Muslim women are empowered and confident

Published: June 1, 2012

Don’t nuns wear headscarves and choose to forgo their sexuality in the name of Christianity? PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL

 Do you have to wear a burqa when you are at home?

It was a legitimate question, coming from peers, sometimes professors and occasionally even friends while I was in college in the United States.

It wasn’t the innocence of the question itself, but rather the oppressive perception that followed which encouraged me to use my lens in order to express the complexity of being a woman in a country like Pakistan.

I wanted to say no, that while some women were painted black head-to-toe, some draped a casual chaddar (shawl) on their heads, some roamed in jeans, while others went to underground parties in skimpy dresses.

I wanted to tell them that the veil in itself was not the greatest symbol of repression, it was the patriarchal mindset of the empowered men and the acquiescing women around me that made it hard to breathe.

I found myself reluctant to agree with the idea of the veil, yet eager to defend its standing because of the quick western dismissal of it.

People see a woman in a scarf and assume that she is oppressed, but to judge a book by its cover seems unfair. Don’t nuns wear head scarves and choose to forgo their sexuality in the name of Christianity?

The women in these images are a fictional portrayal of the empowered Muslim woman, who is strong and beautiful, sensual and confident.

Though belonging to varying faiths, the women in the portraits challenge the perceptions of the West and its biases against head covering in an age when Muslims are seen as the runt of the litter by the western world – whose tolerance seems waning against its quickness to stereotype.


Myra Iqbal

Myra Iqbal

The author is a photojournalist at The Express Tribune.

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

  • Sumaiya

    nice blog. i can’t see the pictures though =/Recommend

  • Wasim

    “The women in these images are a fictional portrayal of the empowered Muslim woman, who is strong and beautiful, sensual and confident.”

    Do you live in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Saira Khan

    The religious apologists cherry pick things in religious ideology which suits them and present a more palatable,acceptable version of religion for the West.Religion is not a buffet from which to pick the good parts only and try to pass it off as the real thing.Religious apologists don’t realise the damage they are doing to civilised societies.Recommend

  • Faiza Haroon

    Why such a declarative blanket statement in the headline? the headline portrays that ALL muslim women are empowered and free,which is most certainly not the case.Taking exceptions and trying to portray them as the rule is extremely misleading.The women in our society who are empowered and free are very rare,trying to paint a rosy picture of a deeply patriarchal,misoygynistic society which uses religion to keep women down is a great disservice to Pakistani women.Recommend

  • Rebecca

    Nuns are not the everyday christian women.Nuns are the very few who dedicate their lives to their religion,they are not the everyday millions of christian women.Such a misplaced comparison is shocking.Hijabs,abayas,burkas are recommended for all muslim women,not only a specific few.Nuns do not represent the general population of christian women.Recommend

  • Naheed rizwan

    @Saira Khan:

    Religious apologists twist and turn,perform all sorts of contortions,make all sorts of excuses in their attempt to justify what they know in their hearts can/should not be justified.They come up with their own interpretations of scripture and try to present that as the real deal.
    It’s just an exercise in self-delusion getting a wider audience.The apologists are far more dangerous to society than the militants can ever be.Recommend

  • Sana Majeed

    Very disappointing to see ET give space to such a misguiding and revisionist piece.This is a cruel slap across the faces of the women in pakistan who’ve endured unimaginable misery and horrors at the hands of men guided by the religious clerics.Misrepresenting dogma publicly, only to allay the doubts is highly unethical,propagating a sanitized version of dogma is highly dangerous.Recommend

  • Arsalan Bajwa

    @Naheed rizwan:

    The apologists act as the shields behind which the militants work.They are the civilian defenders of the military atrocities done by the religious fanatics.sadly this blog also is an attempt to play the victim.such posts come out of a deep sense of religious victimhood to which the majority of our population clings to firmly.playing the victim is a technique often used by religous apologists to deflect attention away from the reality of religous ideology.such blogs only glorify and provide legitimacy to miosyny and oppression done in the name of religion.Recommend

  • Uzair

    Good approach, showing model-like females wearing a dupatta over their heads to show that Muslim women are empowered. Tell that to the millions who suffer harrasment from men on the roads, in workplaces, and schools and colleges. Tell that to the millions of wives who are abused by their husbands. Tell that to the families who consider their daughters and sisters their property, to be married off according to the family’s choice rather than the girl. Tell that to the millions of girls barely in their teens married to men much older than them, often in exchange for money.

