The Rise of the Black veil

For me, the one thing that always distinguishes a pious Muslim woman is the veil also called the’ Niqab’.Let’s not confuse the ‘Niqab’ to the ‘Hijab’. Having been at the center of a major controversy recently in Europe, I am certain the mistakenly called ‘hijab’, is obviously not new to readers. I say “mistakenly” because the controversy is on the garment covering the face i.e the veil or Niqab and not on the accompanying head gear Hijab. But I digress. I am not here to educate or discuss terminologies. For me what stands out when you think of a pious Muslim woman is the not just any veil. It is the BLACK veil. Granted, there are colored veils out there in many countries including Afghanistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, the black veil by far is the most popular and was probably the initial color of choice in these regions before they evolved into colors. What’s more interesting is that the color of the veil as we see it today in these regions, is dependent geographically on the medium in which Islam spread in the Middle Ages; The black veil therefore being most notable in the countries that were once ruled by the first 4 caliphates of Islam. 

The veil is not a new concept. Even before the advent of Islam, veils were common on Persian and Byzantine women folk. Similarly in some Indian sections of society, veils were considered to be a symbol of royalty and the beautiful faces of the royal queens and princess were covered to avoid the “evil eye” from curious onlookers. Though history cannot confirm, that these veils were black, paintings from ancient period show varied colors –White, green and blue but rarely ever black. My reasoning for the color black to be so relevant in Islamic attire is simply the fact that it is the only color that fails to catch the human eye immediately; especially during the Middle Ages when I imagine life in general would have been dark since fire was the only main source of light at the time. I believe this would be the same logic that prompted Japanese Ninjas to have used black to camouflage themselves and be weapons of stealth. In the case of Islam, the attire would have gradually evolved from covering the head and body as prescribed in the Holy Quran to slowly covering the face to avoid attention from oppressors in times of war when women were taken in as war booties.

And so the black veil is more a tradition in my opinion than an obligation, one that was carried forward over the centuries by women who stood for righteousness and feared the ugly face of male oppression. It is ironic therefore that in today’s context, the black veil that was put in place to save women from oppression is being called an instrument of oppression. Let me also add that because women today are more liberated in terms of having equal  (if not more !) rights than men, I question the need for so much discussion on the black veil since its purpose no longer holds true . In my opinion, the black veil is a mere traditional obligation that has been abused and should be as irrelevant as the socks I wear! If there are no rules on whether I wear socks when I go out for stroll, why should there be so much talk about wearing the black veil for a stroll? The onus should lie on the woman on what makes her comfortable and there are no two ways about it .She alone has the right to chose if she wants to wear the veil or not and what color it should be...and no one can take that right from her...no man, government, political party or any group for that matter.

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