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Banning the Niqab

Oppressed and disenfranchised?Governments in the West (and elsewhere) have a constitutional obligation to respect the religious beliefs and practices of their people, not trample upon them based on unfounded declarations by servile Muftis who receive their paychecks from the political establishments in the Middle East.
Oppressed and disenfranchised?The assault on the Islamic modest dress has had a long and painful history. In 1981, Tunisia, a Muslim country, banned the Hijab in some places. This was followed by Turkey, another Muslim country, which banned it from public schools and universities in 1997. In 2004, France followed Turkey’s footsteps under the guise of banning “all religious symbols” in public places of education. Soon thereafter, France decided to ban the face veil too, as no religion should “dominate” the public sphere, even though less than one percent of the female Muslim population of France observed the Niqab. The Canadian city of Quebec quickly followed lead by banning it too. A few weeks ago, the Spanish city of Barcelona banned the Niqab in public buildings, while the word is that Belgium and Norway are currently in the process of taking similar action.

As though things weren’t bad enough, in October 2009, Muhammad Tantawi, the Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar University, the center of religious learning in the Sunni world, insisted upon a female student to remove her Niqab while touring a school, declaring that it is not a religious but cultural symbol, and called for it to be banned in schools and universities. Among others who rushed to take advantage of this outrageous statement was Italy’s Equal Opportunities Minster Mara Carfanga, who declared the same month that “A law is being studied that would ban the use of the Burqa and Niqab, which are not religious symbols.” A few weeks ago, an Australian member of parliament called for banning the Niqab after a man used it to disguise himself during the burglary of a convenience store, while another politician called for its ban because it is “oppressive” towards women and “strips them of their rights”, not to mention the fact that it’s “un-Australian”.

The Burqa is an outer garment which covers a woman from head to toe, including the face. The Niqab refers to the piece of clothing used to cover the face. Statistics show that the Burqa and Niqab are observed by a minority of Muslim women in the West, while the majority of practicing Muslim women observe the Hijab, which conceals the hair (and ideally should be accompanied with loose dressing to conceal the shape of the body), though the face is left uncovered.

For almost three decades now, we’ve seen and heard a plethora of bizarre justifications from both Muslim and non-Muslim authorities for banning Muslim women from their right to dress with the Hijab and Niqab, ranging from it being a hindrance to education, restriction on women’s rights, a grave threat to society, to “destabilizing” national culture and causing identification difficulties. Everyone seems to be an expert on the topic, of course. Everyone, that is, except for Muslim women!

It’s Not Religion, It’s Culture

Let us clarify the most important issue at hand: dressing modestly (including the headscarf), concealing one’s beauty,  and observing a strict code of conduct both socially and physically around unrelated members of the opposite gender as much as possible is the Islamic definition of Hijab. It is a form of protection, which is mandatory upon both men (excluding the headscarf) and women in Islam. As the Niqab falls under the concept of Hijab, it too is indeed a part of the Islamic faith.

Indeed, many Muslim scholars are of the opinion that covering the face is recommended for Muslim women, if not required. For example, the late Ayatollah Sayyid Abul Qasim al-Khoei ruled that based on obligatory precaution, it is prohibited for a man to look at the face or hands of an unrelated woman. (Ayatollah Khoei, Islamic Laws, ruling 2442) Similarly among contemporary jurists, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani states that if a woman is afraid that uncovering her face will cause her to commit a prohibited act, attract lustful and forbidden glances from men, or will lead to general immorality, it is obligatory upon her to cover her face as well. (Ayatollah Sistani, A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West, ruling 449)

Therefore, those Muslim women who observe the Niqab do so because either they feel it is obligatory upon them, or they believe it is not obligatory upon them but they wish to exercise precaution and feel more comfortable covering their faces in public rather than exposing them. It may be true that some Niqabis may have adopted this practice through their culture, but it is indeed a religious practice. Governments in the West (and elsewhere) have a constitutional obligation to respect the religious beliefs and practices of their people, not trample upon them based on unfounded declarations by servile Muftis who receive their paychecks from the political establishments in the Middle East.

