THE BURQA – A FEW FACTS

burka-2

In light of recent proposals, several discussions have come about regarding Malta’s stance on the burqa. Amidst the verbal hurricane of feminist rants, liberal sympathies and general scaremongering, one game-changing flaw had floated up to the surface.

The alliteration alone should’ve been an indication, really – Ban The Burqa.

Not ‘Ban the Hijab’. Not ‘Ban the Niqab’. It’s ‘Ban the Burqa’. Specifically that particular item of clothing. It didn’t cross our minds to double check the accuracy of that. We forgot to clarify. We just presumed or assumed, as we so often do. Is it a piece of cloth over a Muslim woman’s head region? Then it’s a burqa, or a hijab or whatever. One of those, same difference. Oh, you know what I mean. A woman dressed all Muslim-y.

No.

The above labels are not interchangeable. Islamic headdresses are not one and the same. If we truly want to hold an intelligent discussion, we’ve got to get the facts right. So let’s kick off with a breakdown of a few of the main coverings:

Shayla – A long rectangular scarf that is draped around the head and held in place across the shoulders. The face is exposed.

shayla

 

Hijab – A scarf that covers the hair and neck area, but leaves the face exposed.

hijab

 

Khimar – This covers the head, back, neck and shoulders and goes all the way down to the waist. It leaves the face exposed.

khimar-2

 

Chador – Worn in public, this is a cloak that covers the whole body, except for the face.

chador

 

Niqab – This covers the whole body and also the mouth, nose, cheeks and forehead. Only the eyes are exposed.

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Burqa/Burka – A one-piece veil that covers the entire body, including the face. A mesh piece over the eye area is left for vision.

burqa

 

So, there you have it. Not all of them are burqas. You cannot refer to all of them by the same name.

Now that we’ve smoothed out that little technicality, we can actually move on to the current argument.

Let’s start off by looking at why some members of society are calling for the ban. There are those who wish to remove it for security purposes. There are those who wish to remove it in order to uphold women’s rights in Europe, and then there are those who wish to remove it simply to get one over the ‘opposing’ religion, just to impose their Western superiority.

Banning it on the principle of identification makes sense. Yes, I would like to know who’s behind the veil, not because I’m nosy, but because it gives a sense of transparency. Then again, I would have no objection to a woman momentarily lifting her veil to identify herself in court or at a bank, and then spend the rest of the scenario covered.

What is not okay is how some may go about that ban. When I go to my local bank branch, I’m very politely asked to remove my sunglasses at the door. However, I’m willing to bet that if a Muslim woman had to enter wearing a niqab or a burka, there’s a high chance of her being rudely ordered to remove it as if she had waltzed in with a machine gun-shaped handbag. From some of the comments that I’ve been reading, some people want the ban just to have an excuse to bash Muslims around. The ban wouldn’t be diplomatically implemented, but used as a trump card by racist bigots.

Banning it on the principle of women’s rights, ostensibly, also makes sense. However, we may also be making the age-old Western mistake of assuming that we know better. They don’t follow our customs? Oh then, they must be primitive and we must educate them. We did that years ago, and look where that got us. Who are we to say that certain Muslim women don’t wear the niqab or the burqa out of their own free will? By imposing the ban, we’d be stripping Muslim women of their customs and their cultural freedom to exercise their traditions.

Having said this, Imam Mohammed Elsadi has recently said that “most women wear the Islamic face-veil freely and with pride. They do not adhere to it because it is imposed on them by a male, as implied, but rather they willingly wear it because it is a matter of faith and an opportunity to please Allah.”

I fail to agree with him on this one. If Muslim women truly value their freedom to wear their veils, then they should be the ones making this statement. Why is Elsadi, a man, speaking on their behalf?

Incidentally, two Muslim women who adhere to the burqa have spoken about their choice to wear it on national television. Therefore, we are in no position to assume that every woman is forced to wear it. Nonetheless, we cannot rule out the possibility of a number of women who are indeed forced to wear it, but must lie about their true sentiments towards it.

When Westerners visit Islamic countries, we have to abide by their cultural laws, and we are obliged to wear sleeved tops and skirts below the knee at all times in public. Therefore, from that angle, the Western world has the right to ask Muslim women to abide by our laws. However, isn’t the Western culture based on diversity, freedom and tolerance?

It’s a tough one.

Would you like to see a ban on the burqa? On what grounds?

Let us know in the comment section below.