Veiling has a long history which is impossible to identify where or when it began. Although the history of veiling can be traced to the Muslim women, the practice is tipped to have begun long before Islam. It is argued that the veil started as a sign of privilege, and the practicality of the garment was not a thing to worry about then. Although the burka is perceived by some of the conservative Muslims as an affront, its appeals have far much extended beyond the Muslim community such as conservative Christians, cancer patients, or even burn victims have snapped it. The vocabulary surrounding burka is wide and worth acquainting ourselves with it. The West define all the garments that cover the head as burqas, however, the term only applies to a small subset of garments. In other countries where the garment is common like in Afghanistan, it denotes a full body cloak which covers the face of the person wearing it. These veils only leave a mesh screen for the eyes. In other countries like Saudi Arabia, and Iran, we have the abaya and the chador and, in most cases, these countries mandate that women ought to cloak themselves. Failing to mention the Hijab will render our subject of discussion incomplete. The Hijab is a general term which is used to refer to head coverings and scarves of all sorts. It is usually accompanied by a nigab which is a face veil covers every part of the face leaving only the eyes. The two terms, therefore, centers around the debate on veils as the coverings that hide the face. Besides hijab acting as headscarves, it also plays other roles. In Arabic, for instance, the term hijab means barrier or partition; whereas in Islamic religion, it refers to the modesty and behavior that people believe that prophet Muhammad expects them to live by. In the Quran, there are most verses that call for modesty although the different views that scholar’s hold on the meaning of these versus.
Muslim scholars argue that both male and female faithful ought to maintain modest dress. This kind of dressing entails covering the area between the navel and the knee, as well as wearing of silk by men. On the other hand, female dressing has caused controversy for a long time with some believing that the hands and face must ordinarily appear during the day, and the exposure of the full face is not required. In Quran versus, Muhammad instructs women to completely cover themselves and men to avert their gaze in the name of modesty. These scholars argue that the hijab or a head covering is necessary, whereas the nigab is not a must. The Quran mentions a number of policies which governs how women should dress. Some of the most quoted versus include the ones that advocate wives, daughters, and believing women, ought to cast their outer garments over their persons, and that it is most convenient and they should be known and not molested. Other verses say to the believing men that they ought to lower their gaze and guard their modesty, a thing which will enhance their purity. Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. They also say that women should lower their gaze and guard their modesty by displaying their beauty and ornaments and others that appear ordinarily afterwards. Minority scholars assert that the full covering of the face and hands completely is a sign of extreme piety. Despite the different ways in which women choose to interpret the Quran, the hijab remains a religious obligation that calls upon women to adhere to it and be recognized as Muslims in the public. It is worth noting that the Quran also teaches that women can unveil themselves in front of their husbands, slaves, brothers, fathers, and other Muslim women. This paper will address the reasons why women wear burqa. Secondly, the paper will examine the reasons in favor of it being banned or limited. It can be because of security problems, it retards effective communication, and it’s oppressive to women. Thirdly, it will establish the arguments in favor of it not being banned. In this case, it will base the discussion on the rights to religion, culture, and freedom. Moreover, I will discuss the arguments that I find most persuasive. Last but not least, I will give my opinion on the matter.
Reasons why women wear burqa
The debates that surround the wearing of burka often hold that women are forced by men to wear the garment. This is further strengthened by the fact that, in many Muslim countries, women lack basic rights and equality and, therefore, the wearing of burka seems to be a form of patriarchal control. In different parts of the world, particularly in conservative states, there is evidence that women are forced to wear burka or a nigab because they fear being beaten, arrested, or even killed. France president Nicholas Sarkozy, however, hold different views expressed in his 2009 speech where he argued that many of women in the Islamic countries have revealed to reporters that the practice of wearing burka is their choice and right. These women argue that, as believers of Islam and readers of the Quran, they interpret the latter to mean that their faces must be covered.
