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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
“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.