My life behind the niqab

Excellent Post written

My life behind the niqab

Rahmanara Chowdhury
Saturday October 7, 2006
The Guardian

I began wearing the face veil when I was 20 and in my final year at university. I took the step after contemplating it for a year, and during this time I considered the impact it would have on my studies and my interactions with other people. I was most concerned about how other students would relate with me and how I would continue with presentations and group exercises on my course.

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Finally, my decision was confirmed when I understood that it was a religious act and therefore should not be dictated to by my concerns about other people, but rather be based on my conviction in God. Wearing the face veil was a very spiritual journey for me as it represented something physical to remind me that I was Muslim and therefore should try to uphold religious values, have a good character and conduct myself well with other people.

After adopting the veil, I found that a lot of my worries about social issues were unfounded. Although I was studying on a course with colleagues who were mainly non-Muslim, I found that people’s responses were curious as opposed to negative and it was an opportunity to discuss this issue with them.

I graduated with a degree in ergonomics in 2002 and went on to teach at a local college. I taught students from an array of backgrounds, including young people who were hard to engage and from socially deprived areas. I managed to interact with these students perfectly successfully even with the face veil.

My journey to the veil was a personal one, not coerced by any other factor. None of my sisters or my mother wore the veil at that time. It was certainly not something my father advocated and I think my brothers were a little concerned about the hardships I may face as a result. Despite these initial concerns, it is a decision that I have never regretted.

Statements that are clearly discriminatory now seem to be common. I am concerned that this could pave the way for religious persecution in the future and Mr Straw’s comments may be the precipitator to greater discrimination against women in veils. As long as religion is not being forced on anyone, we should have freedom to practise our different faiths and most importantly, respect each other’s right to do so to improve community cohesion.

Rahmanara Chowdhury is a sports and education development worker at Loughborough University
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1 thought on “My life behind the niqab

  1. Maggie

    If I may share another perspective as to why someone like Jack Straw (who indeed is not the reason anyone is here on the planet to please) might feel called upon to address the subject of the scarving of females in British society: There is another reason why this is a problem. It has nothing to do with Isalm or Muslims. It has nothing to do with conforming, or fashion. It has nothing to do with freedom of expression. It has nothing to do with the individual wishing to live separately from the prevailing customs in observation of their religious beliefs – for example, the Amish in America are deeply respected, though they deliberately reject dress norms, electricity, telephones, conveniences. Here’s what the problem REALLY is:

    It is deeply offensive to the most fundamental feeling of people in free societies to see other people openly oppressed. Though we know it happens in various ways to many people in many places, including our own, when that happens it saddens us. To see degradation of another human being worn publicly and held up as a virtue of some sort is simply sickening to us.

    It may be a cultural norm elsewhere to mutilate the genitals of little girls, and considered a virtue; that is not the case here. The custom must be observed elsewhere, not in this society. It may be a cultural virtue to sell off daughters in marriage to strangers, but that is not the case here, and it becomes something that people must do in private -not on the street. It may be a cultural norm for men to have four wives but women to have a single husband – but polygamy is unlawful here, and disgusting to the majority of citizens. People may freely engage in this sort of arrangement elsewhere. It may be perfectly acceptable to beat one’s wife (wives) or kill one’s daughters (“Honor” killing, I believe the term is) but here these things are crimes – assault and murder. They may not be practised, accepted and applauded here.

    Imagine if you will some reversal of experience regarding the scarving of females: what if it was the custom for men to wear clothing that exposed the testicles, that women’s clothing bare the breasts? Would we not all find this appalling? If you were forced to see it on the streets or in public transportation or to know your children were exposed to it in schoolrooms from their teachers, would you not, finally, no matter how much you wish to be sympathetic and tolerant, say something?

    The degradation of women is an obscenity to us. To deliberately throw it in the faces of one’s neighbors does more than separate – it’s offensive. If you are in our countries, you are free to act as you wish in your homes – something that is not the case, I believe, in many of the countries that promote the subjugation of women as a virtue. If people are going to emigrate to free societies, they must understand that they are guests and conduct themselves accordingly, at least in shared public life. Or, live elsewhere. I cannot help but wonder what it is that attracts immigrants to places for which they have such contempt. Please, be happy, perhaps somewhere else.

    Jack Straw finally said something. It’s worth listening to. If it is unacceptable, perhaps it would be better, and you would be happier, occupying some country whose customs towards females are more in keeping with your comfort zone.


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