What is the Shariah?

What is the Shariah?

 A Path to God, a Path to Good

by Faraz Rabbani

“For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had God willed, He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He has given you. So vie one with another in good works. Unto God you will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein you differ.” [Qur’an]

For Muslims, life did not begin at birth, but a long time before that. Before even the creation of the first man. It began when God created the souls of everyone who would ever exist and asked them, “Am I not your Lord?” They all replied, “Yea.”

God decreed for each soul a time on earth so that He might try them. Then, after the completion of their appointed terms, He would judge them and send them to their eternal destinations: either one of endless bliss, or one of everlasting grief.

This life, then, is a journey that presents to its wayfarers many paths. Only one of these paths is clear and straight. This path is the Shariah.

Divine guidance

In Arabic, Shariah means the clear, well-trodden path to water. Islamically, it is used to refer to the matters of religion that God has legislated for His servants. The linguistic meaning of Shariah reverberates in its technical usage: just as water is vital to human life so the clarity and uprightness of Shariah is the means of life for souls and minds.

Throughout history, God has sent messengers to people all over the world, to guide them to the straight path that would lead them to happiness in this world and the one to follow. All messengers taught the same message about belief (the Qur’an teaches that all messengers called people to the worship of the One God), but the specific prescriptions of the divine laws regulating people’s lives varied according to the needs of his people and time.

The Prophet Muhammad (God bless him and give him peace) was the final messenger and his Shariah represents the ultimate manifestation of the divine mercy.

“Today I have perfected your way of life (din) for you, and completed My favour upon you, and have chosen Islam as your way of life.” (Qur’an, 5:3) The Prophet himself was told that, “We have only sent you are a mercy for all creation.” (Qur’an, 21:179)

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Legal rulings

The Shariah regulates all human actions and puts them into five categories: obligatory, recommended, permitted, disliked or forbidden.

Obligatory actions must be performed and when performed with good intentions are rewarded. The opposite is forbidden action. Recommended action is that which should be done and the opposite is disliked action. Permitted action is that which is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Most human actions fall in this last category.

The ultimate worth of actions is based on intention and sincerity, as mentioned by the Prophet, who said, “Actions are by intentions, and one shall only get that which one intended.”

Life under the Shariah

The Shariah covers all aspects of human life. Classical Shariah manuals are often divided into four parts: laws relating to personal acts of worship, laws relating to commercial dealings, laws relating to marriage and divorce, and penal laws.

Legal philosophy

God sent prophets and books to humanity to show them the way to happiness in this life, and success in the hereafter. This is encapsulated in the believer’s prayer, stated in the Qur’an, “Our Lord, give us good in this life and good in the next, and save us from the punishment of the Fire.” (2:201)

The legal philosophers of Islam, such as Ghazali, Shatibi, and Shah Wali Allah explain that the aim of Shariah is to promote human welfare. This is evident in the Qur’an, and teachings of the Prophet.

The scholars explain that the welfare of humans is based on the fulfillment of necessities, needs, and comforts.


Necessities are matters that worldly and religious life depend upon. Their omission leads to unbearable hardship in this life, or punishment in the next. There are five necessities: preservation of religion, life, intellect, lineage, and wealth. These ensure individual and social welfare in this life and the hereafter.

The Shariah protects these necessities in two ways: firstly by ensuring their establishment and then by preserving them.

To ensure the establishment of religion, God Most High has made belief and worship obligatory. To ensure its preservation, the rulings relating to the obligation of learning and conveying the religion were legislated.

To ensure the preservation of human life, God Most high legislated for marriage, healthy eating and living, and forbid the taking of life and laid down punishments for doing so.
God has permitted that sound intellect and knowledge be promoted, and forbidden that which corrupts or weakens it, such as alcohol and drugs. He has also imposed preventative punishments in order that people stay away from them, because a sound intellect is the basis of the moral responsibility that humans were given.

