How Do You Soak Yours: Burqa Apparently Soaked in Blood

This originally appeared on Safiya’s blog Outlines.

A lot of the discourse of Muslim women both here and elsewhere concerns the battle to speak for ourselves. To define our religion, our beliefs on our terms, without the headpatting and correcting of outsiders. Fatemeh’s post at Altmuslimah gives a thorough outline of the usual mistakes made by those who seek to defend Muslim women, without actually listening to them.

How disappointing to view an article on The Guardian website, Rahila Gupta headed, ‘The Burka is a cloth soaked in blood’.

I have to admit, that my initial response to such a statement was to think, “Only if you’re not wearing enough sanitary protection and that could apply to any item of clothing”.

Sadly, the article did not go on to tackle laundry issues, instead it focused on the narcoleptic topic of Muslim Women are Suffering in Their Scarves and I Care About Them More Then You Do.

First, Muslim women are told what their identity priorities should be. Gender should come before, race or communal identity. As for religious identity, Gupta does not mention that, so presumably is is not a valid option.

Then comes the bold statement that, “This is a cloth that comes soaked in blood”. At this point one feels like patting Gupta gently on the hand and explaining that however savage she’s heard Muslims are, we don’t like to wear our clothes soaked with blood, in fact we view blood as a rather unclean substance.

Gupta choses to back up this bold statement by invoking the three countries which must be named whenever talking about Muslim women: Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. According to Gupta, no discussion of the burqa or hijab is possible without mentioning these three countries. This is despite the fact that the majority of Muslim women do not live in either of those countries.

Ironically, Gupta sees no problem with restricting the voices of Muslim women in order to ease restrictions on the clothing of Muslim women.

In fact, to her,  it is we Western Muslim sisters who are the silencers: by talking about our own experiences of hijab, we are dismissing the suffering of our Afghan, Iranian and Saudi sisters. This is despite the all charity work, awareness-raising and many articles, both in new and old media written by Muslim women concerning this very subject. Again, in her rush to save the Muslim women, she actually ignores the work and dialogue of Muslim women, implying that we cannot help ourselves.

After listing and dismissing what she feels are common reasons Western Muslim women might wear the hijab, she then jumps to the conclusion that women are raped, even when covered, so why bother covering?

Well, because if we believe that a women is raped because a rapist raped her, rather then because she was wearing X, Y or Z, then this means that women’s clothing is immaterial in any discussion of violence and rape against women. So therefore, just because a hijab or burqa does not provide protection against rape, does not mean a women cannot choose to wear it.

The clear problem with this article is that Gupta feels she knows what is best for Muslim women. Her final statement is that women should not have to bear the brunt of men’s lust. She might actually find that Muslim women agree with her, but she would have to listen to us first.


    I hate seeing such articles like Gupta’s out there. Why can’t these people mind their own damn business regarding Muslim women?? I especially hate when POC women feel they have to get on the Western bandwagon of bashing Muslim women and Islam; it’s like go deal with your own problems which you know you have.

  • Imani

    who is Rahila Gupta. She has shamed the sistersd that want to wear burqa. no muslimah wears garments soaked in blood!

  • Person

    Oh you silly, silly women at MMW. Don’t you know that your reasons can not be listened to because you are agents in your own oppression and need western feminists (but only the ones who think a certain way b/c as Feministing and to a lesser extent Feministe displayed, any “feminist” who supports a Muslim woman’s choice to wear whatever and speak for herself is not really looking out for the rights of women) to show you the light. How dare you suggest that you can speak for yourselves while adherring to such an oppressive religion,hmph! And it is never okay to hold women’s decisions or attire accountable, or punish women, for the actions of men. Accept where Muslims are concerned in which case women should be forced to change their habits, even if they are choices, b/c some men are coercive. And when abuse occurs in a Muslim household, it is not a symptom of systematic patiarchy and domestic violence, nope, it has every thing to do with Islam. And when Muslim women do show up to comment only pay attention to those who agree with the position (or better yet women who use to be Muslims but left the religion, or women who use to live in predominatly Muslim countries and found them oppressive) of saving Muslim women or banning certain clothes, completely ignore or call agents of their own oppression those who argue it is their choice.

  • Fatemeh

    @ Person: HA! Thanks for the sarcasm injection this morning. I think we can all use a good laugh.

  • http://wtf?.com Sadia

    Even tough I find Western feminists faux concern for the plight of Muslim women and girls, I do think we as Muslim women ourselves must make it OUR business to reclaim the reasons for wearing the hijab. I wear the hijab because I want to express a sense of modesty, because I want to be identified as a Muslim and to curtail my vanity. However, for those Muslims, typically male, who depict and promote the burqa as compulsory for women have confused invisibility for modesty. the ordinary hijab however is a symbol of Islamic modesty and that is why we wear it.