Many Muslim women also argue that the wearing of burka is a sign of equality, as opposed to peoples thinking that it is a tool of subjugation. Their argument is informed by the fact that the public does not judge them on their appearance. They further argue that they are free from the advances which are unwelcoming from males, as well as being liberated from objectifying leers. The same arguments seem to be echoed by a writer by the name Naomi Wolf well known for authoring “The Beauty Myth” comments on an editorial for the Sidney morning Herald that the wearing of hijab is not a form of sexual repression but rather the women who wear it just kept their sexual appeals under the wraps in a certain way that made it more special later in marriage.
In addition, women wear continue with the practice of wearing burka for purposes of group identity. Among them, putting on the veil connotes solidarity and honor in a world which is full of negative opinions about Islamic religion. Some have even gone to the extent of asserting that the banning of the veil in countries such as France will even lead many women to wear it in defiance.
Reasons for banning burqas
The debate of whether the burka should be banned or let to prevail has drawn a lot of attention in the recent past and still dominates present debates. These debates have, however, existed for a considerable duration, but it was recently sparked by the French president remarks on the wearing of burqas. In his 2009 speech, president Sarkozy asserted that the burka is a sign of subjugation and submission by the women folk. President Sarkozy further pointed out that women who wear the veils, will not be allowed in France because the country did not believe in the imprisonment and deprivation of women’s identity. Since then, the issue of wearing veils has been a thorny issue in France which boasts of the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. If you thought Sarkozy’s speech was a joke, then you were mistaken because it was only last year that a woman in France was denied the citizenship because she was wearing a veil. Despite the fact that the woman’s husband and child were French citizens, the authorities denied the citizenship to the woman on the grounds that she was not properly assimilated because she declined to remove her veil. Other politicians in Britain seem to echo Sakorzy’s sentiments. Jack Straw and Tony Blair, for instance argue that the veil sets women apart. Similarly, there are reported incidences in Egypt where officials have banned the practice of wearing veils in university settings. The authorities argue that they took the initiative because of security reasons. In other countries like the United States of America, a judge dismissed a court case because the plaintiff declined to remove a veil on her face.
Sarkozy’s speech suggests that if women are given a chance to remove their veils, then they will do so without hesitation because according to him the act of requiring women to wear burka is one way of terrorizing women. This is evident in Afghanistan where the Taliban force women to always wear burqa failure to which they are subjected to public beatings. Whitlock argues that the burka is an enduring symbol of oppressive and dangerous nature of the regime. This was strongly indicated by the women who tore their veils on the streets on the arrival of forces in Afghanistan in 2001 to fight the Taliban regime. It is worth noting that the veil does not only symbolize oppression but rather difficult to give its real meaning and purpose. To characters such as Sarkozy, the veil symbolizes a dehumanizing prison that renders women as second- class citizens. On the other hand, others view the veil as a badge which carries with it honor and that the West rejects it simply because of advancing their values and interest. According to this group of people, people such as Sarkozy who insist the ban on wearing the burka represents repression, censorship, and an affront to the freedom of religion.
According to the writer Anne Applembaum, the burka ought to be banned for reasons of politeness and respect to the local customs. She argues that the same way tourist cover their arms and legs before entering holy places when on vacation, women living in areas like France should remove their veils too. Some people also argue that the wearing of burka hinders communication. This is because having a conversation with someone who wears a burka is extremely difficult and its removal is a sign of courtesy.
Other people focus solely on the wearing of the garment as a sign of violation of human rights and that it should be removed not only in France but also other parts of the world in order to enhance the chances of women achieving equality. They argue that these women cannot be seen as whole persons if their faces are covered, a thing which will somehow sink them further into subordination.
Women who choose to stick to and defend the culture of wearing the veil; however, call upon the west to abandon what it perceives as hypocrisy and let the burka culture prevails. In their arguments, the women challenge the West to equally reprimand certain trends of fashion and make up, miniskirts, and high heels which are designed to enslave the western woman. The women of veil tell the West to stop perceiving the burka as a sign of submission to the patriarchal society. By citing the example of Western fashion trends where the women are left to choose what is designed to meet with the men’s approval, the women who wear veils should not be restricted on grounds of its oppressive nature; instead, they ought to be left to decide what is and what is not oppressive for them. In other cases, though, countries, which have women, wear burqas horribly repress them. The Taliban rule, for instance, depicted every aspect of oppression. The oppression is evident in accompaniment of women to school as well as being always in burka. The Muslim women countries where these ills are perpetrated against them argue that it is worth fighting against such silly matters especially the matters of the wardrobe.
