Can I wear a niqab or similar?
April 23, 2020 3:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm not Muslim. I'm a white woman from the US living in the US who does not have ties to Muslim culture. Can I wear a niqab during this pandemic?

I need to wear a mask in public. I would strongly prefer to wear a niqab or similar for comfort and breathability. My question is about cultural appropriation. During this pandemic, do you believe that is it ok to wear a transformer niqab or similar? If so, is there anything I should know?

In case it is relevant, I have autism and have long longed to live in a vacuum where face coverings could be mainstream for all genders so I wouldn't have to worry about my facial expressions or the facial expressions of others so much. I also like face coverings being popular due to surveillance state/facial recognition/privacy concerns.

Note: Answers that compare and contrast niqab effectiveness vs various other types of cloth masks are welcome, but they are NOT the focus of this question.

Please only answer if you can answer from personal experience. Please be kind.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Before you even get to the question of cultural appropriation, I wonder if you have considered the implications for interactions outside the home. You may be very visibly making yourself a target for hate crimes in public spaces (I am not in any way suggesting that this is right or acceptable, just that this is something that hijab wearing friends and colleagues have experienced and seems to be even worse for niqabs).
On the flipside of that, you might be positively taken to be part of a community that you are not part of. For example, I could see some of the ladies from my local mosque seeing a woman they don't know on her own in a niqab, presuming that she's new to the country and going to say hi. Would you be ok dealing with that sort of interaction?
posted by Vortisaur at 3:21 PM on April 23, 2020 [10 favorites]

I wouldn't do this. It's a religious and cultural garment. There are many mask/face covering options that don't have religious significance which achieve the same level of face protection and I'd concentrate on those.

For reference, I'm a white-passing woman who was raised Muslim, but am not actively practicing. My family's tradition is to only wear a looser head covering (like a scarf, not a hijab) when in a mosque or during a religious gathering (like a funeral). I would not wear a niqab because it's not part of my family's tradition and I am not a member of a community where wearing one is the custom.
posted by quince at 3:47 PM on April 23, 2020 [27 favorites]

I apologize if the rest of this is a bit ELI5, but it's not totally clear how much lived experience with the Islamic diaspora you have or how much attention you generally pay to other peoples' dress:

Wearing a niqab may create a more obvious cultural appropriation issue than wearing a hijab because of how you're likely to be dressed otherwise. Thinking of the urban and suburban Muslim communities I'm familiar with*, it's far less likely to see niqabi wearing regular (yet) modest street clothes the way hijabi commonly do. Niqabi typically wear other forms of Islamic modest dress alongside the niqab, including khimar (that bib-like shawl you'll see women wearing under a niqab).

That you'll be dressed in a way that will signal incongruity to others will likely lead to some uncomfortable interactions. This isn't because anyone will be policing your sense of style, it's more to do with the fact that the differences in choices between different Islamic headcoverings is related to very different cultural, national, and religious interpretations of Islamic modesty and community affiliation. A white-presenting/passing woman wearing a hijab or scarf and regular Western clothes wouldn't be out of place in a lot of places, because, for example, quince is an example of that; this may be a very different situation if you were asking about wearing any other less conservative form of headscarf.

Some of this comes down to how comfortable you are with navigating what will likely be unpleasant and awkward interactions. You mentioned being on the spectrum, so I'm going to assume that that's the last thing you'd want to introduce into your life. I'd suggest that you consider another form of face covering, both for your own peace of mind as well as out of respect to a community you may not sufficiently understand.

*Disclaimer: I'm obviously not familiar with all of the Islamic diaspora, so YMMV. All I'm saying is that I can't remember the last time I saw that combination.
posted by blerghamot at 4:02 PM on April 23, 2020 [18 favorites]

I'm a practicing Muslim, but a guy. I have a couple of cousins who wear the Niqab but most of my relatives don't and quite frankly I'm not a fan of the concept of anyone wearing one. I wouldn't consider it appropriation*. I'd be a bit concerned about your safety thanks to bigots. I'd also be a bit concerned about you acting in ways that might confuse people because someone wearing a Niqab is supposed to act like an observant Muslim. Like Ramadan starts tomorrow so if tomorrow you went to Subway and ordered an assorted sub people might wonder what's going on. If you can act the part and stay safe I'd say go for it. Enough people are wearing all kinds of face and head coverings right now that you might not even register as wearing a Niqab depending on what else you're wearing.

