A personal act of worship

The Independent gets a woman who wears the niqab to explain to the benighted rest of us why she’s so right and right-on and good for doing so.

The common impression that many people have about those that wear the niqab is that we are oppressed, uneducated, passive, kept behind closed doors and not integrated within British society.

So you know what’s coming next. She’s none of those things; she’s the opposite of all of them. Therefore the niqab is great.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a proud Welsh and British citizen, a molecular geneticist by profession and an activist in my spare time.

An activist? An activist for what? Not feminism, I assume. “An activist” isn’t some automatic badge of virtue. Activists can be activists for fascism, for lower taxes for the rich, for forced pregnancy, for theocracy – for anything. Maybe she’s an activist for the niqab, or Islamism, or sharia. Maybe she’s an activist against secularism, or human rights, or abortion rights.

I have formerly been elected as the Wales Chairperson of a national Muslim student organisation and held other leadership roles including working with bodies such as the National Union of Students.

Ah that kind of activist. Well quite. She’s an Islamist and she wears the niqab. Yes we knew that – we knew there are Islamist women.

I wear the niqab as a personal act of worship, and I deeply believe that it brings me closer to God, the Creator.

Ok that’s the part that all this was leading up to. Wut? She believes wearing a mask over her face brings her closer to “the Creator”? Why? If “the Creator” didn’t want women’s faces to be visible, why didn’t it just design women accordingly? Without faces, for instance? Why would concealing a part of one’s body bring one closer to the entity that is supposed to have created that very body?

It’s a dopy idea. She tries to make it less dopy in the usual way, by saying she “deeply believes” it – but that just backfires with people who have learned to be even more suspicious when people start babbling about what they “deeply believe.”


  1. says

    Well, I “deeply believe” that women shouldn’t be told that Allah, the great misogynist in the sky, needs them to cover their body with a huge black blanket. Sahar, there is no Allah and you should only do things because YOU want to do them.

    BTW, if every Muslim man get’s 72 virgin women in heaven, what do Muslim women think awaits them in heaven? Allah waves his magic wand, your hymen closes up and then you’re sent off to be an eternal rape victim?

  2. says


    If I recall the virgins thing wasn’t human virgins or human women so much as some sort of divine sexbot (houri?) but I can’t recall the specifics.

    As to the woman all I can think reading that is that a niqab seems an incredibly inconvenient if not potentially dangerous thing to wear in the kind of laboratory settings a molecular geneticist would be familiar with.

  3. H says

    Let’s not forget that the niqab is just a makeshift solution for women who for some reason or other are forced to leave their house. If she were really devout, she wouldn’t go out at all in the first place…

    Making a fuss about your clothes is deeply immodest, anyway – seems strange to me that this Allah should like these women who are waging wars in public, instead of sitting at home and breeding…?

    Anyway, hiding your face from your fellow people is deeply uncivil because it makes any kind of human interaction impossible. And that’s what it’s actually meant for…

  4. rowanvt says

    So let me get this straight.

    She believes that because *SHE* is not forced to wear it…. that therefore it is never anywhere used as a tool of oppression?

    What sort of word would you even use for such a… a…. statement?

  5. atheist says

    Anger at women who wear niqabs is counterproductive. Wearing a niqab is pretty much the same as wearing a cross T-shirt, or when married Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs. In a secular society a niqab should be a constitutionally protected fashion choice.

    Also, atheist or feminist anger against Muslim women is kind of redundant. Muslims are already perfectly aware that they’re hated for all sorts of reasons. So atheist or feminist anger at niqab-wearing women for being a symbol of patriarchal religious oppression is just the icing on the cake.

  6. rowanvt says

    I’m not angry at her for wearing the niqab. NO ONE here is angry with her for making that choice.

    We are angry because she is actively denying that women are EVER forced to wear it. If it wasn’t a forced thing, women would not get in trouble for NOT wearing it.

    How you managed to miss that clear and obvious fact of where our anger is directed shows willful blindness of the sort we’ve come to expect from someone who uses ‘atheist’ as a nym.

  7. says

    This isn’t about anger at women who wear the niqab. It’s about disagreement with a women who gives stupid reasons for wearing the niqab in a major upmarket newspaper.

  8. brianpansky says

    about whether the state should step in to “protect” young women from having the veil “imposed” on them.

    ya it might not always be imposed…but sometimes it is. putting ‘imposed’ in dismissive quotes is kind of shitty.

  9. brianpansky says

    Islam’s practical acts of liberation are many…[for example] the imperative of modesty for women and men…Scripture does not deem the niqab as compulsory..a woman has total freedom of choice to decide what she wears.

    liberation of imperative modesty. imperative, but no compulsion.

    the double speak, it hurts.

    Making such negative comments about face-veiled Muslim women or banning the veil will not enhance integration but rather exclusion, leading to cultural destruction of minorities in the name of equality.

    i think i can agree with this part. Jeremy Brown should have said that school *enforcement* of such uniform should be removed, not suggest a ban of the garment itself in schools.

  10. atheist says

    @rowanvt – September 21, 2013 at 8:23 am (UTC -7)

    I’m not angry at her for wearing the niqab. NO ONE here is angry with her for making that choice.

    @Ophelia Benson – September 21, 2013 at 8:24 am (UTC -7)

    This isn’t about anger at women who wear the niqab. It’s about disagreement with a women who gives stupid reasons for wearing the niqab in a major upmarket newspaper.

    As far as my words about “anger” go, I apologize for misconstruing you. The reason I used that word was, some of the commenters here seemed angry at Ms. al Faifi.

    Ophelia called her an “Islamist”. Having read and re-read her article I still see no evidence that she is an “Islamist”, as opposed to a Muslim. She says things like,

    in my view, the authentic reading of Scripture does not deem the niqab as compulsory but highly recommended; crucially, a woman has total freedom of choice to decide what she wears


    We are not living in a state like Saudi Arabia or Iran where the hijab or niqab to some extent are mandated; nor are we living in Turkey or France where militant secularism is deeply rooted, forbidding them. In Britain, public freedom is a part of the fabric of our society

    These statements argue for religious tolerance and a separation of church and state, not Islamism. She’s a secular Muslim.

  11. atheist says

    I am using the definition of “Islamism” described at this wikipedia page:

    Islamism (Islam+-ism) or Political Islam (Arabic: إسلام سياسي‎ Islām siyāsī, or الإسلامية al-Islāmīyah) is a set of ideologies holding that “Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life”.

    Ms. al Faifi doesn’t sound like she’s arguing for that, rather she seems to be arguing for her right to wear a niqab if she so chooses.

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