The day I wore a niqab

Published: April 17, 2012

I could hear their thoughts: A radical, mullah husband must have forced her into this male chauvinistic, suppressive piece of clothing. PHOTO: REUTERS

Books have been written about it, feminists have insulted it, Muslim feminists, however, have defended it, and international laws are being passed against it. While there are some extreme cases where women are forced to wear a niqab (veil), most of the niqab-wearing women I know in Toronto and Karachi wear it due to a personal choice. 

I have some experience with the performing arts and expression, whereby one uses the body and it’s form as a canvas to initiate reaction and to enable visual dialogue between the performance artist and the viewer. Therefore, as a social and creative experiment, I decided to take on the niqab for a day in a largely multi-cultural and tolerant society.

My first stop was the  station where I waited amongst the early risers in their suits, heels, polished shoes and winter jackets for the morning train. Almost every other person gawked at me, trying to be discreet, but failing miserably.

It had started. The stigma; the discomfort I was causing. I was supposed to conform and wear formal, Western work attire. Instead of looking away, I stared back with my kohl-rimmed eyes, excited for the rest of the day to proceed.

However, I realised that their gaze held another sentiment: pity. I figured that in their minds any woman who chooses to take advantage of the Western mottos of independence and freedom, and dresses as she pleases, would never be caught dead in this black garb.

I could hear their thoughts: A radical, mullah husband must have forced her into this male chauvinistic, suppressive piece of clothing. While Canada has a large population of hijabis who have assimilated into North American culture quite well, the niqab, to this day, causes quite a stir.

Ignoring the stares I proceeded to my destination; the art gallery I worked at.

“Excuse me, ma’am… oh wait… Mariam? What on Earth… get the hell out of that right now… is this a joke?,” spat out the owner.  I calmly revealed that I was getting in touch with my Muslim roots.

“None of this in my space, I am not paying you to discover your roots here, you hear me?” she said, ordering me to remove my niqab.  I refused and was asked to take the day off and recuperate my brains at home.

Did I have no right over how I covered my own body? If we had the right to uncover it, what gave others the right to judge us for covering it? Moreover, I was the same person underneath the niqab, in no way compromising upon creativity, intelligence and work ethics. If anything, I was presenting myself in the least superficial way possible, but getting flack for doing so.

I proceeded to a meeting scheduled with potential clients looking for a wedding photographer. They had gone over my portfolio and sounded enthusiastic over the phone. They were of German descent, cultured and educated; there was no way they would give me the cold shoulder for wearing a niqab.

But I was wrong.

As I sat in the lobby of the hotel waiting for them, I attracted questioning gazes, blatant stares and harsh looks. The couple entered, glowing and looking happy and in love and proceeded to the sitting area. They scanned the lobby before taking their seats. Finally, I stood up and took a few tentative steps toward them.

“George and Carla? What a pleasure it is to finally meet you. Let’s discuss some ideas, shall we?” I said excitedly.

Pin drop silence.

“Is everything okay?” I implored.

“It’s just that… well… we were expecting someone… errr… umm” George sputtered, at a loss for words.

“Someone dressed a little differently, perhaps?,”a hint of humour in my tone. “My dressing shouldn’t change anything. I am a hard working photographer and I will deliver, that I promise you. Shall we proceed?”

“Actually… my fiancé and I must dash, we’ll get back to you via e-mail at a later date,”and saying that they rushed out the door.

I never received another e-mail or phone call from them.

Moving on, I was ready to meet friends for lunch – Pakistanis who considered themselves liberal, free minded and progressive.  Though not very religious, they were still culturally Muslim so I was sure they would be more accepting of my idea.

“Mariam! Is that you under there? You silly goose what are you doing?” one of them screeched in the middle of a well-known Thai restaurant.

“Well… if you must know, I’m getting back in touch with my Muslim roots and giving Islamic spirituality a go,” I replied, expecting encouragement.

“Oh please, you can’t party, be a social artist and wake up one day wearing that,” they scoffed, their unease and embarrassment at being seen with a woman in a niqab apparent.“You are either born with that mindset or you are not.”

I felt torn. I couldn’t be an artist, socialise, dress the way I want to or get in touch with the religion I was born into if I hadn’t lived a certain way? It was an unsettling feeling, because I have never judged another human being over their apparel or religious practice. My social network consists of various beliefs – Zoroastrians, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, agnostics and Muslims from all walks of life – and I wholly respect their traditions and values, because that is the mark of tolerance.

That day, I got all the answers I needed and I was ready for thorough reflection.

No one forced me to wear it, I had not been beaten into submission and there was no religious reason behind my project; it was conducted to challenge and motivate society into seeing their intolerance and impatience with the other, the foreign, the “pariah”.

We are living in a world where appearances, superficiality, conformity and social imitation are required to succeed and gain acceptance. Much like those that dare to be different, I was misunderstood, instantly rejected and scrutinised for making a choice regarding my clothes – a right that should be available to everyone in a modern and progressive society.

Read more by Mariam here or follow her on Twitter @mariammagsi


Would you feel uncomfortable in the presence of a woman who wears a face veil?

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Mariam Magsi

Mariam Magsi

A photographer, writer and curator working in Canada. She tweets @mariammagsi ( and her professional work can be viewed at She is the recipient of a prestigious publication award from the "World Poetry Movement" for poetic works highlighting natural disasters in Pakistan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fawwad

    Girls in our society are told from an early age that women without hijabs and burkas are ‘loose’ women. That the ”shareef” , ‘achi” girls are the ones who wear the hijabs or burkas.
    Our girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies, to be ashamed of their gender from their childhood. The popular narrative in our society is that a woman’s body is a source of sin and shame. That she should be kept wrapped up in black cloth otherwise she will bring dishonour to her family.

