Thursday, August 27, 2009

Banning the Burqa: Yes or No

News reports are running rampant with many blasting France’s stance to ban the burqa – or fully covered female Muslim apparel. Some say it goes against religious freedom, because we all know very well that those exact countries that enforce this dress code have a great deal of “religious freedom” or really, freedom in general. What I will also recognize is just like with female circumcision in tribal areas mainly in southern Africa is that the burqa or even niqab (cloak showing just the eyes) might also be viewed as a rite of passage into womanhood. It is seen as a positive thing, despite what many of us Westerners may believe. Each female looks forward to menstruation as it is a sign that we are reaching womanhood – and then we realize the cramps, mood swings, pain, etc. are just BS and we grow a hatred for it, but I digress. That being said I will also point out that France is the only country that has strong roots currently still present in each of its former colonies. Something should be said about that. Haiti, Quebec, New Orleans, African countries, etc. all speak a form of French and still have a French presence in many of their festivals and local government (Louisiana and parishes for instance instead of counties). Why? As my friend Maureen put it, “France takes an extremely aggressive stance toward protecting ‘Frenchness.’” I also agree with another friend that said, “…[the burqa/niqab] is a form of subjugation and therefore, against the basic rights of any member of a civilized society.” I'm somewhat torn on the issue of France banning the burqa. I guess what it really comes down to, are these women who are wearing the garb French born or from some MidEast/North African country? And no, I’m not discussing women that have shifted their citizenship to that of France. I’m torn on the rights of natural born citizens. However, that being said, for those that aren’t, I think that if they are unable to adapt to the societal standards around them in a country that isn’t their own, then they should either be forced to get rid of their “ninja apparel” or move back to their home countries. Someone said to me that’s like signing a death warrant. Well, in that case, unveil ladies! And I’m not discussing being unable to wear simply the head scarf and more conservative clothing (hageb). If I had to move to Saudi Arabia, I would be forced to wear the gear. Reason #7928374573839 that I do not have any plans, hopes, aspirations or dreams of moving to that place as I do not believe in it, but would have to respect their country. So what’s the difference with the veiled women in France? So yes, I think France has the right to impose this as it goes against their culture. Then in the US, a woman’s case was dismissed in Detroit because she refused to unveil herself. She sued the judge. In the US, body language is most often what wins and/or loses your court case. Yet in her own country, she probably never would have seen the lights in a courtroom for such a frivolous case simply because she was female. Why is it that the US, UK and EU countries must adhere to Islamic law? Knock knock, here’s a secret – these countries not Islamic Republics. If you don’t like the way the West does things, then go back to your own countries – we all know the success rate there. As a fellow expat living in Egypt, Elaine put it eloquently, “I observe local laws here and would never think of going into a court in a rara skirt and boob tube so what are they thinking?” Disclaimer: This is not a slight against Islam. If you want to debate this issue, for or against, please do so in a mature,respectful manner. I will delete any comments that I feel are derogatory toward any religion: Christianity or Islam.


  1. what if she is french born and wears it? will people still shout at her to go back to her own country? this is her country just as much as them.. so what then? Even the hijab? This is not french culture right? So next this will be banned?
    Lets not forget that Christianity is not a western-born religion, obviously. And more importantly, modesty and the headscarf is not a new thing. In the Bible it says to cover your hair. Oh, and the Nuns cover apart from their face and hands, so I believe they should also remove their garments, correct? Its only fair

    Oh, and i also believe that a woman should be allowed to wear what she wants in KSA, but i believe she should cover in the religious areas, just like covering if you are in a church.


  2. Well I liked much of your blog until this:
    "If you don’t like the way the West does things, then go back to your own countries"
    That is extremely ignorant, isnt it? Assuming that wearing the niqab or burqa is cultural thing, that a non-Arab could choose to wear?

    Obviously, I am a Westerner - who loves many things about the West - and I choose to wear niqab. My husband never asked me, I decided to wear it to feel closer to Allah. To separate me from those in the world who might judge me based on how I look or bother me - which is a huge problem especially in the world today - I choose to remain invisible (or at least to not have others know what I look like when I smile or treat me a certain way because of my body) and treat me as a human being based on my actions and words alone.

