Words Arwa P.
Illustration Fatema A. (cosmicweavers)
Foreword Zahabiya H.
We’ve all heard the rhetoric. A veil, a headscarf, it’s all a form of keeping us bowed. Bound. But what needs to be revealed is not our heads or our limbs but our minds and our hearts. Keeping us rooted, our libaas means we are wearing our past and our futures, our values and our dignity, we are wearing our identity. The piece below explores this journey and the constant reminder we have in our libaas of how limitless we now are.
The first time I got a negative comment for wearing a rida, I was 13 years old. I was in a public restroom and a ‘white’ lady in her mid-30s looked at me and said “Look at you- young and beautiful. The men in your life should not be allowed to oppress you that way.” – I was young, probably didn’t know what oppressed meant, and had never imagined a response. I probably just gave her a quizzical look, smiled, and headed out. It didn’t end there though. Her comments nestled uncomfortably in my subconscious- they would come out and wave when I least wanted them too. I craved and needed a response. It would be a few years before I got any kind of an answer, but I eventually realised that the rida was not in any form oppression, it was a freedom that I got because at one point in history- it was given up.
Every depiction of Mary is of her veiled. It’s the subtle reminder of her chastity, her honour and her feminism when the disbelieving men in her era questioned those values.
Maulatena Fatema AS hid behind a door when she realised that the man at the door would not give her time to veil her beauty. She chose to, instead, endure the trampling between a door and the wall. Yet, the disbelievers did not understand. When she followed her husband outside of the door, they deliberately slapped and whipped her- trying to ‘oppress’ her veil. Still, covered not bound, she laid out an argument in the chambers of the enemy- words that left each man there unconfused about who was haqq and who was not.
And, in Karbala, one of the last instructions of Imam Husain AS to the women of his family was to cover themselves- twice. He knew that they would be ‘oppressed’ into taking off both layers, chased far into the jungle to be snatched of their veils- they would be slapped, whipped, bruised, and the disbelievers would come near enough to snatch them of their earrings. Still, Zainab AS stood her ground in the courts of Yazid, shaking each man there with her eloquent speech, once again clearing the confusion about who was haqq and who was not.
On the way to those chambers, when Imam Husain’s AS raas mubarak visited Shireen’s house, and she wept as she asked him how she should get the honour of his ziyafat, he responded that one way would be to give the women and children of his household relief by giving them chaddars, veils.
After the restoration of al-Jame al-Anwar, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA decided that his mumenaat- the women coming to the Fatimid Misr to remember the tragedy of Karbala of Imam Husain AS and his family, should come wearing the rida. When asked what difference between his royal family and the common women would then remain, his response was that his goal was to make us his family. If we loved him and would shed tears in the remembrance of Imam Husain- Fatema’s AS son, Zainab AS and Umme Kulsoom’s AS brother, Sakina AS and Ruqaiyah’s AS father, each of the Fatimid Imams’ father, our Maula- we were counted in his family and that we deserved the honour to wear the rida. We entered Misr the same way we left. Covered, not bound.
So no, I don’t wear rida because I am ‘oppressed’ and I definitely do not wear it because ‘the men in my life’ have told me to.
I wear it because these clothes do not only define me and give me my identity- they are a constant reminder of my history- of my past, of my present, of my future.
I wear it because those women took it off that day so that a day would never come when I would need to.
They wore it to show me that I don’t need to be ‘young and beautiful’ to get anywhere or be anything- my assets were my knowledge, my values and my beliefs.
It reminds me that my aspirations are far beyond this world, my goals are eternal, and the foundation is so deep in the ground that no amount of technological advancement, science or educational leaps will be able to uproot it.
I can do anything I want because I am covered, not bound.