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Rationalizing the veil

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

“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.

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  1. Lutfullah Khalilullah on July 13, 2009 6:45 am

    If France thinks that burqa reflects womens in prison and they don’t want these culture then what french people are doing in Arab world and all Arab world / muslim countires should shut-off french embassies and get rid of such people for once and all……………

  2. Sameer Ali on July 13, 2009 7:35 am

    Will the French ask nuns to shun their headdress too? Well there is a huge difference in identity when a lady’s hair is covered and uncovered … even men in uniform and casual dresses has a totally different look! Does Sarkozy have the guts to tell the nuns to get rid of their headdress? Or he is scared to face the wrath?

  3. Soniya K on July 13, 2009 7:37 am

    The first amendment rule of any secular or democratic country is “freedom of expression”. I think in this whole argument between France and Islam, the voice of the woman who choose to wear Islamic veils is being ignored.
    Anyone who ‘chooses’ to wear her veils. should be allowed to do so on the very bases of – ITS HER CHOICE. Then who is Sarkozy or a sheikh to comment. The fact that wearing of the burqa is on the rise, the President of France may run an opinion ballot to check the feature he is pegging his argument – ARE WOMAN WEARING THEIR VEILS OUT OF CHOICE OR COMPULSION.
    More and more woman across the world are adopting veils. Veils have been a part of the ME even before Islam. It was adopted by the beautiful religion of Islam, which recommends modesty as its core reason behind veiling.
    Veils are also worn by orthodox Christians Hindus, Sikh and several other cultures, who is Sarkozy to decide what’s social culturally acceptable to a woman of another faith. If France lays claim to Equality then its not up to Sarkozy to ‘eliminate’ the veil like a dictator. Its got to be a more democratic process – and its got to be the voice of woman who wear veils that should be the deciding factor.

  4. Craig on July 13, 2009 8:22 am

    Lutfullah, it’s about respecting local norms and values where the person lives, we’re not all the same. French (and most Europeans) mostly don’t agree with a person being coerced into losing individual freedoms and see this whole subject as being an example of this. When it happens in their country they have the right to question and debate whether they want to trun a blind eye. When they live in other countries they have to respect the country’s traditions or choose not to live there. It can be argued that French Muslims have the same choice, live there and respect and abide by the local norms and values or move to a country that upholds the wearing of the niqab. I also think you’ll find that it is only the face covering that they are concerned about as this is a sign of subservience that decades of European womens rights movement have been fighting against.

    Sameer, it’s the question of the possibility of forced subservience that the French and Europeans have a problem with and want to debate. Nuns choose to wear their religious clothes and they don’t lose personal fredom because of it, the same for all the other examples you give.


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