    And one of the beautiful things about the west is freedom of religion and racial discrimination - thats not to say it doesnt happen, but seriously, the West will uphold a woman's right to bear her breasts in public but not for those who want to be extra modest? Strange indeed.

    And with regard to Saudi Arabia, women should dress modestly because they want to keep their society Islamic and modest. It has nothing in THEIR constitutions about the same freedoms the West tries to uphold. SO it is like comparing apples and oranges. We are not holding both societies to the same standards BUT the standards which they themselves are trying to uphold, no?

  3. Thanks for your comments.

    I want to point out one major comment within my post that perhaps you skimmed over: “I’m torn on the rights of natural born citizens.”

    To M. Traves: Another beautiful thing about the West is our reliance on body language, including facial expressions. While your choice to wear the niqab is exactly that – your choice – would you expect to be able to go into a courtroom and plead your case with the apparel on or request that all men leave the courtroom and only women be present? While the West, well, the US, was based/created on religious freedom (unlike other Western countries), we are also supposed to adhere to equal opportunity. Men and women carry much of the same role in our society (another debate could arise from that, but let’s stick to the topic at hand), so for the example referenced in the blog, isn’t that discrimination against men? We do not adhere to segregation/separation like that even including a diversified jury consisting of men and women, and minorities in an attempt to have a free and fair trial.

    If you do not want to be judged on your body or expressions, then why venture outside? You will be judged regardless – niqab or without. To be honest, sometimes when I say things, it might be difficult for the other person to gauge if I’m joking or serious. However, when they see my facial expressions, they instantly know.

    I am not chastising your decision to wear the niqab, but I am also going to say that nowhere in the Q’aran does it say it necessary for you to do so. Did you wear the niqab when you lived in the West? When did you decide to wear it and how long have you been wearing it? Did you wear the hijab before?

    Furthermore, I am not held responsible for a man’s inability to control himself and I will never be made to feel as though it was my fault. And this isn’t just applicable to Egypt and the Middle East, but I apply this to my own country as well.

    PS Please read my blog about Misconceptions.

  4. First of all, if I had to go to court, I would not expect segregation, so it is a non-issue. However, I feel I should be entitled to wear my niqab, and that someone seeing my face has no baring on what I say. While some people rely on facial expressions I fail to see how it is a requirement in order to testify - that is - to go in court and say kaza kaza kaza - happened.

    As for where int he Quran it states this, it is in Surah Al Nur Ayah 31,

    وَقُل لِّلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِ يَغۡضُضۡنَ مِنۡ أَبۡصَـٰرِهِنَّ وَيَحۡفَظۡنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبۡدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنۡهَا‌ۖ وَلۡيَضۡرِبۡنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِہِنَّ‌ۖ وَلَا يُبۡدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوۡ ءَابَآٮِٕهِنَّ أَوۡ ءَابَآءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوۡ أَبۡنَآٮِٕهِنَّ أَوۡ أَبۡنَآءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوۡ إِخۡوَٲنِهِنَّ أَوۡ بَنِىٓ إِخۡوَٲنِهِنَّ أَوۡ بَنِىٓ أَخَوَٲتِهِنَّ أَوۡ نِسَآٮِٕهِنَّ أَوۡ مَا مَلَكَتۡ أَيۡمَـٰنُهُنَّ أَوِ ٱلتَّـٰبِعِينَ غَيۡرِ أُوْلِى ٱلۡإِرۡبَةِ مِنَ ٱلرِّجَالِ أَوِ ٱلطِّفۡلِ ٱلَّذِينَ لَمۡ يَظۡهَرُواْ عَلَىٰ عَوۡرَٲتِ ٱلنِّسَآءِ‌ۖ وَلَا يَضۡرِبۡنَ بِأَرۡجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعۡلَمَ مَا يُخۡفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ‌ۚ وَتُوبُوٓاْ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُونَ

    and if you studied Arabic, you will know that there are different interpretations of certain Arabic words depending on the context.

    For example one translation is this:

    And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way or outer dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms,) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islâm), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the feminine sex.

