Yvonne Ridley

I used to look at veiled women as oppressed creatures — until I was captured by the Taliban.

In September 2001, 15 days after the terrorist attacks on the United States, I snuck into Afghanistan, clad in a head-to-toe blue burqa, intending to write a newspaper account of life under the repressive regime. Instead, I was discovered, arrested and detained for 10 days. I spat and swore at my captors; they called me a “bad” woman but let me go after I promised to read the Qur’an and study Islam.

Back home in London, I kept my word — and was amazed by what I discovered. Instead of Qur’anic chapters on how to beat your wife and oppress your daughters, I found passages promoting the liberation of women. I converted to Islam 2 1/2 years later. Now I watch with disgust and dismay as former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw describes the Muslim niqab — a face veil that reveals only the eyes — as a barrier to integration, with Prime Minister Tony Blair, writer Salman Rushdie and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi leaping to his defense.

Having been on both sides of the veil, I can tell you that Western male politicians and journalists have no idea what they are talking about when they blame Islam for child brides, female circumcision, honor killings and forced marriages. A careful reading of the Qur’an shows that just about everything Western feminists fought for in the 1970s was available 1,400 years ago to Muslim women, who are considered equal to men in spirituality, education and worth. When Islam offers women so much, why are Western men so obsessed with Muslim women’s attire? Even British government ministers Gordon Brown and John Reid have made disparaging remarks about the niqab, and they hail from Scotland, where men wear skirts.

When I began wearing a headscarf, I became a second-class citizen. One cabbie, after dropping off a passenger in front of me, glared when I rapped on his window, then drove off. Another said, “Don’t leave a bomb in the back seat” and asked, “Where’s Bin Laden hiding?”

Yes, it is a religious obligation for Muslim women to dress modestly, but the majority of Muslim women I know like wearing the hijab, which leaves the face uncovered. My dress tells you that I am a Muslim and I expect to be treated respectfully, much as a banker would say a business suit defines him as an executive to be taken seriously.

Some young Muslim feminists consider the hijab and niqab political symbols too, a way of rejecting Western excesses such as binge drinking, casual sex and drug use. Which is more liberating: being judged on the length of your skirt and size of your breasts, or on your character and intelligence? In Islam, superiority is achieved through piety, not beauty, wealth, power or sex.

Italy’s Prodi joined the debate last week by declaring that it is “common sense” not to wear the niqab because it makes social relations “more difficult.” Nonsense. If this were the case, why are cell phones, e-mail, text messaging and fax machines in daily use?

Islam tells me that I have a right to an education and a duty to seek knowledge, regardless of whether I am single or married. If a man raises a finger against his wife, he is not allowed to leave a mark on her body, which is the Qur’an’s way of saying, “Don’t beat your wife, stupid.”

According to a recent National Domestic Violence Hotline survey, an average 4 million American women experience a serious assault by a partner each year; more than three women are killed by their husband or boy-friend every day; and one in three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused. This problem transcends religion, wealth, class, race and culture. But it is true that Western men still believe they are superior to women and receive better pay for equal work.

For those who still claim Islam oppresses women, recall this 1992 statement from the Rev. Pat Robertson:

Feminism is a “socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Now you tell me, who is civilized and who is not? Why I Love the Muslim Veil 1 

Yvonne Ridley is political editor of Islam Channel TV in London and co-author of In the Hand of the Taliban: Her Extraordinary Story (Robson Books).



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3 responses to “Why I Love the Muslim Veil”

  1. shazlee shah Avatar
    shazlee shah

    assalamualaikum.amazing article.

    just for my understanding,may i know which verse of quran that you explored about the women’s right?just thinking that i should know that too.thanks madm.and if u could,pls mail me.

  2. Ahyad nawi Avatar
    Ahyad nawi

    Dear Robert,

    You asked a question on why is it that the Taliban forbid women/girls go to school? Did you ever ask why is it that the Muslim government of Malaysia encourages its female population to get the highest and the best education? Why is it that the Malaysian government does not emulate the Taliban if you had described that the Taliban practices the true teachings of Islam. Thats why you need to get your historical facts and your in depth knowledge of Islam right before you judge whether something done by somebody represents the true teachings of Islam just because he or she profess that religion.

