Posted by: Bruce | July 10, 2011

A veiled threat, a minor(ity) manipulation, or are burqas and niqabs nothing to worry about?

Women wearing burqas, the most concealing of a...
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The recent case in Australia involving mother of seven, Carnita Matthews, has certainly caused some interest and in my case, some reflection as to what I really feel about Muslim women wearing burqas or niqabs.

Very briefly, Matthews was driving and stopped by police and issued a ticket. She later alleged the police tried to forcibly remove her burqa. This was proven to be a false allegation and she was sentenced to six (6) mths jail; sentence then quashed because her identity as the accuser at the time could not be completely founded; she had been wearing a burqa!

Before I launch into an incredibly enlightning essay on this subject I should reveal that I have at least one sister who lives in an Arabic country and wears a burqa when required in accordance with that country’s laws. She is not of Muslim religion. This may be a little hint as to where my writing is going.

Having watched the video of Carnita (mother of seven) Matthews, I can only commend the copper, Senior Constable Paul Hogarty, for his patience. Matthews, in contrast, gave an embarrassing display for the camera and the world, and in front of her children no less (if with her in the car). She certainly didn’t fit the often touted image of a Muslim woman deferring to the superiority of a male; she was full of fight, a big dummy spit.

At video’s end I figured this Carnita Matthews didn’t really do anything super bad, she just had a big bitch about getting a ticket (feel sorry for copper). Plenty of us have done this, are probably doing it right now, or will do it in the future. That didn’t make it right for her to call the copper a racist; she was way off beam and irrelevant in her substance for that accusation. What Matthews really did wrong came after her ticket tirade.

It appears she couldn’t let it go and went from bad to worse. Worse meaning she was later sentenced to six months jail for falsely accusing the copper of forcibly trying to remove her burqa. Big mistake as the video shows. In the end though, because she wore a burqa at the time the allegation was made, it could not be proven that she was in fact, the one who made the complaint. Is that some kind of a paradox or a reverse ‘what goes around comes around’ ? Saved by the burqa, the very thing she alleged police had tried to remove. Sadly, justice not served in this case.

Well, this all blew up pretty well in the press but the end result highlighted a problem regarding identification of an individual, in particular, one who wears a burqa. Premier Barry O’Farrell moved quickly to close this loophole and make the grounds for identification the same for all Australians. Well done. Everyone, EVERYONE, has to show their face. For those who don’t want the same rules for all, find a country in which you will be happy; just not this one.

A political movement, Hizb ut-Tahrir, with spokesman Uthman Badar claimed this was political intimidation. How convenient but how wrong. If a person doesn’t have to show their face for whatever reason and because they don’t want to, then we can all wear burqas, motorcycle helmets, Ned Kelly helmets, hoodies and the like and do what ever we want, legal or not. It’s a bit of a no-brainer.A Google image

I wonder how Carnita Matthews would have felt had the copper involved worn a disguise of sorts. What then? Good for the goose, good for the gander. The trouble is that this type of incident fuels a fire and can go on and on. It can bring about resentment towards women wearing burqas and the associated religion. The following link will take you to the news article and video action.

http://www.news.com.au/national/new-nsw-police-powers-to-lift-the-veil-is-political-discrimination-says-hizb-ut-tahrir/story-e6frfkvr-1226087603010

As for how I feel about burqas or veils and the like: truthfully I have mixed feelings. On the legal front; if a veil can be removed for identification purposes, then fine; it puts us all on the same level. On the personal side I find it a little more complicated than I first thought.

You see, women wearing burqas, men wearing kilts, nuns wearing habits; that doesn’t worry me (as long as I could wear jeans under the kilt). These outfits are a bit of a uniform, a disguise, a statement as to what this person is/represents. It’s not seeing the face which is the difference to me. If I am talking to someone who is wearing sunglasses (and I don’t know them) I think it’s rude if they continue to keep them on. I can’t really see their face or their eyes. Are they hiding behind their glasses? They could be looking at me or over my head and I wouldn’t know. I wear sunnies a lot and, unless I forget, take them off my face when talking to someone whether I know them or not. It was considered good manners when I was growing up and I think it still is good manners to remove them when talking to someone.

And so, as to women covering their faces leaving eyes exposed, or even as the photo above, I find a mixture of reactions, an extension of sunglasses etiquette if you will. It interests me, it annoys me, it makes me curious as to what the person looks like, it makes me uncomfortable, I feel at a disadvantage or I feel like I shouldn’t be looking at them and should gaze elsewhere, I resent feeling awkward in this social situation, but I could also feel good that a woman in a burqa would feel comfortable enough, for example, to ask me for directions. I’m not sure that I could freely approach a woman wearing a burqa (for directions) without causing some offense or problem.

