The issue of veil worn by Muslim women in Europe has grown into an issue of political significance rather than a human rights issue. For no valid reason, the local and central governments of European countries are demonstrating their aversion to the way some Muslim women prefer to dress up. This is insane. Equally insane is the reaction of Muslim expatriates living in these countries. Instead of defying the ban, or making it an issue, they should simply pack up and go back to their own countries where they can practice their faith more freely. If their adopted homelands don’t feel comfortable with the way they want to live, then let them feel the consequences of living without these expatriates who are backbone of their economies.
Irony of history is that Spain where Muslims have left their imprints in the shape of many things civilized, is also averse to the concept of Muslim women covering their faces. According to a report published in a recent issue of Business Recorder, the garment has become the object of a heated debate even though there are few many people who may have actually seen the burqa. It has been reported that seven municipalities have announced or are considering bans on the burqa, a conservative party is taking the matter to the senate, and some Muslim leaders have vowed to take legal action to reverse the bans. “This is an entirely artificial debate, with political motives behind it,” Encarnacion Gutierrez, secretary-general of Madrid’s Islamic Culture Foundation (FUNCI), told the German Press Agency, dpa.
“Both Christian and Muslim extremists are also using the burqa” to fuel mutual prejudice, an attitude which makes it more difficult for Muslims to integrate into Spanish society, Gutierrez said.
Spain has about 1.3 million Muslims. Most of them are of Moroccan origin. It is not rare for Muslim women in Spain to wear the Islamic headscarf or hijab, which covers the hair. Yet very few of them wear the niqab, a garment covering all but the eyes.
France and Belgium have banned the burqa in public places, and other Western countries are discussing whether to do the same. Many Westerners see the burqa as an extreme example of how Islam oppresses women, yet many Muslims feel that the garment is not even Islamic. “There is nothing in the Holy Quran, saying that a woman should cover herself from head to toe,” Gutierrez says.
There is even disagreement on whether the Holy Quran orders women to wear the Hijab, which is usually accepted as a sign of the Muslim faith. “No verse (of the Holy Quran) gives clear instructions on the exact way to dress,” writes Asma Lamrabet, a Moroccan author of books on feminism and Islam. Even conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia do not accept identity photographs of women with covered faces, Gutierrez points out.
The burqa, which is worn mainly in Afghanistan, and the niqab are thought to have a pre-Islamic origin. Yet opposition to all-body veils in the West has encouraged some Muslim women to claim them as a sign of their religious identity. In the north-eastern Spanish city of Lleida, for instance, some women reportedly started wearing the niqab after the municipality became the first in Spain to ban all-body veils from public buildings in May. El Vendrell followed Lleida’s example on Friday, and five other north-eastern municipalities are considering similar bans. Muslim leaders from 11 mosques in the region intend to defend women’s “democratic” right to wear the Burqa or niqab at the Constitutional Court.
“I cover myself to feel closer to Allah,” said Zohra Nia, a 38- year-old Moroccan woman who wears the niqab. “My goal is to hide my beauty” from men other than her husband or close relatives, Nia told the daily El Pais in Tarragona, one of the municipalities which are expected to outlaw the Burqa and the niqab.
Spain’s main opposition conservative People’s Party (PP) is taking the debate to the senate, which it wants to adopt a motion calling on Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government to ban all- body veils from public places. “Most Spaniards regard the use of these garments as being discriminating, harmful and contrary to the dignity of women,” conservative senator Alicia Sanchez-Camacho said.
The Burqa is also a security issue, because its wearer cannot be identified, she pointed out. Zapatero’s Socialist government has not taken a clear stance on the issue. Spain does not even have nation-wide rules governing the use of the Hijab, with some schools allowing pupils to wear it, while others expel girls who refuse to remove it in class.
Gutierrez says she opposes the use of the Burqa, but sees bans as doing more harm than good. Debates on subjects such as the burqa could become “explosive” in Spain, which created an “anti-Muslim” Christian identity after expelling the last of its former Muslim rulers in the late 15th century, she said.
It was contradictory for Spain to allow women to wear extremely scanty clothing, but to question women’s right to cover their bodies, Gutierrez said. Covering women’s bodies in a sign of chastity is not only an Islamic concept, but forms part of Christianity and other traditions as well, she pointed out.
This mutual insanity both on the part of governments and the resistant Muslims is creating division, rift, unrest and tension in the societies. The best course of action is for Muslims either to accept the law or leave the country which does not let them lead their lives according to their version of the faith. But it seems that it is as much an economic issue for expatriates as it is political issue for the governments. After all which expatriate would abandon the quality of life and economic benefits of living in Europe?