In October 2009, the Niqab (or face cover) stirred a lot of controversy when the late Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi – head of Al Azhar and Egypt's Imam – asked a 13-year-old girl to uncover her face while he was inspecting an Azhar school in Cairo. He told her that the niqab is a tradition that has nothing to do with religion. Currently the lower house of the Spanish Parliament is debating a proposal to prohibit the wearing of body-covering burqas and face-covering niqabs in all public spaces in Spain, and the French parliament approved a ban on face veils.
According to AP:
France has Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated to be about 5 million of the country's 64 million people. While ordinary headscarves are common, only about 1,900 women in France are believed to wear face-covering veils. Champions of the bill say they oppress women.
In her interview with Broadsheet, the women’s issues blog on Salon, Mona ElTahawy explained why she supports the ban on niqab:
I support banning the burqa because I believe it equates piety with the disappearance of women. The closer you are to God, the less I see of you — and I find that idea extremely dangerous. It comes from an ideology that basically wants to hide women away. What really strikes me is that a lot of people say that they support a woman's right to choose to wear a burqa because it's her natural right.
On her blog, Mona ElTahawy linked to her appearance on BBC TV's Newsnight where she engaged in a heated argument with Syrian Professor and author of “The Quest for Meaning” Tariq Ramadan, and Nigel Farrage Member of Parliament representing the UK Independence Party.
Meanwhile, on his blog, Hassan El Helali hails the ban saying:
ثاني دولة أوروبية تجرم ارتداءه
It is literally a crime.
This is the second European country the prohibits wearing it.
He elaborated saying:
He concluded his post saying:
Joseph Mayton of Bikya Masr describes the ban as stupid:
There was a debate not too long ago in the southern part of the United States over whether a Muslim woman wearing the full-face covering, or Niqab, would be forced to remove the veil for a police officer. The case went to court and was eventually decided that if a male police officer needed to check the person’s identity they would call in a female officer to do the checking. Makes sense. It is one of the few times that the US has done something “tolerant” when it comes to Islam in the country.
So, when the French government banned the niqab, burka or whatever one wants to call the full-face covering that a tiny fraction of Muslim women across the world adorn themselves in, it is shocking that they would continue to argue it is a security risk. It simply is not. Whether we want to see women cover themselves in what liberal Islamic scholar Gamal al-Banna told me recently is an “archaic representation of a time before Islam” is another question, but when France argues the security card, they should be called out for their stupidity.
In his article, Joseph Mayton quoted Islamic scholar Gamal al-Banna who disagrees with Mona ElTahawy‘s stance:
Sure, there was a lot of support for the ban, from as strange of places as Muslim feminists, who argued that the ban would give women more freedom in their daily lives. It is almost hypocritical that anyone who professes to support human rights and the right to choose one’s own lifestyle to argue this, but it happened and continues today. Someone who upholds human rights and people’s right to choose, must accept that not everyone will choose “their way.” We must continue to argue against the niqab – as al-Banna says, “it is not an Islamic idea and has been incorporated by those who bastardize the faith” – but without being preachy. This is where the so-called feminists failed.
According to BBC's Radio 4‘s introduction:
France is the latest European country to talk of banning the burqa – the full Islamic face veil for women. Belgium has already voted for a ban and there's also been talk of similar laws in Holland and Spain. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and polls there show overwhelming support for the proposal. It's estimated that around 1900 women in France wear the burqa and most do so because they want to …. For many this is also an issue of protecting women's rights; the burqa they argue, is a symbol of male oppression and as one French law maker is reported to have said, women who wear them must be liberated, even against their will.
Ahmed Zidan of Middle East Youth agrees with Mona ElTahawy and dismisses freedom of choice as grounds for wearing the niqab:
الحرية الفردية مكفولة طالما اقتصرت عادة أو سلوك على فرد أو مجموعة أفراد، ولكن إن خرجت هذه العادة من حيّز الفرد لتصبح ظاهرة عامة، كالنقاب، فيجدر بنا رصد هذه الظاهرة، وتعيين مداها، وتحجيمها وسنّ القوانين التي تحمي حرية الأفراد الآخرين، إن لزم الأمر، وهو الطريق التي سلكته آروپا مؤخرًا.
النقاب يساوي، من وجهة نظرنا الخاصة، حرية امرأة اختارت، بمحض إرادتها، أن تتّشح بالسّواد لأي سبب كان. أمّا التجرّد الكامل من الملابس، على النقيض، فهو قرار خاص بامرأة أخرى اختارت العُري.
الآن، ووفقًا لمبدأ الحرية الفردية، فمن الطبيعي أن يُكفل حرية الُعريّ إذا كُفلت حرية النقاب في المقابل. ولكن، إن كان الأول محظورًا حفاظًا على الآداب العامة، فمن الأولى حظر الآخر أيضًا حفاظًا على السلامة العامة.
In our opinion niqab is a woman who freely chose to cover up in black for whatever reason. Nudity is the opposite extreme and that is also a choice of a woman who took her clothes off.
According to the above stated principle of individual freedom, if we approve of the freedom to cover up we also have to approve the freedom to undress, and if the later has been banned to preserve public morality then the former should be banned to ensure public security.
Elder of Zion raises another point when he quotes Ibrahim Hooper – a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations:
He says that the French vote is a thinly-disguised attempt to discriminate against all Muslims, not just those who wear the burqa.
“It's really a new type of law targeting a particular minority faith based on the prejudices of the majority. And my religious rights should not be dependent on a majority vote,” said Hooper.
Then he refutes Hooper's argument saying
Syria has banned the face-covering Islamic veil from the country's universities … Last January, an Egyptian court upheld a ban of the veil during university exams. And last year Al Azhar University's religious head banned the veil at all Al Azhar schools altogether.
It seems that Syria and Egypt are nervous about growing Islamic fundamentalism, as shown by a custom that is not legally sanctioned in Islam. In the words of another Al Azhar scholar, “”We all agree that niqab is not a religious requirement. Taliban forces women to wear the niqab. … The phenomena is spreading and it has to be confronted. The time has come.”
So France does not seem to be exhibiting any Islamophobia. French politicians are merely following in the footsteps of two nations whose very constitutions invoke Islam as the major source for their laws!
UNSETTLING SILENCE ON RENDING THE MUSLIM VEIL, makes ElTahawy acknowledge that
Cultural integration has failed, or not taken place, in many European countries, but women shouldn’t pay the price for it.
Still, she urges Europe's liberals and Muslims to justify their silence:
Europe’s liberals must ask themselves why they have been silent. It is clear that Europe’s political right — other countries have similar bans in the works — does not care about Muslim women or their rights.
But Muslims must ask themselves the same question: Why the silence as some of our women fade into black, either as a form of identity politics or out of acquiescence to Salafism?
Once again, Zidan of Middle East Youth lists eightreasons why the niqab should be banned. They are as follows:
Though supporting the ban, ElTahawy shouts foul play:
But what really disturbs me about the European context is that the ban is driven almost solely by xenophobic right wingers who I know very well don't give a toss about women's rights. What they're doing is they're hijacking an issue that they know is very emotive and very easy to sell to Europeans who are scared about immigration, Europeans who are scared about the economy, Europeans who don't understand people who look and sound different than them. They've taken advantage of this and done it very well. I'm very disappointed with the left wing and liberals in Europe for not speaking up and saying, the burqa ban has everything to do with women's rights. We are fighting against an ideology that does not believe in women's rights, and we will not allow the right wing to hijack this issue for their own purposes.