    [This comment has been edited to fit within comment moderation guidelines.]

  • KC

    Interesting post, and I am inclined to agree that we don’t have any business telling people what to wear. Clothes are an expression of identity, and free people should be left to their own devices.

    That said I wonder how many of the folks who have opined in favour of the right to wear head coverings (hijab, burqa, whatever) would support the repeal of public nudity laws? My guess would be very few.

    Thus it appears that the issue isn’t really about the right to make our own choices, but rather about whether we agree with the rationales provided for and against laws dictating clothing choice.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Thank you for all the comments, especially Person’s. I agree, we Muslimahs are an impertinent bunch :)

    To respond to KC, if the majority of people in the U.K (where I live) to repeal public nudity laws, I would accept that as the will of the majority to chose what they wear.

    The biggest problim with Sarkozy’s plan is that it seeks to govern what a minority group wear without consulting that minority.

    Beliving that you have a right to choose what you wear is at the heart of such rationales. I don’t believe the two can be separated.

  • KC

    Safiya – Surely nudists are a minority among us with their own values and beliefs with respect to clothing choices. Were they consulted when the ban was first instituted? What right do we (the majority who wear clothes, including you and I) have to tell nudists that they must wear clothes? Why are “minority rights” reserved for subgroups that fall within predefined constructs (i.e. religion, culture)? What makes religious values so special that they can claim minority rights status when other value systems do not?

  • Fatemeh

    @ KC: Surely, nudists’ rights are not the point here. Bans on nudity , though they are rooted in Judeo-Christian mores of modesty and public behavior, don’t have a structured religious reasoning, and could most likely be challenged. I don’t think that anyone is arguing that non-religious minority groups shouldn’t be able to claim minority right status.

    But that’s not what we’re discussing here. Please stick to the topic at hand.

  • Rochelle

    I think the nudist analogy can be relevent.

    It brings up issues of what we feel our government has a right to impose in terms of clothing, which is very much at stake.

    The point is that a lot of Western feminists even don’t like the ‘bikini culture’ or overly sexualized clothing or appearences, but they wouldn’t dream to legally enforce a ban on such clothing. Such a ban is outside the realm of a reasonable, rational basis of governmental authority.

    Whereas nudism and the enforcement of decency laws do have such basis: the basis being its extremely offensive the majority of the public if they see wang on their way to work.

    The burqa does not carry such reasonable offense. Thus it is outside the rational and reasonable realm of the government to impose a ban on it, at least with all the arguments they’re using now. It poses no risk to public safety and does not carry enough harm (or any harm) to the wearer in order to sanction legal recourse.

  • stumblingmystic

    While Islamophobia in Europe is certainly a very real problem — as the murder of Marwa el-Sherbini attests all too clearly — and I would strongly oppose any ban on the hijab or niqab (having been harassed by my Pakistani Muslim family and friends myself when I wore the hijab for about four years), I can’t help but note that it is obvious that at least the niqab (if not the hijab) is a form of clothing that erases a woman’s presence in the public sphere. The nudist analogy above holds to some degree but the simple fact is that there are many public places that REQUIRE, for security reasons, that one show their face. Banks, for instance, do have a right to ask someone to leave the premises if they are not going to reveal their faces. I’m against a ban on the niqab (in part because I can see such a law will fuel racism and hate crimes) but to me it just seems like the niqab is a dress that in practice is just going to make it very difficult for Muslim women to participate in the public sphere.

    I understand that imposing changes on more conservative Muslim women is not going to work (and is going to be perceived as Western imperialism even when it’s coming from a Pakistani woman who grew up Muslim), but isn’t it high time that they themselves realized that they’re making their own lives difficult by adhering to a dress from a primitive tribal society that is simply incompatible with the demands of modern and postmodern life in the 21st century?

    On a side note, what I personally found to be the worst thing about the hijab (which I think would also apply to the niqab, though I never wore the latter), is that it gave me a false sense of security. I thought that by wearing this piece of cloth I would be protected from male harassment. This was simply not true in practice. I would have been better off learning a martial art.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Here you go again with “primitive tribal society”. You are using this term as an insult, but let’s break it down.

    Primitive. There are many societies which have dressed in a similar manner for centuries. They have done so for many reasons, such as comfort, aesthetics, practicality and definitions of modesty. Do you hold all forms of traditional dress in such contempt?

    Tribal. Humans are naturally tribal creatures. Again I’m failing to see how this can be used as an insult.

    “A dress … that is simply incompatible with the demands of modern and postmodern life in the 21st century?”

    What demands do you mean? Will we be pole vaulting to work in the post modern future?

    It’s attitude like yours that make it difficult for women wearing niqab. Unwanted pity can be very wearing.

    Finally, you’re right that any form of clothing will not protect you from male harassment, but then neither will a martial art. The best protection from such harassment is for men to learn not to harass women in the first place.