    This demonisation of female bodies as instruments of sin and shame has led to a society where men feel that it’s okay to rape girls who don’t wear hijabs or burkas.Recommend

  • Anon


    Must get this out there, the other side of the coin. Recommend

  • Sane

    “Shyness is the jewel of women”.Recommend

  • maestro

    Do you realize that it is unislamic to wear a face covering “burka” like this? Go to perform umra or haj and the guards there will tell you to uncover your face otherwise you wont be allowed inside. Only the hair, arms, and legs are to be covered if you choose to. This version of a burka is not islamic at all. And if you want to jeans and t-shirt – go for it – to each their own. In Pak major cities no one even bats an eye to girls wearing make up, jeans and t-shirts. Don’t spread this holier than though image. Thanks. Recommend

  • Zeeshan Khan

    Well the media sells the notion of the jeans t-shirt wearing girl as the evil vamp and the hijab or burka one as the good saint. We saw this portrayal in the drama ‘humsafar’ where the ‘ evil’ girl was shown in jeans tshirt whereas the masoom, bichari heroine was in shalwar kameez and on the prayer mat.

    This misogynistic portrayal of women and the judging of women by the clothes they wear is reflective of how our public percieves women and how women percieve other women. The shalwar kameez or hijab wearing girl is instantly declared ”good” , ‘sharif” whereas the jeans t-shirt girl is always painted as the ‘bad’ or ‘promiscous’ one.

    Walking around in a Hijab or Niqab or Burka doesn’t make any girl more ‘sharif’ or better than any jeans wearing girl.
    Feeling embarassed of your body and your sex is nothing to be proud of .Recommend

  • Wardah

    If I feel comfortable around women wearing low-cuts and sleeve less…. I can pretty as much feel comfortable with a niqab clad lady! why not!.. and I think this experience is based on an individual experience and same reaction would go for somebody who would switch from being all veiled to suddenly “westernized“. in fact, they might just receive a more of a censure than the little grievances you experienced!!.. But anyway it can not be generalized. Peace!Recommend

  • Seed

    Well, honestly, I think you just overreacted. People are not good with change. To put it simply, if you go in skimpy clothes to your work tomorrow, people would react to THAT as well.

    Secondly, when you learn driving, you don’t jump to the highway, you always learn it in the streets. Taking veil is the same. Okay fine, you might have felt it intensely and went with it, but taking it slow and easy helps. Not only to you, but people around you as well.

    Best of luck.Recommend

  • Bilal

    A must read…..A slap on face of liberal fascist………….Recommend

  • Asif Bawany


    Shyness is not the jewel of women. It is misogynistic dialougues like this one that are used by men to keep women under their feet and control. Such lines are used to intimidate women and to force them to alter their behaviour to suit the demands of the men in their family.
    Those women who fall for or are influenced by such misogynistic dialogues need to understand manipulation techniques used by religious fanatics to subjugate women.Recommend

  • nooni

    People should learn to respect what others wear.. its their own decision.. @marium I totally agree with you.. But you wrote for the wrong place.. Recommend

  • Haris Malik

    Face veils are highly discriminatory to the person the niqab wearer is talking to. Most of human communication is done through non-verbal communication and we interpret what the other person is saying by interpreting non-verbal communication. A niqab impedes that.

    In offices it should not be allowed as it severely impedes understanding what the opposite person is trying to actually say. Women lying often use Niqabs to hide their facial expressions so the person they are lying to can’t judge properly.Recommend

  • shepard

    wow.. a not-so liberal post at ET.. where’s the sun at?Recommend

  • azaz ahmad

    great mariam…!!! Mi mother lives in saudi arab before going ksa she wears dupppata while going
    anywhere with me and at dat time i feel so bad..after 4 years she returned back to pak and she
    always prefer abaya..and i feel great to walk with mi mother..womens should wear abaya…
    And ur effort iz great keep going…best wishes for u!!!!!!!Recommend

  • Anthony Permal

    I’m not so sure I agree with your point on “No one forced me to wear it, I had not been beaten into submission and there was no religious reason behind my project; it was conducted to challenge and motivate society into seeing their intolerance and impatience with the other, the foreign, the “pariah”.”

    In all fairness, you didn’t wear it for religious reasons. You wore it to prove a hypothesis. Big difference. To blame people of being intolerant because of this and because of a few anecdotal incidences is unfair as well. Just as unfair as saying people in Pakistan frown upon girls who wear jeans just because a few have a problem with it.Recommend

  • Saad Anwar

    Another lame attempt by a religious apologist trying to propagate the victimhood complex.
    The blogger should also write about the girls forced to wear the hijab or niqab because that is what their families have told them that good girls do.
    This blog feeds into the persecution complex that a lot of muslims who refuse to integrate into their new countries are trying to popularise.
    If a garment that is worn primarily because women are thought of as temptresses is disliked by some than it’s their right to disagree with the religious extremists. Your whole experiment was a ruse to further the agenda of religious apologists.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    The fact is that you wanted to elicit a strong reaction and succeeded. Big deal. Now if this experience affected you that deeply, pls continue wearing the niqab at the cost of your relationships and career – let’s see how committed you are.Recommend

  • B

    @Zeeshan. True our media does prtray that. But are you saying that you are so easily influenced by them? Wearing a burqa (if it is done out of choice) doesnt mean that a woman is ‘ashamed’ of her body or gender. On the other hand wearing jeans doesnt mean someone is trying to be promiscous. People wear whatever they are comfortable with.

