Zainab Rashid is a third-year student of Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) in Delhi. She recently performed a spoken word poem on her choice and her right to wear the burqa, and the popular perceptions surrounding it.

On asking her for her motivation to speak about the burqa, she says, “I oscillate between the very problematic distinction of ‘modern’ (LSR College) and ‘primitive’ (a muslim ghetto in Jamia Nagar with a religious bent of mind) world. Since I’m aware of the complex ideologies of both the worlds, I thought it was responsibility to open up a discourse on burqa. I wanted to normalise it.”

The discourse around the burqa is an embattled arena, with seemingly everyone chipping in with their opinions on it, except Muslim women who actually wear the burqa themselves. The burkini ban, for instance, was a glaring example of “forced liberation”, where the burqa was seen as synonymous with oppression. In this climate, it’s very important to amplify the voices of women who actually wear the burqa and are directly impacted by the discourse around it.

“As a person who covers her body with her own choice, it bothers me a lot when something as normal and as trivial as covering someone’s body becomes such a big issue. When the whole episode of burkini ban happened in France, I was very disturbed because women were forced to NOT wear cloth,  to show off their body unwillingly because it’s ‘modernity’ after all! I mean, you can’t take clothes off people’s body, make them naked and say that they’re ‘modern’ finally. I’d reject such civilisation,” states Zainab firmly.

It’s considered that women with covered bodies imply covering up of intellectual capacity also. We’re considered dumb AND barbaric.

Asked about the discourse around the burqa both within and outside the Muslim community, Zainab says:

“As far as my knowledge and experience stretch, Muslims generally support hijab and burqa for Women. However, there’s a problematic side to it too. Purdah system in Islam is not only for Women but for men too. In the Qur’an, Allah talks about the purdah for men first and then for women but unfortunately, Muslim society totally neglects it for men. They’re never taught to wear loose clothes, lower down their gazes, guard their private parts. Muslim society has made modesty specifically a feminine phenomenon which is outrightly wrong. Qur’anic injunctions clearly talk about modesty both for men and women. This is precisely why Purdah system comes under such criticism from around the world because people consider it’s discriminatory to just ask women to do it and leave men as they want to be and this is where Muslim society has failed.

Muslim society has made modesty specifically a feminine phenomenon which is wrong. Qur’anic injunctions clearly talk about modesty both for men and women.

Outside the Muslim community, the popular perception pertains to how it is an oppressive thing to wear clothes or cover oneself. Somewhere, physical wrapping of one’s body has filtered in to the intellectual space too. It’s popularly considered, that women with covered bodies also imply covering and closing up of intellectual capacity also. We’re considered as dumb, barbaric, in terms of constructive thought process too and this is why my poem was necessary, to shatter that idea.”

Here is Zainab’s powerful poem, first published at Delhi Poetry Slam, asserting her choice to wear a burqa.

Transcript of Poem:

I’m a woman
I drape around my body a piece of prejudiced cloth
Burqa as they call it, ‘beautiful’ as it doesn’t seem to them.
I’m a woman defined by popular perception of beauty and oppression.
But I’m more than that,
I’m a writer, a reader, a lover, a poet, a shopaholic, an over thinker yet an optimist.
I’ve multiple identities heaped into a single self
Ornamentally wrapped by a Burqa.
I’m a woman
Clad in a contradiction to modernity
My cloth serving as an inhibition to civilization
I epitomize barbarism
For ‘progressive’ is the orphaned child of hypocrisy
Which detests the freedom to cover but calls uncovered ‘classy’
Which sells shaving razors through the curves of a woman’s body
Then I’m a woman
Who rejects civilization.
I’m not a precious emerald covered in silk
Neither any man’s glorified guilt
I’m not somebody’s insecure honour
My burqa is the result of what goes between me and Him (Allah)
I’m a woman who herself chooses to build.
Well I think too,
I think too,
Because covering my head doesn’t mean that my brain stops working
Confirmed by the tenets of rudimentary biology
I don’t embark upon ‘the shorter the piece of cloth the more the intellect formula’
Because none of that exists.
I’m still a woman
Defined as I want to be
Worded as I choose to write.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Honestly I don’t give a damn what a person choose to wear in public. But I would be betraying my rationality, honesty and integrity to say that Burqa is a tool of woman empowerment. You may dress your thirteen year old girl in Burqa, but history does not change. It was meant to keep a woman away from a man, not to raise his testosterone level.
    Man/Woman may dress in any damn piece of cloth they think it is perfect and modest, I cant betray the truth and I can not be dishonest with myself.

    • “The burqa that covers the face… that is just like the ISIS flag. It’s like wearing a very big swastika.Everywhere where Sharia law is applied women are robbed of their rights and their dignity.
      I cannot think of a system of law that dehumanises and degrades women more than Islamic law.”

      – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    • “The veil deliberately marks women as private and restricted property, nonpersons. The veil sets women apart from men and apart from the world; it restrains them, confines them, grooms them for docility. A mind can be cramped just as a body may be, and a Muslim veil blinkers both your vision and your destiny. It is the mark of a kind of apartheid, not the domination of a race but of a sex.”

      – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    • “The burqa is a way of controlling the woman, but in the name of respect. Every culture or religion gives a different name for the burqa. It is honor, or culture, or religion. Really, it just controls the woman and keeps her inside.”

      – Malina Suliman

    • “When I was 12 my brother told me I had to wear the burqa, but I really wanted to play, because I was a child. It’s an age you want to play outside and have a good time. And they told me I had to wear it or I couldn’t leave the home. I felt it was controlling me, because when I wore it I felt I wasn’t a child anymore.”

      – Malina Suliman

    • “As a woman and as a feminist, I am very well aware of how women have been oppressed and segregated for a thousand of years and I bristle at the fact in 21 century Australia women are still being kept out of public life and I’m sorry, when you wear a burqa you cannot attribute to society as much as you can without it.”

      – Jacques Myard

    • “If a woman is wearing the burqa, it’s not her wish. It’s more that she feels secure from the Taliban, secure from acid if she were to show her face.”

      – Malina Suliman

  2. Wearing a burqa doesn’t make you modest, being modest makes you modest. Not wearing a burqa doesn’t make you immodest, being immodest makes you immodest.

  3. Burqa cannot be evaluated in isolation. Look at the whole lot of restraints on women in Islam. In France the secular law says you can practice any faith you want but in public you are a French national & that is the only identity. Nationalism above all. This cant be interpreted the way the lady has done to say that they are forcing people to bare their bodies

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