and mouth when "listening". Instead of simply relying on a person's voice to understand what is being said, some people watch the words being said from the person's mouth to properly "hear" what is being said, even if they no longer need to. Children and those who are hard of hearing often use nonverbal cues and "lip reading" to match a speaker's tone of words with the corresponding facial expressions shown to grasp the meaning of what is being said. But most adults are already able to associate a person's tone to a corresponding facial expression, without looking at someone's face. So while the facial expression can play a beneficial role, it's not an absolutely vital component of communication.

The niqab does limit interface contact, but it does not hinder people from interacting with one another. You just have to converse in a slightly different way with person wearing it.

In my case, I learned to be speak louder with people I was meeting with the first time. People who are not used to speaking with or listening to a niqabi may need to remind themselves to focus on understanding the words being spoken by the niqabi rather than searching for facial cues to fill in the blanks. After a minute or two of getting used used to me, people often naturally adjust to this discrete method of communication.

Also, it is imperative that I speak clearly and inject emotion into my voice. If I'm happy about something, I let my the tone of my words or the movement of my body emphasize the emotion. This helps people quickly familiarize themselves with my character. When people relax and casually interact with me, all the supposed barriers of communication topple, because we are taking the time to understand one another.

My niqab empowers me to be Islamically goal-orientated.

There are numerous reasons why I am privileged for being a Muslim American niqabi, and the most fundamental reason is because Allah (SWT) guided me to the niqab, so I was able to take the next step to strengthening my faith.

Because the niqab limits communication with non-mahram (aka, ghayr-mahrams – those who the person must cover in front of), it acts as a barrier to reduce the possiblity of sinful behavior for both genders, since men must also cover themselves and lower their gaze, according to Islam.

The hijab, abaya and niqab all honor Muslim women with sole ownership and control over their bodies in an Islamic manner. Like dazzling diamonds, Muslim women only show their beauty to those whom they choose to uncover in front of, in accordance to what is permissible. Wearing the niqab empowers me to incorporate Islam into every aspect of my life and strive for success in this world and in the hereafter.

Wearing the niqab does not prevent me from traveling, eating, showering, marrying and obtaining an education – among many other things. In fact, it encourages Muslim women to be assertive. Many Muslim women, from as far back as the seventh century, are renowned for being highly educated:

Urwa bin Zubayr stated: “I did not see a greater scholar than Aisha in the learning of the Quran, shares of inheritance, lawful and unlawful matter, potery and literature, Arab history and genealogy.”

Zaynab bint Ahmad (d.740/1339), usually known as Bint al-Kamal, acquired ‘a camel load’ of diplomas ; she delivered lectures on the Musnad of Abu Hanifa, the Shamail of alTirmidhi, and the Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar of al-Tahawi, the last of which she read with another woman traditionist, Ajiba bin Abu Bakr (d.740/1339)

Ibn al Jawzi from Hisham bin Urwa that Urwa said to Aisha i, “Umm, I am not surprised at your knowledge of poetry since you are the daughter of Abu Bakr and he was the most knowledgeable of people in poetry, but I marvel at your knowledge of medicine." - (Hadith 2210 via Maryam Institute)

In fact, Imam Hakim Naisapuri states: “One fourth of our religion [Islam] depends on the narrations of women. Were it not for those narrations, we would lose a quarter of our religion.”

Covered Muslim women have contributed enormously to all facets of life, including edification. Their voices are not suppressed by Islam. They are not weak for treating themselves with respect and expecting others to do the same. The niqab has freed me and numerous other Muslim women from the societal pressures and matters of this world, allowing us to ascend to a level of imaan (belief) that will grant us entry into everlasting paradise.

Cover Image Credit: Instagram

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Women In Islam: Khadijah, The First Muslim Believer

An insight to one of the most influential women in Islam.

With so many people insisting that women in Islam have a very limited role in the religion (and in life in general), I thought it would be good for us to take a step back into history: the real version. Here are some facts about the life of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (radiallahu anha), wife of the Prophet Muhammad, who you may not know was she was the first person to accept Islam, in 610 A.D.

Khadijah (ra) was rich. Her father was a successful businessman, and after he passed away in 585 A.D., Khadijah (ra) inherited his business. Rather than just sit and spend all the riches that her father had acquired, she stepped up and ran the business, making it even more successful and expanding it even more. In a world where her industry was dominated by men, she worked hard, and her business was so successful that she was called the Ameerat Quraish – the Princess of the Quraish, the tribe that she lived with. Along with this success came many rich and powerful suitors, but Khadijah (ra) turned them all away.

She wasn’t even interested in marrying again until she met the Prophet (pbuh). At the time, revelation had not been given to the Prophet (pbuh) yet, and he was actually one the merchants who worked under her for a period of time. She was the one who proposed to him in 595 A.D., stating that she admired that he had a good character, and he was “the best of his people and honest in speech.” The fact that she proposed to him was unorthodox at the time, and the fact that she was older than him and more wealthy than him was also uncommon at the time. All in all, their marriage was the epitome of going against the ideals of society.

