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The Guardian: How Not To Liberate Women


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Restrictions on women wearing the veil in public life are as much a violation of their rights as is forcing them to wear a veil.

Muslim veiling is once again at the top of the news in Europe. Bans on full-face veils being considered or already in place, whether nationwide, at the municipal level, or applied in public buildings and transportation, undermine Muslim women’s autonomy and religious freedom. Arguments put forward to support these bans fall into four categories, none of which stand up to serious scrutiny.

Banning the veil will liberate women. Generalisations about women’s oppression under the veil do a tremendous disservice to one of the basic tenets of gender equality: a woman’s right to self-determination and autonomy. Restrictions on women wearing the veil in public life are as much a violation of the rights of women as is forcing them to wear a veil. Muslim teachers in Germany we interviewed said they wore the headscarf out of choice. Bans on headscarves in some German states have led many teachers to abandon their chosen profession, leading to loss of independence, social standing and financial wellbeing. It is clear that many Muslim women in Europe who cover themselves do so out of choice. For those who are coerced, general bans would limit, if not eliminate, their ability to seek advice and support. It may leave them trapped at home, further isolated from society. European governments need to support these women, with better access to education, justice and employment, rather than put them under more pressure.

The veil should be banned for security reasons. A wholesale ban on the full Muslim veil is a disproportionate response to the legitimate need in a variety of situations to ascertain someone’s identity. Airport cheques, school pick-ups, administrative dealings with state officers, cashing a cheque – these are all obvious examples. Appropriate, sensitive measures can be adopted to satisfy both the individual’s right to manifest her religious beliefs and her duty to identify herself. In all the situations mentioned above, a woman wearing the full veil can be asked to take off her veil in private.

Bans on religious dress preserve secularism. The principle of state neutrality requires state institutions to refrain from imposing any particular set of religious views, while at the same time allowing for free expression of religious beliefs within society. Bans that deny people the right to wear in public places a style of clothing linked to a particular religious faith undermine, rather than protect, this principle, by defining the public space as a zone in which no-one is permitted to manifest his or her religion.

Banning the veil is necessary for integration. The fact that the children of immigrants and converts, as well as newer immigrants, wear the full-face veil in Europe undermines the argument that a ban is necessary for the purposes of integration. Integration policies that require newcomers to shed fundamental aspects of their identity are unlikely to succeed. Banning full-face veils is likely to restrict rather than enhance opportunities for these women to engage with society as a whole.

The divisive debate about full Muslim veiling reflects the complex issues – and passions – involved. International human rights law cannot answer all of the issues involved, but it can help frame a constructive conversation. It requires that any interference with rights must have a legitimate reason and be the least restrictive possible. It’s fundamentally about the role of the state in matters relating to personal autonomy and religion, thought and conscience. Victims of coercion and abuse deserve assistance – but a ban is more likely to harm than help them. And the convictions of those who choose to wear the veil deserve consideration.

Source: The Guardian

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Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Sadaf Farooqi is a postgraduate in Computer Science who has done the Taleem Al-Quran Course from Al-Huda International, Institute of Islamic Education for Women, in Karachi, Pakistan. 11 years on, she is now a homeschooling parent of three children, a blogger, published author and freelance writer. She has written articles regularly for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine and Saudi Gazette. Sadaf shares her life experiences and insights on her award-winning blog, Sadaf's Space, and intermittently teaches subjects such as Fiqh of Zakah, Aqeedah, Arabic Grammar, and Science of Hadith part-time at a local branch of Al-Huda. She has recently become a published author of a book titled 'Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage'. For most part, her Jihad bil Qalam involves juggling work around persistent power breakdowns and preventing six chubby little hands from her computer! Even though it may not seem so, most of her time is spent not in doing all this, but in what she loves most - reading.



  1. Omar

    April 25, 2010 at 11:22 PM

    Assalamo Alaykom,

    Granted these issues about Niqab nowadays are in secular countries that allow nudity and preach total freedom, so they should be consistent and give Muslim women their rights.

    But I have always wondered what the scholarly opinions have been on forcing someone to dress a certian way. For instance, in an Islamic state, does the state have the right to force women to wear a Hijab? Should it interfere that way with women’s dress? Is it part of commanding good and forbidding evil? What about nonMuslims?

