Firstly, I'm asking myself, how come a Non-Muslim have to initiate & is facilitating this discussion amongst these three Muslimahs. But on the other hand, because the facilitator is Non-Muslim, we hear unbiased and real questions.
Then, I'm very glad, the three Muslimahs carried out the discussion with ethics - not slamming one another and each of them respecting the other's choice. Alhamdulillah.
And I have my own comments on some of the issues raised.
1) On other people's perception and reactions towards hijab/niqab-wearing Muslimahs.
I would have turned the question around. What about when we 'Easterners' see, almost naked Western women hanging around in our public area. We are also not comfortable, especially with our children around, and for a valid reason. We have to put up with THAT, why can't they put up with us being covered up?? It's all about realising that different ppl have different religion, climate, culture and we dress differently. And we have to learn to tolerate as long as it does not physically harm us.
2) On the facilitator's question : "How can I trust you, and get a feel for what you're saying if I can't see your entire face?"
I think we CAN tell what the woman was feeling and if we can trust her as we see her speak, with her niqab on. Can't you? You can also tell from the eyes. Lame excuse and reason this is.
3) Are men and women equal?
Of course not lah.. can't you see the obvious? Men are made differently from women. We both have been assigned specific functions - e.g. women bear babies. How to ever make men equal to women like that?? We both have our strength and weaknesses. Women are better and some things, and men at others. But there are also a lot of stuff that both women and men can do just as well, like eating. Ok lah.. and doing some chores.. like washing dishes.. calculating numbers.. these other general tasks/jobs where both men and women do - who does it better is really dependent on individuals and cannot be generalised. In this world, nothing is black and white.. and nothing is all black or all white.
And she mentioned why men don't have to cover. two things. Men ALSO have to cover.. but men don't have bosoms - they don't have to cover THAT. And there not much issue with men! Most of the time - men dress more decently than women. Even at work - all men dress decent & smart, some women dress like slut.
Anyhow.. I'm glad all of them are so sure of themselves, and of the reasons why they make their own choices. We respect each other's choices. In the end, only we know ourselves, if we're sincere about our choices or just justifying what we still know deep down inside, is wrong. We have no right to ridicule or to judge anyone - for only Allah knows what is in their heart and what is our ends in this world and our reward in the Hereafter.
In Imam Nawawi's 40 Hadith, there is one hadith hasan, which is among my favourite, and a guiding internal control for me.
(a good hadith - but not to the level of authentic - masyaAllah.. this is another whole topic on how strict the conditions are for a hadith to be classified as authentic - and how good it is to be classified as good.
Just to give a feel of how authentic and good a hadith is when classified as authentic or good - for most if not all of current day messages, that we hear and pass to others, whether at work or at home - by the science of hadith classification standards - all of it would be classified as either weak or false - for various reasons. Interesting? go read the science of hadith.
So the hadith I was talking about :
According to Wabisah bin Ma'bad, radiyallahu 'anhu, who said:
I came to the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam, and he said: "You have come to ask about righteousness ?" " Yes," I answered. He said: "Consult your heart. Righteousness is that about which the soul feels tranquil and the heart feels tranquil, and sin is what creates restlessness in the soul and moves to and fro in the breast, even though people give you their opinion (in your favour) and continue to do so."
[A good hadith transmitted from the Musnads of the two Imams, Ahmad bin Hanbal and Al-Darimi]