“People now see that covering your face is a symbol of safety and protection.”
Things feel different for one Baltimore-area Muslim woman lately when she shops at her local Trader Joe’s. A Muslim woman who observes niqab—aace veil that masks her nose and mouth—she has noticed fewer people giving her looks, probably because they’re covering their own faces too. “There’s less staring and hateful comments,” she said. “Before, as a niqabi, I would stick out. With the mandatory face masks, niqabis are being more accepted.”
For Muslim women accustomed to being the only people in their communities covering their faces in public, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an unexpected, and welcome, change. A niqab is different from a CDC-endorsed face mask, and worn for a different purpose, but it now stands out far less—and the women who embrace niqab may have reason to hope it will continue to be more accepted even when the pandemic is over.
For those who observe niqab, it is considered to be an act of devotion to God, and a form of modesty and protection. They are a more common sight in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and have been a cultural flash point in France, where they remain banned in public even as COVID mask laws have gone into effect. Even as American Muslims become more visible in Congress and in pop culture, Islamic attire like the niqab or a burqa can carry a stigma.
“The attitude of most people is of repulsion toward this piece of cloth,” the Baltimore-area woman said. “They view it as unnecessary, scary-looking, ultra-orthodox, and oppressive. I’ve always felt isolated, judged, and uncomfortable wearing it. Just like with everything, this current pandemic has changed things for niqabis, veiled-face women.”