I can feel as if I haven’t spoken with an individual at all, just some person who may be male or female, big or small, young or old and covered in volumes of material. Perhaps that is the intention of a burqa and if so then I guess it succeeds. Overall I don’t lose sleep over burqas but a conversation with a faceless person is for me, a social adjustment.

So there you have it. Initially I wanted to simply say that everyone should be openly identifiable and that women wearing burqas is fine with me. This second part unexpectedly caught me out a little. It’s fine, but I would like to know, what, if any, rules apply in such situations. Maybe there’s a short 10 step guide to help people like me in what could be an awkward social encounter. It may also help the person in the burqa. I don’t know if anyone has ever considered that some confusion can exist on the most basic level of communication.

Just remembered, my Mum is good friends with a woman of Muslim faith. I may be able to get some advice from her as to the best way to go. This is getting bigger than Ben-Hur.

I have to say; there is/was a little middle eastern mistique to veiled women though; look at the movies, the old black and white flickers, and of course some of my earliest visions of women wearing veils come from this storybook below. Oh simple times again. Under ordinary circumstances, I don’t think veils are something to worry about.

Hopefully some readers can advise the correct social graces; those that wear burqas and niqabs should have an interesting point of view. Most likely I’m not the only person interested in what you have to say.

Word for today: VEIL ; to cover, obscure, conceal or disguise

More to come: same blog time, same blog channel.

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Responses

  1. Hi Bruce, so here’s a comment for you pretty much a year later (maybe I should have waited until Tuesday). I ended up here due to ‘Mostly Bright Ideas’ Bronxboy.
    Nice to read thoughts from a reasonable Australian.
    Just for the record, I don’t mind niqabs if that’s the shawl around the head still showing the face. But what burqas on a woman does to me………..it offends me, deeply. It makes me go weak at the knees with anger and frustration. In this amazing, friendly country, where I have been met with G’day and smiles from my very first visit in the 80’s, it is unAustralian and down right rude. It creates a barrier and it signals a message of not wanting to assimilate. It should be made illegal to hide your face in public. Women have a face just like men that is meant for connecting with people in her family, her community, her country. Our faces are a gift to each other. So you asked and that’s my thought. I have read a few of your blog entries. Can relate a lot.
    We are small business owners and well, that’s another story.
    Happy blogging.
    I have been to Newcastle, lovely place.
    Cheers
    Charlotte

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    • Hi Charlotte, I’m really glad that you took the time to comment. This is a post that I hoped would attract a few comments. It didn’t happen, although I did get one at the time which was pretty hostile, directed at Aussie politicians I think, and used language not fit to show if kids ever read this post. As you would have noticed, I found that my thoughts and reactions to face coverings were not so black and white once I started writing. What I wrote is how I feel and wasn’t out to offend. I was hoping to also get comments from those who do cover their faces but, oh well. The more I think about the subject the more I could go on. I wonder how those who do cover up would feel if everyone else they spoke with (teens, men included) covered their faces? With my very limited knowledge of the Muslim religion, I like to think that those who do wear niqabs are not out to offend. What I would really like to know is; do the niqab wearers wonder about how non Muslim Australians feel on this subject. Tolerance and understanding go both ways in my book.
      Thanks for your comment and now it’s out there for others to see. Hopefully it will generate more comments on the subject.I share many of your concerns. Coffs Harbour is also a great place, been there a few times. I’m glad you saw my blog on ‘Mostly Bright Ideas’ by BronxBoy55. Now there’s a guy who can put words together. I’ll check out your blog later, bye for now. Bruce

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      • Yes, I stumbled on ‘Mostly bright ideas’ a while ago and Bronxboy cracks me up every time.
        Freedom of speech is important and you didn’t write anything offensive to my knowledge. I hope Australia will continue to be a friendly kind of place where everyone is happy to smile at people walking by and say g’day. I love that about this country, the friendly faces even when it’s just people walking by.
        My blog, is very much a blog designed for our customers. We have a boutique/gallery in Coffs Harbour where we sell my husbands art and more eco friendly clothing and fair trade gifts. I am very busy 24/7 with our small business and don’t even get enough time for the blog. Anyway you can check it out but just keep that in mind. All the best. 🙂

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  2. Well, I am a Muslim girl and yes, I do wear a niqab. Being born in a Muslim country, where either everyone wears it, or even those who don’t, don’t seem to have any such problems with it; I unfortunately cannot relate to you. My family (especially my mother) were not really comfortable with the choice: they still think it too extreme as Islam nowhere makes it compulsory for women to cover their faces, so it’s basically our own choice. Why? Well, personally I hated being stared at, and teased. That’s the whole point of modest clothing, no matter what religion preaches it. And it did work somewhat.