    Common sense dictates that we dont condemn the burqa or the hijab. We condemn the people who force it on others but at the same time we appreciate those who have the guts to wear it out of THEIR OWN CHOICE as well and if they dont it is still THEIR CHOICE.Recommend

  • http://nil raheel

    In west normally showing any religious signs not considered humble because belonging to any religion or belief would make you feel that your religion or belief is better than the other ones which is normally the root cause of all evils prevailing in the society.If u are wearing Niqab then you won’t feel good or feel superior than the others and if you are not wearing it you could feel uncomfortable among those wearing it as society have got the mindsets about your particular code of dress.In Pakistan you could get praise while wearing it but in west people could be scared of you because of the critical and conservative Image of Islam all over the world..I think we should get out of these dress codes, All should live and work neutrally without showing any religious affiliations..probably good for all..!!Recommend

  • azaz ahmad

    maestro… Dis is to inform u dat a women can uncover
    Her face during umrah dats not a rule there dats
    not a truth dat the police standing over there ask to
    uncover ur face..!!! Only Pakistani womens on their
    will uncover themself….Recommend

  • Chacha

    Ow wow. So you can drink alcohol and party – does that not shake your muslim roots. And you would like to broadcast that to the world in a non-mulsim country. None of those people till that day gave a damn on whether you were muslim or not . But when you chose to broadcast it – they asked you to stop broadcasting it.

    Your client ran away – you said you could give him expert photography – but also insisted that he keep up with this broadcast. You insisted that your roots are part of the package he must endure with, but did not explain what the other parts of the package are. Could it be that your getting in touch with your muslim roots could be actually a getting in touch with the radical parts of muslim roots. How does your client not know that you are a jihadi in the making. You are willing to give up on clientele, tommorow you could give up more. Recommend

  • Qaisrani

    One time progressive English print media is also behaving like popular urdu media now a days as more and more people are joining once elite considered”English Language” group which was flag bearer of secularism,moderation etc.They are fluent in reading and writing in English yet with their medieval ideology.Pathetic.

    I wish some one write here and get published her narrative about hard life under veil and share her experience of emancipation as she leaves her “Burka” practice.I fear no one will publish that article.
    Every one has the right to chose what ever he/she wants to wear.It must not be attached with false notion of pioushood and farytale of her persecution at the hands of so called”liberal fascists”.Recommend

  • syed ali shahid

    Truly magnificent.first few lines made me think that its another article written to insult hijab but reading further revealed me true motives. very nicely written. these days people do not think this very way.Recommend

  • Rafik

    [email protected]: In the west, now-a-days, if a fellow ‘modern’ muslim starts to become ‘ultra’ conservative – starts to ‘discover’ his or her Islamic roots, other people around him get nervous. One does not know what is going on this person’s mind, and whether he or she has been influenced by firebrand sermons of some Jihadi Mullah.One does not know if the person has been recruited for some terrorist purpose.Recommend

  • Mehru

    Thank you so much for writing such a beautiful piece. Well done. Recommend

  • derpton

    When you immigrate to a country; you accept their culture. If you’re not willing to do that, you might as well go move to some Arab or Asian state. The very kind of stares that you faced will be replicated here If some westerner featured in a mini-skirt started to roam across Pakistani markets.

    ps: For the love of God, there are much much important things in Islam than nikabs etc. What about basic human rights and practicing five pillars ?

    Nevertheless, Its about culture – not religion.Recommend

  • Jawad Abid

    Wonderfully written and people needs to change. I know for a fact that this is pretty much common in our society and so call hypocrites call themselves liberals would not choose someone with niqab a life partner even!
    God bless you and keep the good work going!Recommend

  • Parvez

    Its not so much the niqab but what it gets connected with that causes them to behave this way. You did an exercise but came to the wrong conclusion in the end.Recommend

  • Shama Mir

    Anything that people arent educated about,appears frightening! They need to read about it, find out and understand its relevance. How many people would feel the need to do that? Very few!Recommend

  • Amjad Ali

    atleast you fake liberals must learn from this instead of criticizing her. didn’t u clearly read the message she is trying to convey? she said “No one forced to wear it”. you guys should really learn from her experience and she came up with a Million dollar line for you fake liberals : “If we had the right to uncover it, what gave others the right to judge us for covering it? .. its the writer herself saying it while claiming ‘Nobody Forced me to wear hijab”. so you should really try and understand before criticizing her.

    secondly: to my brother :
    @maestro who said Qoute:”Do you realize that it is unislamic to wear a face covering “burka” like this? Go to perform umra or haj and the guards there will tell you to uncover your face otherwise you wont be allowed inside.”

    brother/sister by accepting your logic it should then mean that all mean should dress the same way as they are dressed while performing Umrah and HAJJ (MEN).. you know how they are dressed for umran and hajj? brother/sister, let’s get out of this fake liberalism thoughts being promoted in our society. Islam is the most liberal religion in the world. let’s just not fall for the fake arguments presented to us by the fake liberals who wants things done their ways. you can argue over a point and u may disagree. its your right. but you don’t necessarily have to buy every thing they come up with either. Umrah and Hajj dressing is NOT the way we dress in ordinary life. and yes you are right about a point that Islam gives the freedom to women if the choose not cover their face its okay. but then again Islam is encouraging women to be what they are and not get mixed up with the opposite sex.

    its a very nice article and a very good message conveyed . Recommend

  • manish


    “Shyness is the jewel of women”.

    probably a rapist coined that adage, because a bold lady would tear down a rapist’s repute in society(most of rapists are indeed respected in society), a shy girl, on the other hand, will die out of shame or woulld accept to live with it thinking it to be a curse from the god for her sins, or would even find fault with herself.Recommend

  • manish

    out of the five blogs on tribune main page, 3 of them are concerned directly with religion, one with cricket, goes a long way in explaining fabric of pakistani society, and that too on a left liberal paper like ET.Recommend

  • Noman

    @Author: You blogs really do not have any substance to begin with. How can you not realize that wearing a burqua will totally put you out of place in a western country? Same way as wearing a short skirt in Jeddah will stand you out.

