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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

“Unlike what might be stressed by some, the issue of putting on niqab in France is not a problem between France and Islam,” said the ambassador. “Basically it is discussing an issue that raises a conflict in the social and cultural traditions of France. It is important to ensure that (the niqab) does not violate the principles of democracy in France, including (personal) freedom and women’s dignity.”

France currently bans “ostentatious” religious symbols or modes of dress in its public schools. While no specific items are mentioned, the law has mostly affected Muslim girls and, to a lesser extent, Sikh boys.

In the first school year after the law went into effect on September 2004, the French Ministry of Education reported that 639 students were reported as showing up for classes with religious symbols or clothing; the following school year that number went down to 12, according to a September 30, 2005 report in Le Monde.

While most Islamic scholars say that the niqab is not compulsory, there are those who disagree and claim that women who do not cover their faces lack sufficient knowledge of Islam.

“Covering the face with nontransparent material is what (the woman) is asked to do, and this is what women who followed the Prophet (peace be upon him) were doing,” said Sheikh Saleh Al Shamrani, a teacher at the Scholarly Institute for Islamic Studies in Jeddah.

According to Al Shamrani, even slots for the eyes should be avoided unless the woman has trouble seeing through the black fabric.

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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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