First Person | Veiled Threat

Leave the women alone please

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

My first encounter with a head to toe veil, comprising a Jilbab, a hizab and a niqab happened nearly six years back. My cousin, older to me by a few years suddenly decided that she needed to wear this. Two landmark events had occurred in her life which merited this cover up. First, she had turned 30 and second, she got married. I believe it was more because of the latter and pressure from her husband than anything else, though she insisted that it was entirely her choice. Really, I taunted her. If that was so then shouldn’t she have covered herself up thus when she was younger and slimmer, when the possibility of people giving her a second look was much higher? Cruel, I know I was. But I would blame it on my immature rage.

Anyway, soon after she started looking like a ghost, she and her husband decided to go romancing the seaside on Gateway of India (they live in Bombay). Imagine, my brother-in-law in a regular short sleeve shirt and trousers with breeze playing with his hair sitting on the edge of the water-front holding hands with my cousin. She, draped in a black shroud-like long coat buttoned up till her neck, a grey and white chequered scarf on her head put in place with safety pins, a rectangular handkerchief kind contraption that covered her mouth and chin and a black net for the eyes.

Only the tip was her nose would have been visible for breathing. Anyway, after romance, they decided to indulge in some gol gappas (street food). While her husband merrily gulped one after the other, she struggled with the first one. Placing her plate on the vendor’s cart, she held the gol gappa in one hand and with the other held her scarf covering her mouth aloft so that she could push the snack down her nose to her mouth. Anyone who has eaten this knows that it is impossible to manoeuvre this particular snack like this. The result was, the spicy, tangy liquid spilled all over her scarf as the crispy ball crumbled between her mouth and the scarf. That was the last gol gappa she had eaten off the cart. Now when she feels like it, she orders street food in. Over time, she stopped going out with her husband, unless it was very important. She had already given up her job as a school teacher upon getting married. Now, six years later, she is a frustrated housewife, short-tempered and already suffering from ailments like hyper-tension. Last I heard she takes daily pills for high blood pressure.

A veil is just another way of disempowering women. I have seen it happen right in front of me. To begin with, women who wear these head to toe veils hesitate to go out because they make a spectacle of themselves. And they cannot hope to find jobs, after all, who in his right mind, would employ a woman looking like this. Moreover, I would seriously doubt a woman’s ability to perform well if she was dressed so uncomfortably. I am yet to come across any woman at any workplace dressed so ridiculously. However, my arguments against such a restrictive veil go much deeper. Take the history of Islam and the context of the Quran. Prophet Mohammed’s first wife, Hazrat Khadija was a widow who ran her own business. The Prophet was in her employment and impressed by his honesty, integrity and whatever else she decided to marry him. Now if the history of Islam starts with an empowered woman like this, why would the religion seek to disempower them? But Hazrat Khadija was an exceptional woman, because Arab society at that time enjoyed objectifying women. Remember, the famous belly dancers. Like in many feudal societies, women were either sex slaves or doormat wives with no rights whatsoever. Quran sought to give them dignity, which is why it advises them to dress modestly so that they do not attract attention to their bodies. When talking to strangers they should lower their eyes and should walk in such a way that their anklets do not make a sound. Interestingly, the injunction of modest dressing and not attracting attention applies to both men and women. Today, far from not attracting attention, women in such veils attract even more attention to themselves. What is more, fancy boutiques have cropped up in various cities selling designer burqas (veil) in a range of prints and fabrics which skim your body in the most suggestive way. Yet, you’d never find a mullah objecting to it.

Who is the mullah to tell women what the Quran says or what they must do. Islam does not have a strict hierarchical clergy like, say Christianity. Faith is a covenant between an individual and his or her God. I have read the Quran and I do not find it telling me that I need to cover myself in a shroud. I don’t need anybody to tell me that I am wrong; it is between me and my God. And finally, dressed modestly or not, I would be loathe if people took notice of me because of my body and not my brains.


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