Niqab is most definitely not religious obligation, and actually contradicts the Qur’an on multiple counts. Regardless, I can see the appeal of the garment. There is a certain vision of empowerment in veiling oneself, masking oneself–myself–rendering myself anonymous, away from prying eyes.
I can see the advantage of a niqab at the Delhi subway station, where I have been stared at and leered at and followed since the age of eleven. When I was young I didn’t understand, so I would laugh and stare straight back at them, expecting an acknowledging smile.
Niqab is not practical, daily-life speaking. It’s a hassle. It inhibits human interaction–it’s basically there for the purpose of hindering excessive “free mixing.” It’s a bit standoffish, and presents a false, slightly offensive picture of Islam.
Regardless, I do understand the appeal. I cover my face sometimes at the mosque, in the presence of men I don’t like, and also in the presence of men in general. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to barricade myself from them–a sense of entitlement almost. These men? See my face? These annoying, completely pointless, unworthy men? Looking at my face and my hair? Um. No.
There is also a certain aspect of romanticism here, perhaps a childish one, driven by too much Bollywood screenplay. I like the idea of veiled Arab princesses, veiled Saharan female warriors, who cast off their veils on occasion to reveal gleaming waist-length hair and long eyelashes and long legs. Being an Arab princess–a childish fantasy? Yes, granted. Do I care? No.
“I’ll come for thee at moonlight, though hell should bar the way”
Perhaps this is why I’ve always secretly rather liked the concept of Hur Al-Ayn. Not the hideous male idea of eternally virginal white-skinned women, but the idea of heavenly maidens in general.
There is a hadith that describes the perfumed pashmina scarves of hooris: “If the people of this dunya smelled the corners of the hooris‘ scarves, they would all faint from the scent’s beauty.” And this is even without seeing the maidens themselves.
If I ever get into Jannah–though, granted, I should focus on getting there first–I want a white grand piano with keys like diamonds glittering in stalactite caves, and songs that taste like blueberry crystal ice. I want a giant art studio with all the time in the world to make beautiful things. Nothing makes me happier than making beautiful things. And I want a tapestry on which to weave stories. Stories of dark-eyed princesses and baby boys in baskets floating down the Nile, stories of peacock-petal dresses on slender dancing women, stories of long black Rapunzel hair and the gentle pattering of sapphire rains. I want music and literature and art.