Home / Analysis / The Niqab: A Barrier to Integration?

The Niqab: A Barrier to Integration?

One of the multitudinous quasi-reasons given by a certain Conservative MP in the UK and many others for why Muslim women shouldn’t wear the niqab is that it is, in the words of one observer, ‘a blatant obstacle to integration’. This seemingly unequivocal (and ‘factual’) statement is trotted out not only by right-wing MPs, but many a Muslim called upon by the media to offer their two pence worth in the debate. The argument may hold some water if only someone were able to define quite what integration is. Of course there is a lexical meaning which defines integration as “the bringing of people of different racial or ethnic groups into unrestricted and equal association, as in society or an organization…”[1] Or, indeed, as in Tito’s communist Yugoslavia or Zhivkov’s Bulgaria, which of course Britain isn’t, or isn’t supposed to be. To start to address this argument one would start by having to define integration in our context, only to stumble across the first hurdle – there isn’t a consensus definition for integration in the sense that it is being used.

The authors of a report on integration commissioned by the Home office and carried out by a team at the University of Oxford, are a bit more honest about how unambiguously the term can be used as it is:

…it must be emphasised that there is no single agreed understanding of the term ‘integration’’[2]

Castles et al are also helpful in dispelling the ‘when in Rome’ notion of integration:

“Integration is a two-way process: it requires adaptation on the part of the newcomer but also by the host society. Successful integration can only take place if the host society provides access to jobs and services, and acceptance of the immigrants in social interaction. Above all, integration in a democracy presupposes acquisition of legal and political rights by the new members of society, so that they can become equal partners. Indeed, it is possible to argue that, in a multicultural society, integration may be understood as a process through which the whole population acquires civil, social, political, human and cultural rights, which creates the conditions for greater equality. In this approach, integration can also mean that minority groups should be supported in maintaining their cultural and social identities, since the right to cultural choices is intrinsic to democracy.”

With this elucidation, the onus of integration, at least in part, is placed not upon those being integrated as much as it is upon the host society. However, herein lays another dilemma. Much of the discourse regarding integration deals with the issue of migrants, refugees and ethnic minorities integrating into society. What then of third generation “immigrants” who are British and may already have been ‘integrated’ and then decide to wear the veil? Or of white British Muslims upon whom many of the parameters of ‘integration’ do not apply? One politician on a radio interview cited the veil as being discourteous to the ‘host society’. What then if the lady behind the veil is an Emma with a double-barrelled surname who is very much part of the ‘host society’? Many cannot accept the notion that the women wearing the veil are in the main not refugees who have been forced to wear it under duress, but British women who have chosen to wear it out of religious conviction.

Castles et al helpfully contribute to the discourse by setting out a list of criteria against which the degree of integration can be measured – a sort of checklist of indicators that determine the extent of integration with indicators of education, training and employment; social integration; health, legal , political and overall integration. The irony is that there may be women wearing the veil who may tick all the boxes by being educated, working in the public and services sector, voting and being good neighbours, yet be considered not to have integrated because of the niqab. Furthermore, if the veil is an obstacle to integration, the implied meaning by those who use this word loosely is that they will not be able to integrate at all, whilst in the academic sense of the word they may be more integrated into the workings of British society than many thousands of young white working class English (the so-called ‘Chavs’) whose integration may never been questioned on the basis of their appearance. For a politician to assert that Muslim women are not integrated because they wear the niqab and do not converse with male strangers on a street is somewhat of an over-simplification to say the least.

One of the problems in the discourse is that whilst often referring to integration, many of its proponents actually mean assimilation, a totally different concept and certainly not one to be expected in what is supposed to be a democratic country in a post-colonial era that has described itself as being multicultural[3] As expounded on by Professor Modood (University of Bristol), assimilation involves the ‘newcomers’ becoming as much like their hosts as possible while not disturbing the host society, with the least change in the attitudes of the latter. Integration is a two-way process, while assimilation is a one-way process. What is regrettable is that it is the voices within the Muslim community that are the most vocal advocates of assimilation (whilst still talking of ‘integration’) to an extent that even the generality of British society does not demand of Muslims in 21st century Britain.