    If any of the Sheikhs would like to comment, it would be much appreciated.

    Jazakom Allahu Khayr

  2. muslimah101

    April 25, 2010 at 11:58 PM

    i dont mean any disrespect, but that pic scared me. why do you need to dress that way in a non-muslim country? im not saying they shouldnt wear niqab but cant they tone it down a bit?

    • Sayf

      April 26, 2010 at 12:20 AM

      Mini-mini skirts and practically painted on clothing scares me senseless. Why does anyone need to dress like that in any country? It’s also a safety concern because it significantly reduces my field of vision.

      • Abdus-Sabur

        April 26, 2010 at 5:09 AM

        One fact of the fashion industry is that the majority of designers are gay men designing clothes with minimal fabric and straight lines to accommodate their fantasy of designing for boys. The designers hate women and are trying to transform them into looking like boys.

        It’s a subject worth looking into because of the magnitude of the effect it has on a vast majority of women, beginning with girls at an early age. The fashion industry, and misogynist gay designers in particular, have nurtured the idea that less clothing and skinny women are attractive. In essence they are responsible for all of the neurosis that a lot of women are afflicted with, such as body image issues, eating disorders, et al.

    • madam

      April 26, 2010 at 6:40 AM

      Actually I agree with you. But some women actually prefer to do that out of fulfilling their religious obligations and I respect that. I think everybody’s spiritual path is different. And there’s no one size fits all kind of practice, except for the 5 pillars of faith.

      I personally do not know if I would want to put on such an outfit, as such an outfit would gather lots of stares from the public who have never seen such a thing. But then again, I think familiarity helps people dispel their unfounded fears..

      The men who replied to you with sarcasm.. I pity them. I mean it’s a typical male response to anything female related that doesn’t fit their ideals, and yet this is a woman’s issue. I wish our Muslim brothers were a bit more mature and sensitive about others before they start commenting.

      • Sayf

        April 26, 2010 at 1:41 PM

        This is a response to both madam and muslimah below. I understand how you may feel with regards to uncompassionate males dictating personal ideals onto women, but it looks to me like you both are carrying personal baggage into my comment and reading what you want to read. It had absolutely nothing to do with that.

        My point was that since there really is no serious practical reason for attacking the niqab (as Sister Sadaf thoroughly showed in the article), it comes down to such personal and subjective feelings/prejudice i.e. fear. If the western world finds it appropriate to pass laws for some people’s fear/prejudice, why not mine?

        And hey I can bring pseudo-practical reasons too! I wasn’t even being sarcastic, going to YorkU lowering the gaze comes with the balancing act of not running into stuff.

        So you see, my comment has nothing to do with telling women what to do. It had to do with the article (which is usually the case of comments) and telling law-makers what to do. Apologies if it was over-ambiguous.

        On a side, one really needs to think about the sexism double-standard.

        “I mean it’s a typical male response to anything female related that doesn’t fit their ideals, and yet this is a woman’s issue”

        “first off, i dont care abt any guy comments on here. muslim ‘men’ will never understand what’s it like to be a muslimah in this world. they can write books on how muslim women should behave yet they themselves are nowhere near being real men. so i dont really care what br sayf or whoever has to say.”

        I said it before and I’ll say it again. If I switched all of the male words and female words I would be ingesting copious amounts of mace. Ouch?

    • Sister N.

      April 26, 2010 at 10:23 AM

      Sister Muslimah101, how can you call the particular way that some women dress in order to preserve their modesty to the highest degree “scary” and not expect to disrespect anybody? Insha’Allah you will be more sensitive with your wording in the future, if you truly did not mean to disrespect anybody you would have kept your thoughts to yourself. There is a difference of opinion on niqab, but regardless of what you follow, all scholarly opinions are valid to some degree and we must respect them. May Allah guide us all to do what is good and forbid what is evil. Ameen.

      • ummaasiyah

        April 26, 2010 at 2:07 PM

        I don’t think muslimah101 meant any disrespect, but I guess what she meant was perhaps the all-over black makes the women in niqab look a bit intimidating to non-Muslims. Some women wear a different coloured scarf against their niqab. Or some turn their scarf into a niqab.