After her husband was given the message of Islam in 610 A.D., he came home to her, worried and anxious. She was the one who comforted him when he was down. In fact, she was the first person ever to accept Islam. When the Quraish, the Prophet’s own tribe, ostracized him, Khadijah (ra) stood by his side and helped fund the living expenses of the entire group of Muslims that was living just outside the city. She passed away soon after this point, but her life impacted the Prophet (pbuh) for many years afterwards.

The idea that is important to understand here is that Muslim women are not to be put in a box. The vividness and importance of Khadijah’s (ra) life contrasts the mundane picture of Muslim women’s lives that is often depicted by media. By understanding and gaining a unique sense of knowledge about not only Khadijah (ra) but other Muslim women, people can understand the nuances of the religion itself. This, especially in the modern, politicized world, is vital to cooperation.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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The Oppression Of Women In Islam Must End

The story of a beautiful religion being disgustingly corrupted to favor oppressive men.

Since the beginning of time, there has been an established role of men and women in society; men the hunters, the bringers of the bounty if you will, and women the gatherers and the caretakers. Because we live in a constantly evolving world, there has been a significant change in these roles.

Many women have expanded out of the domestic sphere to become the main provider of their families, and men have adapted and have become the main caregivers. However, this idea only applies to modernized and “western” nations; in Islamic societies, women tend to be forced into stereotypically feminine roles, uneducated, as well as oppressed.

This subjugation of women in Islamic society is ironic because the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was a feminist. Muhammad laid out the word of God, which simply said that women were equal to men, women were to be educated just like men, women were able to both own and inherit property just like men. Muhammad built Islam on exactly this doctrine of equality but it seems that current Islamic societies have reverted back to their 7th century Arabia state where women were treated similarly to property. Today, many Islamic societies oppress women using the very religion that was once used to promote equality among all.

Specifically, in war-torn Islamic nations, women tend to lack even the most basic human rights. For example, in a court of law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. Furthermore, if a woman were to be murdered the compensation for the family would be half that for the murder of a man. In Islam, women are permitted only one spouse; however, men may have up to 4 wives. In addition, the legal age for girls to marry is just nine years old, but boys are allowed only after the age of fourteen. As a result, pedophiles are able to exploit and subsequently leave young girls. These are only a few of the injustices women and girls face.

Here in the US, people (especially teenagers) relish in the freedom that is choosing what to wear without heavy restrictions; in most Islamic societies women lack this freedom. Women are more often than not required to wear headscarves outside of the house or in the presence of males with the exception of family members and husbands.

Although many people argue that it is the religion of Islam that requires this practice, this idea is easily disproven because the religion only calls for modesty, which can be respected with conservative clothing. Not only are women encouraged, if not required, to wear a headscarf, but they often are forbidden from indulging in stereotypically feminine acts, such as applying makeup or nail polish. This comes back to the idea of “protecting” the modesty of women. Traditionalists believe that women are more likely to bring shame to their families or end up getting hurt, i.e. raped, if they were to revel in these practices.

All over the world, women have a higher chance of experiencing domestic abuse than men do, and in the Middle East that rate is even higher. In December 2016, 40% of Israeli and Arab women aged 16-48 reported that they had experienced some form of intimate partner violence (IPV). Whether it be rape, physical, or emotional abuse, women in the Middle East have a higher chance of experiencing it.

For some time, women were powerful and had rights, but centuries later societies dominated by Islam manipulated the religion to favor men and silence women. What heightens the urgency of the situation is that most women in Middle Eastern nations are unwilling to admit that they have been abused by their spouses because it will further belittle women in the eyes of men. They tend to be prodded with invasive questions: what were you wearing, what were you doing, were you alone, why were you alone. Consequently, the abuse continues and so does the silence.

Not only are women kept muzzled, but they are also kept uneducated. One of the few ways the corrupt Islamic society is able to grow is through uneducated women. Because the women are uneducated, they often do not understand how their legal system works, and as a result cannot get help from outsiders, thus staying oppressed.

If women were ever to learn the true teachings of Muhammad’s Islam it would be considerably harder to squash women and keep them in the domestic sphere. Women would understand their true value and protest for their rights and privileges, thus destroying the hierarchy traditionalists have built for centuries.

For hundreds and thousands of years, women have lived under the burden of injustice that is caused by corrupt interpretation of Islamic teachings. Women have been abused, raped, and oppressed for so long that it is the only life they know; it is the teachings they pass on to their daughters: listen to the men in your life and you will not be punished. In this society, to be a woman is to be punished. If you are born female, you are nothing but a burden to your family - an idea that is planted in the heads of young girls from the day they learn to think or talk.

Oppression is not only widespread in Islamic societies but virtually in every one. Expensive birth control or abortion, the pay gap, maternity leave, rape culture, these are only a few ways women are controlled on a day to day basis. It is the job of women to join hands and fight the injustices they are subjected to.

Cover Image Credit: flickr

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