In light of recent local events, the issue of Muslim women covering their bodies and faces has again come under fire. Why do Muslim women dress this way? Why do women wear the khimar (head scarf), the abaya or over-garment (long, loose fitting dress or robe) and niqab (optional face covering) - collectively known as hijab, an Arabic word meaning separation, boundary or screen.
The short answer is: As a form of worship to Allah. That's it, real simple.
In the Quran, Allah says:
"O Prophet [Muhammad]! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers [Muslims] to draw their cloaks over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known as righteous/respectable, so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Forgiving and All Merciful." (33:59).
Allah also states in great detail how Muslim women should dress and conduct themselves in public:
"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts and to not show off their adornment except only that which is apparent [the face and the hands], and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornments except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or Muslim women . . ." (24:31)
The long answer has much to do with guarding one's modesty, constitutional religious freedom, the courage to buck the trend of exploiting the body for material and/or social gain and the unwillingness to expose one's precious body (and or face) to those who are unworthy of its beauty.
Unfortunately, here in Philadelphia these same garments have become the preferred disguises of criminals, used to conceal their identities as they execute bank robberies, murders and now child abductions. There is no other group that is more disgusted than the Islamic community with this blatant disrespect to Islam and Muslim women. These acts not only defame Islam, but also put Muslim women in danger of being accosted by those individuals and groups that can't seem to use common sense, separating the person donning such attire as an act of worship from the person who uses them in the commission of an unlawful act.
As such heinous actions continue to become more common, various suggestions are tossed around as a solution, including but not limited to the prohibition of the niqab, the face covering, altogether, or limiting it to be worn only when visiting a mosque, as a so-called attempt to preserve public safety.
We are continuously shocked by the number of random acts of violence committed with automatic firearms, including assaults on our children in schools across the nation, yet we have not rescinded the Second Amendment. But so many are so willing to rescind the First Amendment (for Muslims only), literally stripping Muslims of our right to practice our religion, which includes a style of dress, in an effort to secure public safety. Seriously?
If we are to demand that Muslim women be prohibited from wearing the niqab, will we make the same demand upon Catholic nuns to abandon their habits? Or close parishes and Catholic schools for fear that all priests are child predators? I can't remember anyone demanding that we remove the veil of the Virgin Mary in all the various shrines and paintings of her. So, why is there such a disgust for Muslim women who wrap themselves in the protection of their garb with the purest intentions of showing reverence to their Lord? Clearly there is a double standard here.
Every minute of every day, there is a parent somewhere having a very heated debate with a teen daughter - or tween daughter, for that matter - about the attire that she has chosen to wear. We continuously applaud the images portrayed by the likes of Rihanna, Madonna, Nikki Minaj, Britney Spears and Beyonce as they appear on stage, in magazines and on television, scantily clad, and wonder why we have such a tough time convincing our young women that their bodies are sacred, that how much skin they show is a measure of their self worth.
We have allowed these images to be held up as symbols of liberation and, in contrast, paint the Muslim woman, and other women who support and exhibit modesty in their daily dress (orthodox Jews, Mennonites, the Amish and the Mormons, for example), as oppressed. Surely, the world has it backwards. The oppressed woman is one who accepts, conforms to and strives toward what is an unattainable, unrealistic, manufactured and disrespectful standard of beauty that blurs and exploits what little remains of moral decency.
It is the woman who dares to be different, who dares to defy what has become expected and clings to her moral and spiritual beliefs at all cost, regardless of backlash, who is truly liberated. And although I am a fan of Ms. Angelou's, I have to disagree with her aforementioned words. It is in fact the content of a woman's character, her intelligence, her relationship with the Creator, and her refusal to blindly march to the tune of a corrupt society's devaluation of women, that makes a woman truly phenomenal.
Aliya Z. Khabir is principal of AZK Communications, a small communications and marketing consultancy. She is the self-published author of Just Be Still, an Islamic urban-fiction novel. She will periodically contribute to the Daily News on topics concerning the Islamic culture in Philadelphia. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org