        To be honest, a disrespectful comment would be something along the lines of the sisters in the pic above looking like Dementors from Harry Potter (something I’ve heard before).
        From what I can see, muslimah101 was only voicing something that the non-Muslims in the West feel.

        Having said that, I don’t condone people slighting the niqab. In fact, quite the contrary. Sisters who wear niqab are fulfilling and perfecting their emaan with respect to modesty. However, some sisters make the niqab look less intimidating and ‘scary’ by breaking down the black with a bit of a pattern on their scarf or wearing a different coloured scarf/jilbab. And perhaps that’s not such a bad way to practice covering the face whilst living in the West.

        • Westerngirl

          April 26, 2010 at 2:49 PM

          Just to chime in, as a voice of a non Muslim in the West- we don’t all think like that! And we don’t all find niqab or hijab frightening. Please don’t think that we are all intolorent. I have lived in Islamic countries and happily worn hijab. I believe women should be able to wear what they like and dress in a way that they feel comfortable with.

          • Ameera

            April 26, 2010 at 11:55 PM

            Kudos to you! :)

          • ummaasiyah

            April 27, 2010 at 4:57 PM

            Ah…apologies! I guess I meant to say ‘some non-Muslims feel intimidated’. I guess there are a few who aren’t too fussed or don’t feel scared/intimidated. In fact, I think that’s pretty good!

          • Westerngirl

            April 28, 2010 at 3:42 AM

            No worries…I just am always embarrassed for the way the West is percieved…and want to do every tiny thing to reassure others that we’re not all bigoted!

    • elham

      April 26, 2010 at 2:48 PM

      Muslimah101, well, they weren’t posing for the picture so they didnt mean to scare you, its those curious photographers who couldn’t help snapping away at the much-famed Burqa/Niqab. :)
      And what br.Sayf said is sadly true but funny.

      • elham

        April 26, 2010 at 2:52 PM

        * the thing about painted-on clothes

    • unlissted

      April 26, 2010 at 3:05 PM

      You dont mean disrespect??/ What do you mean??????…The prophet muhammad’s wives used to dress like that or similar Hadith – Bukhari 6:282

      ‘Aisha used to say: “When (surah ahzab:59): ‘They should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms,’ was revealed, (the ladies) cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces

    • Abd- Allah

      April 27, 2010 at 5:27 PM

      i dont mean any disrespect, but that pic scared me. why do you need to dress that way in a non-muslim country? im not saying they shouldnt wear niqab but cant they tone it down a bit?

      Regardless of where they live, why do they have to conform to wearing what makes YOU feel good?? Just like you are free to wear whatever you want, they are too! Ironic how we preach freedom, but only when people use it in a way that we agree with.

    • amad

      April 26, 2010 at 3:07 AM

      I’d consider this sort of “fashion shown” to be a mockery of what the hijab actually means. It is not just a piece of clothing thrown on the head…quite ridiculous imho

      • Abdus-Sabur

        April 26, 2010 at 5:01 AM

        Amad, did you actually watch the video? Hijab was not the theme. The theme was modest swimsuits and modest clothing for muslim women. One thing to keep in mind is that the fashion industry dictates what the majority of people wear and if Islamic fashion becomes popular then it will have an effect on how most people will dress. So, keeping this in mind, one could argue that it could influence women to dress in a more modest way, rather than the “fabric free” designs that have dominated popular culture and caused women to have poor self-images of themselves.

        As far as I know there is no hadith that states that a muslimah must wear a black burkah with full niqab. If I’m wrong please correct me. From what I understand, modesty is the key issue. That being said, this leads me to believe there is flexibility in clothing, not a standard “uniform.”

        It would be a coup if Islamic fashion changed the entire fashion industry and people begin to see the benefit of dressing appropriately. Possibly a shift from women being objectified to being Islamified.

        • Amad

          April 26, 2010 at 5:13 AM

          Abduls-Sabur, please see this:

          IT isn’t about black or niqab. IT is about not making the hijab an adornment in itself. I wouldn’t want my sister, wife or daughter on that cat-walk.

