Jack Straw (the UK politician) has recently written an article on Muslim women wearing the Niqab (the full face veil) which has drawn a certain amount of attention. I don’t think he meant any more than to start a discussion and point out certain effects that the Niqab has on conventional British society. I am certainly not going to say that Muslim woman cannot wear anything they want … that’s a personal decision for them to make. I have no more right to decide that for them, than they do to decide I should wear something other than jeans.
However there are a few things that come to mind on this subject …
Wearing The Niqab In Public
Before going on to discuss the real issue here, I will mention something else … the Niqab is widely perceived as being a symbol of the Islamic tendency to repress women’s rights. Now I know that isn’t the case, but it is perhaps something that needs to be emphasised more — that it is a freely made choice made by the women who wear it. Perhaps Muslim men could consider wearing it ? After all if modesty is a worthy trait in Muslim women, surely it is also worthwhile for Muslim men ?
Now for the real issue here, and I’d like to emphasise that it is a minor thing.
Historically in UK society, nobody conceals their face (except in extreme weather) unless they are intentionally hiding their identity with some nefarious purpose in mind. The groups of people who conceal their face include medieval outlaws, highwaymen, thieves, bank robbers, the KKK, and Muslim women!! Now of course it is ridiculous to say that Muslim women conceal their faces because they’ve got some evil inclination, but at an unconscious level it does come across as just a little sinister.
Of course if a Muslim woman is deeply convinced that the Niqab is essential, she should carry on wearing it. But if a Muslim woman is not quite so sure and undecided, it may be worth considering this when making her decision.
Wearing The Niqab For A Face-To-Face Meeting
When we communicate, part of the communication is the spoken language and part is body language … mostly found in the face. If you doubt this, just dip into any book on basic psychology and check … it will be there. Anyone who has communicated online in the same manner as they would do when speaking to someone will have encountered situations where their communication has been mis-interpreted because of the lack of body language.
In a society where people are not used to people choosing to cover their face, conversing with someone who does is off-putting. Covering the face comes across to the rest of us as “I don’t want to communicate with you” and could be considered to be impolite … as impolite in fact as asking someone to to remove the Niqab.
Muslim women who wear the Niqab in public should at least consider removing it to talk to someone who may not be a Muslim. Wearing the Niqab is about maintaining a certain level of modesty in the presence of strange men; removing it to talk to a Muslim man could be considered to be immodest, but nobody who is not a Muslim would consider it so … look around you at what other women in our society wear!
After all there are many Muslim women who don’t consider wearing the Niqab to be necessary, and suggesting to them that by not doing so makes them less a Muslim, and perhaps immodest to boot could be a little dangerous! For a multi-cultural society to function smoothly, we need to be considerate of each other’s cultural backgrounds and patterns of behaviour, and that goes both ways.
This is not saying Muslim women should remove the Niqab when talking face to face with someone, just that they should consider it and perhaps explain why they wear it (after all not everybody knows).
Judging by the way that some leaders of Muslim society react, anyone would think that Jack Straw had suggested that women wearing the Niqab should be stoned in the streets, or fined! Jumping up and down, screaming “Islamophobia” at someone suggesting that one aspect of Islam may not be helpful in the UK is hardly a moderate reaction. In fact it is a very unBritish reaction and grates on the nerves.
Something more like “I don’t think Jack Straw understands how deeply we feel about the Niqab” or “That’s interesting, we should think about that” come across much better to the British people.