Marriage was legislated for the preservation of lineage, and sex outside marriage was forbidden. Punitive laws were put in placed in order to ensure the preservation of lineage and the continuation of human life.

God has made it obligatory to support oneself and those one is responsible for, and placed laws to regulate the commerce and transactions between people, in order to ensure fair dealing, economic justice, and to prevent oppression and dispute.

Needs and comforts

Needs and comforts are things people seek in order to ensure a good life, and avoid hardship, even though they are not essential. The spirit of the Sharia with regards to needs and comforts is summed up in the Qur’an, “He has not placed any hardship for you in religion,” (22:87) And, “God does not seek to place a burden on you, but that He purify you and perfect His grace upon you, that you may give thanks.” (5:6)

Therefore, everything that ensures human happiness, within the spirit of Divine Guidance, is permitted in the Shariah.

Sources of the Shariah

The primary sources of the Shariah are the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Qur’an

The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet gradually, over 23 years. The essence of its message is to establish the oneness of God and the spiritual and moral need of man for God. This need is fulfilled through worship and submission, and has ultimate consequences in the Hereafter.

The Qur’an is the word of God. Because of its inimitable style and eloquence, and, above all, the guidance and legal provisions it came with, it ensures the worldly and next-worldly welfare of humanity.

God Most High said, “Verily, this Qur’an guides to that which is best, and gives glad tidings to the believers who do good that theirs will be a great reward.” (Qur’an, 17:9) And, “There has come unto you light from God and a clear Book, whereby God guides those who seek His good pleasure unto paths of peace. He brings them out of darkness unto light by His decree, and guides them unto a straight path.” (Qur’an, 5:15)

The Prophetic example (Sunna)

The Prophet’s role was expounded in the Qur’an, “We have revealed the Remembrance [Qur’an] to you that you may explain to people that which was revealed for them.” (16:44)

This explanation was through the Prophet’s words, actions, and example. Following the guidance and the example of the Prophet was made obligatory, “O you who believe, obey God and obey the Messenger,” (4: 59) and, “Verily, in the Messenger of God you have a beautiful example for those who seek God and the Last Day, and remember God much.” The Prophet himself instructed, “I have left two things with you which if you hold on to, you shall not be misguided: the Book of God and my example.” [Reported by Hakim and Malik]

Derived sources

There are two agreed-upon derived sources of Shariah: scholarly consensus (ijma’) and legal analogy (qiyas).

Scholarly consensus (Ijma`)

The basis for scholarly consensus being a source of law is the Qur’anic command to resolve matters by consultation, as God stated, “Those who answer the call of their Lord, established prayer, and whose affairs are by consultation.” (42:38) Scholarly consensus is defined as being the agreement of all Muslim scholars at the level of juristic reasoning (ijtihad) in one age on a given legal ruling. Given the condition that all such scholars have to agree to the ruling, its scope is limited to matters that are clear according to the Qur’an and Prophetic example, upon which such consensus must necessarily be based. When established, though, scholarly consensus is decisive proof.

Legal analogy (Qiyas)

Legal analogy is a powerful tool to derive rulings for new matters. For example, drugs have been deemed impermissible, through legal analogy from the prohibition of alcohol that is established in the Qur’an. Such a ruling is based on the common underlying effective cause of intoxication.

Legal analogy and its various tools enables the jurists to understand the underlying reasons and causes for the rulings of the Qur’an and Prophetic example (sunna). This helps when dealing with ever-changing human situations and allows for new rulings to be applied most suitably and consistently.

Beyond ritualism

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The ultimate aim of those who submit to the Shariah is to express their slavehood to their Creator. But the Shariah does bring benefit in this world too.

This way has been indicated in a Divine statement conveyed by the Prophet.

My servant approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My servant keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks Me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him.

If the legal dimension of the Shariah gives Islam its form, the spiritual dimension is its substance. The spiritual life of Islam, and its goal, was outlined in the Divine statement (mentioned above).