    Shocking and shameful that a _woman_ (and a seemingly educated one at that) can come to the defense of a completely patriarchal and misogynistic ideology that explicitly de-empowers women by stating them as less than men and the property of men.Recommend

  • Ali S

    Any woman has the right to wear the hijab (out of her own free will, of course), but it’s interesting to see how you’re not wearing one while promoting it. Hypocrisy?Recommend

  • Muslim

    @Saira Khan, Naheed Rizwan and Sana Majeed and others with similar views

    Islam and Pakistan are two different Things. Muslim women and Pakistani women are two different things.

    If some of the clerics in Pakistan are misguided which leads to some Pakistani women suffering, then you have to blame the Pakistani society which had not understood Islam.

    Islam is the only religion which gives women maximum rights and mind you all parts of Islam are perfect because its a divine religion. Its the low IQ Pakistanis (both clerics and so called liberals who have equally low IQs!) that are not able to understand Islamic teachings. Recommend

  • hassan

    A poor woman from a less-developed country, always follows this practice of walking ten paces behind her husband.

    An educated, financially well-off lady from a developed nation, observing the above, also starts to practice the tradition of walking ten paces behind her husband. And now she proclaims that she should be allowed to exercise her personal choice, to walk beside or behind her husband. On top of this, she says, when she walks ten paces behind her husband in a deferential manner, she is showing solidarity to her sister in the less-developed country.

    Don’t you think such women – eager to show that following regressive practices is cool – are on the increase these days ? Do you think they are really contributing to the freedom and empowerment of women ?Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nice pictures but the arrow was way off target.
    I doubt the west has an issue with a dupatta or a scarf, its sch-eek, elegant and feminine. It’s the full black body and face cover that upsets people abroad. What is baffling is that the bottom line is to dress modestly. Why can’t this be achieved through a middle of the road fashion sense, incorporating colour. Recommend

  • Misha

    @Ali S:
    She’s not promoting the hijab, she’s defending it. And there’s no need for her to observe the hijab herself to do that.
    That said, this isn’t exactly the best way to have gone about it. The least reason being what you’ve shown in the photographs doesn’t exactly qualify as hijab.
    I’d like to add that oppression exists also in the minds of our women. We oppress ourselves.Recommend

  • Uzair

    @Muslim: so what you are saying is that you know Islam better than the clerics? Do you have some secret tafseer that no-one else has? Something that indeed gives women “maximum rights” as opposed to the limited rights in mainstream Islam? If so, please do share with us,Recommend

  • Secular Pakistani

    It should be a crime for girls with pretty hair to wear headscarves.
    And the problem is not with what Pakistani/Muslim women wear – the root cause of all problems is the inherent sexual frustration of Pakistani/Muslim men.
    Everyone’s “ordered” to guard their modesty, not to exhibit excellence in poondi :PRecommend

  • I’m sorry but this article displays appalling ignorance regarding women in Pakistan. Do you really think they all wear the hijab by choice, like the nuns? We do oppress our women, I’m sorry but that’s the truth. And the hijab is a symbol of that oppression.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Would be nice if you had shown a couple of pictures of empowered women in burkas as well – you could have even used the same model for all the shots.Recommend

  • Ozymandias

    @Ali S:
    Not necessarily. I support gay rights without actually being gay myself.Recommend

  • Muslim


    Listen to the real scholars of Islam like Yusuf Al Qaradawi, Dr Zakir Naik, Salem Al Amry, Yasir Qadhi and others and you will know about the Maximum rights given to women in Islam according to the Quran and Authentic Hadith. Even if you read a good translation of the Quran and Authentic Hadith, you will get an idea of women’s generous rights in Islam.

    Its so called liberals and a few ignorant clerics that do this propaganda of women not having rights in Islam which is far from the truth.Recommend

  • nikarish

    According to the holy koran, women are aldo less intelligent and need to be dependant on their male. Hence your statement is false.Recommend

  • Mj
  • Mj

    Dear author,
    Would you care to include >this< picture of an empowered Afghan woman?Recommend

  • Critical

    Don’t nuns wear head scarves and choose to forgo their sexuality in the name of Christianity?

