Salam (peace) Dear Questioner,
Thank you so much for asking your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
It is very important that you ask in order to learn deeply, become more aware, and broaden your perspective about the world around you and about people’s faiths and passions. We hope this is a step forward towards correcting misconceptions, insha’Allah (God willing).
Now, I have a few comments on your question. But, the very first thing that came to my mind is my very own niqabi friends and how your description doesn’t even remotely apply to them.
I know a lot of niqab wearing friends in my own circles; each and every single one of them without exception:
1- is very well educated and has a higher degree from a respected university
2- knows more than one language
3- is active in community work and a volunteer in more than one initiative
4- has decided to wear niqab (face veil) based on her own choice and her own desire and has had to fight with parent(s), or siblings, or husband or brother in order to allow her to wear it.
So, to answer your question “aren’t they oppressed?” I can say from experience and from real life stories that – in most cases- they are rather “empowered”. Their faith and their knowledge empowers them to do what they think is right, more pure, more pious, more righteous and more satisfying to their soul and they wish that people would open their mind and stop the pre-established judgments.
This week, I was volunteering with a developmental initiative. There was a niqab wearing sister who was volunteering in my same shift. It was the first time for me to meet her. Again, she was very knowledgeable and impressed me with her knowledge in our work; she spoke 2 languages and was funny and very passionate.
I was quite inspired, to be honest. When we finished work, a foreigner who was in the same area we were in approached her and asked why she was wearing the niqab. She replied in a very beautiful way that I still remember.
She said: “Prophet Muhammad in my opinion is the best man; he had wives who were the purest of women and noblest of them. They are role models to me. They used to wear the face veil among strange men out of piety, and so out of love, I want to follow in their footsteps because you try to follow the best role models.
You see many people following celebrities and super stars and doing everything they do like wearing their same shoes or same brands or having the same haircut. They follow their role models. And those women to me are the most obedient to God, strongest and most pure and pious, so they are the role models that I want to follow.”
So, here you can take a glimpse of what goes on in a niqabi lady’s mind and heart.
Of course, there are a few points to consider here. We cannot make a generalization and speak on behalf of all those women. What you mentioned in your question shows that you think there is one brush to paint all those women with.
This is impossible and irrational. You do not have a scientific research, statistics or any empirical data that say all those women are oppressed or don’t have an education…etc.
It could be true that in some parts of the world there are those who have been forced or are oppressed and so on due to social/political/economical/cultural reasons. But this is true to all women around the world, there are many women even in developed countries who are oppressed, abused and exploited and deprived of their full rights in many ways.
We cannot paint all people with the same brush or make a factually incorrect and shallow generalization. This is not an academic, scientific or rational approach.
What we can do is look at the reasons why women choose to do certain things. Conceptually, those who choose to wear niqab do it out of faith, piety, modesty, devotion to God, and following in the footsteps of their role models.
This is the case of many women–all women who I know in my circles at least. So, it is good to ask and speak to those around you to understand them better and understand their passions and their choices, rather than making an assumption that isn’t backed with data or firsthand experience with the people you want to know more about.
And, just in case it isn’t clear, women who wear the veil or face veil do so only outside of their homes when there are strange men around. They do not wear it 24/7. When they’re at home, with their family, female friends, male relatives they cannot marry, and with their own husbands of course they display their full beauty and wear what they want.
The modesty in the outfits we are talking about is to be showcased with strange men only who are not related to the woman. For those men, she can display her intellect, her ideas, her hard-work…etc., but not her body.
Her body is under her control, not subject to strange men to look at, especially if she doesn’t want them to see her as a body, but rather as a soul, mind and heart.
Hope we shared some helpful insights with you.
Thank you again for your question.
Salam and please keep in touch.