The Prophet explained spiritual excellence as being, “To worship God as though you see Him, and if you see Him not, [know that] He nevertheless sees you.

The spiritual life of Islam is a means to a realization of faith and a perfection of practice. It is to seek the water that the Shariah is the clear path to, water that gives life to minds and souls longing for meaning.

It is this spiritual life, at its various levels, that attracts Muslims to their religion, its way of life, and to the rulings of the Shariah.

And those who believe are overflowing in their love of God.  (Qur’an 2:165)

Source:  BBC Religion and Ethics.


Jihad in Islam – Habib Ali

This is taken from an article in the Washington Post.

What is Jihad? Under what circumstances does Islam sanction the use of violence? What would you tell would be suicide bombers who would invoke Islam to justify their actions?

The Islamic tradition inequivocally condemns any type of aggression toward innocent civilians.

Islam does not sanction armed struggle except when opposing an aggressor who occupies another’s land or in order to help remove oppression from oppressed peoples.

The concept of jihad in the Islamic tradition carries the meaning of exerting all of one’s resources and energies in order to arrive at the realization of truth, preparedness to make sacrifices for the sake of
doing good, and reaching out to others with goodness, seeking nothing in return save the contentment of God.

The root of the word “jihad” in Arabic is to struggle or endure hardship; expending energy & resources. When this is applied to the Islamic context it becomes the effort to advance goodness and
enlightenment. This is the doctrinal understanding found in the original and defining religious texts.

The greatest expression of jihad is the struggle (Ar. mujahada) against the ego in order to bring about its spiritual purification and growth. This jihad is known as the “Greater Jihad” amongst Muslims.

Other forms of jihad are: the Jihad of “word”; the Qur’an tells us: {and struggle against them with it (i.e. with the Qur’an)} (Qur’an, Chapter: 25, verse: 52). The Prophet (peace & blessings upon him) said “the best jihad is that of speaking a word of truth to an unjust ruler”. Other forms include the jihad of educating, the jihad of building functional economies and eradicating poverty, and the jihad of politics, diplomacy and constructive policy creation. However, it is the jihad against injustice, which can include armed struggle as a last and conditional resort, that has dominated the spotlight in our times. As the reality of Jihad has to do with reaching the truth, doing goodness, and reaching out to others with this goodness, armed struggle really has no place here except in two circumstances:

  1. Defense against an aggressor (conditioned by right ethical conduct); or
  2. To secure for people the freedom to choose their own path to religious truth.

The Islamic tradition forbids suicide; it forbids any form of harm to innocent people. The Islamic tradition advocates the rule of law in the strongest terms.

Islam forbids the taking of life so what drives the suicide bombers to just that? The question about suicide bombings is misleading in that it tends to be framed in such a way as to focus on the “suicidal” nature of the act alone. However, there is something worse at the heart of this.

It is the issue of the treachery, the betrayal of the trust that all innocent people must be permitted to assume as part of a mutually dependent social order. This observation in turn, leads into another question. Is this any more or less horrific than a person who sits behind a button which he presses – bringing death and destruction to thousands – and then returns to his routine without an afterthought? No, both are horrific, and both require humanity to wake up and take responsibility for its actions.

Two things tend to be confused here, one of them is agreed upon, the other is a point of difference.

  1. The one we all agree upon is that the crime of these people is that of taking innocent lives, as well as the additional devastation that it brings. This is something which was forbidden by Islamic Law 14 centuries ago, only later to become rejected by modern human conscience.
  2. The point of difference here is in the silence of the unasked question: who is responsible for these young people reaching such a point of despair that they would actually want to blow themselves up and others along with them?

Are they alone in the perpetration of such acts? Or can we add to the list of responsible parties the absence of mature and holistic Islamic learning. An absence that has left gaps in people’s understanding of their religion, gaps which extremists are all too quick to fill with disinformation which perpetrators then proceed to act upon. One of the teachings of Islam (which the perpetrators of such acts have missed) is that no matter what hardships and afflictions a person experiences, it can never justify doing anything which contradicts Islam’s ethical framework.