    The women in Afghanistan were tradionally oppressed not due to religion but due to customary or tribal laws ( which are sometimes totally outdated and against the Islamic teachings )that were brought down from their tribal ancestors.To the Talibans , the non islamic customs or traditions are as divine as the chinese belief that wearing black on CNY would bring bad luck or taking a bath after delivering a baby is a taboo.

    Women in Afghanistan are oppressed not by Islam but by culture and traditions which are very much against the tenets of Islam. The oppression is similar to the oppression on the blacks and the coloured in South Africa under the Apartheid system. The women in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines are also discreetly oppressed to the extent that they are sold to prostitution rings guised under match making syndicates and job opportunities at the age of puberty and all of this is due to women being the weaker gender by men’s defination of women.

    Islam has define roles for men and roles for women .The Quran has never specify that men are more superior that women or vice versa. Because of their physical differences, men and women have definite roles .Any Muslim who deny the men and the women from his or her role would be committing a great sin. This defination of roles are as crystal as defining the role of a donkey and the role of a human unless you are also fighting for the donkey’s right to equality and in this case you want all humans to snort and shit like a donkey so that the donkey would feel that it has been treated equally.

    Let me give you an example of oppression in the Chinese custom. A chinese is not allowed to practice polygamy but it is an opened secret that many Chinese men has more that one wife. These ladies are often referred to as mistress or mistresses in many cases the Chineses man ,especially the wealthy ones, keeps more than one in his private illegitimate collection.

    Being illegitimate, the mistresses and the children out of this illegitimacy are as good as beggars on the street when the illegitimate husband dies. His lawful wife has all rights to his inheritence and cannot be challenged in any court. Is this not an oppression to the other wives and children, if any and this not a question of the other wives taking risk but whether a women is protected by her religion. In the Chinese religion it is not but in Islam, it is and this is just one of the many many ways Islam upholds women’s right 1,400 years ago. A Chinese man can just leave his illegitimate wife and his children without any alimony or financial support but the Muslim men is subject to a lot of conditions after divorcing any one of his four wives. Even in marriage Islam demands equal treatment in every way amongst the wives and if the would be husband is not capable of committing to this arrangement then the husband must maintain only one wife whichever way it goes.

    On dressing, you also have to know that the Muslim males also has to maintain his “Aurat ” just as in women. For male muslims, his aurat runs from the belly button right down to the ankle and this part of the body cannot be seen by the opposite gender. By the way , are you the type that does not mind having your daughter or wife to walk around the streets with just a little star covering her voluptious breast nipples with a small pink panties just good enough to cover that little pink XXXXX in between her legs. Are you the type that does not get angry when your wife and daughter or mother starts making whore like lewd movements at the cheers of the enthusiastic male public while walking down the street . If not, then why are you so against women who lives up to her modesty and dignity or are you the type that wants woment to dress in the way you think fit?

    If you had ever been to a University in the United States, you can practically see how the girls are clamouring to be popular, most liked, most beautiful and in doing so, they degraded themselves with the most revealing outfit , heavy make ups and free and easy lifestyle so as to be hip and to be accepted. They have created a traditional culture where girls who do not reveal their essentials are considered geeks and outcasted pariahs and licensed obtained to reject these geeks in the sorority house. Any girls who are modestly dressed ( muslims included ) are made fun of not just in schools but even in national television.

    By the way, you are already a geek in U.S if you are a average Chinese from Malaysia but you can still befriend a white American but rest assured, he or she would also be either a geek, fat and ugly girl, a black girl or other non white race.

  3. Richard Chin Avatar
    Richard Chin

    Then why the Taliban forbid women/girls from going to school? If it was so liberating, what are you afraid the girls will learn in school? Why is Islam so afraid of a womans face, figure or physical appearance. Your enthusiasm to your new religion is good, but please do not be clouded by it. You are most likely suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”. You were caught and almost killed. Just think.

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