    By doing this experiment , what new stuff did you discover that was not already well known?Recommend

  • Waqass

    I never knew that ET allows fiction as well.. This is just a made up stories and based on assumptions speculationsRecommend

  • Anoushay

    I hope and sincerely hope you carry on with the veil and disregard whatever ppl say about it – dont fall for lame comments here either. May Allah be with you Ameen.Recommend

  • Shoaib

    Marium…………this hijab thing has nothing to do with your roots.
    This hijab is violation of human rights, it is against the dignity of a woman,……… it is not a matter of choice………… is just to show off that you are more pious and righteous. It is the attire of the fake islam. Stop fooling others and yourself. Recommend

  • Suarez

    I don’t like the veil, but I think you should be free to wear it.

    I wonder what LoneLiberalPk has to say.Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Kamran Azim

    Wrong perceived article, please correct it as I don’t consider hijab brings you to Muslim roots! How can it? Even Christian nuns wear scarves so hijab is not Muslim and it has nothing to do with religion. Also, if women cannot drive in Saudi it does not mean Islamic rules – we always mix law of the land or traditions to Islamic values which give bad name to the religion. In Africa women (both Christians and Muslims) wear special dress which cover their bodies well – its their traditional African dress which has nothing to do with religion. Recommend

  • kamran azim

    Wrong perceived article, please correct it as I don’t consider hijab brings you to Muslim roots! How can it? Even Christian nuns wear scarves so its not Muslim and it has nothing to do with religion. Also, if women cannot drive in Saudi it does not mean Islamic rules – we always mix law of the land or traditions to Islamic values which give bad name to the religion. In Africa women (both Christians and Muslims) wear special dress which cover their bodies well – its their traditional African dress which has nothing to do with religion. Recommend

  • B

    how is it agains the dignity of a woman ? and if people wear it out of choice (which most do), how is it a violation of women rights ? Recommend

  • tony montana

    It reminds me of a funny story. Once I went to a family dinner – one of uncles he was sitting with four women who were all wearing hijab. My uncle said, did you meet your aunt? And I said: How do I know which one is aunt as there are four women wearing hijabs. They all started laughing and I said to my uncle, you have put a hijab on Aunt so nobody can see her but you are enjoying looking at other women. Not bad innit. Recommend

  • m

    Most of these comments just go to show that people claim that they are liberal, yet refuse to even respect another point of view. The level of ignorance and hatred in the comments is amazing.Recommend

  • Mustaqeem

    In western society, you will surely face criticisms on wearing abyas / burqa. but now this thing definitely comes in my mind that you have also mentioned that they don’t respect the way YOU want to live, they want moderacy in every thing. they should respect of others as well.
    well to all my Muslim brothers and sisters, there is nothing like Moderate Muslims in ISLAM. if you are a Muslim, then follow what you are asked for, otherwise we are only a so called Muslims !!
    may ALLAH protect us .
    oh and yeah , very well written!!!Recommend

  • AL

    dude u need to wake is wearing a niqab a violation of human rights??? especially if someone is doing by choice? and how is someone wearing a hijab or doing niqab ‘showing off about being religious?’ Dude dont comment just for the sake of commenting … Think!
    its this thinking of people like urself that has gotten us to the point we currently are at!
    So if you dont pray etc..then are you showing off about not being religious ?? being all cool are we?!

    we all need to follow the following principle :
    ‘Live and LET LIVE!’ World would be a happier place to live in!!Recommend

  • AL

    @kamran azim: again why are u being judgemental here? If someone feels that covering themselves will bring them closer to GOD..let them …who are we to pass judgement?? Its between that person and GOD. Religion is a very personal matter..aint it? so why all the judging ,people!Recommend

  • ZA

    Another try of a liberal girl to get more attention than she gets.Recommend

  • elementary

    Imagine a male wearing a face mask and hooded cardigan entering into a meeting room, I think most will feel uncomfortable.One for security reason; you don’t really know who is behind that mask, second for communication reason you dont know what his facial expressions are, its like holding a conversation with a pole.It just feels awkward and weird for social reasons.
    I can think of many other weird choices of covering or not covering enough, that will elicit the same awkward reponse, freedom to wear or not wear whatever you choose is okay but you can’t throw commom sense out the window!!!. Recommend

  • Maeedah

    Sir are you honestly..thinking right?
    you are justifying that covering one’s face is unislamic since you aren’t supposed to do that during umrah and hajj?
    sir that is a special circumstance, called ehram. you aren’t even suppose to hunt any animal, not even kill a louse! does that mean even hunting is unislamic?
    flawed analogy. Get yourself a copy of the Quran, read through surah nisa and ehzaab and surah hujrat. Also read The Holy prophet’s biography and that of Hazrat Fatima, Ayesha, Hafsa etc. Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist


    No where in Islam does it say that a woman must cover herself in a Niqab. So, by saying that you were trying to get to your Islamic roots, you were being utterly ignorant Recommend

  • mkhan

    Mariam, a very interesting experiment ! As a society we have been influenced by the media so much that we have stero typed everyone.Recommend