    I beg to differ your views. A Nun is a woman who decides to leave the normal materialistic world and serve God. Its entirely her decision to take a different and arduous path….

    No Christian woman is forced to wear the dress of a nun.
    No Christian man forces his daughter or sister to dress like a nun.
    A christian woman who doesnt wear head scarf is not called a loose moral woman by the society.

    Besides,could you please give me an explanation for a woman covering her face….Whats the empowerment and confidence a woman has in covering her face with burkha???

    How will a person identify someone in the crowd when she’s wearing a burkha??
    They say 80% of communication is non verbal….How good will it be if a coworker is wearing a burkha?? (Oh yeah,progressive Islamic women shouldnt work,right??)

    How tough it is for security agencies with CCTV footage to identify someone if they’re wearing a burkha when they indulge in shoplifting or suicide bombings???

    People say burkha or hijab protects a woman from pervert men….Unless she wears a electrified hijab with electrocutes anyone who tries to touch…I dont find the reason why a woman should wear head scarf if she’s dressed modestly…Recommend

  • Big Rizvi
  • http://! leila rage

    @writer: What fantasy land do you live in? Please tell us so that we the oh-so “empowered” average Pakistani women can join you there as well. Recommend

  • http://! leila rage

    @myra Iqbal:
    the summary for your blog reads “People see a woman in a scarf and assume that she is oppressed, but to judge a book by its cover seems unfair”
    Okay, fair enough, I agree.
    But at the same time is it not unfair that others get judged for not adopting the burqa or hijab? There should not be ANY discrimination based on they way someone dresses— whether they choose a burqa, the hijab, plain shalwar kameez or jeans.Recommend

  • ss

    it’s interesting that not a single woman in the pictures above wears hijab or abaya :pRecommend

  • greenstae

    No similarity at short, a nun’s habit represents charitable service to humankind.. the face is not covered, and nun’s have evolved to wearing regular clothing in most circumstances other than the convent without fear of reprisal. This, as opposed to “oppression”. Nun’s are not oppressed by any means, and their habit is not worn at the request of crazed men who will kill for not covering.Recommend

  • http://Karachi ashar

    I fully agree with the title of the blog, but the writer does not know anything about this subject.Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Why is it such a big deal when women try to cover and justify it ??? and Hijab is no way oppression when done by choice. When forced yes it is. Recommend

  • Cynical

    Pride and honour of a nation hangs on to a piece of cloth!
    You can’t get better than that!!Recommend

  • Mj

    It seems to me that the author wanted to showcase her photography (which is quite good, btw) and concocted a fantastic narrative to go along with it. In the real-world, millions of women have to don the veil either through governmental coercion (KSA, Iran), societal and familial pressure (Pakistan and others), or due to very real threats of violence (almost every Muslim country and society).Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    Profound and truthful. We can’t change the world, but we can get the same results by changing the way we look at it.Recommend

  • raw is war

    Nuns? They do not represent ordinary western women. Stupid topic.Recommend

  • http://Karachi. Farah Kamal

    Great work Myra, I am off to NY studying Photojournalism, and your work is truly inspirational. Great shots and story line.Recommend

  • raw is war

    I dont accept that Hijab is a choice. Who would like to cover themselves in a black suffocating robe in hot and humid countries like in South Asia? Of course, men can get away with anything in Islam- like the Pakistani gangs in England.Recommend

  • http://na deep

    Two useless emirati women are now driving a twitter campaign in Dubai about imposing a dress code – already women in malls are being turned away for wearing clothes deemed too short etc – my only comment is – be careful what you wish for – it is a small pathway from wanting longer dresses to being told that you need permission to leave the country or to being told you cannot drive.
    why do muslims have this urge to be judges of other people – most religiously minded people love being judges of other people’s values. Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Good work Ms. Iqbal and blog indeed encouraging……don’t let others to fool uRecommend

  • Parvez

    Would some clever person please step forward and try explain @kaalchakra’s comment,
    because I am at a loss but intrigued all the same.Recommend