There are many reasons for this, and certainly one of them is a pathological sense of inferiority that has persisted, albeit in subtle form and especially amongst South East Asian communities, despite decades having elapsed from the end of colonial rule where the subjugated Asian held the white Sahib in awe. There is a subliminal message that in their difference, there is somehow something superior about British society and Muslims are to integrate upward in to it – in contrast to a lateralised mutual accommodation – and adopt its ways, and aspects of Muslim culture are looked down on and denigrated as being inferior. The niqab and the Muslim women’s dress is certainly a case that illustrates this conflict, what with it being described as medieval and backward. A certain lack of confidence in their own heritage makes many Muslims echo these same sentiments.

The glaringly obvious reality of the Hollobone bill and the brouhaha surrounding the niqab across Europe is that it is not motivated by altruistic concerns about social cohesion or courtesy or women’s rights. If so, then banning the English Defence League, countering racism, promoting respect and allowing people to practice their religion in peace are more worthy causes to promote. This is no more than a further symptom of the swelling problem of anti-Islamic xenophobia that is spreading across Europe, with a growing far-right and a dangerous rise in anti-Muslim sentiment that is catalysed by a biased media and closet racists in mainstream parties. It may be argued that with so much Islamophobia around, Muslims should not fan the flames by wearing attire that is seen as divisive. But that is a flawed argument, as it is precisely this argument that gives in to the racist far-right and emboldens them further. It is for this very reason – this dangerous Islamophobia in Europe – that Muslim women should not be allowed to be bullied into taking off the veil, and that Muslims, whatever their views, should support them. It is tremendous naiveté if Muslims think that by a handful of women taking off the veil the racists and Islamophobes will back off or that the growing xenophobia that Muslims are being subjected to will somehow abate.

These law-abiding women have been forced to the cold front, and are taking the bullet for the rest of the Muslim community simply for adopting attire they believe is recommended by Islam and a tradition of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The honourable thing to do for anyone with any sense of justice and concern for both the Muslim community and social cohesion overall is to support them and not let the racists and xenophobes claim a pathetic victory.




2. Castles S, Korac M, Vasta E, Vertovec S. Integration: Mapping the field. Report of a Project carried out by the University of Oxford. 2002. Home Office online report 28/03. http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/onlinepubs1.html. Accessed 10 Sep. 10
3. Modood T. Remaking Multiculturalism after 7/7. 2005. http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-terrorism/multiculturalism_2879.jsp. Accessed 10 Sep. 10



About Dr Osman Ahmed


  1. EXTRA…EXTRA…Read all about it…Just out from Saudi Arabia: The niqab is a cultural, bedouin tradition and NOT a religious commandment. The British Salafis are now in a state of panic. For all these years they were decieving the Muslim public. Their harams and bidaas are being disproven-one by one.

    REJOICE PEOPLE. The Salafi nightmare is coming to an end and Islam will once again RULE THE WORLD…Yeahhhh, I mean Alhamdo-lillah

  2. Samy Merchant

    If a human being can’t see something wrong with a woman wearing a black dress, covering her entire body and face, IN 21ST CENTURY BRITAIN OR THE WEST, then this person needs psychiatric counseling. Seriously. And sisters who choose to wear a niqaab and think they are pleasing Allah are, in fact, sinning and going against the sunnah. In addition, a sister who choses to wear a niqab in the West today cannot be a mentally stable person. Something must have happened in the past that made her react as such. Perhaps someone abused her or did somthing bad to her that has made her react like this and dress in such a depressing sight! The covering of the entire body, with a black garment, IN 21ST CENTURY WEST is a pathological condition, and any sister who does so needs to see a psychiatrist. And I am probably correct in saying that EVERY single British Muslim sister who joined ISIS was a niqabi! Prove me wrong!

    And British Salafi Muslims must stop being so fanatical. In fact, you must advise the BSMs, as they are the ones making the hole in your boat! They are going to lead all of you into the gas chambers. And the sad thing is the British Muslims won’t be exterminated because they said the Kalima, like the people of the Ditch. They will be exterminated for their ignorance, arrogance and stupidity (wearing the black niqaab, thowb, shalwar qamis, topy, funky perfumes, spicy smells, wierd looking toilets, speaking in foreign tongues, speaking English with a horrible accent… What a shame!