* I kind of would consider it appropriation but outside of Halloween and costume parties I'm generally in favour of people trying on each other's clothes and customs.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:08 PM on April 23, 2020 [19 favorites]

If you want something that might feel similar in terms of comfort/breathability but will not look similar, I've had success attaching a bandana to a cotton baseball hat as a DIY mask. I just tied the ends of the bandana (folded to be a triangle) to/around the adjustable closure in the back, but you could probably attach it in other ways and/or use other kinds of fabric.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:31 PM on April 23, 2020

Beekeeper type hat with veil/mask is probably your better attempt. It would totally be appropriation and very confusing. I know non-Indian women for example who wear sari, but they have strong Indian cultural ties and it’s a non-religious outfit. The niqab is not.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:58 PM on April 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

Have you considered a balaclava? There are many styles that would offer as much coverage as a niqab without being automatically associated with a particular culture or religion.
posted by lovecrafty at 5:03 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

The loose fabric weave may not offer you much virus protection. Chill Pal 12 in 1 Multi Style Cooling Neck Gaiter Face Cover can be arranged to cover everything above the shoulders except the eyes; see also Air-Mask's Cooling Balaclava and the similarly balaclava-like "Condor Multi Wrap."
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:04 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Not exactly your situation, but similar: I am extremely fair skinned and wear full coverage burkini-style swimwear for sun protection when at beaches or water parks. I am frequently approached in a friendly way by Muslim women, and on two occasions have had Muslim fathers ask me to accompany their young daughters into public restrooms. I'm not sure whether they assume I am Muslim, or just a modest and nonthreatening person. But no matter what their reasoning, wearing that garment definitely causes me to have more contact with strangers than less.
posted by apparently at 5:36 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

You might like the Buff web site. They have a lot of outdoors wear for runners, hikers, etc, that would do what you want in terms of covering the face. This Buff hood has a face portion that you could pull up to cover the lower half of your face. As a bonus, you could wear it even after the pandemic is over and it would just look like you were sporty.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:42 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

A buff and a beanie or cap will achieve the same thing. Been wearing that combo all month.

Chillpaks and the like look like head condoms in real life, they are usually worn with a hat on top. I have two or three similar garments for snowboarding and I wouldn't wear them without a hat or helmet because I'd feel self-conscious.
posted by fshgrl at 6:06 PM on April 23, 2020

You could try wearing a dupatta wrapped around your head and face in a manner that suits you best, whether that's simply draped over your head or covering your hair with the rest wrapped around your face. Dupattas are far less culturally specific. It's a common head-and-face covering worn all over central-, western-, south-, and south-east- Asia by people of all genders from many different cultures and religions. If you don't call it a dupatta but instead call it just a 'veil', you will have "stolen" a garment common to basically the human race.

I can't opine specifically on cultural appropriation wrt hijabs and niqabs. But dupattas and veils are your get-out-of-appropriation-free cards, IMO.
posted by MiraK at 6:06 PM on April 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

If you feel it's inappropriate to wear other ethno-religious clothing such as native american head-dress, a yarmulke, monk's robes etc (and you should), then you should also feel uncomfortable wearing niqab.

Additionally, and forgive, me but I feel like this question exposes a deep ignorance of the lived experience of visibly Muslim women. Do you enjoy strangers on the street yelling at you, staring at you, assuming you're a terrorist? You are taking on a lot more than a facial covering when you put on a niqab. Indeed, as alluded to above, nobody wearing a niqab wears just a niqab.

It's really inappropriate.
posted by smoke at 6:19 PM on April 23, 2020 [24 favorites]

In addition to the considerations that others have posted, keep in mind that an ideal mask for virus protection needs to be tight against your face. You need to be breathing through the fabric, rather than having your breath go around the edges of the fabric. I don't have any personal knowledge of niqabs, but from looking at pictures online, it seems like most would not be tight against your face, and additionally, they may not be a heavy enough fabric to offer good protection.

Also, you would need to wash the niqab every time you wear it out of the house, so if you go out frequently for walks or whatever, you may need to own multiple, and I imagine that would be quite a bit more expensive than multiple masks.
posted by clarissajoy at 7:04 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

To other's points about the ignorant bigotry you might be setting yourself up for, I'd like to remind you of the time Rachael Ray wore a paisley scarf in a Dunkin Donuts commercial and shit was lost because it kind of looked like a keffiyeh.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:47 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have no experience with a niqab, but I will say that when wearing a balaclava, I believe I've been mistaken for wearing one. That was uncomfortable enough, to be honest. (I went to the post office to renew my passport, and the two women there stopped their conversation and stared when they saw me; when I mentioned my purpose to the clerk she said, warily, "For which country?") All this to say that, cultural appropriation issues aside, it might not provide quite the relief from social awkwardness that you're expecting.
posted by eirias at 5:06 AM on April 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

If you want a non-religious facial covering, I've been wearing a buff while I wait for my more official/medically appropriate mask kit to ship.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:14 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you do this, I think it would be important to make sure that your head and face covering didn't match the rest of your outfit, and you might wear regular clothes rather than flowing dresses or skirts. For example, I'd say avoid dressing in flowing clothes of matching colors (like this), which would read as Muslim. If you wore a shorter niqab (like this) with your regular clothes, you might, in these days of ubiquitous face masks, look simply like someone wearing a different kind of face mask. I'd also suggest avoiding black, and I'd not cover your eyes.

Here's an article that speaks to this question as well as the experiences Muslim women who wear niqab are having now that many of us are wearing face masks.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:10 PM on April 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

This might be a comfortable solution -
posted by mirileh at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2020

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