You Need to Be Identified

All that is required for one to withdraw large amounts of money from the bank is an ATM card and a four-digit PIN. Last time we checked, nobody needed to see our faces. And if that is the case, all those other women who plaster two inches of makeup on their faces should be asked to remove it for identification purposes too. We understand the importance of identification in airports, government buildings, when sitting exams, etc., and a Muslim woman is happy to show her face if she is taken to a private area, and preferably dealt with by another woman. Legislating it is simply overkill.

It’s a Security Risk

For the first time in Australian history, a man commits a crime while wearing a Niqab, so naturally, it should be banned from the country. If the government wants to be this ridiculous, we may as well ban Spiderman costumes, wigs, fake beards, large tinted sunglasses, women’s stockings, big hats, and face paint, as these are all items which have been used by criminals to conceal themselves from identification. If anyone’s ever bothered to measure a Niqab, most of them are a little bigger than the average handkerchief, just enough material to cover most of the face. When an experienced Australian criminal lawyer was asked about his opinion regarding the Niqab and Burqa being a “danger” to security, he said, “That is absolute rubbish; it is no danger at all.” Does anyone seriously think women are going to glue weapons of mass destruction to their faces under a tiny bit of cloth?

You Are Deprived of Your Freedom to Express Yourself!

If we accept those citizens who purposely dress up to resemble the opposite gender, tattoo their entire faces, have dozens of piercings, dye their hair fluoro pink and blue, and those who strut practically nude down the street, then why is it that a woman is being banned from freely expressing herself by way of veiling and saying, “Everything about me BESIDES my beauty should be important to society”? Unfortunately, politicians and race-panderers in the West sometimes get so caught up in forcing upon us the freedom to express ourselves, they overlook the fact that we deserve the right not only to express ourselves but also to decide how we express ourselves.

It’s Intimidating

If we started making decisions based on the irrationality of people and what they find intimidating, we would have to do justice to every citizen by banning every single thing, dress, or type of person that scares us. Will we also ban Jewish people with skull caps, Sikhs with turbans, and Catholic nuns? What about women who go bald, emos, hippies, punks, homeless or shaggy looking people? Given the rise of obesity in the West, can we also ban people who are grossly overweight?

We realize that women wearing the Niqab are indeed dressed differently to everyone else, but we need to learn to respect each other for who we are, rather than what it is that we wear. Furthermore, these women should be respected for building up the courage and preserving themselves so carefully in today’s day and era, despite the majority of women willingly and gladly succumbing to the way they are exploited by society.

The Niqab Strips Women of their Rights!

When it comes to clothing, women’s constitutional rights do not only extend as far as the right to nearly strip in public and forfeit most forms of clothed protection, but also the right to complete covering in public and the right to demand clothed protection! Whoever thinks that forcing a dedicated Muslim woman to bare what she doesn’t believe is for the world to see will give her more rights is so oblivious to the contradiction that it requires no further elaboration. Furthermore, if we care so much for Niqabis and wish to “liberate” them by banning the Niqab, how exactly does a bill currently tabled in Quebec to disallow government services to those women who observed the Niqab in public help increase their rights?

We’re Banning All Religious Symbols, Not Just the Niqab

If anyone can explain to us how a cross pendant on a Christian’s neck can in any way be equated to a woman who observes a level of protection so great that she even covers her face, we are all ears. Surely no human rights are violated if a person was asked to remove an item of religious jewelery, but to restrict the way a person can dress, especially when it is a woman demanding protection in a society and culture where exploitation of the female gender is the norm? This is not about eliminating religious symbolism in public; this seems to be more about eliminating a group of Muslim women from society all together.

It’s Against National Culture

Apparently a piece of clothing has the ability to deteriorate national culture, but it’s part of our national cultures to go against our written and explicit constitutions, bills of rights, and numerous international treaties which explicitly outline the freedom of religious practice?

In conclusion, it has been a long and tiresome battle between politicians and governments of both Muslim and non-Muslim countries who want to ban the Islamic modest dress for a list of nonsensical reasons and Muslim women who just want to be able to freely exercise their Divine obligation and the right to protect their beauty. So, will banning the Niqab force dedicated and faithful Muslim women to come into public without their faces being covered? On the contrary, if these women are stripped of their right which they so strongly believe in, they are simply going to stop leaving the protection of their homes all together. Perhaps the most potent factor for the success of such bans in the 21st century is the downfall of the international Islamic community, which has failed miserably to stand united on the platform of a Muslim woman’s right to observe the Hijab and Niqab and reject exploitation.

