Why I shed
bikini for Niqab
By Sara Bokker (a former actress/model/ fitness instructor and
I AM an American woman who was
born in the midst of
Years went by, only to realize that
my scale of self-fulfillment and happiness slid down the more I progressed in
my "feminine appeal." I was a slave to fashion. I was a hostage to my
As the gap continued to
progressively widen between my self-fulfillment and lifestyle, I sought refuge
in escapes from alcohol and parties to meditation, activism, and alternative
religions, only to have the little gap widen to what seemed like a valley. I
eventually realized it all was merely a pain killer rather than an effective
By now it was Sept. 11, 2001. As
I witnessed the ensuing barrage on Islam, Islamic values and culture, and the
infamous declaration of the "new crusade," I started to notice
something called Islam. Up until that point, all I had associated with Islam
was women covered in "tents," wife beaters, harems, and a world of
terrorism. As a feminist libertarian, and an activist, I was pursuing a better
world for all.
One day I came across a book that
is negatively stereotyped in the West – The Noble Qur'an. I was first attracted
by the style and approach of the Qur'an, and then intrigued by its outlook on
existence, life, creation, and the relationship between Creator and creation. I
found the Qur'an to be a very insightful address to heart and soul without the
need for an interpreter or pastor.
Eventually I hit a moment of
truth: my new-found self-fulfilling activism was nothing more than merely
embracing a faith called Islam where I could live in peace as a
I bought a beautiful long gown
and head cover resembling the Muslim woman's dress code and I walked down the
same streets and neighborhoods where only days earlier I had walked in my
shorts, bikini, or "elegant" Western business attire.
Although the people, the faces,
and the shops were all the same, one thing was remarkably distinct – I was not
– nor was the peace at being a woman I experienced for the very first time. I
felt as if the chains had been broken and I was finally free. I was delighted
with the new looks of wonder on people's faces in place of the looks of a
hunter watching his prey I had once sought. Suddenly a weight had been lifted
off my shoulders. Finally, I was free.
Of all places, I found my Islam
at the heart of what some call "the most scandalous place on earth,"
which makes it all the more dear and special.
While content with Hijab I became
curious about Niqab, seeing an increasing number of Muslim women in it. I asked
my Muslim husband, whom I married after I reverted to Islam, whether I should
wear Niqab or just settle for the Hijab I was already wearing. My husband
simply advised me that he believes Hijab is mandatory in Islam while Niqab is
not. At the time, my Hijab consisted of head scarf that covered all my hair
except for my face, and a loose long black gown called "Abaya" that
covered all my body from neck to toe.
A year-and-a-half passed, and I
told my husband I wanted to wear Niqab. My reason, this time, was that I felt
it would be more pleasing to Allah, the Creator, increasing my feeling of peace
at being more modest.
He supported my decision and took
me to buy an "Isdaal," a loose black gown that covers from head to
toe, and Niqab, which covers all my head and face except for my eyes. Soon
enough, news started breaking about politicians,
I find it to be a blatant
hypocrisy when Western governments and so-called human rights groups rush to
defend woman's rights when some governments impose a certain dress code on
women, yet such "freedom fighters" look the other way when women are
being deprived of their rights, work, and education just because they choose to
exercise their right to wear Niqab or Hijab.
Today I am still a feminist, but
a Muslim feminist, who calls on Muslim women to assume their responsibilities
in providing all the support they can for their husbands to be good Muslims. To
raise their children as upright Muslims so they may be beacons of light for all
humanity once again. To enjoin good – any good – and to forbid evil – any evil.
To speak righteousness and to speak up against all ills. To fight for our right
to wear Niqab or Hijab and to please our Creator whichever way we chose. But
just as importantly to carry our experience with Niqab or Hijab to fellow women
who may never have had such a chance.
Most of the women I know wearing
Niqab are Western reverts, some of whom are not even married. Others wear Niqab
without full support of either family or surroundings. What we all have in
common is that it is the personal choice of each and every one of us, which
none of us is willing to surrender.
Willingly or unwillingly, women
are bombarded with styles of "dressing-in- little-to- nothing"
virtually in every means of communication everywhere in the world.
As an ex non-Muslim, I insist on
women's right to equally know about Hijab, its virtues, and the peace and
happiness it brings to a woman's life as it did to mine. Yesterday, the bikini
was the symbol of my liberty, when in actuality it only liberated me from my
spirituality and true value as a respectable human being.
Today, Niqab is the new symbol of
To women who surrender to the
ugly stereotype against the Islamic modesty of Hijab, I say: You don't know
what you are missing.
Sara Bokker is a former actress/model/ fitness instructor and activist
October 27, 2008