          • Sincerity

            April 26, 2010 at 2:25 PM

            Models were non-Muslims (was mentioned in the video) , but I am just thinking whats next?

  3. Umm Bilqis

    April 26, 2010 at 12:30 AM

    Sr. Muslimah the point of the article is to respect individual choices.
    lol, Bro Sayf,

  4. maryam

    April 26, 2010 at 2:43 AM

    SubhanAllah, i feel sick to the point of throwing up :X
    this is so unfair.

    i just read surah Nuh yesterday and subhanAllah, prophet Nuh asked Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to wipe out the wicked ones because they would create much distress for the pious, good ones. Im just thinking, that Book, the Quran, subhanAllah was written more then 1400 years ago and subhanallah its so real, as if its for our time and situation.

    InshaAllah all of this will make us stronger, perhaps unite us an Ummah inshaAllah.

    May Allah subahnahu wa ta’ala protect all of our Muslim sisters and brothers in need ameen.

    Jazakallah, sister Sadaf, i enjoy your pieces-subhanAllah-May Allah subahanhu wa ta’ala give you all good both in this world and the Hereafter ameen.

    • DawahIT

      April 26, 2010 at 11:43 PM

      Assalamu alaikum,

      “the Quran, subhanAllah was written more then 1400 years ago”

      Just wanted to correct this. It was sent down 1400 years ago. The Quran was in the Lauhil Mahfuth before that.

      I don’t know if the Quran would have been “written” when Allah, subhanahu wa ta alaa, told the pen to write.

      Wallahu alam.

      Wassalamu alaikum.

      • Maryam

        May 3, 2010 at 2:22 PM

        jazakAllah khayran for this :)

  5. Amatullah

    April 26, 2010 at 5:07 AM


    • Lnahrawi

      April 26, 2010 at 5:28 AM


  6. muslimah101

    April 26, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    first off, i dont care abt any guy comments on here. muslim ‘men’ will never understand what’s it like to be a muslimah in this world. they can write books on how muslim women should behave yet they themselves are nowhere near being real men. so i dont really care what br sayf or whoever has to say.

    second, i didnt say the picture was scary. i said it scared me.
    the Prophet’s (salAllahu’alaihee wasallam) wives covered themselves too BUT they didnt always wear black. some sisters think black is the Islamic color. im not against niqab at all. sisterN, you dont need to put words in my mouth.

    if anyone is interested read this article on islamtoday. a very well balanced article.


    • Sayf

      April 26, 2010 at 2:04 PM

      I find the first paragraph to be an unnecessary attempt at making my beard fall off. I apologize for ambiguity in my earlier comment sis, but you really have been reading in the context of your own baggage. Your response is above.

    • Death is upon us

      April 26, 2010 at 3:58 PM

      Well as a muslim woman myself I am happy to hear anything male or female has to say about Islam and even specifically about hijab so long as it’s authentic and good.

    • Amatullah

      April 27, 2010 at 2:28 AM

      I wear niqab, and I understand what you mean about the picture scaring you. I’m currently in Egypt, where I can wear head to toe black and not have any problems. But back in the US or Canada, I do my best to wear basic colors with my niqab like brown or grey or navy blue or wear the half face ones and not wear black all the time (as much as I love the color black) because I do understand how it can be scary to some people, and not scary in a bad way…I think they would be more scared seeing a man with tattoos on his face and 10 piercings than me.

      That picture is most likely from saudi or somewhere where the women cover every inch of themselves. I remember when I went for umrah about 4 yrs ago, before I started wearing niqab – actually I just started wearing abayas regularly at that time, and I was pretty terrified at seeing the head to toe black, with not one patch of skin showing. We were invited to a halaqah with a shaykh and the sisters who were serving us were dressed this way, and I remember being really scared lol because until that point, I’ve never seen anything like that. I think it’s because those of us who were raised in the West identify with a person’s face so much and that we’ve never seen someone completely covered except for halloween costumes. I’ve come to realize now that it’s a beautiful thing to be covered in such a way – and it would be awesome to cover yourself completely, however I don’t think the head to toe thing is appropriate for western countries. The kind of niqab most sisters wear these days shouldn’t cause security concerns in my opinion (all you do is just flip it up or pull it down!), but I feel that the one pictured would cause some major problems. I’ve seen niqabis rock colors and simple niqabs but still be covered and modest, it’s all about balance. Allah knows best….just my 2 cents.