    • Forgive me if this may sound harsh but you are coming across as spectacularly ignorant… You remind me of a caricature sh Yasir Qadhi paints in this talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytyMWNdZAw4 where someone would criticise Muslims for eating meat, just because his culture sees this as something abhorrent.

      Do not be a sheep who unquestioningly takes the dominant narratives of the culture around him or her to be gospel and then proceed to criticise Muslims based on that arbitrary standpoint. Consider this:
      – Samy Merchant in 1920s Germany would criticise Muslims for opposing the extermination of Jews, Gypsies and disabled people
      – Samy Merchant in the pre-magna carter “West” would criticise Muslims for telling people to stop drowning or setting fire to those accused of crimes in lieu of an evidence based trial
      – Samy Merchant in 1950s USA would criticise Muslims for opposing the treatment of black people
      – Samy Merchant in the pre-1840 “West” would criticise Muslims for wasting water on silly things like washing their hands
      – 2014 Samy Merchant probably doesn’t have a problem with all of the above, however is it because the culture around him/her happens to share the Muslims’ values on the above now?

      If Samy Merchant of 2014 disliked the niqab then maybe we should just wait a few years and perhaps tomorrow he or she will change his or her views when the popular opinion of society around him/her grows wiser and changes to accept the brilliance of this and other Islamic values. In all of the above examples it would be the Muslims who held firm to their principles that would be seen as ‘backward’, ‘strange’, ‘extreme’, and so forth; it is the Samy Merchants of those eras who have now been shown to be on the wrong side of history, so it follows that Muslims should just hold fast to their values instead of letting their values change according to whichever way the wind of popular culture blows them.

      You might feel the urge to write a knee-jerk response saying those things you dislike about Muslims are not from their religion but culture, and so on and so forth. But before you do that, PLEASE just read an article about the Niqab (for example) if not a book of fiqh, just so you are aware of what you’re actually arguing about.

  3. Mr.
    excellent article by the sister on niqaab-infact one is discouraged to wear in the holy mosque in Mecca/Medina.Niqaab is a culutral practice

  4. Excellent article by the sister on niqaab.Frankly its only cultural,infact one is discouraged to wear in the holy mosque in Mecca and Medina.

  5. Project Niqaab

    Asalamu alaikum,

    I am currently undertaking a project to try and change the image of Niqaabis in the West – the aim is to provide society with a more accurate image of the woman behind the veil, to show that she is educated, active in her community and certainly not invisable. It is hoped that we can show that Muslim Women in the west are not being forced to veil, rather its a free valid choice made by thinking sane women who have a lot to contribute to society.

    I ask all Niqaabi Sisters to Contribite – Please send a blank email to [email protected] to find out how. Brothers please get your wives involved by passing on the link – and non niqaabis you can still help by fowarding the link to others.

    Jazakumullahu Khairan

  6. Project Niqaab

    A Chance to Change the Image of Niqaabis in the West.
    Asalamu alaikum,

    I am currently undertaking a project to try and change the image of Niqaabis in the West – the aim is to provide society with a more accurate image of the woman behind the veil, to show that she is educated, active in her community and certainly not invisable. It is hoped that we can show that Muslim Women in the west are not being forced to veil, rather its a free valid choice made by thinking sane women who have a lot to contribute to society.

    I ask all Niqaabi Sisters to Contribite – Please send a blank email to [email protected] to find out how. Brothers please get your wives involved by passing on the link – and non niqaabis you can still help by fowarding the link to others.

    Jazakumullahu Khairan

  7. Great article! May Allah preserve you!

  8. Great Article
    Jazakallahu khairan for this great article. May Allah preserve you!

  9. niqaab
    a beautifully written piece, well done:)

  10. Wests double standards
    The West will export their version of women’s lib to Afghanistan and Pakistan even if they have to bomb them into liberation, yet they can’t stand the Muslim women in the West being liberated from being a slave to the norms of Western society…

    It frustrates them that a Muslim women can be so confident in her hijab and niqab because it proves them wrong…

    They keep telling us that women are forced into wearing hijab, they do it against their will – but then they have these young British Muslim women educated in British unoversities donning the niqab – they say ,’wait a minute, this can’t be right – you’re supposed to be oppressed, and forced into this – you can’t possibly CHOOSE to do it can you? WE can’t possibly be WRONG can we?