  • whatever

    I don’t think feeling awkward around someone in a niqab has anything to do with being judgmental, per se. How would most people feel like when sitting in a restaurant next to someone dressed in traditional Sami, Inuit, Zulu or Maori fashion? Exactly, a bit awkward.Recommend

  • I am Sam

    I admire the author’s courage in performing this social experiment. In Math, one cannot deduce the equation of a line or a curve using just a single point – one needs at least two points. The author must follow through on these social experiments and try some of the following and see people’s reactions, behavior as well as actions and blog about it –

    Wear a sari (with dot and all) and mingle with her family members /relatives/other Pakistani friends while claiming that you are trying to get in touch with the way your ancestors dressed a thousand years ago
    Wear short skirts and a flimsy t-shirt and mingle with the hoi polloi, preferably, in the markets of Riyadh or Teheran or Peshawar
    Wear a cross around the neck, dress up in a nuns habit and claim that you have decided to become a nun out of your own volition
    Dress up as a punk (pink hair, fake tattoo’s, et al.) and walk the streets of Riyadh or Teheran or Peshawar
    Wear your undergarments outside your regular clothes ( a la Superman) and walk around the markets of different cities of the world…

    And so on …

    BTW isn’t this a great idea for a TV show !Recommend

  • ahmed

    I agree with you. Even open societies and liberals can’t stand the thought of other cultures and norms if they don’t conform to their ideals. In their view and to our liberals homosexuality is yes but niqab is no no.Recommend

  • Ali S


    “In Pak major cities no one even bats an eye to girls wearing make up, jeans and t-shirts. Don’t spread this holier than though image. Thanks.”

    In what part of Karachi do you live? I’m sorry but I really disagree with that. Men on the streets are ogling women whenever they can.Recommend

  • Alishba

    Islam doesn’t say to cover your face, wear gloves, socks and show your eyes only. If you want to be Islamic then you can also cover your body properly with a Cahadar or a dupatta, including covering your hair and body curves.

    I have seen women and girls wearing veil with full eye make-up to attract….they wear full sleeved abaya and beautifully designed Mehandi…and sometimes long shaped nails with nail color…their abayas are so tight that one may self can imagine breathing hard….

    it is a nice saying SHARAM AUR HAYA AANKHON MA HOTI HA….you can be Islamic by covering your body decently in shalwar qameez and dupatta….Recommend

  • Morning Glory

    A nicely written article.
    Islam, our religion, has made it mandatory for women to cover their body and head, excluding the face, hands and feet. And that is what all the Muslim women should be doing. End of story.Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    EVERY FEW YEARS, some half-witted western woman does the same thing and thinks herself to be very smart and wise, and writes the same article.

    Oh, the inherent irrationality of freedom…Recommend

  • Confused

    Personally, I would be as creeped out by someone wearing a veil as anyone who doesn’t dress ‘normally’. By normal I mean anything that pretty much hides the face, it’s a big deal. Be it a black cloth, a cardboard box, a costume, anything.

    That’s probably just my simple thinking, but if I see anyone dressed like that there is always an underlying suspicion/miscommunication. What are you trying to hide? Why are you staring at me like that when I can’t stare properly at you? (I guess people forget the ‘lower your gaze’ bit here)

    It’s unfamiliarity. Of course, I won’t tell you to knock it off, its your choice, but I can’t not stop feeling awkward by it. For foreigners, that could be a bigger problem.

    This miscommunication leads to people thinking up reasons. Oh, it must be because….
    TL;DR You get judged because it Is unnatural to not see someones facial features. I don’t know why that’s so hard to understand. And humans are always judging, on any side.Recommend

  • Musa

    We need not your verdict about something you absolutely have no knowledge. The rules for Haj are different. Most people who give their scholarly opinion not to wear hijab, either they are Muslims or not, only to understand the ideology of us Muslims and to learn of the importance of proper hijab for MUslim women, I suggest you read Surah Noor (Chapter 24) and Surah Al-Ahzab (Chapter 33) from some authentic Quranic translation.Recommend

  • uaahmed

    i have a question for you all

    if islam had not been reveled to Muhammed in saudi hejaz, would saudi women not have been wearing niqab???

    where i would agree to you upon the fact that wearing neqab is a choice but consider my question and deliberate upon the answerRecommend

  • Big Rizvi

    Listen, you are not getting in touch with your Islamic roots by wearing a Niqab. There is nothing Islamic about such a garment. Just where does it say in the Quran that you must cover your face? You are just being very ignorant!Recommend

  • Mariam

    @Seed: Sir, there has been no reaction in any way. There has only been a study carried out to prove a point. Moreover, when you drive, you are putting society, fellow drivers, everyone around you at risk, hence the meticulous preparatory work. When you dress a certain way, it is a personal choice, so yes, I can wake up tomorrow morning and wear a fluffy, bunny outfit and go to work. As an artist and a person of the modern world, I should have the right to do that, because I will never conform. The day I do conform to societal expectations, is the day my art will die.Recommend

  • Anaa

    My best friends family asked her to wear burka but she would take it off when out with friends and she was the one in my group who went on most dates with boys… :) She would come to my house and call some boy to come n pick her up… and man did she loot those boys… for mobile phones, flowers, lunches and dinners… :DRecommend

  • Me

    People will gawk and comment on anything that stands out, if you wish to dress in a way that is not appropriate to any society, don’t complain about attracting attention or pity or disgust or whatever else. This is for all of you whether you overexpose or ninja yourself up, it is a natural reaction to your personal choice so deal with it.Recommend

  • Loneliberal PK

    What hijabists don’t understand is that it’s not women’s freedom that is being questioned here.

