Rationalizing the veil
French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened up a can of feisty worms when he said the burqa is "a sign of subservience." Arab News asks scholars what they think the burqa signifies.
July 12, 2009 1:07 by Dana El Baltaji
“That is what the majority of French people say,” said the ambassador, underscoring the French government’s concern that the niqab may not always be a matter of choice but rather a matter of coercion. “Is putting on the niqab done by choice or by force? Is it violating the freedom and dignity of the woman? Is it a challenge to public safety? Such questions are legitimate and deserve to be discussed in a democratic way.”
Though the Muslims in different parts of the world have specific and varied terminologies for the different styles of face veils, in the West the term “burqa” is often used in a general sense to mean the full-body black cloak that includes a face veil. The term “hijab” is used as a general term for the head scarf that reveals the face. The term “niqab” is a general term for that which covers all or parts of the face. Only one Islamic school, Hanbali, obliges women to cover their faces. Within this school, scholars differ on whether a woman may show her eyes. Decorative motifs, like appliqué or colorful stitching, are also not permitted and the entire outfit should be baggy and black.
Besancenot pointed out that Paris Grand Mosque Imam Dalil Boubakeur had publicly emphasized the niqab was not obligatory in Islam.
“Those defending the niqab are Muslim fundamentalists,” said Besancenot. “This is opposing what the majority of Muslims are doing.”
In the statement to Arab News the French ambassador echoed Sarkozy’s statements that the niqab alienated women who wear them in a country that is firmly secular and which adheres to full social equality between the sexes.