COVID-19 is increasing religious tolerance. Here’s why

One 12 months into the pandemic, protecting face masks have come to indicate various things for various teams of individuals.

To some it’s a problem of protest, whereas for some others it’s a press release of social duty. Some folks have even turned it into a mode assertion and are prepared to spend a whole lot of {dollars} on designer masks.

On the similar time, racialized perceptions associated to masks have put a further burden on teams that already expertise racism and inequality. Throughout the nation, a number of Black American males have been arrested, followed and challenged by cops who claimed they appeared “suspicious” in pandemic masks.

However in a bunch I’ve studied since 2013—Muslim girls within the West who put on the niqab, or the Islamic veil, together with a headband, the experiences have been extra constructive.



The niqab is worn by a small minority of Muslim girls. It is a bit of fabric tied over the headband (hijab) that is available in a wide range of types and colours. It is generally mistakenly labeled because the burqa, which is an all-enveloping garment that largely entered the American imagination throughout the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. At the moment the Western media, whereas depicting burqa-clad girls, wrote about how the battle would assist advance the rights of Afghan girls.

Niqab wearers are a troublesome group to check, and students have described them as a “rare and elusive religious subculture.” Regardless of this problem, I’ve been in a position to conduct three analysis initiatives that relied on interviews with girls who put on the niqab.

Initially, I carried out a bigger research of 40 girls that I revealed in my ebook Wearing the Niqab: Muslim Women in the U.K. and the U.S. I additionally interviewed a bunch of 11 girls in April 2020 after masks carrying turned mandated in public in lots of U.S. states and international locations. In January, I used to be in a position to attain 16 girls who agreed to be interviewed about their experiences of carrying the niqab one 12 months into the pandemic.

I discovered that many not too long ago adopted the niqab as a result of strolling round with a coated face turned much less daunting as extra folks appeared in public with face masks. As I discovered, many wished to put on the niqab to underscore the religious character of this apply.

Some girls wore a masks underneath the niqab, conscious of the well being steering that requires masks to be constructed out of a “tightly woven fabric,” in an effort to cease the virus from being unfold. Others used thick, snugly connected niqabs in lieu of a masks.

Research have proven that Muslim girls are more likely to experience prejudice in public areas, employment, and different providers, once they costume religiously. Over 80% of the ladies I interviewed for my ebook mentioned they skilled some type of abuse in public, comparable to hostile stares, feedback, having the niqab ripped off, or being bodily injured.


Laws that bans religious face coverings in public has been handed in some international locations and territories, comparable to France and Quebec. On March 7, Swiss residents will be voting on a niqab ban in a nationwide referendum. Previously, advocates of such legal guidelines have argued that face-covering is an indication of religious extremism, social separation, and patriarchal oppression of Muslim girls.

Nonetheless, throughout the pandemic, criticism has been leveled by scholars and activists at governments that upheld such laws whereas concurrently requiring their residents to put on masks.

In France, for instance, one is liable to pay $165 (or 135 euros) if caught in public with out a masks, whereas carrying a niqab nonetheless carries a threat of being fined up to $180.

Throughout my interviews in April with 11 niqab-wearing girls in the US and Europe about their experiences of face overlaying during the early phase of the pandemic, I discovered their responses to be guardedly constructive. Girls reported decreased ranges of the sorts of prejudice they skilled earlier than the pandemic. They attributed this to the brand new social expectation that everybody was carrying a facial overlaying. Many loved the sense of “invisibility” whereas carrying the niqab.

A lady from Illinois who I spoke with over Zoom (names of the respondents are withheld to protect their anonymity) mentioned: “There are so few of us, and nonetheless we have been informed we have been a risk to society as a result of we coated our faces. Now that argument has simply disappeared. I simply hope this sentiment doesn’t make a comeback as soon as the pandemic is over.”


Virtually a 12 months later, I went again to seek out out whether or not the “masks impact” held regular for these girls. I spoke with 16 girls who mentioned that the niqab had turn out to be a way more accepted possibility among the many pandemic masks. I discovered that many ladies have been switching from carrying it solely often outdoors their properties to each time they have been in public areas. Some truly adopted this garment for the primary time of their lives.

Muslim girls report feeling much less seen when carrying a niqab in public areas. [Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images]

In an internet ballot that I ran with the assistance of the proprietor of the net Islamic style boutique Qibtiyyah Exclusive UK as a part of my 2021 research, 14 girls out of 51 who responded mentioned that that they had determined to start carrying the niqab throughout the pandemic.

One nameless respondent commented, “I really feel this is the proper alternative for any Muslimah [Muslim woman] to start out carrying the niqab. I might if I didn’t already.” One other wrote: “It’s been a flawless transition [to wearing the niqab]. Nobody says a phrase.” One other acknowledged, “I’d been experimenting with the niqab earlier than, however now, since COVID, I’ve worn the niqab full time.”

The niqab is not talked about by the Quran—which mandates solely modest clothes for both men and women extra usually. The Quran (24:31) says: “And inform the believing girls to decrease their gaze and guard their chastity, and to not reveal their adornments besides what usually seems. Allow them to draw their veils over their chests, and never reveal their hidden adornments …”


There is a common misconception within the West that this is an oppressive, patriarchal apply compelled upon Muslim girls. In actuality, several studies have shown that many ladies select to put on the niqab—generally towards their households’ preferences.

The 40 niqab wearers I interviewed for my ebook thought-about it a religious apply. Lots of them mentioned that the wives of Prophet Muhammad reportedly wore it commonly. A lady from Texas mentioned, “I put on the niqab as a result of I select to comply with what I imagine to be essentially the most correct interpretation of God’s phrase that claims girls who cowl their faces can be rewarded for fulfilling this further obligation.”


It is a extremely particular person apply to which the ladies I interviewed got here after an extended reflection. They acknowledged that whereas the niqab could also be appropriate for them, it won’t work for others. A lady from the U.Okay. defined why some girls select to put on it whereas others don’t: “The Quran says to cowl your self modestly. Now, the interpretation of that is totally different to each group of Muslims. Some folks imagine it simply to be the unfastened costume. Others imagine it to be an outer garment in addition to headband. But others would go one step additional and say it’s the face overlaying as effectively, as a result of [the Quran] says to cowl your self.”

Girls who adopted the niqab after the start of the pandemic additionally described their experiences to me. Following years of doubt in regards to the security of carrying the niqab of their neighborhoods, they felt this was the most effective time to strive.

A lady from Pennsylvania who started carrying the niqab in late 2020 despatched me a message: “I wished to put on the niqab for a very long time, however I reside in a really white space. I used to be afraid—I don’t prefer to be stared at and I already get sufficient of that in my hijab. With everybody carrying a masks, I figured now’s the time. At first, I wished to solely check it out, however actually no one checked out me twice. So I’m simply carrying it, with a masks beneath.”

Anna Piela is a visiting scholar in religious research and gender at Northwestern University. This text is republished from The Conversation underneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.