Will it ever be possible to reach a point where people can feel safe from the specter of being accused of “terrorism” for simply positing questions about the extreme injustices and oppression experienced by societies in the Developing South? Injustices driven by pressure from quarters which exert an undue influence on the international community and its institutions rendering them incapable of protecting citizens from such iniquities to the point that young people despair of having a fair legal system, or fair international institutions. These young people may then find themselves listening to the voices which call for vengeance justified by misinterpretations of sacred texts; giving young people promises of paradise in exchange for their miserable situation. Wherever injustice reigns supreme, and hope is lost you find suicide.

In normal criminal cases we give a lot of importance to the forensics and the background of the crime and hold accountable the society which gave rise to the criminal personality; while still holding the criminal responsible for his actions. In the case of the crimes perpetrated by these bombers our accountability is even greater; and the need for investigation and analysis greater still. It is a sad situation that we have arrived to; rectification and healing will require maturity and courage from all communities.

I repeat: Islam categorically condemns the acts carried out by the bombers on the Twin Towers of New York, the Trains in Madrid, the London Bombings and all other attacks aimed at innocents.

Lastly I am grateful for those who have opened a channel of dialogue for individuals seeking to work together and extend bridges between people of sagacity, for the purpose of reclaiming the mantle of leadership from the hands of extremists on all sides who would lead our world into discord and instability. Increasing the circle of dialogue, understanding, and the clarification of differing viewpoints is a reassuring indicator for the future of our small and intimate world.

Laylatul Qadr – The Night of Power

The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) addressed his companions on the last day of Sha`ban, saying, “Oh people! A great month has come over you; a blessed month; a month in which is a night better than a thousand months; month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month) shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in (this month) shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Heaven. It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer’s sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast, shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all.”

[Narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah]

The Beloved Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) told the companions about four persons of the Bani Israel who had worshipped Allah for 80 years. They were the Honoured Ayuub, Zakarriyya , Hizqil and Yusha ibne Nun. The companions were amazed by this, and saddened that their short life spans did not permit such lengthy devotion, so the Angel Gabriel (عليه السلام) came to the Prophet    (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and said, “O Beloved of Allah, Allah has sent you something better than that.” Then he recited Sura Qadr. 

“We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: And what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit(Gabriel) by Allah’s permission, on every errand: Peace!… This until the rise of Morning!”

Fasting and the Month of Ramadan

Prepared by: Khalil Abu Asmaa (Christopher J. Moore)

Taken from “Reflect on This“.

Fasting is a tradition known to many of the world’s religions. In its essence it is to temporarily deny oneself some of the pleasures and comforts of this earthly life in order to achieve a higher, loftier goal. Fasting is a spiritual exercise that helps us learn what it means to be human. It teaches the soul discipline and brings us to a greater awareness of our neediness in front of the Creator. It brings to the forefront of our consciousness that primal attribute which so adequately describes the human condition, namely, that of weakness. If we are denied the basic necessities of food and water for just a short period of time, it will ultimately lead to our demise. Part of the purpose of fasting is to remind ourselves of this stark reality.

 Fasting in the month of Ramadan is an essential part of being a Muslim. During this great month, Muslims fast from the break of dawn until sunset. During the observance of the fast it is required to abstain from food and drink, as well as from marital relations. It is a time to be more conscious of those less fortunate in the world, as well as to increase in vigilance concerning the destructive qualities of character, speech, and behavior.

 Since Islam is truly a practical and merciful religion, those who are sick, elderly, or traveling, as well as women who are pregnant or nursing, are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year (unless they are chronically ill, in which case they would not have to do so). Children are only required to begin fasting and the performance of ritual prayers at the age of puberty, although most children start much earlier on their own. 

