By Radhika Sanghani
25 Sep 2014
The debate around Muslim women wearing face veils is not a new one. But as one 16-year-old pupil is barred from her school for wearing a Niqab – a veil that shows only her eyes – the discussion has been re-ignited.
The pupil, who has not yet been identified, attends Camden School for Girls in north London – a school typically known for its liberal attitude. But head teacher Elizabeth Kitcatt has said that the pupil wearing the Niqab goes against the school rules.
A statement from the school reads: “We have an appearance policy and students at the school may wear what they wish subject to any requirement in the interests of teaching and learning, health and safety. Inappropriate dress which offends public decency or which does not allow teacher-student interactions will be challenged.”
But pupils have rallied alongside the 16-year-old and created a petition online to “Stop the Islamophobia”. Her sister, Sagal Ahmed, 18, has said: “I don’t feel like her education should be compromised or the way she dresses should affect the way anyone looks at her.”
It has led to an online discussion around pupils wearing face veils, but also sparked a move for Muslim women to speak up about why they wear the veil – whether it’s a Hijab (headscarf), Niqab (face veil) or Burqa (full veil, where even the eyes are hidden).
On social media forum Reddit, users claiming to be veil-wearing women have explained why they cover their heads or faces. The thread was started by a user in light of the recent news, who said: “I mostly only [hear] white middle class non-Muslims talking about it! So, ladies, what do you think, and why do you choose to dress/not dress this way?”
These are a selection of opinions shared by users who claim to wear the Hijab/Niqab/Burqa*:
‘I Wear It to Promote Feminism’
Reddit user 'Captain Monkee' writes: “I like to use it to promote feminism; however it is very hard to express it because of how people view it. There ARE a lot of women who are forced to wear it, and I think that's really wrong, no matter how religious or what country.
“The Hijab is forced in some places in the world, or by certain people - especially men in many cases. I will not deny this. This is not feminism. I want to take this Hijab and make it my own. First choose if I even want to cover or not. Define WHY and HOW. I will choose what colours I will wear. What materials. Not just black and white.
“I control if I want to use Hijab pins, rhinestones, lace, or brooches. When I will wear it, how I will tie it. When I choose to take it off. It is my right. Also I will choose WHY I wear it. NOT wear it because someone told me to. These points combined promote feminism within women.
“If women can choose WHY and HOW, they are exercising basic rights. You decide if you want to, decide why, decide how.”
‘I Feel Like Men Respect Me More’
'Pharmersmarket', who says she started wearing a Hijab five years ago in her secondary school, writes: “I genuinely like wearing it. It makes me feel put together and confident in a weird way. Maybe because it does take a certain level of courage to visibly separate yourself from normal society. To start wearing a Hijab I had to stop caring about what other people thought and now I can be proud of that.
“It definitely doesn't stop street harassment, but men do treat you with a bit more respect. I don't think it's right to treat a girl differently because of how she's dressed but it does happen. When I'm wearing a Hijab it's much easier not to care when I'm getting leered at because what exactly is he looking at? My face?”
‘It’s Part of Being a Muslim’
While 'Caribgyul' writes: “I wear the Hijab because it is part of being a Muslim. It is a choice at the end of the day, but I prefer to wear it and identify myself as a Muslim. It's also a sign of modesty that I wear it, like I can't wear short or tight clothes with the headscarf. It definitely keeps away the male attention where they won't approach you to flirt etc.
“It's a choice at the end. If you don't wear it, it doesn't make you a bad person or [a bad] Muslim. It is something that has its merits and its advantages but it is a choice.”
‘I Throw On a Burqa When I Don’t Feel Like Changing’
User 'Ducttapeme' writes: “I was forced to start wearing a Hijab at the age of 13 and now find it hard and very uncomfortable to take it off in public. Having said that, I do not take it as seriously as I should, in the sense that sometimes in places where there aren't a lot of men around, I take it off because it gets all sweaty in around my head.
“Regarding the Niqab, which covers the face...,I don't like it, but that's just my opinion. Firstly, because it isn't an obligation to cover your face in Islam and second, I want to be able to breathe...? It's suffocating as I've seen a lot of people I know who do wear a Niqab. I'm not forced to wear a Niqab/Burqa. The only times I wear a Burqa - the black robe thing, is when I don't feel like changing so I just throw it on when going somewhere.”
‘People Deal With Me as an Individual’
'Boggle_leged', who says she is a lawyer, writes: “The biggest benefit that I enjoy by wearing [the Hijab] is that people deal with me as an individual and not just according to my looks. Yes, I've faced a significant amount of xenophobia, but I'm over it. I'm confident and happy with my decision.
“I, as well as most Muslims I know in the West, am not fond of the Burqa or Niqab here, because it could expose an individual to unnecessary harm and harassment. Since there are strong religious opinions that permit just the Hijab without covering the face, I personally feel that it is a better choice. In the end, however, as long as that individual has made the decision independently and knows why she is doing something, I respect her decision.”
‘I Must Do What God Tells Me’
User catsarebetterthanppl claims she wears a Hijab purely for religious reasons: “I fear and love God, and He has said that women must cover their hair, so I follow what He tells me, simple as that. I know this might sound a little weird, but I don't really think of symbolism and stuff, I follow it because God says it is the right and sensible thing to do and it is.”
‘It’s A Beautiful, Religious Fashion Statement’
A user who goes by the screen name '474064', writes: “Personally, I love wearing the Hijab. Nobody could pay me enough to take it off. It honestly liberates me because I get to choose how much of myself I reveal to the public. It's awesome. I have drawers full of a variety of vibrant colours and prints. I match them with my outfits and wear a different style every day. It's kind of like a beautiful, religious fashion statement.”
*These comments are taken directly from Reddit. We are only able to identify users by their Reddit usernames