    And since the Islamic scholars have not been able to resolve the issue, and thus, consider that niqab is in fact a part of Islam (whether or not it is a obligatory is the debated aspect), we should not begin the niqab debate here. But in fact there are hadith showing that the Mothers of the Believers covered their faces, and to be closer to Allah this should be something we do if we can.

    And when all is said and done, there is another hadith which states, there are things that are clearly haram and clearly halal and those things which people argue about, those are they which we should avoid.

    So as a Muslimah, I do what I am capable - wearing niwab - because for ME it is easy, and for that I am greatful.

  5. For the second part of this discussion, I was not a Muslim in Canada, I learned about Islam when I went to Dubai for work. I started wearing it after one year wearing hijab and felt more comfortable in niqab, like it was something I was meant to do.

    I have travelled to Canada though, wearing it, and had no problems, except for a few intolerant people who needed to say their peace.

    And while you say you are not help responsible for what others do to you, we cannot deny how being abused by men AFFECTS us. I have been harassed my whole life, and treated as a piece of meat, and the relief I feel in niqab to develop myself outside of these issues grants me the freedom to find out who I truly am without societal pressures and demands or abuse by others.

    And finally, in the Quran it states that the best place for a woman is the home (though it doesnt demand she stay in there) so you are right, I do try and stay at home as much as possible, but WHEN I have to go out and mix with people, I choose to cover myself completely to enable myself to complete my task easily and without issue.

    The roles defined by men and women vary a lot. This is not to say a woman cannot be worthy of what a man does, or that a man cannot complete a women's role (well, except for a few lol) but that Allah created us in a way which is perfect, each one with an inherent ability to fulfill what we were created for. That is why a man is obligated to pray in a mosque and for a woman she is NOT KEPT FROM DOING SO, but rewarded more for praying at home. And in fact, in her room, even more than any other part of the house!

    So, while many women want to break out of these traditional roles, we cannot deny the differences between men and women, as we cannot deny that MEN ARE MEN, and that you, as someone uncovered will be harassed a lot more than I... and you are right - it is NOT YOUR FAULT... but I am sure that it has affected you in a way which could change you for the worse, should it happen a regular basis? Because trust me - I know what it is like to be harassed and I know how it affects me in future relationships. So personally I am greatful for the beautiful aspects of Islam, even if others choose not to understand it in the same way.

  6. I disagree about your facial expressions not holding any relevance to the words spoken. The most charismatic leaders in the world were not only great orators, but had a way of connecting to people via their emotions/facial expressions. Alternately, some of the best/biggest liars in the world were able to get away with murder simply because they knew how to play on body language. The fact of the matter is, no matter what society, body language is relevant. Why aren’t men forced to wear a veil and cover all but their eyes?

    I was also taught to be very modest in regards to my actions and dress. However, I fail to understand why men aren’t held accountable for their inability to exercise self control. I do not go around grabbing and harassing men, but if I wear a tank top, I open myself up to receive such unwarranted responses? Not hardly.

    Just like the Bible, the Q’aran is up for individual interpretation. I will also point out that there are many cases of women wearing the niqab still accruing harassment (there was a recent article from an Egyptian-born Mona Eltahawy’s blog about a 60+ y/o niqabbi being gang raped in Egypt by policemen).

    And just because I am debating in a respectful manner with you, doesn’t mean that I dislike Islam or hold some animosity toward those that practice or wear the niqab. So please, don’t ever mistake me for the such (as in your final words: So personally I am grateful for the beautiful aspects of Islam, even if others choose not to understand it in the same way). The core beliefs and values are shared in the three major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The same God is shared (whether you refer to Him as God, Messiah, Allah, HaShem) and we all believe in the same things as we shouldn’t steal, cheat, commit murder, etc.

    I try to understand varying viewpoints, and although I may or may not agree, I do respect others and their right to practice as they choose – as long as it isn’t imposed on them and/or hurting them or others. And yes, men are men although that still doesn’t make it right nor should it be the excuse for the continuous wrongful actions.

  7. I meant in a court room, to simply be a witness for example, how would seeing facial expressions be a necessity? In fact, based on your own words, seeing someones expressions would aid them in being a better liar.. whereas simply using my words to state the facts would be more neutral and aid the jury to truth in a more just manner.