 God states in the Quran (2:183): 

 O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you, in hopes that you may achieve greater awareness (of God).

 Although fasting is primarily a means for self-purification, spiritual discipline, and self-restraint, it is also beneficial to one’s health and it engenders empathy for those less fortunate. By withholding oneself from certain worldly comforts, even if only for a brief period of time, the fasting person is able to focus on his or her purpose in this life by being aware of God more continuously, thereby becoming more cognizant of the meaning of life and the great importance of our final destination after life. 

 Ramadan is a special time for Muslims everywhere; a time for clearer reflection and heightened spirituality. Special prayer services (called taraweeh prayers) are held in mosques and other places of gathering all over the world, each and every night of Ramadan. Although not obligatory, many Muslims flock in large crowds to fill these places of gathering with sincere prayers, passionate supplications, and intimate words of invocation, often late into the night.

 The end of Ramadan is ushered in by a holiday called Eid al-Fitr, or simply Eid. On this day Muslims all over the world celebrate with prayers, gatherings with family and friends, and in many cases, a joyous exchange of gifts and the giving of sweets to children. Although saddened to see the month come to a close, they rejoice in the fruits of the fast and look forward to next year’s blessed harvest.

Ramadan Advice – Part 1

This is a beautiful lesson given on the meanings and wisdoms of Ramadan in Tarim, Yemen by one of the amazing female scholars there. It’s rather long so I’ll post in stages for ease of reading.

Bismi’AllahiRahmaniRaheem, AlhamdulillahiRabil’alamin,

 Wa salAllahu ‘ala Sayyidina Muhammadin wa ‘ala alihi wa sahbihi wa sallim

 The Prophet salAllahu alaihi wasalam has informed us that every action is judged according to its intention.

 So in terms of the action we are about to undertake, i.e. the seeking of knowledge and the preparation of Ramadhan, the hadith is clear. So we begin with good intentions, good intentions in order that the etiquettes are found in this class and in order that the light that we search for is found in this class. And from what the scholars have taught us, we should intend to learn, to implement, and to teach others. To not just take this light, but to allow this light to eminate into the depths of our souls, and to allow it to eminate to our families, and into the depths of our homes, ameen.

Infinite is the native land from whence Allah has created the soul… the soul was made to reside in this infinite, ultimate, beauty of the native land. And this is where the soul wants to return to. Our lives are journeys that are about returning from exile, to our native land. The soul always feels like a foreigner, it always calls out for something greater, the infinite, the infinite space where we belong, it is always in turbulence, but once the soul becomes comfortable with this life, there is something seriously wrong. Ramadhan serves as one of life’s reminders of where we belong, where we are heading, where we long to be and helps us in our return journey. It is said that in the grave we call out, “How I wish that I prepared for my life” – the real living – in the permanent abode.

The Muslim sees this life as a temporal zone, and The Prophet salAllahu alaihi wasalam said, live your life as a wayfarer. Meaning pass through it, don’t build in it.

‘Isa alaihi salam said the world is like a bridge, so don’t build upon it, just cross it.

 “And I did not create mankind or jinn, but to worship Me” – adh-Dhariyat – The Winnowing winds, Verse 5:

The Ulema tell us that this is the reality behind the creation of man and jinn. The understanding of life upon earth, is worship. We are part of this reality. The Ulema tell us that we cannot worship Allah unless we know Him. So we seek knowledge to know Him, so that we can fulfil this purpose – realising existence and that your very existence is based on worshipping Allah. But how can you, without understanding, without knowing?

 “There is no good in worship that is not understood” – Imam Ali, may Allah ennoble his face

 Imam Ali is known as the gate to the city of knowledge – the city of knowledge is The Prophet salAllahu alaihi wasalam. Yet if you worship without understanding, there is no good in it. Why? Because the act of ibadah would be reduced to just getting it done, rather than knowing or experiencing the connection contained within it, which is only accessed through understanding, and which comes from knowledge.