Arguments of not limiting the wearing of burka
It is irrational for the West to ban the wearing of head coverings among Muslim women. One might wonder why most western countries advocate for the banning of Muslim burka, whereas it does not deter nuns from wearing wimples or Jews from donning the Yarmulke. In as much as they cite terrorism it is not a tangible reason because Christians, as well as the Jews, have also been involved in terrorist attacks in the past. Consider a nun in a burqa, what difference will it have on Muslim woman who chooses to wear one. This make people question whether the freedom of expression is truly extended to all people in the Western world.
The wearing of burka has elicited many questions that will be debated over a long time and the answers to it will likely be imperfect when it comes to the controversy surrounding the tiny piece of cloth. It is very much ironical to grant women the freedom of expression and yet deny them the chance of choosing what they should or should not wear. Questions such as burqa causing security concerns are also a matter of concern. The questions of banning burqa have raged all over Europe. The fact that the laws governing human rights in Europe stress on freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, women should not be denied to wear religious articles of clothing. It is paramount to note that the hijab and the nigab or the burka are Arabic terms, which are used, to refer to the headscarves that Muslim women wear. The former refers to a veil which covers the full face leaving only the eyes uncovered, whereas the latter terms, which are sometimes, used synonymously covers the whole body leaving only a see through mesh over the eyes.
The wearing of these veils has made law makers pass laws which prohibit women from wearing the burka in public places. Belgian, for instance, was the first country in the whole of Western Europe to enact such legislations. Similar institutions legislations controlling the wearing of burka are underway in countries such as Italy, France, Austria, Britain, and Switzerland. In France, for instance, hijab has already been banned in state schools. In his 2009 speech, president Sarkozy has publicly, declared that he intended to introduce a bill in parliament that will make it illegal for women to wear the burka in public places citing it as a sign of oppression. The Swiss and Austrian governments have also expressed similar sentiments of considering banning the face veil if more women start wearing it. These governments cite wearing of veils as symbols of oppression from males, prevent women from fully integrating into the society ad achieving equal rights as their male counterparts, an affront to European values and, therefore, causing uncomfortability among native Europeans, and as sources of security risks. These reasons, however, are not that serious that they should necessitate the banning of burka. The next section will present arguments which counter the reasons for banning the burka.
To begin with, it is paramount to note that Muslim women do not just wear the burka with intentions of satisfying their men but rather they do so as an act of worship to God. Despite the fact that women in some countries have been forced to wear the garment, these instances are just exceptions rather than the rule. In France, for example, only around 2,000 Muslims out of the possible 5 million, wear full face veils. Similarly in Netherlands only a few population of the total population wear the burka. As established in the above surveys, are clear indications that there are very few women who wear face veils. Women have expressed dissatisfactions about the banning of burka. One of them, for example, accepts the fact that French has to fight for the Freedom of women. Nevertheless, she says that she should not be prevented from dressing the way she wants. They also argue that when they make a choice to wear burqa, unveiling them will amount to forcing them, and that is not freedom.
The argument that burka prevent women from integrating into the society and achieving equal rights is misplaced because the proportions Muslim women represented in parliament all over Europe is very low. The average percentage of Muslim population in Europe parliaments amount to around 21% of the total population. It is, therefore, ironic for governments in Europe which are dominated by males to forbid women from donning the religious articles of clothing by arguing that those articles deter women from achieving equal rights and freedoms. The act of banning the wearing of veils by parliamentarians hinders women from exercising their right to practice religion. Moreover, neither the veil nor headscarf alienates women from the society. These assertions can be attested by those who have experienced the wearing of the veil. In interviews conducted by British Broadcasting Company (BBC), some of the women interviewed disagree that they are alienated from human contact and that a piece of cloth will not prevent them at all from having such contact. They disagree with the assertions that human contact is established through the face and that even with the veils, they still have human contact. In a nutshell, they seem to suggest veils, for example, the burka does not in any way prevent one from having contact with the society at large.
