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Efforts to Ban the Burqa to Liberate Muslim Women

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On 11 April 2011, France became the second country, after Belgium, to implement a ban on wearing the head-to-toe veil or burka by Muslim women in public.

Last January, the mayor Massimo Giordano Novara, a small town in northern Italy, also incidentally prohibited the total covering of the face in public places as part of enforcement of a 1975 law that was legislated by the Italian government to fight Leftist terrorism. The said law prohibits the wearing of masks or motorcycle helmets that impede identification in public buildings.

On 4 May 2010, a 26-year-old woman and her husband, both immigrants from Tunisia, were stopped by police in a post office in Novara for identification. They produced their documents, but the husband refused to allow her wife to lift her veil. The police officer had to call a female colleague to the scene. Although their papers were in order, she was still fined £430 by the Italian police for wearing burka in publics and refusing to uncover her face when requested for identification. [2]

In Australia, a Brisbane radio announcer was accused of making anti-Islamic comments on air. Former Victorian police officer, now 4BC drive-time announcer, Michael Smith called for the imposition of fines on Muslim women, who wear a hijab in public, for offensive behavior. “Muslim women should be fined for hijab,” he said, adding: “Any reasonable person would find this offensive.” Suliman Sabdia, the president of the Islamic Council of Queensland, said Smith’s remarks amounted to “a clear case of intolerance”. Under the Commercial Radio Code of Practice, a licensee must not broadcast a program likely to incite hatred against or vilify any person or group on the basis of age, ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, sexual preference, religion, or disability. Christine Donnelly from the Australian Communications and Media Authority said, Smith’s comments could be a breach of the Code of Practice. 4BC general manager David McDonald said “Smith’s remarks were not intended to be anti-religion or anti-Muslim.”

In another incident, Cory Bernardi, a Liberal Party Senator in South Australia, has called for the burqa to be banned. He said: “Although often relegated to the question of personal rights, the wearing of the burqa and similar Islamic dresses is more than an expression. As pointed out by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali woman who fled to the Netherlands and author of the book "Infidel", the covering of women is dictated by Islam to prevent causing uncontrolled arousal in men (p 110). Therefore it represents the outwardly projected assumption that all men are a danger - the same form of presumptuousness that underpins racism, even if race is not a factor in this context.”

Belgium banned the wearing of burqa in streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings ‘‘meant for public use or to provide services’’ to the public. ‘We’re the first country to spring the locks that have made a good number of women slaves, and we hope to be followed by France, Switzerland, Italy, and the Netherland…,’’ said liberal lawmaker Denis Ducarme. Many Belgian MPs recently issued a joint statement where they have said, “Veil is a walking prison for women.” [3]

When the French government initiated the Burqa ban legislation (December 2009), Islamic scholar and founder of the M A Khan wrote that "the French should be commended, not condemned, for spearheading a ban on Islamic veil", because it's "a fundamentally criminal and oppressive Islamic tradition.”

He added:

"The Islamic veil, called hijab, niqab or burqa etc., seen by critics as a sign of religious fundamentalism and a tool of suppression of Muslim women, has been banned by various institutions in France, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium. The move was spearheaded by France in 2004 by banning the wearing of headscarves by Muslim girls in schools (also Christian Cross, Jewish skullcap & Sikh Turban) in order to keep state institutions free from religious symbols.  …Taking a step further, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a rare speech to lawmakers of both Houses on June 22 this year, kicked up a further controversy by declaring the head-to-toe burqa “not a sign of religion” but of “subservience”, which will not be welcome in France, pointing to his intention of banning it in France.”

However Sarkozy’s comment triggered condemnations all over the world. Even President Barack Hussein Obama, pointing to the ban of burqa in French schools, had said earlier on June 4 in his Cairo Speech that

“…it is important for western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit, for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism."

Defying all criticisms, President Sarkozy pushed ahead with burqa ban by appointing a parliamentary committee to investigate whether the wearing of burqa tramples Muslim women’s liberty and how the ban can be enacted. In his November 12 speech on French national identity, he said:

"France is a country where there is no place for the burqa, where there is no place for the subservience of women."

Khan also discussed the extremely ridiculous arguments Muslims offer in defence of wearing the veil. The most important argument is that the veil helps women avoid the lustful gaze of men. Even many well-educated Muslims think that women can be eye-raped by men. “However, the highest absurdity of this argument lies in the fact that men commit an unbecoming, indecent, even criminal, act and the women have to bear the consequence of it by taking responsibility of covering themselves up,” added Khan.

The generalized command for imposing the veil on Muslim women comes from the following Quranic verse (33.59): “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers (i.e. of Muslims) to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed.”[i]

The verse clearly suggests that it is a tool for the suppression of liberty of Muslim women. A woman's body belongs to her and it is up to her how she wants to display it. If men harass, molest and rape them for whatever reason, the offender should be punished, not the women by confining the in the walking prison.

On this suppressive and unjust aspect of Islamic veil, Khan writes:

“There is no doubt that fundamentally behind every burqa resides a wrongly incriminated criminal, as well as a nonentity, not a human individual, whose right to freedom and liberty to enjoy every privilege in every sphere of life and society in equal measure with men is ensured in the human rights chartered of the United Nations and the constitutions of liberal Western societies.”