 “Fasting is enjoined upon you as it was enjoined upon those before you, so that you may become God conscious” – Baqara – The Cow, Verse 183.

 This is the command on fasting, and Allah has told you that it is nothing new – every nation from the beginning of time till the end of time has done it, because it has such a powerful affect on the soul and the mind. There are so many wisdoms behind fasting, and it is potent with respect to strengthening that connection with Allah subhanuwata’ala which becomes severed if there is no God consciousness. When we lose that connection, we are no longer conscious that He exists, that He is watching, that He Sees you. The tie is severed and it is very easy to fall back on your wayward ways. The fasting helps with consciousness. This is why The Prophet salAllahu alaihi wasalam used to fast constantly -although his connection to Allah was of a different type. But in essence, this is why fasting just for a month, is prescribed for us, because of the powerful affect it has on our connection to our Lord. And it is because of this our teachers tell us that the obligatory fast is only for the stingy.

Australian Values

Lately, I’ve been told that I don’t share the same values as other Australians, all because I choose to cover my face. The terms “cultural values” and “Australian values” keep coming up, but no one bothers to define them, or to explain exactly how wearing the niqab contravenes them.

So I consulted Professor Google, and found this “value statement” that all new migrants need to sign if they wish to be accepted as Australian citizens.

Australian Values Statement

You must sign this statement if you are aged 18 years or over.

I confirm that I have read, or had explained to me, information provided by the Australian Government on Australian society and values.

I understand:

  • Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good
  • Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background
  • the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society.

I undertake to respect these values of Australian society during my stay in Australia and to obey the laws of Australia.

I understand that, if I should seek to become an Australian citizen:

  • Australian citizenship is a shared identity, a common bond which unites all Australians while respecting their diversity
  • Australian citizenship involves reciprocal rights and responsibilities. The responsibilities of Australian Citizenship include obeying Australian laws, including those relating to voting at elections and serving on a jury.

If I meet the legal qualifications for becoming an Australian citizen and my application is approved I understand that I would have to pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people.

Signature of Applicant

Taken from http://www.immi.gov.au/living-in-australia/values/statement/long/

I read through them carefully, and can’t see any contradiction between my beliefs and values and the one’s stated above. I’d be interested to see if anyone can!

What makes a Muslim?

`Umar ibn Khattab (Allah be well pleased with him) said:

“As we were sitting one day before the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), a man suddenly appeared. He wore pure white clothes and his hair was dark black—yet there were no signs of travel on him, and none of us knew him.

He came and sat down in front of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), placing his knees against his, and his hands on his thighs. He said, “O Muhammad! Tell me about Islam.”

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “Islam is to bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; and to perform the prayer; pay zakat; fast Ramadan; and to perform Hajj to the House if you are able.”

The man said, “You have spoken the truth,” and we were surprised that he asked and then confirmed the answer.

Then, he asked, “Tell me about belief (iman).”

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “It is to believe in Allah; His Angels; His Books; His Messengers; the Last Day; and in destiny—its good and bad.”

The man said, “You have spoken the truth. Now, tell me about spiritual excellence (ihsan).”

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “It is to serve Allah as though you behold Him; and if you don’t behold him, (know that) He surely sees you.”

“Now, tell me of the Last Hour,” asked the man.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “The one asked knows no more of it than the one asking.”

“Then tell me about its signs,” said the man.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, “That slave women give birth to their mistresses; and that you see barefoot, unclothed, beginning shepherds competing in the construction of tall buildings.”

Then the visitor left, and I waited a long time. Then the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked me, “Do you know, Umar, who the questioner was?”

I replied, “Allah and His Messenger know best.”He said (Allah bless him and give him peace), “It was Jibril. He came to you to teach you your religion.”


Definition – someone who wears niqab. In this case, me 🙂

Oh, I guess I need to define niqab too!

Niqab – a veil covering the face which is worn by some Muslim women.

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