    How on earth is a woman supposed to interact efficiently with her social environment when talking to her is like me talking to my room-mate on the other side of the bathroom door! How do I tell if you’re smiling, grimacing, rolling your eyes, frowning or displaying other micro-expressions? Heck, how do I even know it’s you under there?

    Yet instead of trying to comprehend this astoundingly simple fact, you sell this issue as a culture war, as another case of Muslims vs West? It’s absolutely bonkers.Recommend

  • Musthaq Ahmed

    Sir, Pakistanis and North West Indians stare at any women longer than is decent in modern world. Along with Arabs , they do not mind wagging their tongues as often.Recommend

  • Critical

    I always had this doubt…It might be silly..

    How will a woman wearing niqab eat in a restaurant???Recommend

  • Bilal

    Who said its un-islamic? Its just that while doing tawaf of khana kaba, there is a specific order to uncover your face, and that order is given only for tawaf. Its a women’s choice otherwise to do so.Recommend

  • kaalchakra


    There is no need for a Muslim woman to interact with others as Muslim men do. And there is no restriction on the dress of Muslim men. There isn’t really a problem there.Recommend

  • Sarah

    I think we need a male volunteer to do a social experiment too.
    He should lower his gaze when a woman walks by/or when a woman at work/school talks to him. I think it’ll be great and maybe a way for the guy to “get back in touch with his Muslim roots and giving Islamic spirituality a go” Recommend

  • Aaliya Murphy

    Was it really the niqab or the paronia and lack of self-confidence it left you with?Recommend

  • Maleeha Mengal

    Dear Mariyum,

    Not a big fan of your burka articles, it would be nice, if you start writing on real issues related to women.. You live in some what banal impractical ideologies related to “oh so hate-able westerner state “..
    Whilst you practice your life style in a so called “secular state”.. so easy to point fingers at someone when you know, that place has a freedom of speech.
    It’s somewhat mean, to hear from you, saying, how much you are obliged thinking, about your choices and writing about cloaks and other women else where suffer in the hands of their husbands, burned by rejected lovers and killed in the name of honor ..
    Do something that has some change, I am not gonna pat on your shoulder for your articles on burkas and your choice.

    A woman
    who pity’s self indulgence. Recommend

  • mfkhan

    Everyone has the right to dress how they want, but please don’t try and pass off the niqab as something Islam asks you to do. It’s a purely arab custom. Islam encourages to dress modestly and cover yourself up, wearing the hijab in the fashion its worn today is also an arab custom but each to their own, but no where in Islam does it encourage you to cover up your face and walk around looking like that. Everyone should have the right to dress how they want and not be ostrasized from society for it, but please please don’t perpetuate the false and ridiculous idea that wearing niqab brings you closer to God, because there is no justification or encouragement in Islam to wear the niqab, its unnecessary and Not required in islam. It’s sad people don’t know enough about their religion. If that’s something you wanna do, more power to you, but you’re doing it because you want to, not at all in any way to get back to your Muslim roots or spirituality, because niqab has no basis in Islam and is not encouraged in any way. Please stop spreading this lie to the world. Apart from that good luck to you in however you wanna dress.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    I bet if the article had been titled, “The day I wore a Guy Fawkes mask” or “The day I wore a storm trooper helmet“, your experience may not have been significantly different. I’d love to write an article like that, but I doubt if it’ll get published.

    Nobody’s questioning your right to wear these vestments, and it’s not your Muslimness that irks these people. It’s the fact that niqab acts as a barrier to face-to-face communication (they call it “face-to-face” for a reason!) that makes people uncomfortable. Not to mention by concealing your identity, you may raise some understandable concern.

    You received the same muscles of facial expressions from God as men did. Take a bloody hint!Recommend

  • s shah

    If what one is trying to achieve by wearing a niqab is modesty, then I think it doesnt work in a western society where it in fact attracts a lot of attention and makes one stand out. One should conform to the dress codes of the country one lives in as far as possible so that one is not the centre of attention. To the best of my knowledge, covering the face is not an Islamic injunction but an Arab cultural custom and there is nothing intrinsically holy or Islamic about it. Modesty is of the heart and the eyes and it applies to both men and women.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    I appreciate your decision … but I cannot blame that society too feeling uncomfortable with you amid them … we would feel the same “uncomfort” level if any western lass wearing short skirt takes a stroll in Ichchra or Anarkali bazaars !!!!Recommend

  • Misanthrope

    Great article Mariam. A great expose of human mentality. Humans are herds, pathetic sheep and cow, and are unwilling to accept things that go against their mentality. I am a proud nihilist misanthrope for that very reason. I hate being a human and being a part of humans. I wish I could become a bird and fly away and laugh away at pathetic humans. Recommend

  • Ali

    “Well… if you must know, I’m getting back in touch with my Muslim roots and giving Islamic spirituality a go,”

    If you want to give Islamic spirituality a go then read Bulleh Shah and Rumi. And the Burka is NOT Muslim. It is Arab. Worn by Arabian women to protect themselves from the desert sand. You are niether Arab nor living in a desert. There is no need to wear what you are wearing where you are. What sort of reaction did you expect? look at all the negative press Islam has, do you really expect there to be a positive reaction.

    Reverse this, imagine a white woman walking around Pakistan with a skirt! Get off your religious Muslim high horse. Imaan is in your heart not in your beard or hijab!Recommend

  • Pollack

    “Girls in our society are told from an early age that women without hijabs and burkas are ‘loose’ women.”

