If someone asked you to list the most sinister developments of our time, I guess a few of us would say the atom bomb, warfare, the HIV virus, global hunger and terrorism.
But what dear readers is even more sinister than disease, destruction and death? Come on, have a guess. Go on, I dare you, don’t go all politically correct on me now. Why, of course! It’s the burka and niqab, the full face veil that some Muslim women wear. Don’t pretend you didn’t want to add that to the list.
Last week, imam Taj Hargey, based in my home city of Oxford, launched a stinging attack on the burka in the Daily Mail, declaring it one of the most “sinister developments of our time”. Hargey’s article was accompanied by lots of dusky looking women covered in niqabs, the burkas were few and far between, but hey, let’s not get stuck on semantics when attacking Muslim women for their choice of clothing.
Hargey wrote: “Everyone in Britain, including Muslims, should oppose the insidious spread of this vile piece of clothing, which imprisons women, threatens social harmony, fuels distrust, has grave health implications and is a potent security risk.” He then declared that as a Muslim man he was launching a campaign to ban the burka. In 2010 the word mansplaining meaning a man compelled to explain or give an opinion about everything – especially to a woman, was included in the New York Times’ words of the year. This is an example of Muslim mansplaining at its finest: man launches campaign in the UK to tell British women what to wear.
Earlier this month the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban on the niqab imposed by the French government in 2010 which makes it illegal for all face coverings to be worn in public. There are no official figures on the numbers of Muslim women in the UK who wear the niqab, but they are a very small minority among the UK’s 3.3 million Muslims. A minority within a minority. What I don’t understand is why so many people are obsessed with Muslim women’s wardrobes? It’s time for the Muslim mansplainers, many so called liberal, white feminists and other members of the “save Muslim women” circus to step out of Muslim women’s wardrobes and let us, Muslim women, decide how we choose to dress.
Karimah Bint Dawoud lives in west London and is a former model who has graced catwalks in Paris, Zurich and around the world, working with international fashion brands. Karimah is now training to be a Muslim chaplain and runs her own business. She chose to wear the niqab for three years and now, because of her work as a chaplain, she’s decided not to.
“I’m very pragmatic about my approach to the niqab. I used to wear it and now I don’t. My choice to put it on and take it off are personal. However, even now I wear the niaqb from time to time. If I’m travelling late at night by myself in an area where I don’t feel safe, I will wear the niqab.
“As a former model, I know all about the objectification of women by all cultures, this is not unique to one group of people or one faith group. it’s a fact, society, patriarchal societies continues to objectify women. I feel the niqab offers me protection. It means that I am not being viewed for the way I look by men. I like that. It means I have total control over how I am seen and viewed by men.
“As a Muslim woman, my choice of clothing has never stopped me from doing anything I want to do with my life. I do not need a man, a Muslim or non-Muslim man to tell me how to dress. In fact I dare any man to even think about telling me how to dress.”
Karimah says it’s not easy for British Muslims to wear the niqab but having a sense of humour always helps. “I was in the supermarket wearing my niqab and abaya (long Islamic gown) when an English man and his son spotted me in one of the aisles. He shouted at his son: ‘Oh look, Batman has shown up!’ They started laughing loudly at me. I walked over to the man and said: ‘Hi, you know what? Every time I come in here to shop I keep an eye out for Robin, but I never find him. I’m always so disappointed.’ At first the men looked confused and then they laughed. They clearly didn’t expect that from me. Later I heard the man’s son say: ‘Leave her alone.’ ”
Jokes asides, data released last month by Teeside University and the Islamophobia monitoring group Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) showed more than half of Islamophobic attacks in Britain are committed against women, targeted because they are wearing clothing associated with Islam. Victims reported a total of 734 incidents to the hotline between the start of May last year and 28 February 2014, broken down into 599 incidents of online abuse and 135 offline attacks – an increase of almost 20% on the same period the previous year. In May a Saudi Arabian Nahid Almanea was stabbed to death in Essex. Police released a statement saying they suspected she may have been attacked because she was wearing an abaya.
This continuing targeting of a minority of women for the way they dress feeds into the hysteria and misinformation about Muslims which fuels an increase in hate crime. It’s tiresome and dangerous. To suggest a Muslim woman’s choice of clothing – and, yes, I am focusing on the women who chose to wear the niqab – is in some way threatening the fabric of society is absurd.