Woman wearing a niqab

Women who  wear the full Muslim garb in Ireland, including covering their faces have defended their choice.

Speaking to The Irish Times the women stated they voluntarily donned the niqab and were happy doing it.

Amna Han, originally from Dublin  converted to Islam in 2004.

“I became more interested in Islam after 9/11 because of all the media coverage of Islam and Muslims.

“I started wearing hijab after I converted in 2004 at the age of 18. Niqab felt like a natural progression. I’ve been wearing it on and off for just under a year. My sister, who converted last year, also wears niqab.

“It’s not for every woman but it makes me feel so much more secure. I think the reasoning behind it is just common sense. It is a form of protection. Everywhere you look these days it’s all about sex, sex, sex, sex. Men are weaker . . . they react to images more than we do. They just can’t control themselves.

“It also gives me a sense of freedom. When I wear niqab I am judged only for who I am and not for my body – that is something I have wanted all my life.

“During my teenage years, it was horrible – the pressure of always having to dress up for men. Now I feel like I’m finally being treated as a human being.

“The message it sends out to men is: don’t come near me because you’re not going to get anything from me. I’m the feminist: women have been fighting for years to be judged on who they are, and not their boobs or bum.

“Wearing niqab in Ireland can be difficult because some people look down on you. They forget that behind the veil is a woman. They shout things like go back to your own country. This is my country, where am I supposed to go back to? Tallaght?

“My husband, a Pakistani man I met after I converted, doesn’t want me to wear niqab because he is concerned that I will get loads of abuse and he hates seeing me upset. I’m doing this for the sake of Allah – not for my husband or anyone else.

“I don’t wear niqab in front of my parents because they don’t like it. They think you should dress according to what is the norm in society and keep religion as a private affair.

“Before I had children, I worked as a care assistant while studying to be a nurse. I believe I could do that job wearing niqab because at the end of the day, it’s just a face covering.

“If I was told I couldn’t wear niqab while working in a mixed environment, then I wouldn’t work. Simple as that.”

Aisha who is married to an iman in a  Dublin mosque stated that people have accepted her.

“When I came to Ireland first, it was rare to see a woman wearing niqab. Back then some people would shake their heads and say things like: ‘May the holy spirit be on you,’ but it was never really nasty,” she says. “I think people here are more accepting now because there is a greater awareness of Islam. I feel more confident when I walk on the streets.”

 Aisha was 18 when she started wearing the niqab. “It is a matter of individual choice,” Aisha told The Times.  “For me, it made sense to wear niqab as I know it is what my Lord ordered for us. I don’t feel the need to please anybody else.”

Her A 12-year-old daughter already wears the headscarf, or hijab. “As she gets older, the issue of whether to wear niqab or not is up to her. We won’t force her.”

It it is thought fewer than 80 women in Ireland wear the niqab here.

“The debate usually consists of Muslim men speaking for us or western feminists who have little or no connection with our experience as Muslim women talking about it from a very abstract point of view,” says Jasmina Kid (26), an Australian Muslim who now lives in Ireland.

 Najat Sanoussi, who moved to Ireland from Libya in 2007 says she wears it for religious reasons.

“In the 1980s I began to have a greater awareness of my religion and my identity as a Muslim, perhaps because of the political situation we faced in our country, the conflict in Palestine, and the war [against the Soviets] in Afghanistan,” she says.

“I read some scholars who interpreted the [Koranic verses] to mean women should cover the whole body. I saw that it had a deep historical root in my religion and I understood that this is what our Creator wants us to wear.”

Wearing the niqab in Ireland has been relatively easy, she says. “There was one incident on the bus recently. A woman started shouting at me: ‘Why are you covering your face?’ The other passengers were very embarrassed and many came to me to apologise for her behaviour, saying not all Irish people are like that. Another time a man walking past said to me: ‘My God, why are you doing that?’ I replied: ‘You have to be open to other cultures.’

“I have never met a woman wearing either hijab or niqab whom I would describe as being oppressed. Most of them are wearing it by choice,” she says. “And with niqab it is not that you have to cover all the time, in all situations. For example, if there is no lady doctor and you have to expose yourself to a male doctor or go before a judge in court, you can show your face. It is flexible.”

Zahra Isieva (25), came to Ireland as an asylum seeker from Chechnya two years ago.

“I wanted to see if I could wear it,” she told the Irish Times.

“In Chechnya, very few women wear niqab. It is seen as a political symbol there but that’s ridiculous. For me it is a sign of obedience to my God and I feel much more tranquil and comfortable when I wear it.”

Sara al Oteibi from Saudi Arabia is a 25-year-old studying English in Dublin. She began wearing the full-face veil at 15.

“My niqab protects me,” she says from men.

“The face is the main point of attraction for men. Women who don’t wear niqab invite a lot of problems with men. In Islam, women are like diamonds, they need to be protected. Allah knows what is best for women. Also, when I cover my face I don’t feel so shy with people. It gives me more confidence.”

Jasmina Kid moved to Ireland less than a year ago with her husband, an Irish Muslim she met while both were teaching in the United Arab Emirates.

“For many, it gives a sense of privacy. I think the secular world has really misunderstood niqab. For a Muslim woman, the niqab is not a tool to lock herself out of the world and cut people off. Rather it empowers her to invite whom she wishes into her world.”

“Some people say if you are wearing it you can’t communicate, you can’t participate in society. But you still have the person’s tone of voice and the substance of what they are saying.”

She doesn’t wear the niqab all the time, “I’ve been here for less than a year and I’m getting used to everything around me. I wear it where I’m comfortable, like going to the mosque or to the shops. For me it’s not a state of being: I’m not a sinner if I take it off. It’s an ongoing journey for me,” she says.

“When I do wear it here, I haven’t experienced any open prejudice. Once I was walking past a group of youths, and one of them made a comment about my niqab, he was just having a bit of fun, but his friend slapped him on the shoulder and said: ‘Hey, that’s a bit racist.’ Irish people seem very tolerant.”