      I also agree with Sayf about that article…I’m not saying this shaykh did this, but I have a big problem with du’aat these days who belittle sisters who wear niqab or imply with their wording that they are doing something unnecessary. It makes me feel like an outcast sometimes and that I’m doing something soo wrong and that I should stop embarrassing myself – honestly we get enough of it from people who write articles like the one above, can we at least have the support of our fellow Muslims? SubhanAllah. One sister said after a certain institute’s class that she felt the teacher “burned” the niqaabis. (i.e., insulted them)

  7. Advice!

    April 26, 2010 at 5:09 PM

    I wear a niqab and I’m finding it harder and harder everyday. It attracts an incredible amount of attention to the point that I feel embarrassed to walk down the street with it on. If it causes more attention and negative feelings then should I just take it off? I also can’t get a job with it on-I’ve tried everywhere-but these are just some of my problems.

    • Brother

      April 26, 2010 at 10:24 PM

      I have a big beard and I used to be sensitive about it. There are no shortage of people I know personally that have highly discouraged me from wearing it. But if that is what the Prophet commands, I can throw my personal feelings out the window and feel good about it.

      Regarding the job situation, realistically, it is probably very difficult even compared to men having a big beard. Perhaps choose different color niqab, or designs??? Not sure on this one.

      • sincerity

        April 27, 2010 at 8:41 AM

        Most Niqabis who work do so in Muslim businesses (Islamic schools, small business firms, etc).

    • niqabi

      April 29, 2010 at 11:36 AM

      Sister who needs advice, check out and feel free to comment and ask questions!

  8. Slave of the Most Loving

    April 26, 2010 at 9:47 PM

    In the Name of Allah the Most Gracious the Most Merciful

    Peace and blessings be on Prophet, his family, his companions and all the righteous believers.

    Salamalaikum wraht wbart

    Dear sister Advice!

    I know it is hard but just reflect on the type of tortures and hardships our Prophet (saw) and his companions went thru and with Allah’s help they were able to patiently pass those severe tests and gain His Mercy and Love…
    Alhamdulillah itz 2 years now since i started wearing niqab.. initially i had no support from my parents, relatives and friends and it was really difficult but now alhamdulillah things are much better even though at times people do give me hard time bcz of this….

    but u knw wht it makes me feel that inshAllah if ill truly do it for His Sake then it’ll be a reason to get closer to Him and inshAllah by being nice and being well mannered to people around us we can dispel the fear in people’s hearts about the niqaabi muslim women..

    and we have to remind ourselves that whatever gud we want to do the soldiers of shaytan will try to fight us…so let us keep our hope and trust in Our Creator and He is the Best of Helpers…

  9. DawahIT

    April 27, 2010 at 12:09 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Ustadth Nouman Ali Khan mentioned in one of his tafsir podcasts that the Quraish would never think of killing the Prophet Muhammad, salalahu alaihi wa salaam, because he had tribal protection. It was a part of their code to not kill any of their own. But as they saw they could not turn people away form him and he kept spreading the deen, then they threw out their own rule book and tried to kill him. They devised a plot where all the tribes would take part in it.

    Just as the Quraish were willing to go against their own laws and customs when everything else had failed, Western nations seem to be going against their own notions of law and justice. They have to resort to attacks like these when other things fail.

    Wassalamu alaikum.

  10. Abd- Allah

    April 27, 2010 at 5:07 PM

    Banning the veil is necessary for integration.

    Who said people want to integrate? Or is it forceful integration where if you don’t willing-fully melt in the damn pot, then they will burn you? Who said people can’t live and be a part of society without also keeping their own identity? Do people have to conform to the norms so that the fit in and are integrated into society?

