Hassan: What face masks tell us about the niqab

While I am less worried about the niqab than Hassan and recognize that wearing the niqab may reflect a variety of reasons, I do share her annoyance over the facile comparison between face masks and niqabs. Reasons, objectives and intent are completely different:

One annoying narrative emerging from the COVID-19 seclusion is the way some religious people gloat about the niqab being somehow equivalent to the now mandated masks.

“See?” they say. “The government wanted to ban the niqab, but Allah has decreed otherwise. Now everyone must wear a niqab.”

Let it be clear: a face covering during a pandemic is a medical recommendation. A niqab is nothing but a religious travesty inflicted on a minuscule number of Muslim women by their Islamist guardians.

This false equating of the niqab to medical face masks has even made the print media rounds. Katherine Bullock, chair of ISNA-Canada, wrote an article with the provocative title We are all niqabis now: Coronavirus masks reveal the hypocrisy of face-covering bans.

First, we are not all niqabis. And secondly, there is no hypocrisy because the objectives of the two types of face coverings are completely different. Bullock asked, “If Canadians, Americans and Europeans can get used to the new ubiquitous face masks, will they also get used to niqabs?”

The answer is no. And why should opposition stop? Niqabs are discriminatory; face masks are not.

The fact is niqabi women wear what they wear because many face discrimination at home. They are considered chattel, or commodities that need to be hidden from public gaze. Their “protectors” worry they may bring shame to their families if not segregated and marginalized.

Bullock’s article further states that whereas people with surgical or medical masks are allowed to interact freely with each other without having to remove them, niqabi women are forced to remove their niqabs in public or at citizenship ceremonies. Well of course. The masks are being worn during an unprecedented medical crisis that presents an extreme danger to people’s health. What purpose does the niqab serve under normal conditions other than to create interpersonal barriers?

Another article, by freelance writer Sami Rahman, makes the same mistake of equating niqabs with medical face coverings. It alludes to U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson’s derision of niqabi women as letterboxes, and says perhaps we have all become letterboxes – as if this is some sort of divine judgment meted out to all people.

The article further confounds the debate by associating the niqab with all Muslim women. She writes, “Anti-racism organization Tell MAMA recorded a surge in hate crimes towards Muslim women that very same week.”

Muslim women? The overwhelming majority of Muslim women do not wear the niqab or even the hijab. Why associate these garments with the practice of most Muslim women, who rightly assert that their faith does not prescribe them?

The fact is that Islamists promote the niqab and hijab as symbols of mainstream Islam when they most certainly don’t represent Muslim practice.

Let Islamists gloat over the current requirement for face masks. When the crisis is behind us – and hopefully it will be soon with the development of a vaccine – all the medically prescribed masks will be gone.

But the niqab will persist, and all its supporters will still have to answer the familiar and fundamental questions: Why must they promote such patriarchal and cumbersome attire? Why glorify the niqab and hijab when they are arguably not even prescribed by Islam?

Source: HASSAN: What face masks tell us about the niqab

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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