Archive for the ‘veil’ Category

Veil Ban in Europe – Gender Equality or Gendered Islamophobia?

Saturday, July 11th, 2015
Published March 2015
I was asked by the renowned International Georgetown Journal on Inequality to write an article about the face veil ban in Europe. In my contribution I examined the reasons routinely provided to justify face veil restrictions.  I questioned whether the motivations were genuine and whether Muslim women were denied procedural fairness during the process leading to legislation and whether any legitimate  concerns could be addressed without legislation.

Should full-face veils be banned in some public places?

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Published on BBC website here

Women and girls should not be pressured to conform – it’s important they make autonomous choices about their lives and their bodies including what to wear and not wear. For this reason I oppose a complete ban of the face veil.

However, there are circumstances where the face should be seen – for example, pupils and teachers in schools, and in the courtroom when giving a testimony or being questioned. Communication without any barriers is paramount in these situations. Also it is important to show one’s face to verify identity for security reasons.

The vast majority of the 1.4 million Muslim women in Britain do not even wear the face veil, as it is not considered a religious obligation. The tiny minority that do are probably happy to remove the veil when required.

It is unfortunate that sometimes the odd Muslim woman is unreasonable and refuses to remove it. Such attitudes are contributing towards portraying their own faith negatively – Islam is not rigid and is flexible.

I wonder if their stance is really about religious freedom, or about making a political statement? The debate has now become so polarised that those people who didn’t care what Muslim women wore are now turning against the veil.

Muslim Women’s Dress: Let’s use common sense and proportion

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Published on MSN News website on 16th September 2o13

I welcome the judge’s decision today – the Muslim woman who refused to remove her face veil in court can stand trial in her veil but must remove it to give evidence.  He will allow her to be screened from public view but she has to be seen by judge, jury and lawyers.  I believe this is a very reasonable common sense approach.

Although I vociferously oppose a ban on the face veil, I believe there are particular circumstances in which it is necessary to show one’s face.  Giving evidence in a courtroom would be of those situations.  Studies show that much of communication is nonverbal. That means it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it.  When being questioned in court the face therefore becomes an essential part of the communication process and should be seen to ensure justice is done.  This is not just about making an assessment on the truthfulness of an individual but also for their protection. For example, it would be important to know if the person being questioned is getting upset or being put under unfair duress.

Jeremy Browne MP has called for a national debate on face veils and wants them banned in schools and public places.  We do not need a national debate on such a minor phenomenon.  Let’s put things into perspective.  The Muslim population in Britain is 2.8 million and there are about 1.4 million Muslim women, the overwhelming majority of who do not wear the face veil.  No one has carried out any research on how many actually wear it and the figure could vary between a few hundred to perhaps a couple of thousand. So any kind of ban would be a disproportionate response to this issue.

Although I agree that girls in school should not be wearing the face veil because it would interfere with learning, I am concerned about the timing of Jeremy Browne’s comments and for wanting to see a ban in all public places.  Is this really about political point scoring? Muslim women’s dress is often used for that.  I question whether such rhetoric is really about the protection of Muslim girls and women as he claims. In fact, they are facing unprecedented levels of discrimination and hostility, which includes verbal abuse and physical assaults. I don’t hear politicians rushing to their defense when this happens.  It feels like that there are people who simply don’t like the look of the face veil, and finding excuses to ban it.  I am a Muslim woman and I don’t like the face veil either but that is not a good enough reason to ban it.

Banning and burning burqas is not the way forward

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Hamra alam at LFW Feb 2011 @ strand palace Hotel.
Photo taken by Yarik Baranik

What on earth has got into Dr. Taj Hargey, imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation and the Chairman of Muslim Education Centre of Oxford? I could not believe my eyes when a received an email about their ‘burqa banning celebration’ event which included burning of the garments. It was held on Saturday evening in support of the French laws banning face coverings that came into force yesterday. Although I disagree with face veiling, I do not support his response. One cannot claim to protect the rights of women and then dictate their dress. To ban clothing is just as appalling as it is to force the wearing of it.

Also, anyone burning a symbol cherished by another group or population whether that is, religious books, flags or even clothing is deliberately being provocative, as Pastor Terry Jones was by burning the Quran. Offensive tactics are not going to curb the minor phenomenon of veiling. In fact, igniting burqas, is likely to have the opposite effect – historically when any group feels threatened, it reacts by defending its culture or faith, becoming more attached to it.

Hargey is no stranger to controversy as he openly performs marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men and has invited females from abroad to lead a mixed congregation in prayer. I respect his courage to challenge patriarchal interpretations of Islam, but these latest actions make no sense. While I agree with freedom of speech, these rights should be exercised responsibly.

The current environment is already very hostile towards Muslim women; their bodies are serving as a battleground for every debate. Hargey’s stunt is likely to further intensify these debates. Muslim women are under intense pressure to conform rather than make autonomous choices about their lives. Their attire is given disproportionate level of attention. Mainstream society views the various forms of Islamic dress as a threat to Western culture while increasingly religious Muslim communities are maintaining tradition by advocating the headscarf and face veil. So Muslim women are either, not integrated enough, or not Muslim enough. They are being viewed as one monolithic group by all sides; their diversity and the way they want to practice their faith is being ignored.

Like many others, Hargey also appears misinformed about the reasons behind why women veil. In the statement he sent out, he only mentions women who have been convinced that it is a religious necessity. However, the reasons why some women adopt the covering vary widely. Some feel it is a religious obligation while others admit it isn’t but want to take an extra step to feel closer to God. There are those who want to make a political statement or do it for reasons of fashion or culture or are simply going through a fad. And yes, there is a minority who are forced or coerced into covering. Many have told me they feel liberated in the veil. I can’t see how it is liberating, but that does not matter. It does not matter that some people find it intimidating and frightening because of its unfamiliarity, as my eight years old daughter, once described in her blog. None are sufficient reasons to justify banning it or burning it, activities that are only fueling tensions in society. What right do any of us have to tell those women, who are choosing the niqab out of their own free will, not to wear it?

The way forward is to address this topic within Muslim communities and engage directly with Muslim women. The debate should include the negative impact of particular types of dress on Muslim communities living in the West and the importance of women’s involvement in every sphere of British society and how the veil prevents participation. Women need to be made aware of the economic impact on their lives of not being able to access the job market. As youth are very impressionable, it is important to expose Muslim girls to a range of interpretations on dress so they are able to make informed choices. That is why I condemn the three independent Islamic schools that have a uniform policy that forces girls to wear the face veil to and from school – they are being held hostage to one interpretation on Islamic dress codes.

Muslim girls and women should have the right to make choices about their bodies, no matter how controversial that may appear to others – whether this is to cover the face or have a bare head. I receive emails sometimes criticising me for not wearing a headscarf – I am accused of being a bad Muslim or not one at all! It is interesting to note that it tends to be mainly men, whether in the Muslim world or the West, telling women how to dress. No one, whether it is politicians or religious clergy have the right to tell us women what to wear or what not to wear – it is our body and should be our choice.

Unveiled: Britain’s most feminist Muslim

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I was featured in the Times newspaper on 21st March 2011.