Why I wear the ridah

This essay was written by an 18-year old Bohra woman in Toronto, Tasneem bhen Yahya. It was originally published in the Young People's Press and the Halifax Chronicle Herald in 2003.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, the ridah or veil is liberating. It forces people to focus on the person, rather than the clothes they are wearing.

Designer jeans and tube tops don't have to be what defines a person. Success shouldn't be determined by how much skin is revealed, but by intelligence and personality. The ridah helps emphasize these attributes by covering a woman's body.

The ridah is also beautiful.

It comes in colours ranging from pretty pastels to rich shades of indigo, emerald, and crimson. The materials used vary from simple cottons to rich satins and chikan (embroidered cloth).

Usually ridahs are adorned with lace, embroidery and flowery appliques. Pre-designed ridah material is readily available in Pakistani and Indian street markets, but you still have to get them stitched by a tailor.

I look forward to trips to Pakistan where I can purchase my own material and accessories to fit my taste. I pick vividly printed cloth and intricately crocheted laces that are unusual.

I figured wearing a ridah to school would alienate me from my friends. Instead, all my friends from various backgrounds - Irish, Italian, British, Guyanese, Pakistani - encouraged me to wear it.

One of my friends asked questions about wearing it. She asked me where it came from, and whether it was mandatory for women to be veiled.

I explained to her it's my choice to wear it. It's a true reflection of my faith.

The ridah is an expression of faith similar to crosses for Christians and yarmulkes for Jewish men. For me, the ridah is a way to tell others I'm a practicing Muslim. I follow Islam and everything it teaches me about how to live my life and be a better person.

My friend then asked, "Aren't veiled women a product of fundamentalist Islamic regimes run by men?"

I was shocked she was so misinformed. But I couldn't blame her.

The only images I've seen of veiled women on television were from CNN's coverage of the "War on Terrorism." I saw women who were starving, uneducated and oppressed. Everything I'm not.

I'm skirting the edge of copyright by excerpting so much; the piece is worth reading in full.

Also related: my old essay, the Burka and the Bikini (altMuslim.com)