    Excellent analysis. That’s the heart of the matter. It’s not free will like the author says but a slow poison which has been fed from early childhood.Recommend

  • http://Birmingham elementary

    If you are a reasonable decent person ,you will dress yourself reasonably and decently.we should raise our children so that they are decent and civilized ,and will choose their dress accordingly.Cover or not to cover and how much to cover are all silly questions.

    Dress code is determined by occasion,climate and culture. any extremes in either direction is bound to meet a protest.Recommend

  • Aisha

    This is the 21 century, if a girl wants to wear niqab its her choice, no1 has the right to judge her!! Does anyone knw that being liberal means u believe in freedom of the individuel? Its her life, its her choice.

  • Reeba

    Most westerners are used to women wearing hijabs and do not show discomfort. But it elicits an entirely different reaction when the face is also covered. Looking down while talking, covering face etc show modesty in eastern culture but these are not positive factors in western societies. Not many people in a western society will like to do business with a person hidden behind a mask/veil. There are dress etiquettes for professions in western society and covering your face is not one of them. Your face is your identity. As a professional when you are doing business, if you can see and identify your client, your client also has the same right to identify you.
    If someone chooses to wear a niqab, they also should abide with similar conservative rules in Islam. They are not supposed to talk or interact with men not related to them. So a niqab wearing woman doing business with strangers seems a little shady.Recommend

  • Uzair

    I must say I am heartened at reading comments supporting women from men here. Shows that not all are brainwashed in the name of dogmatism and tradition.

    @Author: Your conclusion is incorrectly derived from your experiment. You wore the niqab as a social experiment, not out of personal belief. The reactions you got were predictable since it IS women in niqabs who we see campaigning for all that is backwards and misogynist and xenophobic (witness the personal appearance of the yahoos who live in the west and show up at anti-west/anti-democracy protests, holding “death to democracy” and “freedom go to hell” placards”).

    Tell me something – are you willing to conduct a similar social experiment and wear say short shorts and a tank top in the market in Karachi or Lahore or Peshawar? NO? Thought so. You won’t just receive “uncomfortable stares”, you will be sexually harassed like you are the last woman on earth, and probably beaten up.

    Please, don’t take this holier-than-thou I-am-tolerant-why-can’t-you-be attitude. The viewpoint you are supporting, that women have a right to wear niqab, is derived from a perfect objectification of women as _nothing_ but sex objects, a womb to birth children and otherwise stay at home and not be seen. Freedom of speech and dress is fine and dandy, but CAN’T be granted who want to suppress them for others … e.g. we will use freedom of speech to lambast the British government and ask for Shariah, but that Shariah will have NO freedoms and you better toe the super-pure Muslim line or else!. You get what I mean? Similarly the concept of niqab and purdah are nothing but suppression of woman.

    — A concerned guyRecommend

  • Nayla

    In all fairness, I don’t blame the couple who decided not to use you as a photographer at their wedding. Come on, women wearing Niqabs are an uncommon sight in the West (I’m assuming your “experiment” was done in Canada, right?). Do you know how DISTRACTING a photographer in Niqab would be at a wedding in the West where people are not used to seeing women in full veil? The groom and especially the bride is supposed to be the main thing at a wedding. Most people should know that as a wedding guest, it’s proper etiquette to not dress in an over-the-top way, because you don’t want to “upstage” the bride by distracting from her.

    I’m not totally sure how I feel about full face veil. I don’t want to take a person’s right to dress the way that they want, but I find it uncomfortable. I have sat next to women in Niqab on the bus, and it did make me uncomfortable….just as if I’m out and see a protester wearing a kerchief over their face or a man wearing a ski mask. It’s not the niqab/burqa per say that makes me uncomfortable, it’s the covering of the face in general. Heck, just this past Friday, the Wells Fargo bank that I bank at in Philadelphia by a man wearing full Niqab. It can be a security issue.Recommend

  • Syed Faisal

    This is a good article reflecting the personal experience. It remembers me the resolution passed in France regarding a Ban on Niqab/face veil. The country a beacon of democracy and empowerment of human being does the same thing what taliban had done when they were the rulers. Their(France) culture is threatened by couple of face veiled women.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    These are not your muslim routes but HINDU routes! Inyour practical experience at least you had the opportunity to admire the shining shoes of MEN? Welcome to the ancient times, when women were solely meant for their Men!

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Saima

    thanks for this piece. don’t pay attention to the hate. as a woman who wears niqab on her own accord in America, I appreciated it a a lot. =)Recommend

  • Aryan

    @azaz ahmad:
    Wut is dat u rot?Recommend

  • hassan

    It is men who decided that women should cover themselves completely. This was not some decision taken by a group of empowered women as part of some glorious identity.

    Men during medieval times decided that women were sex objects and were being coveted by many; they felt they women have always been the source and origin of conflicts and wars and if women covered themselves fully, in a black cloth, then there will be no law and order problem relating to women. This is the thought process behind this dress. This is how it all began.

    Then down the years, men started forcing women to wear the niqab, by enacting legislation or invoking divine wrath. Women absolutely had no say in this. They had to submit to the will of the men. (After all, women is worth half that of men. Also, women have this wicked capacity to put the thoughts of Satan in the minds of men, just by not covering up fully. )

    Niqab is a symbol of oppression. As simple as that. It has no religious connotation nor any spiritual value. Whenever dominant men want to tell womenfolk at home that they are superior to them or that the women are the weaker sex, they start by enforcing this black dress code.

    By standing up for a dress, which essentially is a symbol of male oppression and female subjugation, dear sister, you have struck a body blow to all those women who have been fighting for equality all these years and in the process getting humiliated everyday.