    They have this false belief that given the choice, all veiled women will throw off the veil ! they’re in for a surprise as they wil now see all these Tunisian women who were stopped prohibited from wearing the veil will now start wearing it, and they will see Egyptian newsreaders on TV wearing the hijab (it was banned under their mate Mubarak!)

    They forget, that the world had thrown the yoke of British and European imperialism from their necks, but they always held Islam tightly to their breasts ! They liberated themselves from the Britsh Empire, but they will never abandon their Islam. It was British and European imperialism that was forced on them, not Islam

  11. every right
    asalam alaikum, i believe that if a woman decided to wear the niqab in line with believing that it is fard, it does not concern any body. this is her right as woman and human being. i wear the hijab and feel the west is not fair on equal right. it gives right to nude clubs, drug dealers, harlost and allow intermarriage between gays. so it is fair only if they allow muslim women to wear what ever they like. my hijab or niqab is on my body and face, not your face, their face but my faceeeeeeee

  12. Niqab or Hijab
    Why do the icon/pictures of hijab are used for this article? Are the authors themselves confused of the disctinction?

  13. niqab
    there are differences of opinions of niqab
    obliagatory or voluntary?
    sisters can choose which one according to their madhab
    i chose obligatory


  14. niqab
    there are many differences of opinions whether the niqab is fard (obligatory) or mustaab(voluntary)especially in different madhabs
    so it’s really up to us women what we think whether it is fard or mustabh, i wear the niqab because i feel it is obligatory because islam teaches women we should cover ourselves
    but really sisters it is up to you to what madhab u feel is right to apply

  15. Niqab
    Integration is something a person does volutarily, it is rediculous to suggest that laws can be enacted which would make anyone integrate if they did’nt wish to. As far as the niqab is concerned I don’t see that its a barrier to intregration if the wearer wants to integrate. Its matter of personal choice, wearers along with non niqab wearers have the option to become part of the society they live in or to opt out of it. Forcing women by law to remove the niqab will not compel them to be more involved in society rather they will forced withdraw from it and become isolated.

    That argument is redundant.

    I do think it takes more effort for a niqabi to reach out to non muslims that perhaps one who just wears the head cover. But this is no fault of her own, it is because of the perception that has been created. There are comments above that clearly show a niqabi can deal with western life and its cultural environment successfully. Clearly its simply a matter of how one choses to deal the social environment.

    The entire argument being waged in the media and official circles is based on islamaophobia not integration. The issue of niqab is a convenient red herring to further the political cause of the islamaphobics.

    Let’s not get distratced by arguing between ourselves on whether or not its fard, better argue for the right to follow our convictions before they are dissolved and little by little we lose more and more personal and religious freedoms.

  16. The Niqab

    Jazak Allah Khair for this thoughtful article.

    I think it is time for the muslim community to react and support our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

    I believed that if that barbarious law about banning the Niqab is applied then we muslim women must stand side by side with those who are victimised by our greatest weapon: Duah. We all must remember them in our duah and pray for them because today its in Europe tomorrow it can be in any other countries also. No one is spared.


  17. About nikarb
    I don’t understand why Muslim woman who don’ wear nikarb are so against one who prefers to wear it.It’ incredible you muslim a criticize nikarb but the rest of the female race can drive around in bikini run into a shop also in a bikini,lye topless on the beaches around the world,also most of our Muslim sisters who wear Hijab,pray ,read quran,do zhiker & your daughters are running around the streets of England & Australia & other countries in tight jeans & revieling tops showing off their parts so they can get any boy to look at them & all you’ve got to complain about is woman who for their own reasons prefer to wear nikarb.Shame on you.Are your kids praying?Are they going to the mosque to pray their Fajr?Are they waking up for their Fajr?Sisters worry about these things as they are much more important.I’m an Australian married to a Tunisian & I wear nikarb & Alhamdulilaah I have men walk past me in the street here & say,good on you,how nice,as many men like the woman in nikarb.So please focus on the more important things in your dinne & make sure your children know & understand Islam,as if we have’t inforced the teachings if Islam on our children,we parents will be punished big time on qiamah.You know,some Muslims I’m sorry to say are really sometimes worse than the kaafir,you’ve got caught up so much in western society & that’s coming from me an ex kaafir Alhamdulilaah,Allah Suparnah T’Allah brought me to Islam.

