Welcome to my blog!

This blog is an honest look at what life is like for this particular American convert to Islam. We're taught in Islam to cover our sins, to not air them, for fear of lessening the severity of sinning. In this blog, I may relate past indiscretions from time to time. This isn't to make light of them, but in the interest of educating Muslims and non-Muslims alike as to the realities of life as an American convert, I present my mistakes honestly. I make no excuses for them, nor do I claim that they were okay to make. I am not perfect, and I make no pretenses as to that. If others can learn from my past, know that Islam, and religion in general, is open for people no matter what mistakes they've made, then I will gladly air my sins when needed.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Of licences and hijabs.

As mentioned in this post, I recently renewed my drivers licence and got a new picture taken, in hijab. There was a hijabi girl there taking her initial test; we waved and grinned at each other.

What I want to address in this post is the issue of hijabis and their driver licence photos.  I was at Dad's tonight (last night; whatever --- Monday night) and my licence had come in the mail.  I squee'd and showed it off.  My stepmom expressed surprised that they'd let me keep my hijab on for it.  I pointed out to my stepmom, when she noted that I could change my hair and look different, that I could go out and get a buzz-cut and look different.  I also noted that you're not required to get a new licence photo taken, and that I've seen plenty of licences that look almost nothing like the people showing them to me.  A new hair cut, extreme weight loss or gain, a new hair colour, lack or appearance of makeup ... heck, even simple ageing can make one look drastically different than one's licence photo.  Me wearing hijab isn't any different.  I'll be wearing it when I show it to people, too, and my basic facial structure is still the same.

She agreed with me, and the whole exchange got me thinking about licence photos in general, and licences as a hijabi in particular.

Going further, until they create a licence photo that changes in real-time with your appearance, a drivers licence photograph is just a point of reference, something to go off of.  A police officer isn't going to be suspicious of someone with brown hair giving them a blonde-haired licence, nor of someone with an obviously obese picture being much thinner, or vice-versa.  When I check ID's, I look for similar facial structures, things that makeup and weight can't change unless it's an extreme circumstance.

I'm comparing my old licence and my new licence right now.  Other than the hijab, the differences that I note are that my eyebrows are thicker now, I'm tilting my head up more, I'm wearing lipstick, and I'm smiling wider, which narrows my eyes just a tad.  Yes, I do look different, but there's honestly no mistaking the two licences as belonging to different people.  Also, I chewed on the upper left corner of my old licence.  Yum.

Now, there is the issue of niqabis and women wearing the traditional Afghani burka when they get their licences.  I understand freedom of religion; believe me, I do.  I fought for it when I was pagan, I fought for it when I was agnostic/atheist, and I fight for it now that I'm Muslim.  There needs, however, to be an understanding of when religious practices are harmful to the person practising them, and when they're just an irritation to some other people in society.  Take the following two images:

There is an inherent problem with covering that much of one's face in a document meant to provide visual identification of a person.  If the licence is stolen, all the thief has to do is put on a niqab or, even better, a burka, and chances are no one will be able to tell the difference --- taking into account the relative heights and weights of the two people, and skin/eye colourings in the case of the niqabi.  This is dangerous to the niqabi.  If a niqabi (and here I'm also referring to women wearing the burka, as in the picture on the bottom) is in a situation where her niqab/burka is removed, she has no way of assuring authorities that she is who she claims to be, as they don't have the visual identification meant to be provided by her licence.  Worse, in the case that the niqabi is the victim of a fire, or has been murdered and mutilated, as her ID is all the authorities have to go by, there's no way to know that she is who her ID says.  Yes, police can go to her home and look at pictures, but again, is the niqab or burka-clad woman in the licence photo the woman in the photos at the apartment or house?

Yes, I do know that family members and spouses could ID the body.  I don't mean to fear-monger, either, and you'll notice that I'm staying away from the whole "the niqab and burka are dangerous to America and its citizens" argument.  I don't think they are.  I think what's dangerous are people who are going to treat others as non-entities simply because they can't see a person's eyes/face/hair.

Regardless, my main concern with wearing niqab or the burka in licence photos is the safety of the woman.  Our religion requires a woman to guard her most alluring parts from the gazes of men.  Trust me, hair is a very alluring part of a woman --- complete strangers used to come up to me and, just as people think it's completely fine to touch a pregnant stranger, found no issue with invading my personal space to fondle my hair.  However, Islam has, from the start, relaxed the rules when following the rules will do more harm than good.  Broken leg?  Pray sitting down.  Throwing-up sick?  Pray laying down.  On the verge of starvation?  Eat all the pork you need.  Can't make Hajj to Mecca?  Donate money or pay someone else to go.  Poor?  Don't worry about zakat, or giving to charity.  Muslim Mongol soldiers a few centuries ago drinking alcohol?  Give them more, because a drunken, passed-out soldier is better than a rampaging, raping, and murdering one.  The only help available to you is of the opposite gender, and you can't move without their help?  They're permitted to help you as much as possible.

In this situation, I think that Muslim women need to realise that wearing their niqab or burka in their license photo does them more harm than good.  And unless it's an emergency, it's perfectly all right to ask to be able to show your photo to a female employee or officer.  There are few things so important as to interfere with your safety and security, and this is a matter of safety and security --- the safety and security of Islam's niqabis and burka-wearing sisters.


  1. Just to further iterate your point, my boyfriend's driving license/passport photo is nearly 8 years old. In that time, he has lost weight and hair, and looks completely different. When he has to provide ID anywhere, he has to carry two forms because customs officials, cinema workers and university admissions officers can't accept the old one because it looks nothing like him. (For refernce, he looks like a 17 year old Gene Hunt in one, and a Victorian dandy in the other). So I completely sympathesise with this post.

  2. Shariah says that in a court case a woman is to remove her facial covering for identification. Then she may put it right back on. So, in courts, there is no need for a munqaba to remove her niqab for her whole court testimony, but she must be identified. That is why the strictest niqab country in the world where almost the whole native pop. wear niqab STILL have photos of faces on passports.

  3. @ thefireyoutouch I hate it when people hand me out-of-date IDs and then get pissy because I won't accept them. :P It's good that your man takes more recent IDs along with him.

    @ Pixie Wow, I didn't know that. Oh God, now I'm envisioning that PBS "The More You Know" rainbow arching over my head ... :P I believe you, because that makes sense and most of the classical scholars make sense, but when I repeat it to others, do you know which rulings say that? Or do I need to do my own homework on this? :P