    By wearing a dress in Toronto, you are showing solidarity with the macho men in Sudan, Algeria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan etc etc. Pity is that you think that this is a personal choice. This is what years and years of conditioning and indoctrination has done to people like you.

    Next what, you will walk ten paces behind your husband, eyes down cast and you will call it part of your freedom and identity ? Recommend

  • Aryan

    @ author,
    I guess only good thing about your so called art project was that you got a day off. I hope it was paid one after losing a potential client.Recommend

  • observer


    If we had the right to uncover it, what gave others the right to judge us for covering it?“

    I guess a trouser shirt, Salwar suit or even a long skirt with high neck long sleeve top would have ‘covered’ you sufficiently without being ‘Judged’. And believe me had you ‘uncovered’ yourself equally radically, you would still have been ‘judged’.
    It seems the ‘judging’ has less to with being ‘covered’ or ‘uncovered’ but the extent of the cover or uncover. People are wary of extremes.Do forgive them for not being extremists.

    Actually… my fiancé and I must dash, we’ll get back to you via e-mail at a later date,”and saying that they rushed out the door.

    Now, imagine a bikini clad lady or a hunk in a G string, promising to be a good marriage photographer at any other wedding. Hindu, Christian, Muslim, any. The reaction would have been the same. Again it is not you, but the occasion and the appropriateness of the dress of all present.

    Though not very religious, they were still culturally Muslim

    Whoa! What is that.
    Are the skirt donning Kazakhs or Saree wearing Bangladeshis or Sarong wearing Indonesians deviants, in so far as being ‘culturally Muslim’ is concerned. Is ‘culture’ entirely decided by religion . And in that context would you say that Christians of Pakistan or Africa are not ‘culturally’ Christians as they do not dress, eat and speak like Europeans. Are they supposed to be ‘Culturally Pakistanis’ or Africans who happen to be Christians or are they supposed to be ‘Culturally Christians’ who happen to be Pakistanis or Africans?Recommend

  • Naceme

    I have never been told or brought up to believe that my body is anything but a treasure from God, precious and to be honoured. I dress in a way that respects my own body, not in a way that exploits it or puts it on display for others. I was born and raised in London, UK in one of the most modern and diverse communities in the world. I am an artist, a singer, a writer and a stage actress, and I do it all very comfortably within the protective folds of my Hijab, While I do not cover my face normally, I believe those who choose to do so should not recieve condemnation, especially not from their peers! How rude. What I fail to understand is that in a society that allows girls to be publicly paraded through the streets wearing tight, revealing clothing, that allows men to demean themselves in skimpy, tight jeans and yet condems those of us with an ounce of self-respect, how are we expected to believe there is freedom here? Freedom seems only to apply if everybody conforms to Western idiologies.. sad really.Recommend

  • Abu Bakr

    At the end of the day you intentionally and knowingly made a lot of people uncomfortable through your experiment. This is wrong, dear.Recommend

  • Naceme

    If a man with a rather full bears and large, thick glasses that distort his eyes and bushy eyebrows and thick, long, wavy hair comes along, his face is not properly viable, one cannot read hos facial expressions – but is that any reason to make him shave his beard, cut his hair, trim his eyebrows and wear contacts??? Of course not, so why the double standard. Women who wear the face veil (certainly all the ones I know, and I know many) do so out of personal choice, not from being pushed or coerced by their up-bringing or by men. Many of the women I know who wear it were not Muslim by birth but have come into the fold of Islam through reading and learning on their own. Nobdy makes them wear it and in fact, Imams often ask them “Are you sure? This is not compulsory, you know,” so where is this percieved coercion coming from???

    I was raised in the west, my parents never asked me to cover my hair – I decided to all by myself. Please don’t insult the inteligence of these strong women because of your own misconceptions. If you choose not to cover, that’s your choice, for which only you can answer. AND VICE VERCA.Recommend

  • Mrs. Haris

    plzzz dont say anything without full info. In saudi arab the local women cover themselves from head to toe fully n brother huh… security of haram always tell woman to cover them n their faces properly. A woman is such a beautiful creation of Allah that He has told her to cover herself. You better read Surah Noor with proper translation. Please do that.Recommend

  • Naceme

    There is indeed a specification for Muslim male dress. A man must be covered in loose opaque attire from navle to knee – it is Hijab for the man and I am SO tired of it being ignored. Men are just as subject to Hijab as women. Full stop.Recommend

  • Nayla

    “Heck, just this past Friday, the Wells Fargo bank that I bank at in Philadelphia by a man wearing full Niqab. It can be a security issue.”

    I meant to say that the bank was robbed by a man wearing a Niqab – I left that out of my original post accidentally. Recommend

  • Naceme

    I applaud the writer for trying. I face this problem regularly, even though I don’t cover my face. Wearing a headscarf and loose fitting clothing is not uncommom here – there are many many Muslims, AlHamdulilLaah. But sadly, this doess not stop people from hating. I get interviewed over the phone and do really well – but when they see me, they think I’m either some kind of religious nut, or I’m opressed. I am neither – but people, weather ‘liberal’ Muslims, ‘zealous’ Muslims or non-Muslims, people are judgemental – and you’ve shown that with this experiment. Thank you.Recommend

  • dad

    No, they are not. And, as a matter of fact, in many big cities, you’ll see many prostitutes wearing a full-body hijab, to conceal their identity.Recommend

  • Awais

    Not to the point where they dress up like a ninja…Recommend

  • Usman Shahid

    So called liberals are also extremists as they never accept the others point of view. Comments on this blog are the proof of it.

    Taking the middle route is the best policy. Recommend