Here is a transcript of the answers to a set of questions a journalism friend asked me. It’s a project counted towards her final grade and I felt they were really good questions that served as a point of reflection for myself.
1) Can you tell us a little bit about your origin?
Sure; I’m Nigerian, born and raised by Nigerian Muslim parents. The state I come from majority of its people are Muslims and they are very conservative people.
2) You obviously veil, dare I ask what prompted your decision? Do you ever unveil?
Firstly I think it’s important for you to know that I didn’t always use to veil. I permanently started to veil September of 2014; roughly 7 months ago. Before then it was an on and off thing, and even when I used to ‘veil’ it was a particular kind of veiling that is adopted by majority of Nigerian Muslims women; which is a kind of turban style that still leaves the chest and neck exposed. Going back to the question of what prompted my decision, many things actually but I’m only going to mention 3 that were most significant to me. Firstly I am a Muslim and proud of my faith and want to be identified as one. At the time I didn’t use to veil, anyone who inquired about my faith presumed me to be something other than Muslim and that unsettled me. Secondly I wasn’t fully exercising my religion and being true to the command of God. The act of veiling is an obligatory act imposed on all Muslim women by God and I neglected it. Back then I didn’t really understand its importance but whether or not I did I was falling short of what my faith required me and I wanted to change that and become a better Muslim by practicing all that I’m supposed to. And lastly whenever I saw and passed by Muslim women who veiled an overwhelming emotion overpowered me. One of adoration. I absolutely admired them; I wanted to be like them. They were all beautiful in an unorthodox way, elegant and modest and all shared this certain light different from every other woman and as a woman practicing the same faith, I didn’t feel this way when I looked at myself in the mirror. I felt a huge void in my heart and didn’t feel like a complete Muslim whenever I saw or was around them. All of those reasons combined played a huge role in the decision-making. Do I ever unveil? Only inside my house and in front of female friends and men that are allowed to see me unveil.
3) What’s your interpretation of the verse in the Quran that implies women veil?
There’s no room for interpretation the verse is quite clear. I will quote the verse for the purpose of the interview. In Surah nur (24:31) Allah (SWT) commanded the Prophet (SAW) “say to the believing women that they should cast down their glances and guard their privates parts and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their kheemar over their chest”. That word kheemar is what has caused controversy. I’ll repeat “and they should place their kheemar over their chest”. Now people argue the Quran never said head cover for women it just says they should take a veil or a scarf and put it over their chest that’s all it says. Sheikh Nouman Ali Khan explained this perfectly and cause he studied and knows old Arabic and specialised in the linguistics of the Quran, I’ll take his explanation over just anyone’s. His explanation is what is mirrored by all other Muslim scholars by the way. He was like well if you tell someone put on your sock, then you say the Quran never said feet…is it adding up now? The word kheemar by definition is a cloth that is used to cover the head, like the sock is meant to cover the feet. You have to understand Arabic to understand the word cause there are many people who say that the Quran never said head. There are many other words for scarfs that don’t particularly refer to the head; Allah didn’t use any of them he used just the right one; kheemar. So He didn’t have to expressly say wear your kheemar on your head and drape it over your chest cause that’s already what it’s meant for. Now kheemar itself is a veil that covers the head and drops to the mid section of your tummy. Why did that revelation come down if its already something that covers the chest? The Quran addresses certain events that took place and became everlasting guidance, so we have to understand the context cause it had a backstory.
During the time of the revelation and before then the Muslim women used to wear kheemar but they used to wear it as a scarf on their head and would carry the long bit that comes in front and wrap it around their hair and cross it to the back which allows them to expose their chest and neck to men. Then the revelation came down to address that issue and said the kheemar is fine you just have to undo that bit you do by draping it to the back and drop it in front and cover yourself. So Islam strongly emphasises the concept of decency and modesty in the interaction between members of the opposite sex and dress code is a part of that overall teaching.
4) Has your decision to veil affected your faith as a Muslim? And do you think it should be mandatory or a matter of personal choice and convenience?