  • nizaat

    this is realty.Recommend

  • leila rage

    @nikarish: Sorry but your wrong. Nowhere does it say say in the Quran that women have to be dependent on men. Men are taught to respect and look after women but women dont have to be dependent on them. And again, nowhere does it say that women are less intelligent. If women were less intelligent surely they should not get equal punishment for crimes like stealing because of their “deficient” mental capacity; but this is not the case so I’m afraid your point is invalid.Recommend

  • Moz

    “Muslim women are empowered and confident”

    That is a lie.Recommend

  • alicia

    I do not understand the point of this article.
    Yes your photography is amazing but how do these pictures portray strong women? Just showing models with dupatta on their head does not say anything about the kind of lives these supposedly muslim women live.

    A woman’s freedom is not decided by what she wears in my opinion. Look at the kind of life the live.
    Are muslim women allowed to get education?

    Are muslim women allowed to marry who they want?

    Are muslim women safe from domestic violence?

    Are muslim women allowed to work?

    Are muslim women legally protected?

    And most importantly do the have any kind of say in their life at all??

    I am not talking about Islam here I am talking about how muslim men treat muslim women. Recommend

  • Mj

    Curious that the there have been no new comments or a change in vote count on an active and controversial blogpost for more than a day…Recommend

  • imran

    “Nuns? They do not represent ordinary western women.”

    whatever the percentage, but they are oppressed according to your logic about Muslim women?? right?? why dont people write a blog against their oppression. why they are following stupid tradition.

    Nuns represent, how a true christian woman should dress which tells about how a Christianity sees a woman… Islam preaches similar dress code for women.The only difference is that Muslims are following their religion more than Christians.Recommend

  • muddyum

    I love this! Nice work Myra Iqbal.Recommend

  • Nobody

    @Ali S:
    “Any woman has the right to wear the hijab (out of her own free will, of course), but it’s interesting to see how you’re not wearing one while promoting it. Hypocrisy?”

    No not hypocrisy, the author is simply stating that women are free to wear hijab without the added assumption of others that they are oppressed (although unfortunately in many cases they are, BUT not always). I support gay rights because I don’t think gay people destroy societies as much as radical, violent and intolerant illiterates do; however, I have not become a lesbian myself. I also promote freedom to wear scarf or whatever else one may choose, but I don’t wear one myself. Recommend

  • leila rage

    @Imran: No, nuns do not represent ordinary christian women because they choose to devote their lives to God, and give up the things of the world including marriage, having children etc. Ordinary christian women are encouraged to marry and have families. Becoming a nun is almost like in a sense becoming a wandering mystic in Islamic spiritual traditions.Mystics or those who devote their lives to God giving up the world are not representative of the way ordinary people are supposed to live. Recommend

  • imran

    @leila rage

    Mystics are ordinary Muslims but with strange way of life. Islam has same codes for all Muslims. Similarly Christianity has same codes for all Christians, its not like nuns have different brand of Christianity than ordinary woman. the only difference is their devotion towards their religion.

    here the point was their dress, Nuns wear what they believe is modest according to their religion(to make GOD happy perhaps). so why only blame Islam if Islam has defined a modest outfit for a woman, and if someone follows that. Recommend

  • Andher nagri ka sheri

    Persian (Zoroastrian) culture become part of Religion. nothing else.Recommend

  • Nobody

    I should correct myself… this line from my other posting can be misinterpreted….

    “I support gay rights because I don’t think gay people destroy societies as much as radical, violent and intolerant illiterates do; however, I have not become a lesbian myself. I also promote freedom to wear scarf or whatever else one may choose, but I don’t wear one myself.”

    Meant to say I don’t think gay people destroy society AT ALL as opposed to the hate mongering illiterate and hateful populace among us. Hope I didn’t offend anybody! Cheers. Recommend

  • Saajid Salafee

    @Rebecca: That’s the difference between Islam and Christianity. In Islam there’s no concept of “holy men or women” who have a different rule to follow compared to the “normal” folks. So, in Islam a “common” Muslims is also supposed to pray 5 times a day and not just the “clergy”. Similarly all Muslim women are supposed to dress modesty. Don’t judge Islam by a Christian prism.Recommend