  18. First of all othman0987 and 3thm4n well said!

    Now that these two brothers have corrected all the facts, I can just add what a muslim women who wants to wear the niqab might feel…There are a lot of us…and there would be even more niqabis out there if only some werent scared of racists shouting at them, becoming aggressive towards them, perhaps even pulling their niqab of….all of these I have experienced….subhanallah.

    A non muslim shouldnt even worry if its fardh, sunnah or plain cultural, because in a multicultural country they are supposed to accept other peoples culture…. its nor harming any one, and about the communication, our muslim sisters or even kufaar women can see our faces when not in public, and the men? Well, lets just say there is no reason to communicate with them too much… and any niqabi wouldnt go around chatting to strange men either!

    Not only is it anti democratic, but also very humiliating! Telling a muslim women to show her face is like telling a non muslim women to show her breasts!

    So other people should show consideration or at least take their noses out off other peoples business!

  19. Something about the niqab
    Assalamu alaykum,
    Let’s just make it clear that saying the niqab is a barrier to communication is actually an insult to Nabi (SAW), the companions, the tabi`een, and the tabi tabieen. Even Nabi (SAW) drew a veil between himself and the women. This is how the male companions sought knowledge from female companions like Aisha (RA). It’s an incontrovertible historical fact that the tabi’een sought knowledge from women – behind a purdah (curtain).
    Also, concerning the verse in the Qur’an about the niqab: We shouldn’t try to interpret this verse according to our own opinion, as this is very dangerous. Nabi (SAW) said that whoever interprets the Qur’an according to his own opinion should take his seat in the fire. As laymen (i.e. non-scholars), it’s our job to ask the righteous practicing `ulemaa about this issue.
    All three maddhabs except the Hanafi maddhab say that the niqab is wajib. The hanafi maddhab says that it’s wajib if there’s fear of fitna. Since there is much fitna in today’s age, the hanafi scholars have agreed that the niqab is wajib.

  20. Jamal Al-Khalifa

    The Niqab: A Barrier to Integration?
    Allah (SWT) knows best and he tells the believeing women to cover up unless what ordinarily appears of which we know means cover everything except the face and hands. Allah (SWT)in his infinite wisdon knows why he asked women to show their faces. What is the rewards mentioned anywhere for covering your face and wearing gloves to cover hands? The prophet (SAW)’s wives were behind a veil as they were ordered to do so. That command was for them and them alone. No woman alive can now claim to be the prophet (SAW)’s wife so they are not to go against what Allah (SWT) has asked of the woman. Yes I find it segregating only because it is not Fard or Sunnah. No one can say they feel trust or acceptance for someone who they cannot recognize, identify or relate with as all their face is covered masking their expressions. May Allah (SWT) guide us and keep amongst those of whom he is pleased with. Ameen.

    • Well said.

      Its like the barrier between men and women in the masjid. It was not introduced by prophet Mohamed and not even in place for the next 600 years. The Turks who conquered the Muslims and eventually became Muslims themselves introduced this rule. So who is right Prophet Mohamed or the Turks? When you pray in Mecca today, there are no dividers, women pray behind and men at the front.

      In a similar manner as the Turks, Muslims today forget the middle ground prescribed for Muslims and go towards extremes, assuming that makes them a better Muslim. Islam is not about outward appearance, it’s about whats in your heart and about establishing good relationships.

  21. Response to last comment
    A few issues:

    – There is a difference of opinin as to whether it is ‘farz’ or not, and we should respect those who hold either view based on Isalmic texts. What is unbelievable is for people to say that it is cultural and not from Islam. It is referred to in the Quran – the difference is whether it refers to all women or just the Prophet’s wives.

    – Potential loss of life, or fear of loss of life or limb certainly takes priority over covering the face…

    – I have worked in the Middle East and daily worked with many women doctors who wear the veil …I am actually quite amazed at how completely one can communicate without seeing the face…one of the best doctors I know, who treated my family wore a face veil .

    -In any case as a woman you can see their face and talk to them at ease when not in public.

