Open Letter to Mona ElTahawy

Open Letter to Mona Eltahawy | From A Very Visible Niqaabi to Her Self-Appointed Champion

By Zainab bint Younus

Disclaimer: Though the message is sincere and heartfelt, the details are not meant to identify one specific individual (i.e. the author) but rather to represent real niqaabis around the world.

Dear Mona,

As much as you no doubt think that you are doing great good by appointing yourself as a champion for (or against? You’re a bit confusing on that point) Muslim women who wear niqaab, I’d appreciate if you stopped and listened to me first.

I am a Muslim woman who wears niqaab, and I neither believe that I am the paragon of virtue nor live in fear of Hell should an inch of my skin be seen in public. I am neither oppressed nor invisible. I do not consider myself so beautiful that I must cover myself to save men from temptation; nor do I believe that men are sex machines who will be turned on by the tip of my nose or the curve of my ear. I am not ignorant or brainwashed. I am not Salafi or Wahhabi.

I am a Muslim woman.

You say that niqaab has been made into the pinnacle of piety. There may be some people out there who say that, but I don’t believe God says that. In fact, God says that none of us are safe from Hell just by doing one specific action or another. Earning Paradise and protecting ourselves from Hell is an ongoing process, a constant struggle 24/7. I don’t feel that wearing niqaab has earned me a ticket to Eden… but I do believe that it’ll help me get that little bit closer.

You say that Muslim women are forced to wear the niqaab in Saudi Arabia. While I don’t agree with anyone being forced to wear niqaab against their will, I don’t see how that has anything to do with me. I don’t live in Saudi Arabia and never have. I live in America and I chose to wear the niqaab despite my parents’ opposition to it and my husband’s unease with it. He was worried that I’d be considered “extreme” and targeted for my beliefs. Turns out he’s right, but just because people like you want to take away my freedom of belief, it doesn’t mean I’m just going to roll over and let you dictate what I should and shouldn’t do or believe.

You say that niqaab makes Muslim women invisible. I have no idea where you got that from, although invisibility has always been the one superpower I’d love to have. As it happens, people can see me pretty well. It’s just that they can’t see every single bit of my skin or physical features. If you mean that I’m “invisible” in that niqaab reduces my role in society and the public sphere, you’re wrong.

I’m a successful businesswoman, who left a thriving career to become an entrepreneur. The company I founded has blossomed and we’re becoming quite well-known in our field. My best friend, who started wearing niqaab after me, is a high school teacher. She’s been recognized by the school as one of the best teachers they’ve had for several years running. The local Imam’s wife is getting her PhD and volunteers at the women’s shelter – and gets a kick out of going horseback riding on the beach where people’s eyes bug out when they see a veiled Muslim women galloping across the sand.

We Muslim women who wear the niqaab come in all shapes and sizes, of every ethnic, religious, social, and educational background. We are businesswomen and artists; writers and community activists; teachers and stay-at-home mothers; philosophers, intellectuals, and housewives. You have no right to gloss over our places in society, the roles that we have and will continue to fulfill. You have no right to tell me or others that I am invisible when I very much know that I am not.

You say that niqaab objectifies women as sex objects. So does the mini-skirt and tube top. Are we going to ban those too? I don’t deny that some men obsess over women’s bodies – but those men are non-Muslim as well as Muslim. Just as there are men who would prefer that I covered my body completely, there are men who wish I’d walk around half-naked. I don’t wear the niqaab for, or because of, either of them. I wear it for myself. I am not repressing my sexuality nor exacerbating it. I am demanding that you mind your own business about my sexuality, and deal with my ideas, my words, and my actions instead.

You say that niqaab has been the reason that Muslim women have been oppressed in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. It’s not. Poverty, illiteracy, government corruption, backwards misogynistic mentalities that have nothing to do with Islam… THEY are the reason that Muslim women have been oppressed. Hijaab, niqaab, and whatever else is used only as a tool to enforce Islamically incorrect ideologies. It is not the root of the problem.

Furthermore, what of countries like South Africa, Mexico, and Britain where the daily statistics of rape, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, peer pressure, and so much more are all forms of crime and oppression against women? Oppression of women isn’t limited to race or religion. Unfortunately, it extends throughout the entire world, across every racial, social and economic spectrum.

You imply that it is only “extremist Salafis and Wahhabis” who wear niqaab or demand it of their women. That’s kinda funny, because I have a Sufi aunt who wears niqaab; and the nice Indian aunty at the mosque is a Deobandi, and she wears it too. The Nigerian convert who campaigns for women’s space at the mosque and demands that Muslim men stop acting like caveman and behave like gentlemen has been wearing niqaab for several years.

I’m sorry that you have had bad experiences with the niqaab. I’m sorry that you’ve had bad experiences with Muslims who insult you.

Sister Hebah Ahmad – the one you debated on CNN – said something really beautiful that I agree with completely: “Mona is my sister in Islam and even though I must disagree when she misrepresents Islam and Muslims, she still should be protected from the tongue of her fellow Muslims.”

That’s how I feel about you. I strongly disagree with what you say about the niqaab and much about what you say about Islam and Muslims in general. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to threaten to kill you, or swear at you, or condemn you to Hell. What I will do is invite you over for coffee at my place, with open arms and a warm smile that you can detect even beneath my niqaab.

Your sister in Islam,

A Muslim Woman Who Wears Niqaab

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