  11. jenan

    April 28, 2010 at 7:48 PM

    Defining modesty….
    It sounds easy but its not. The fact is it differs not only in different countries but different cities, nations, lands, and cultures. Allah himself, tells women to cover their bodies and dress modesty so that they won’t be annoyed by men, especially the ignorant ones and even the dangerous ones. Allah doesn’t go into detail of how to do it, but the point is clear. In hadith, we are told that only the hands and the face can be shown. It doesnt discuss color or style etc. I have always asked myself why wouldn’t Allah go into explicit detail. That way there wouldn’t be any room for ambiguity. Then, I realized that is the beauty of Islam. It is a balanced religion. No wonder why so many people are attracted to it. Personally, I don’t wear niqab. I don’t know if I ever will. But, I won’t go against the women who do, because that is the their choice. It has become a symbol not of islam but of ISLAMIC culture as women in the islamic empire in Persia as well the Arab Middle Eastern culture have adopted it. I do agree that limiting women to wear only black as in Saudi Arabia is uncalled for. There is no compulsion in religion. The problem with both western and Middle Eastern countries, they; the men in particular have chosen to make this choice for the women. Western countries ban it, Some Islamic countries impose it. The women are left out in the wash. Dont get me wrong. I whole heartedly believe in the islamic rules of modesty. Especially in muslim countries. But, in the end whether a women decides to wear it or not or what color she wears is her business. The men should focus on other things and stop obsessing over their women. Yes, I am talking about both ends of the hemisphere. Western countries exploit women, some muslim countries impose laws that are oppressive to women. There has to be a balance. That balance is for the women to choose and decide. There are muslims all over the world dying due to war, poverty, lack of services, ethnic cleansing, leave THE HIJAB AND THE NIQAB TO THE WOMEN. We are a community and a nation that have bigger problems to fry.

    • Westerngirl

      April 30, 2010 at 4:46 AM

      Hear hear! Couldn’t have said it better myself. There are too many people who believe that as soon as we rip the hijab off women they will be magically liberated according to Western standards. The world doesn’t work like that.

  12. Reader

    April 29, 2010 at 9:26 PM

    Priests are going around molesting kids and the pope is complicit. Why is there no outcry that celibacy is wrong?
    It’s no one’s fault but Muslims that people raise their fingers at us. We are the ones with governments that are quiet and other governments make noise and allow attacks on Islam/Muslims.
    Non Muslims boycott things left right and center and when it comes to us, even some of the writers here ridicule people about how silly it is… this is the life we are choosing to live. Don’t cry when someone reciprocates our weakness with oppression. Fix our weakness…myself first! We need prevention and not medicine.

    May Allah SWT have mercy on us..especially our valiant sisters that endure hardships to adhere to the command of Allah SWT. May we all be courageous like them..Ameen!


  13. Laila

    April 29, 2010 at 10:47 PM

    I hope the niqab is banned one day in Europe, no woman has to walk around with a mask around her face as a sign of her piety. Cannot work out from the picture whether they are facing forward or backward.

    • Sayf

      April 29, 2010 at 10:57 PM

      I predict massive comment flaming, get ready Amad!

      P.S. They are totally facing forward, the hands are right there, unless of course the sight is blocked by bigotry.

    • Westerngirl

      April 30, 2010 at 4:47 AM

      I hope the niqab is NEVER banned in Europe. Why can’t we let women dress how they wish to? What are we so afraid of?

    • elham

      April 30, 2010 at 2:46 PM

      lol is that for real? then how about you suggest banning people who can’t see well too, its only fair since they can’t tell the obvious and would be a nuisance to society. I, for one, cannot tell whether they being are serious or not.

    • Amad

      April 30, 2010 at 2:57 PM

      Probably a troll.

      If real, it highlights the irony of some feminists who only want the freedom for women that matches their viewpoint. Hypocrisy highlighted.

  14. Umm Bilqis

    April 29, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    The burkha represents values of ladies dedicating themselves to their Creator primarily and then to their families, or future families.
    Furthermore, the values of modesty and dignity are also apparent.
    The bikini on the otherhand, has women walking around virtually naked, their bodies have become public property belonging in essence to everyone.
    Dignity is in modesty which is a branch of faith and an essential ingredient of pious men and women.
    Honour and respect of self and others are crucial ingredients for acquiring a character that pleases Allah, taala. Insha’Allah.

  15. Pingback: Good article on niqab and anti-niqab legislation

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