By banning the Niqab, Eastern and Western politicians will be forcing these women inside their houses, thus depriving them of their right to be recognized as intelligent and liberated human beings, and as informed and empowered citizens who challenge the status quo of female exploitation. But for patriarchal dictators in the Middle East as well as misogynistic Western politicians who are swept into office by media conglomerates that have reduced women to nothing more than inarticulate sex symbols, perhaps nothing could be more relieving.

About Arsalan Rizvi

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16 comments

  1. Keep up the good writing. Very well expressed — I would suggest selling this article to the local media outlets.

  2. very well-written,

    AjarakumallAh

  3. Well-composed and well-rounded.
    It mentions all the important points.

  4. Sayeda Asmat Abbas Abidi

    May Allah bless you and all the hard work you do. You have portrayed the oppression the Islamic female is facing and faces in this day and age. We need to voice furthermore about our perspective over this ongoing issue. Excellent work.:-*

  5. Zara, you state in your article…

    “Apparently a piece of clothing has the ability deteriorate national culture, but it’s part of our national cultures to go against our written and explicit constitutions, bills of rights, and numerous international treaties and prerogatives which explicitly outline the freedom of religious practice?”

    I just want to point out the misleading and inaccurate legal information that you have provided.

    Firstly, yes Australia has signed off several international treaties, BUT these are NOT binding in Australia! The freedom of religious practice outlined in the international treaties that form the International Bill of Human Rights is not legally binding in Australia. Therefore Australia is not going against anything!

    Secondly, to say that Australia is going against our “written” and “explicit” constitution is WRONG because there are very few rights that are explicitly guaranteed by our Constitution. The covering of the face is certainly not one of these very few rights- see section 116 of the Constitution- Freedom of Religion. The Australian Constitution provides limited explicit recognition of rights which are specifically designed to guarantee the rights of the states and rather than the individuals. Also, section 116 only applies to the commonwealth and very few states recognise religious freedom. It is clear that imposing such a law will not contradict the expressed or explicit rights of the Constitution.

    Thirdly and where mostly obvious, there is NO Bill of Rights in the Australian Constitution!! I have absolutely no idea where you got that from. I suggest you alter your article.

    And how do prerogatives fit into all this????? Please explain!

    I see that you have tried to incorporate some constitutional law concepts, good first try, but you are not an expert so I suggest you leave that part for the experts. Because a lawyer may read your article and think how ridiculously inaccurate it is.

    Overall you have raised good points from an Islamic point of view. Well done.

  6. I have gone through the whole matter of the article which is an excellent piece
    of research work . I wish that May allah give us more courage to say the true things in their their true letter and spirit.
    May allah bless you for this contribution towards the islamic thoughts
    and struggle that you have done.
    KEEP IT UP

  7. haidar ibn mujtaba

    It appears that the writer is referring to the legal systems and constitutions of Western nations in general. I only see one or two references to Australia during the entire article. Could you please point out where any of the legal matters discussed are specific to Australia only?

  8. So much fluff, so little substance. The writer did not explain why Islam does not require the face veil. There’s a wisdom behind every Islamic rule. And..I don’t care what culture you’re from but someone walking around looking like a ninja will be perceived as a security threat. Even in the Gulf and ME.

    Instead of making a woman less attractive, the Niqab brings unwanted attention. A defense of the Niqab in the west, is quite frankly beating a dead horse. Defend Hijab..yes, Niqab no because the logistics prevent an intelligent discourse from ever taking place.