    Why are men not forced to cover themselves? Well first of all, women are not forced (generally) to cover themselves, it is a choice. Second, we cant deny the difference of men and women. Women are objects of desire to men, whereas women generally have different desires. They may appreciate men's beauty but not lust after it or act upon their desires as we see men do. This is not in their nature, and you will usually only see women behaving this way, after her learning how she can use her charms to get men. Bottom line - women are very rarely the culprits in rapes, molestation and pedophile situations. It happens, but it is not the norm. And finally, as I was trying to say above, according to Islam (and most of history) men are the ones who are REQUIRED to be in the public sphere. Islamically they have a lot of obligations to care for the family, and Allah made them the ones to go out and deal with society much more than women. As shown by the example of prayer - men are obligated to pray in the mosque and women are rewarded more for praying at home. This shows us 1) that men must go out and mix with other men 2) women are not obligated to stay in the home but encouraged to fulfill their family duties first. The Quran mentions men have a DEGREE of responsibility over women. They are OBLIGED to care for their family financially and women are not. Women are OBLIGED for the care and love of her family before anything else.

    So my main point is - acknowledging the differing roles of men and women, as well as the nature of men and women. Allah never commanded a woman to stay home and do nothing, she has many rights, much more than women did in those times, and frankly still do over other women in most of the world if Islam was practiced correctly. So Islam wants to protect her, as though she is the jewel of the family. Sure, she can go out and mix, but in the long run, the more she mixes the more she loses her fitrah... (inherent shyness and modesty) and thus, becomes - well equal to the man I guess.

    I never understood this so much as when I married, and me and my husband took these roles (with some protesting in the beginning, trust me.) But I see that my hubby is rational, unemotional,and much more capable of dealing with the society than I. In order to do what he does, I would have to go against my nature, to be hard, unemotional... so doing what I believe Islam has ordained, I have come to know my trueself, through wearing niqab, through segregation... I have become the me I used to be before I was so influenced by society, peer pressure, and standards of the West.

    Also, I never said anything about your feeling or interprtation of Islam. just that others do not understand because they dont want to. Not meaning you - but many, many people... because as a convert, I have had to deal with a lot of questions from family, friends, etc... and I have had the blessing of learning Islam on my own, not simply being born into it, it gives me a great respect and understanding having been on both sides of the coin, so to speak.

  8. hi there leanne, i just wanted to let you know, that even i learned something new about this topic, in a fatwa (islamic ruling) i realized:

    It is permissible for a woman to uncover her face when she is giving testimony in court, whether she is a witness in a case or is there to witness a deal, and it is permissible for the qaadi (judge) to look at her in order to know who she is and to protect the rights of all concerned.

    Shaykh al-Dardeer said: “It is not permitted to give testimony against a woman in niqaab until she uncovers her face so that it may be known who she is and what she looks like.” (Al-Sharh al-Kabeer li’l- Shaykh al-Dardeer, 4/194)

    Ibn Qudaamah said: “The witness may look at the face of the woman against whom he is testifying so that his testimony will speak about her in specific terms. Ahmad said: ‘He cannot testify against a woman unless he knows who she is.’” (Al-Mughni, 7/459; al-Sharh al-Kabeer ‘ala Matan al-Muqni’, 7/348, bi haamish al-Mughni; al-Hidaayah ma’a Takmilat Fath al-Qadeer, 10/26).

    It is permissible for a woman to uncover her face in front of a qaadi (judge) who is to rule either in her favour or against her, and in this situation he may look at her face in order to know who she is and for the sake of protecting people’s rights.

    The same rules that apply to giving testimony or bearing witness also apply in court cases, because they serve the same purpose. (See Al-Durar al-Mukhtaar, 5/237; Al-Hadiyah al-‘Alaa’iyah, p. 244; Al-Hadiyah ma’a Takmilat Fath al-Qadeer, 10/26).

    so, sorry for my mistake, and thank U for your help :)

  9. I don't believe in mistakes, only learning experiences. And finally, the day that we can no longer learn is the day that we should be buried. It's a continuous learning experience on both sides. Thanks for the newfound information.