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Philadelphia Niqab Shock

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Philadelphia Eid prayers 2019 (Photo: Twitter)
Philadelphia Eid prayers 2019 (Photo: Twitter)

With the hijab debate no more agreed upon than years prior, we’re now wading into the waters of the niqab (face veil) debate: A picture coming out of Philadelphia Muslim’s Eid (holiday) celebration this year brought forward another question on religious garb:

Is the right to wear the niqab part of religious freedom? The short answer is no.

The niqab is an austere form of clothing designed to conceal the face. Just like with the hijab (head covering) or the burqa (full body covering), there is no direct mandate in the Quran for a woman to cover herself in a particular style beyond the recommendation for modesty as outlined by verse 24:31.

Even this verse offers little more than a suggested pathway and is not explicit in its direction. It doesn’t specify a niqab or any other form of garment that 21st century Muslims have falsely branded as Islamic attire. Further, the English translations that paint a portrait of clothing that resembles any specific items are often translations that are swayed by publisher bias.

Muslims and non-Muslims, lovers of Islam and its critics, can generally agree that the Quran offers very detailed instruction for military and civilian life. If the Quran had intended to offer detailed instruction for how women should cover themselves, it would have plainly said so as it does with other areas of conduct. It’s also important to point out that the verse doesn’t stipulate punishment if modesty is not perfected, or if a woman should choose to abandon modesty all together. It’s her choice.

When we repeat warm and fuzzy catchphrases like “there is no compulsion in religion,” this is the architecture behind that philosophy. If we’re going to win ideological wars against the onslaught of Islamism and fundamentalist Islam, it’s really important to understand how to break apart the exploited assumption of religious right.

The niqab, just like forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation and a laundry list of other oppressive practices are cultural markers that have leeched onto faith traditions.

So, is the right to wear the niqab part of religious freedom? The answer is simply no. Islam has no banner, no flag, no color, no symbol, no hierarchy of religious leaders and no uniform.

Of course women have a right to wear what they want. Just don’t call it religion.

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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.