by Merna Daabis, a first-year studying HSPS

Behind the Veil

We are in a period of political and social anxiety that makes us all suspicious of each other. The misconceptions surrounding Islam have become so intense and entrenched in society and in our daily communications to a suffocating extent. Meanwhile, the Muslim’s voice is shackled and plastered over with lies and misunderstandings. People don’t care to ask, they judge straight away. It’s like the morally dubious police strategy – shoot first, ask questions later. So on the occasion that someone asks me a question that relates even if marginally to Islam, I get quite excited. That first question is often about the most glaringly obvious difference between myself and other women: the veil. Why do I wear it?

My answer takes them by surprise; they are caught off guard when I pour out my heart and for seconds they do not see religion as barbaric and primitive. I am a firm believer that the rational and beautiful Quranic explanations are not about giving a generic and neat answer to every question a non-Muslim might ask. Those bland answers (“because my religion tells me to”) do not do the Quran or the veil justice. Behind every Islamic teaching there is reason and purpose and it is our responsibility to seek that knowledge and embody what we have learnt out of conviction rather than habit or fear.

For me, the veil is a personal and unique experience imbued with meaning and value that only I can understand because I see it through my lens. The scarf is more than a symbol of modesty. It is in and of itself a beauty. Modesty is not simply about preventing lust and desire. It is about maintaining boundaries for civil and respectful communication, that places the woman in high esteem, because in the eyes of Islam the woman deserves the same dignity and respect as does a man. Dressing modestly, and this includes the headscarf, means that people judge me by the merit of my character – barring the people who immediately judge me to be oppressed and look down on me from their superior pedestals with pity. I do not want their pity; I do not need their pity.

My hair is an expression of my identity that I choose to share with those who are the most important to me; those who see beyond the superficial and aesthetic details. They appreciate my beauty within before my beauty without. It is those who then deserve to see my hair.

So when I wear the scarf, I don’t feel oppressed. Quite the opposite. I feel liberated. I feel confident because I have personalised the religious commandments and made my heart and mind follow them in unison. They think we are subjugated and marginalised by our communities, and that we are forced to wear the scarf. Islam is not about force, it is about conviction and intention. Allah knows what is in our hearts. And if our heart bears emptiness towards our religious duties rather than love, then what does it count for? To wear it but not feel it? I urge all wearers of the veil to find that peace. To find that peace with yourselves. When you find that, you wear the veil not only with confidence but with pride, because you are that fearless girl behind the veil.