    Even if I remember the time when I myself didn’t wear it and had to communicate with a niqabi, I don’t recall having felt uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the environment that matters. There in Australia, a non-Muslim country, it might feel a little odd talking to a niqabi, as they might be few in number, and you might be habituated with talking to women with uncovered faces. The only thing I can say is that none of us, or most of us, do not wear a niqab to make anyone feel uncomfortable or to create such barriers. It never really occurred to most of us that barriers could be created with a piece of cloth, or that the person on the other end might feel offended or awkward. We just wear it because of our religion/to please God/not to be stared at and teased or sexually harassed or for some other related reason. I think tolerance should be practiced at both ends, and we should not judge each other by what we freely choose to wear or not wear.

    Where the woman above-mentioned is concerned, then I really have no opinions about her. But readers should be careful not to come to conclusions about all niqabi women or to look down upon the niqab itself. If one sheep happened to be black or even grey, then that should not make the whole flock black (or grey). One English dramatist, G.B. Shaw, said something in this respect that Islam is the best religion with plenty of bad followers, and being a Muslim, I honestly accept this. No wonder even the word ‘Islam’ these days creates a kind of friction. But though we have ourselves to blame for being bad examples, I believe the world could have been just a teeny bit more kind and tolerant. And understanding.

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    • I am glad it is you Momina, that has made the first comment from the wearers perspective; a niqabi? I wish other niqabi, including those in Australia, would leave a comment too because I would really like to know what they think, or if they have questions. Your comment alone raises more questions for me apart from the answers you have provided. When you say it never really occurred to you or other niqabi, that a barrier could be created with a piece of cloth, this speaks directly to misunderstanding on both sides. Something simple can be complicated in another country. Australia is a good example of complications from time to time. Thankyou for your words. You might see some of them in another post and perhaps I can ask some questions of you from time to time.

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  3. Well, all Abrahmic religions are required to wear a veil. Christians, jews and muslims are all around the globe and in so much excess. They are really not a ‘minority’. And veil is something very common to be worn. Personally, I do not find it awkward or odd to socilaize with other hijabis/niqabis, being a hijabi myself. To wear a niqab is a personal choice of a person and one have their own reasons for the action. And I think they should be respected for the decision they have made. Things should be made simpler for them, instead of stereotyping them. I am a Muslim, a hijabi, and a peace loving person. I do not understand how I become threat to someone, and how does my veil is harmful or offending to anyone. The reason why I prefer wearing a veil is that I feel protected and safe. I guess its something with my defense mechanism. And its natural. Its just how it is. I feel comfortable being covered properly. Wearing a hijab is beacuse of my ease, and it definitely means no disrespect. I hope my comment is helpful for you to comrehend the purpose of hijab and niqab.

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    • Thank you for your comment. It is helpful to me, and hopefully others that wonder about the wearing of niqabs. I understand/accept wearing a niqab is a natural action for you. In Australia for non Muslims etc, it is natural to not wear one. The subject of niqabi does not often arise but occasionally the press give this topic a lot of attention. I think there is a long way to go before the wearing of niqabs in Australia becomes old hat. Perhaps we are contributing to the process. I hope others will follow and maybe have a question or two themselves. I think there is a lot to learn on the subject of niqabi. Thanks again for your time and thoughts

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  4. I should have added this in my comment – a niqabi is what you call a woman who wears a niqab (face-covering, not that obligatory), and a hijabi is a woman who wears a hijab (head-covering, obligatory). And I’ll be reading more of your posts soon, Bruce, and I’ll be more than happy to answer to any questions you might have.

    Take care and have a good day!

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    • I’m learning; thanks for that Momina. I guess a burqa (burka) is the body covering? In Australia the term burqa has been used for both the body and face covering. Are the terms you use common for Muslims in other countries? Also, what sort of teasing would be prevented by wearing a niqab?

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      • A burqa is basically a full dress with the niqab included. The picture you have on your post is of women wearing what we call here a topi burqa (topi meaning cap in Urdu), something common in Afghanistan. Very few people wear it here; it is too creepy even for us. 😛

        About the teasing, well, I guess it’s again a matter of what kind of society you are living in. Here, where mostly women go out of their houses modestly dressed, any woman wearing a mini-skirt or tight jeans is sure to attract attention and might even get her share of raunchy remarks by young boys. But, say, I am living somewhere in the West, a country where they don’t look favorably on the niqab, or an anti-Islamic society, there my wearing a niqab will get me teased or bothered. Weird.