Muslim support for the burqa ban

While the Quran clearly commands Muslim women to cover themselves in a cloak when they go out, some Muslim scholars have expressed their support for the ban of burqa. Responding to the French ban of burqa, the radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on April 14:

“Niqabs, the full-face veils worn by conservative Muslim women, are not required by Islam but banning them by law is an affront to liberty.” "According to Muslim law, it is not an obligation to wear the niqab, but to ban it by law is a repression of freedoms," Sadr said in a statement in Najaf. "Forcing women to wear the niqab, or not to wear it, are both unacceptable," he added. Yet somewhat contradicting himself, he said: "This is a basic obligation of the religion, and no one can ban it."

Gamal El-Banna, a 90-year-old Egyptian Islamic scholar, author and the youngest brother of the Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan El-Banna (d. 1949), said in a recent interview:

“Hijab is not an Islamic Tradition. There is no specific verse (in the Qu'ran) that obliges women to wear headscarves." He added: “Neither the Qur’an nor authentic Sunnah demands it of women. There is no specific verse that obliges women to wear headscarves, but you find verses setting the broad lines for [public modesty or decency].” Rather liberal and reformist, unlike fundamentalist Hasan Ekl-Banna, Gamal El-Banna use the following verse to support his views on veiling of women in Islam: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent and to draw their veils over the bossoms [24:31]." [5]

Opposition to the veiling of Muslim women is growing in some Muslim countries. On April 28, 2010, the Bangladesh High Court ruled that women cannot be forced to wear veil. The court ruled:

"No one could force women, working at public and private educational institutions, to wear the veil or cover their heads against their will.”

Although a Muslim majority country, women in Bangladesh are active in public and political life and move about without veils. The above directive came in response to a newspaper report in June 2009 that a sub-district education officer of Kurigram insulted a female teacher for not wearing the veil.[6]

It is frustrating that many women themselves oppose any efforts to liberate them from oppressing Islamic instruments such as the burqa. It is similar to the case, thousands of Yemeni Muslim women protested a bill that sought to set the minimum age for marriage at 17 in order to prevent child-marriage and sexual abuse of minor girls, highly prevalent in Yemen. They held up banners, proclaiming “don’t ban what Allah made permissible”, or “stop violating Islamic sharia law in the name of rights and freedoms”, reported an AP correspondent.

Similar is the case with banning burqa. A Muslim woman, named Raseena Sherif, wrote an article “Why I wear a Hijab?” in the April 2009 edition of Islamic Voice, a Bangalore based monthly.[8] At the very outset, she writes:

“I was asked by a friend about why I wear a hijab. This is my answer.  … Having grown up in a practicing Muslim household, many things were just handed over to me. And having studied in an Islamic school all my life, consequently having an entirely Muslim circle of friends, I never questioned them. That was the way things were done in my little world, and it was therefore the way I did things too. The hijab was one of them. I grew up in it. Physically and also mentally. I think the question, or at least the one with the more interesting answer, is why I continue to wear the hijab even after having spent more than three years now, in Christian colleges, and with a friend circle that is largely non- Muslim.”

She says that, as a teenager, she has seen girls who go to large extents to look attractive to men. But she failed to contribute in such trend. She could not accept the idea that the worth of a woman lies in the admiration of the opposite sex. She has also seen that mums paying for their daughters’ implant breast surgeries. “People say the hijab is oppressing. I think being compelled, by society, or even worse, by your own mind, to confirm to external standards of beauty is oppression. Mental oppression. In the hijab, I find dignity and freedom”, she says.

She then says that she knows someone who doesn’t really like the hijab, but finds it convenient to wear one when she’s traveling by bus. Thus she is able to save her from the lustful stares of the male travellers. People wearing hijab find that men don’t mess with them as much when they’re in one. She believes in the Infinite Wisdom that the Creator of the universe, Allah would have. She believes that what comes from Him can be nothing less than the best.

“In the Quran, we are repeatedly asked to use our brains, and to think for ourselves – not to evaluate everything God asks of us, but to establish for ourselves that there is only One God, Allah, and that the Quran and all that is in it cannot be from any other source than Him. But once you do come to that belief, as I have done, you also believe in His Infinite Wisdom. You don’t need any other source of advice, or knowledge – you have the Creator of the universe in front of you. To settle for a lower source doesn’t make sense. It results in, not blind obedience but faith. And from that point on, it is a spiritual journey”, she adds.

“We continue from there, trying to please Him by following His various injunctions… The reason for doing what we do remains to please Him. And we feel good about pleasing Him, What pleases Him is what is good for humanity. That is the reason I wear the hijab. … I have always felt comfortable in it. …In the hijab, honestly, I feel blessed”, she continues.

One must not be surprised by such self-oppressing articles by a Muslim woman, given that Islamic brainwashing may go to such an extents that mothers actively assist in the honor killing of their daughters and even offer to raise their sons to become suicide bombers, so that they can be martyrs and go to Allah’s paradise for eternal sexual copulation with dozens of celestial virgins.

We must mind the fact that any attempt to reform any aspect of Islam or Muslim lifestyle cannot be carried out without fierce resistance from Muslims. While banning the burqa is a laudable attempt to liberate the Muslim women from the oppression of Islam, we must contend with resistance to it not only from the Muslim men, but also from the women. We must continue to highlight the oppressive, unjust and discriminatory aspects of Islamic traditions such as the enforcement of burqa in order to enlighten the Muslim women about it. Muslim women are the worst victim of Islam and in them hibernates a strong anti-Islamic force, which we must arouse and utilize in our battle against Islam.


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[i] In this context, it may be mentioned that, a verse of the Rigveda says that a household does not prosper if its women forced to remain sad and depressed. In other words, a household prospers if its women are happy and cheerfu


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