    – The Prophet said: ‘Don’t stop the women servants of Allah from the masjids’

    – Injustices in the Arab countries to the poor are a disgrace, but unrelated to the article…

    We need to look at the bigger picture at what is happening in Europe, and that (and not forcing women to wear the veil) is what the article is about. We do need to look beyond ourselves here. It is your choice here not to wear the veil, but many who want to wear the veil are being unfairly deprived of that right, because of a racist agenda using the false pretext of integration. That is what the article is about.

  22. Niqaab
    Firstly, it’s acceptable for other people to have an opinion that differs from yours. I’m a muslim woman (I actually wore the niqaab during my formative years in college) and I find talking to women who wear niqaab uncomfortable.
    You can’t see there features and thus it’s difficult to gauge their emotions/reactions etc. I didn’t realise how much that played apart in communication until I had to think about why these women, all different personalities made me feel the same way.

    Secondly, is it Farz? I know a lot of scholars of both opinions, yes and no. I wore it thinking i was, I found it really inconvienient. Being very clumsy, constantly bunged up with sinus problems, it was a nightmare!! I realised something that wasn’t practical in day to day life couldn’t really be Farz on all and everyone. Islam is such a simple religion, why do we continue to make it so difficult? The final straw for me was when a sister wearing niqaab was hit by a bus. She was conscious to start with, refused anyone from taking her niqaab of, and said it was only her leg hurt. Before the ambulance came she had breathing problems and nearly choked on her own tongue, it was only because a white English man said it’s not safe and we removed her niqaab. Yes we over rode her wishes, but lucky she was thankful we listened. She couldn’t speak or move but had wanted it off when she started having breathing difficulties.

    If it’s deemed as Farz then women will happily follow the Islamic Laws but as scholars are now opening up, reading and understanding their deen (from once happily discussing torment of non-believers to suddenly “remembering” Islam doesn’t allow senseless killing)lets hope they look into other matters.

    In Afganistan women wear full veils, yet schools, colleges, women’s clinics and hospitals are closed. They’re not even allowed to travel without mehram inside the permitted distance alone.

    In many highly populated asian area’s in England: Oldham, Burnley, Leicester etc it was only in the last 10 years that the religious leaders have stopped saying that it’s haraam for women to drive, take the pill. And in these area’s the mosques, getting bigger and bigger with more lavish chandelers still don’t have proper women’s sections that are fully open, or youth centers.

    Sorry if this is a rant. But I’m fed up of men who have no idea what it’s like for women wearing a veil, feeling hot and bothered, out to do the shopping, school run etc not surfing the streets or trying to catch anyone’s eye.

    Oh my last thought, I wear hijab, live in Kent, when walking in the streets, English men automatically turn there gaze down, but when i’m in an asian/arab/muslim area it’s the opposite. They continue to stare and they don’t even bother to be subtle! It’s so rude. I think men should start worrying about themselves and their actions and give women some peace.

    Sorry- I know I ssaid I’d stop but….. Muslim’s who feel that other’s shouldn’t wear niqaab aren’t appeasers to westerners, let us have the freedom of opinion. Saudi doesn’t have any major issues at the moment, but it doesn’t stop me wishing that they would give foriegn workers civil rights and have an open legal system.

    • Oh yeah, cant be a good masjid without massive chandeliers – misplaced priorities. Good post and everyone knows it’s not farz – the most honored woman in Islam wore a hijab but not a niqaab.

      But we Muslims are living in an age of ignorance. That is reflected in current affairs and in the statistics. In the UK, we make up approx 2.5%, yet in prisions, we make up approx 15%. That is a sad reflection on our “fear and respect of the Almighty”. generally speaking, Muslims by name, not actions.

  23. thought provoking
    Masha Allah. I loved the breakdown of the definition of “integration” as opposed to the meaning of assimilation.

    It is well written and the idea has been presented in a good manner. The article is quite helpful for self-reflection and does not put all responsibility on the other party.

  24. Brilliant…Jazakallah Khayr
    Masha’Allah tabarakata’ala. Perhaps you should speak to a few people with experience in forwarding their articles to major broad sheets. It would be good if articles like this are brought to the mainstream and sent to discerning MP’s to consider.

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