Tuesday 24 December 2013

Niqab; A dress code in troubled waters

Yesterday, on the Christmas eve, someone tagged a post on the topic "Niqab" on my wall in FB. 

Unless, a post is unreasonably sexual oriented, spreading hatred or insulating a community or person, I do not remove it from the wall. 

This post, written in Sinhalese, appears harsh and painful to the target community, but I let it be there. 'Cause, I think that it opened opportunity for people to defend their thoughts and break the defense of the others. Such interaction, in this type of open forums, most often alleviate the tension..... however, there is a chance of things going off hand, as well. 

The reasons for the raging debate in Sri Lanka, on the subject of niqab, the face-veiled robe of Muslim community, is the recent incident at the University of Moratuwa, where a Muslim girl was prevented from entering the university premises with this dress. 

Despite being a sensitive issue, I immediately decided to put my finger into this soup.  In order to view my thoughts in this regard, I browsed through the net looking for the quotations in Al Quran, the holy book of Islam, on women's dress code. 


“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their zeenah (charms, or beauty and ornaments) except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimar (veils) over their bosoms and not display their zeenah except to their husbands, their fathers …. and that they should not strike their feet so as to draw attention to their hidden zeenah (ornaments).”  (24:31-32)
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should draw over themselves their jilbab (outer garments) (when in public); this will be more conducive to their being recognized (as decent women) and not harassed. But God is indeed oft-forgiving, most merciful.” (33:59)
“And know that women advanced in years, who no longer feel any sexual desire incur no sin if they discard their thiyab (outer garments), provided they do not aim at a showy display of their zeenah (charms or beauty). But it is better for them to abstain (from this); and God is all-hearing, all-knowing.” (24:60)


As a Buddhist, I have been trained to look at any concept rationally. I think, I will not be able to find anything more logical than what the above statements specify on the women's dress code. 

What it simply says is that women should wear in such a way that they should not unnecessarily agitate or arouse the opposite sex with their beauty and charm. Isn't this what we find in Buddhism as well....?      

I live in Malaysia for the last 4 years with my family. I worked in a state university where almost 80% of student and staff population may be Muslim.  I have never felt alienated in this society. So, does my wife as per her true feelings. 

If you ever get a chance to witness a staff or student meeting at this university, I am sure that you will never forget it. What will remain in your memory will be a land of colorful butterflies. Whether men or women, Malay Muslims wear elegantly. Malay ladies cover their hair, not the face. Extremely pleasant and beautiful, but never sexually agitate the opposite gender. 

I think that is exactly what is said in the holy book. Isn't it the same that is preached by Lord Buddha?

Even my wife wear the head cover, when we take our visitors to the elegantly made Putrajaya Mosque. Do you think that she is ugly in that dress...???? hahaha...........

I have witnessed the same picturesque atmosphere when I visit the Universities in Pakistan as well. 

Let's now come back to the topic, the Niqab. It is very clear that the holy book does not make Muslim ladies to wear the niqab compulsorily.   

Is there a need for such dress...?

Has everyone got the right to wear in public what he/she wants ..?

I don't think so.

Do you like a bikini clad or topless lady or a man in underwear in the bus where you travel with your family....? In the society we live today, especially in Asia, such dress-code will not be tolerated.

Similarly, many people will not like to be surrounded by somebody in full body covered dress.

As the one who posted in my wall commented, everyone has the right to know whether the one next to you in public is a gorilla, zombie or human being... if it is the last case whether it is male or female. 

Usually, a decent woman may not mind sitting tightly pressed in a bus with another woman. Will she do the same with a man...? I doubt.  Imagine if the one next to her is in full body cover....!!! Won't she be restless in mind, whether Muslim or non-Muslim..

It is true that in most countries, no one is allowed into public places, shops, banks etc. in full face helmet; even in Malaysia. I think this is a very fair regulation with respect to public security. Isn't this applicable to niqab as well...?

I have never seen anyone in our university wear a niqab in the university premises. Perhaps it is banned within the university (I am not sure). 

As I see, in both Islam and Buddhism, the women's dress code has been formulated to serve two criteria. One is the self dignity of a lady and the other is the prevention of sexual agitation among males (other than the legal partner) which may lead to social chaos. 

Do you think that uncovering the face of a lady will violate any of the above criteria in the society where we live.......?  Perhaps, in a less-civilized tribal society in the far remote desert of Afghanistan or Libya, things may go wrong when women open their face...!!!

This is how I see this issue. It is up to you to decide what is the best for the society..... 

But don't forget that we are an integrated part of the society.... 

We cannot define our norms, isolated from that domain.....


  1. Well balanced blog.
    Once a Sri Lankan origin Muslim family visited us for a dinner (outside Sri Lanka). We were asked in advance whether they could bring a lady relative who is temporarily staying with them. When we opened the door upon knocking, our 3 year old screamed "ghost" to our embarrassment, 1 year old tightly hugged my legs, and our kids who are too friendly even with strangers remained terrorized just because of that visitors' relative was in niqab. Our kids could not accept the fact that the "black thing" was also a human and the whole atmosphere got spoiled. When the dinner was served, that lady in niqab struggled a lot to eat - using one hand to pull facial cover forward so that some space is made for the other hand to slip-in from neck area to her mouth with small rice balls. Even after half an hour she could finish only 1/4 of a plate and then she gave up. Our friends told that she was new to niqab (upon marriage to fulfill her husband's wish) and was learning on how to eat with niqab.
    Being a person who was brought up Muslim majority area, I really do not understand why number of niqab wearing Muslims in Sri Lanka is on the increasing trend.