Oh my absolutely and incredibly. I’ll talk about my faith first and then how it’s affected me in my everyday life and whether it should be mandatory or personal choice. Wearing the hijab and upholding the command of God I can honestly say I’ve never made a better choice for myself. With regards to my faith; I feel I’ve achieved something and a void that was once inside me is no longer there. I am happy that I am doing something that pleases my lord…I feel better connected with God. So it’s no longer the case that I’ll put on my scarf and pray and when it’s time to go out I take it off and expose my hair and body and when it’s time to pray again I cover up. I honestly can’t explain the feeling that comes with veiling; it’s beyond me. And concerning my every day life oh boy; a tremendous change. You see a year ago or any time before I started seven months ago I didn’t use to veil or cover up the way I do now so I know the difference quite alright.
Personally I feel so empowered and more beautiful than i have ever felt; this is my body and I’ve never honoured it better than I have since the past seven months. I’m 17 and for the last 16 years of my life I only now know the power my body has and the power I have over it. Society cheated me and brainwashed me into believing the wrong things. I see clearly now. To be honest I’ve never been the kind that loves drawing attention to myself and I’ve always found it unreasonable and degrading for women to have to exploit their bodies in a certain way to gain certain things. I don’t wear mini skirts or tops that show my cleavage or any of those outside but I was a victim of wearing tight clingy clothes that revealed my figure. Then I realised the way I dressed affected only certain kinds of people not everyone and I’m sure you know the kinds of people I’m talking about. Some of the guys have courage more than others and some don’t have to say anything it’s written and shown clearly in their eyes and it’s just animalistic how they look at you like meat.
But since I’ve started veiling and wearing looser clothing, the people I approach and come across everyday in my life for one they’ve got nothing to look or gawk at anymore and more importantly I feel like they are looking at the real me; who I am and not my flesh. I honestly don’t understand women who dress in very little clothing and say things like they dress the way they dress outside for themselves, I ask them to be truly honest. I dress for myself also and please my self at home where no one can see me. I think you truly dress for yourself and wear whatever you feel like when people can’t see you.
One thing that’s changed is the audience…now a lot of men and women who practice my faith approach me than they’ve ever done in the past. Other men approach me with respect and they even appear scared and nervous to talk to me. Before they will come and speak to me and say whatever they wish without pausing to think if I say this what will she say? How will she feel? Now they are cautious and careful and gentle with me. They don’t playfully touch and tease me. No one has even dared to do that to me since I started veiling and that’s powerful if you ask me. Before I would have some guy friends playful tease and touch me and push me anyhow and I’m telling you you’ll think these guys can’t change, well most can’t but their demeanour around you will start to change and that’s the only thing that should concern you. Who they are has nothing to do with you or affects you but their demeanour and actions are what affect you. So for other Muslim women out there wondering veiling really does honour women. If you find honour in another way then whatever rocks your boat; it’s your life after all and no one can force you to do anything. Even though the act is an obligatory one, God made life such that everything and even his commands are choices for you to freely make. You are the one living your life and you will be the one on the receiving end also. I feel the act of veiling is rightfully mandatory. For one the option has always been there but not many people make the optional choice to do so cause we live in a world where if you’ve got something you flaunt it for all to see. Had the revelation not come down, I would never have thought that covering my head with a scarf and whilst making sure to cover my neck and chest and dressing accordingly would affect and be the solution to some of the problems I had then so I am grateful to God for that. He is the all wise.
5) Are you aware of some of the misconceptions of veiling that people have? ( been associated with terrorist, judged as inferior to men)
Yes I am. Some people believe Islam oppresses women, no freedom, and being associated with terrorist and so many more. (Sighs) This is a rather overwhelming topic for me. I am Muslim and the way I dress and cover myself doesn’t oppress me in any way, it has in fact liberated me. I don’t have to show skin and receive certain comments before i feel good about myself. And the best example is the lollipop one; get two lollipops one wrapped and unwrapped and throw it on the dirt, pick it back up which one will you go for? As to being terrorist or something, I’m as normal and mundane as anyone. The fact that I am a Muslim doesn’t mean I practice violent activities. I’ve never been exposed to any such violence since i was born except that which the media has projected.