In another incident, recounted by a young Chinese-American woman by the name Kathy Chin, who wore a hijab as part of a social experiment while she was majoring in a Psychobiology and Women studies, in University of California, confirms to us that the banning of wearing of the veil will not prevent men from treating women as sex objects. As Chin recounts she dressed in a white dress and black long hair. As she walked down the street, a track driver whistled at her and on refusing to reply his shouting, the driver hurled insults on her. This incident made her visit the hair dresser and instructed her to cut her hair short as she would do with a male client. Nevertheless, Chin realized that it was not the hair that attracted man to her. Despite trying to obliterate her femininity, which she considered problematic, men did not cease from treating her as a sex object. It is the sexuality that men had ascribed to Chin that made them treat her as a sex object. Chin further argues that although men looked at her differently when she was dressed like a Muslim woman that is they did not hurl abuses at her or treated her like a sexual object, she wonders how the inside changes whether she is hijabed or not. She says that she remains the same, but it is only others perception about her that changes. Chin says that Woman’s studies as well as a female thinking that she possessed had led her to buy the Western view that the wearing of the scarf is an oppressive practice. However, after the above experience and, much reflection on it, she concluded that such a perception does not hold waters and is misguided. She says that the act is not motivated by conviction and understanding since it was her choice to cover herself up and she found it as the most exciting experience of her life. Chin tells us that it was not her femininity that she covered but rather her sexuality. The covering of the former as Chin reveals allowed the liberation of femininity. This establishes that Muslim women who cover themselves are not in any case alienated from the society contrary to what critics observe. However, they are liberated from the societal, sexual scrutiny and are in a position to approach other human beings and not as sexual objects.
The veil on the face does not pose a security risk as put forward by those who critique the wearing of burqa. Those who argue that for the banning of face veil argue that it causes potential security risk because one may disguise his or her identity and enter a school setting since it is hard for fellow students to make out their identity while covered. In other cases, a man may dress in a burqa and enter a women’s restroom and remain anonymous. Security risks, however, ought not to inform the banning of the burqa because as the statistics had indicated in the previous discussion, the percentage of women wearing the veil is small and; therefore, the security risk they pose is negligible. Furthermore, women who are asked by authorities to remove their veils comply only if it is done in the presence of another woman. This is not an issue though because most European countries have many females into the police force. There are incidences in which females refuse to unveil themselves in the presence of a male officer and do so in the presence of a female officer.
The debate over the banning of wearing of burqa has been explained by different reasons. These reasons, however, are regarded as peripheral issues brought forward essentially to express the main reason the Europeans are for the banning of the nigab. Surveys indicate that the Europeans are simply uncomfortable with women wearing veils. In France, for instance, around 74% of people support the banning of burqa. In Belgium, the parliament unanimously agreed to pass legislations against the wearing of the burqa. This is a clear indication that the fears that Europeans hold especially their members of parliament is an acknowledgement that they do not approve of the practice of wearing burqa, not for other reasons, but simply because they do not share such values.
Although it is human for people to feel a strange feeling about something that they do not like, it is equally human to learn to accept the way other people live and embrace their culture. We should go by the sentiments echoed by Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams who agrees that he is equally uncomfortable and have many questions about the burqa but he needs to learn first about it rather than simply asserting that he does not like it. Archbishop Dr Williams says that people sometime panic because of what looks strange to them and what they find hard to understand. They, however, need to exercise their patience before condemning something.
This section will analyze in detail the legislations that France and Australia are instituting in an effort to oversee the banning of wearing a burqa. In France, top constitutional authorities have declared that the banning of burqa and other Islamic head coverings is legal. Although the ban is not to be effected immediately, its execution will be carried out nonetheless. The law holds that the people who will be found wearing face covering will be fined 150 euros or a citizen course as punishment. Similarly, forcing women to wear a burqa will be punishable by being thrown into prison for a year or fined 15,000 euros. The government passed these legislations calling the practice an enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its territory. The panel of lawmakers cited security reasons in an effort to justify their act of denying people to cover their faces in public. The Council in charge of France Constitutional affairs said that the law did not impose punishments that are not appropriate or prevent the free exercise of religion in places of worship and, therefore, the law did conform to the Constitution.