        But more than that, it’s not just about not being teased or stared at or being whistled at or whatever have you, it’s about basic protection. In most rape cases, the defense attorney is bound to ask you ‘what were you wearing?’ or ‘how were you dressed at that time?’, and this will happen even in non-Islamic courtrooms. It’s really commonsense. Now, I am not saying that wearing a niqab will never get me raped or that those who don’t wear it will be raped sometime in their lives or molested or whatever – I am not saying this. But who is more vulnerable to it? When I put it on before leaving the house, I feel confident and I feel safe, and also satisfied that I have done all I could to protect my body. All basic protection comes from God above, and all religious people believe this. A niqabi can get abused and her non-niqabi friend might not if God wills so. So, a niqab or any other modest clothing does not guarantee protection. It’s a piece of cloth, at the end of the day. All protection comes from Him, and if knowing this I still choose to wear a niqab, it signifies that I’ve done my share. It’s like saying to God that hey, look, I wanna go out to get some stuff done, and I’ve covered myself the way You’d like, and also so I won’t get those gang of boys at the end of the street whistling and passing indecent comments at my expense, but at the end of the day all protection of all sorts is from You, so I’ve done my share, all that I could, and now You do Yours, please.

        And about the whole interaction thing that Charlotte said above, we never mean to be rude or offensive. We are just like ordinary people. Why does a nun or a monk or a priest or a Hindu swami wear what they wear? They, like a niqabi woman, do not dress like ordinary people. It’s just a matter of religion or what your particular religion tells you or advises you to do. For non-religious people this all seems silly and pointless, but then there is enough intolerance in the world already. I believe that we should all give each other space, and try to respect each other’s choices, even if they lie in conflict with our own beliefs. Even when a person of a certain group behaves abominably (like the Talibans or other alleged Muslim terrorist groups), we should concentrate our animosity on them alone. Not on other people of the group, and neither on the creed on which the whole group stands on.

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      • Thanks for that Momina. Can you have a burqa (body covering) without the face covering? I have seen many here wearing burqa’s without the face covered. Is wearing a burqa obligatory? Are burqa’s worn in Pakistan? You say that wearing a hijab (head covering) is obligatory but a niqab (face covering) is not that obligatory. Is that obligation to your religion, personal/family values or a combination.

        I think the only real issue of drama here is the face covering (niqab). As you very correctly say; Nuns wear Habits, monks wear robes and priests (for example in the Catholic Church) have some outfits, which to a non-Catholic (me) looking from the outside in, appear kind of spectacular in a theatrical kind of way. Even Superman wears a cape!

        As for rape, that shouldn’t happen to any woman, anywhere, in any clothing. Of course, all ordinary people know that.

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      • The face-covering is a separate piece of cloth (usually) that comes with the burqa. Many women in Pakistan wear this kind of burqa without the niqab. It’s known as an abaaya. It’s basically a gown with a scarf. And burqas are not obligatory. In the Holy Qur’an it is just mentioned to cover yourself and to be modest; the word ‘burqa’ or ‘abaaya’ are nowhere used. It depends on women, then, how they do this and what kind of clothing they use. It’s funny but a woman can dress up modestly without an abaaya or burqa at all. So it’s really a matter of personal choice. No specific form of dress is obligatory. And a niqab, as well, is mostly your own choice. Some scholars have considered this obligatory, as well, but it’s a disputed issue.

        In Afghanistan you have the topi burqa, in parts of Iran you have this long chaadar (a long shawl) and a scarf, here in Pakistan you have mostly the abaaya. Women in Turkey usually wear a scarf with long overcoats that are long and loose and they do just fine. So as I said, it’s a matter of choice and all forms of dressing are acceptable as long as they don’t flaunt your body, are not transparent, are not tightly fitted and so on.

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      • Thanks again Momina. I hope that your comments, especially the first and second, become well read by those that are curious, confused or even offended by face coverings. I hope the comment by Rafia is also well read.
        As I mentioned before, I think the face covering is the main issue and anyone who reads your comments and that of Rafia, couldn’t help but appreciate your perspective from behind the veil. Whether that gets us anywhere, who knows?
        From my perspective, it is possible that I could be acquainted with a Muslim woman, as in a work situation, and never know what her face looks like; just her eyes. For me, that is a perplexing, unfamiliar concept. Well, life can be interesting. Hope you have an enjoyable weekend Momina.

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