Thank you for printing the well written and informative letter from Umm A’tika on the wearing of the niqaab. However, there are cultural matters which this raises for me. As ever, it is difficult to separate some of these.
I would ask my Muslim sisters to consider that in western European culture, the main reason for anyone to cover their faces is to allow them to engage in criminal activity. I am a shopkeeper and if anybody enters my premises with their face covered it makes me feel extremely uneasy or even threatened.
While your writer dismisses the matter of communication, it is a fact that much information is communicated by facial expression. It is almost impossible to tell over the telephone whether someone is being sarcastic or facetious and many people depend on seeing a person’s lips in order to fully understand what is being said.
Christianity teaches that whilst something may be permitted, it is not necessarily helpful and that even if we are entirely happy with something, if it causes a problem for someone else, then we should not do it in their presence. I would not eat in the presence of fasting Muslims, nor would I eat pork, if I knew that Muslims were going to be present.
The issue of wanting to express their relationship with God is an important one. Nuns wear habits; Salvation Army members uniforms and clergy ‘dog collars’. For some years I have worn a wristband with the initials ‘WWJD’ (What Would Jesus Do?) on it. However, many recognise that there are circumstances where it is inappropriate, and wear alternatives at different times.
Jesus taught us that the relationship with God is more important than what we look like, that the body is more important than clothes. Deeds are more important than our expressions of piety, and the apostle Paul several times reminds us that what happens in our hearts is more important than what is seen on the outside.
The amount of light we get does not depend upon the quality of the lantern on the outside, but on the quality of the candle on the inside.
Yours sincerely Jonathan Youdan.