The panel of lawmakers in France recommended a ban on burqa unanimously passing a resolution which is non binding, which calls for, banning of burqa contrary to the laws of the nation. When it was sending the measures to the parliament, the government asserted that given the damage it produces the banning of veils which allow the life in a community, ensuring equality between sexes and dignity, cannot be tolerated in a public place.
The French people are in full backing of the proposed laws, a fact which was proved in a survey conducted. In surveys carried out by think tanks based in Washington, 82 percent of people who were interviewed in the polls approved the ban on burqa while the other 17 percent opposed the ban in the five countries it carried out the survey. In countries such as German, Britain and Spain, the majority of population backed the banning of burqa.
However, there have been repeated calls by amnesty international urging France to abandon imposing the ban citing that it will violates European human rights law. The ban on burqa involves the full body covering which includes nigab, a mesh over the face. The law, however, did not ban the hijab which covers the hair and neck as well as chador which covers the body and not the face. In 2004, the French government banned the wearing or displaying of religious symbols that are overt in schools. France statistics on religious affiliation shows that the population keeps with the laws that require the state to be secular.
A bill introduced in the Australian parliament will make it an offence for any person to wear a head covering such as burqa in the public. The Summary Offences Amendment Bill 2010 which prohibits full face covering would see a fine imposed on women. The fine fee would be 550 US dollars. The bill just like the France bill imposes penalties on the people who compel another person by any means such as threats to commit a proposed offence of wearing a face covering in a public place.
These provisions are similar to the legislations that have been passed by the Government of France which in the words of Madeline Bunting are a veiled threat to freedom of women all over the world. An Australian Senator Cori Bernardi has called for the banning of burqa in Australia describing it as the most public symbol of fundamental Islam. These are just but examples of a few legislations regarding the banning of the practice of wearing the burqa. There is, however, a probability of other nations following in the footsteps of France and Australia in banning the wearing of burqa in public places.
My Perception on the banning of burqa
I personally view the banning of wearing of burqa in public places as oppression of women. Informed by the discussions above, the women ought to be presented with the right of choice especially when it comes to choosing what to wear. A piece of clothes ought not to be used as a tool of segregating women but instead they ought to have a free choice on the matter. Characters such as President Sarkozy have taken a noble initiative of declaring the wearing of burqa as a symbol of oppression. Although Sarkozy took the step, he spoils it by making it mandatory for women to unveil in public places. The act is equally oppressive because it forces women to act against their will. The Taliban actions of dictating women to wear burqa and Sarkozy’s of demanding them to unveil are both forceful acts. In my own view, women especially in the Muslim world should be left to wear the burqas out of their own choice. The Western countries should also respect and embrace other people’s culture and religion just like they expect their culture to be embraced. In a nutshell what I propagate is that it is paramount to respect other people’s cultural practices and religion.
In conclusion, the rationale that s provide in support of banning the various articles of religious clothing does not hold waters. It is only that the Europeans feel uncomfortable seeing Muslim women wearing religiously conservative veils covering the face. While other people like Sarkozy argue that the wearing of the veil is a sign of debasement to women, the opposite may be true. It should be noted that Muslim women choose to wear various types of religious clothing not because they are not submitting to men but to the commandments of God in the Quran that both women and men ought to guard their modesty by dressing as demanded by Islam religion. The dressing entails wearing clothes that do not reveal the flesh, to say the least. In regards to this, Muslim women and men wear clothes that fill loosely to cover and conceal the outlines of their bodies. For males, as I had earlier mentioned, the part that is guarded the most is the between the navel and the knees. In Muslim females, the matter of covering has given rise to scholarly intricate debate of whether the practice should be made optional or mandatory. However, it is widely agreed that the Muslim wearing of nigab or burka and hijab do not violate the rulings of the Islamic laws which derives from the statements of Prophet Muhammad and the Quran. In regards to the laws governing human rights in Europe, women who choose to wear the veil should not be prevented from exercising their choice.