6) Would you blame the media for this?
I certainly would. Things are only projected and portrayed in the way the person behind it wants the person on the receiving end to see it. It’s such a powerful tool and much manipulated. If the mind and person behind the publication is corrupt or wrongfully informed they will do nothing but spread corruption and false information amongst others. I partly blame the public also cause we live in a time where its common knowledge that things aren’t what they portray themselves to be. You don’t just swallow what you are given to eat without checking first.
7) If you don’t mind telling me how exactly you think the media has caused this?
My mum taught me something as a child that no one and nothing is completely bad. The person might have done something good at one point in their life. Whenever I’m told any particular person is bad, I remember what she said. Yes in some circumstances one may outweigh the other but doesn’t render the good side worthless and of zero value. Whenever I pick up the news paper or read an article and come across something related to Islam or Muslims its inherently bad. It’s not just the person that is downtrodden, every person practicing that faith is also. As a Muslim how am I supposed to feel about this? I read this and I think this is not true. This is not how I am. Our book doesn’t say this. This is not how my family is. This not how my Muslim friends are. This isn’t true about our faith. As a Muslim I can dismiss this cause I know it’s untrue. But for someone who isn’t a Muslim, they will believe it; they’ve got no knowledge or reason to think otherwise. But if people can see media as just an outlet and not a source for information, people’s views about certain things will start to change. As a human being I can’t attack the media and change the views of everyone pertaining to Muslims overnight or instantaneously as I wish I could, cause the media has been attacking it for decades. One can have ill feelings against someone on a personal level but not to a global level. I was born innocently into a world were people already had the fixed belief that all Muslims were a certain way. It will take a lot to overthrow the media or at least set straight those misconceptions people have of us.
8) Do you think the perception of some non-Muslims about Muslim women should affect their decision to veil?
I think the perception of anyone including Muslims shouldn’t affect your decision to veil. It’s your own perception alone that matters.
9) The media has played a huge part in the general misconception about veiling. These misconceptions have created fear and panic on some people who don’t understand the faith. Do you think it would be beneficial for world peace for Muslim women to just stop veiling?
(Laughs) I think there’s a greater picture involved here. Islam is targeted for many reasons. Women veiling is just one of the medium in which Muslims are attacked. What would be beneficial for world peace would be if people stopped being ignorant about certain things for one and were rightly informed.
10) How do you think the media can repair or improve the bad notion most already have about veiling?
Go to the very first source of things and not settle for secondary or passed down information and tell it as it is. The very source for veiling came from the Quran. Read the whole verse and the background and the situations of things and why they came to be and you would find all the answers and everything you need to know.
11) It’s said that in the Arabian culture of the 7th century women were considered beneath men. Do you feel this is still the case in Arabian countries?
I’m not the best person to answer that seeing that I’m not Arab. I have no idea what it was or how it still is as I was not born and raised from that part of the world and have insufficient knowledge.
But since you are talking about Arab women you are talking about culture and questioning cultural ethics and beliefs and not religious ones. However if it is true that the Arab women were considered beneath men and are still considered beneath men with the way the media is painting it to be so, the Quran is their best choice for solution as it raises the status of every women greatly in a vast number of areas than in any other jurisdiction in terms of rights and stuff. Since the legal system in that part of the world is governed under sharia law, quoting and using verses from the Quran is the strongest way to enforce those rights and serves as the ultimate defence it gives them.
12) Does the negative things you hear of the media affect your decision to continue veiling?
Nothing has affected my decision to continue veiling.
That concludes the interview. These are my own personal views on veiling. If you veil also is there anything you feel I left out that I should have said? Please comment below if so i’ld love to read them.
See you in my next post ^.^