    • [quote name=”Questions”]
      Defend Hijab..yes, Niqab no because the logistics prevent an intelligent discourse from ever taking place.[/quote]

      I totally agree; there is no place for the Niqab in the west; We should be promoting the Hijab, but never the niqab. It is a cultural baggage, that is very negative to the muslim’s living in the west.
      The Hijab is a mark of beauty and modesty, where as the black Niqab is generally scarry and does little to help in the day to day interactions that are necessary, especially in a western country. Choosing to live in the west requires a little cultural compromise and the Niqab is it.
      I know someone is going to jump on this…I am saying we can maintain our religious practices, and the Hijab is a wajib part of that, however the Niqab is NOT; it’s a cultural baggage that can be, and should be let go, especially for persons living in western countries.

  9. [quote]And..I don’t care what culture you’re from but someone walking around looking like a ninja will be perceived as a security threat. Even in the Gulf and ME. [/quote]

    [quote]For the first time in Australian history, a man commits a crime while wearing a Niqab, so naturally, it should be banned from the country. If the government wants to be this ridiculous, we may as well ban Spiderman costumes, wigs, fake beards, large tinted sunglasses, women’s stockings, big hats, and face paint, as these are all items which have been used by criminals to conceal themselves from identification. If anyone’s ever bothered to measure a Niqab, most of them are a little bigger than the average handkerchief, just enough material to cover most of the face. When an experienced Australian criminal lawyer was asked about his opinion regarding the Niqab and Burqa being a “danger” to security, he said, “That is absolute rubbish; it is no danger at all.” Does anyone seriously think women are going to glue weapons of mass destruction to their faces under a tiny bit of cloth?[/quote]

    Did you even bother to read the article? 😛

  10. assalamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah, sister
    Sh Tantawi also lent legitimacy to the French ban on hijabs. See the follpwing:
    * http://www.islamonline.net/English/News/2003-12/30/article09.shtml
    * http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/672/fr2.htm
    * http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3358363.stm

    I personally think that it is against the concept of democracy and civil liberty to ban any form of religious expression. It might be worth it to consider re-wording any statement which might lend itself to an argument for the banning of any kind of rleigious symbols.

  11. Fan of Islamic Insights

    It seems like you think you are a law expert yourself? Nobody is saying signing an international treaty is going against the written laws if it isn’t incorporated into the law..what the article is saying is: isn’t it hypocritical and morally incorrect to preach “equality” by signing all these human rights, anti-discrimination, freedom of religious practice, harmony etc treaties and then for members of parliament (I think the priest was mentioned as an example specifically) to go and say it is “against national culture” for Muslim women to observe the niqab?

    As pointed out above, this article does not appear to be specific to Australia so I have no idea why your comment was so condescending. Obviously you have missed the greater point, that banning the niqab in any country is violation of every citizen’s civil liberty to exercise their religion.

    Perhaps read properly next time before attacking writers of this ISLAMIC publication and humiliating your self – internationally. 😉 May we all be guided.

  12. Assalam alaikum / walaikum salam all,

    JazakAllah to the above sister for the links..it truly is sad to see what some “scholars” do these days.

    To the post titled “Questions”, the article mentions why the niqab is obligatory upon some women and why others do it as it is mustahab for all women.

    Regarding the niqab attracting MORE attention, this is the argument used by many ignorant people. So what if it attracts more attention? Can those who TRY to look at the veiled women see ANYTHING at all but cloth? Nobody said hijab doesn’t attract attention, it does in the West…but not the type of attention that is harmful to a woman because people are curious…they probably won’t be feeling lustful towards a woman draped and veiled head to toe in usually black material.

    If you don’t feel comfortable with niqabis walking around then what do you feel comfortable with? Women walking around half naked at the least? Most God fearing people would indeed not need to think twice about this. I hope that answers your questions insha’Allah.

    🙂

  13. this article is excellent in addressing all the concerns regarding niqab. the primary problem is not the banning of niqab by governments, but inherent muslim apathy and distrust towards it.

    kudos for this brilliant job!

    🙂

  14. I am not a Muslim. I occasionally read this kind of articles because a dear she-friend of mine is a Muslim and I care to try and understand her. Now, on this topic… I do not really think hijabs and even niqabs are necessarily modest at all. They are rather sexy! I have seen many Muslim women with colourful and coquettishly arranged headscarves that make me want experiment with the thing! And niqabs, well, they are so alluring, so promising, especially with those beautiful Arabian gazelle eyes lurking underneath. Peace and love, Caterina

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