Is the Niqab an Insult to Women?

[16-10-2013 12:21 PM]

By Nehad Ismail

On 15th September 2013 in London a judge issued a ruling that a defendant should be able to keep her niqab on in court, but must take it off while giving evidence. Judge Peter Murphy said it was of “cardinal importance” to the adversarial system that a jury could see a defendant’s face while giving evidence.

The Government ordered a review of whether Hospital staff should be able to conceal their faces from patients.

In recent years and particularly since the end of 2009 I have been following the debates about why women choose to wear the niqab or the full cover of the face also known as Burqa’. I read dozens of reports in the Arabic press about men disguising themselves as women to commit crimes in shopping malls where women gather in large numbers. I also read that in Iraq a man wore the niqab to get close to girls and commit indecent immoral acts. In Iraq the Niqab was used by women to smuggle weapons and explosives. In Europe the black dress was used to hide illegal drugs and to commit other criminal activities. I read reports in the Egyptian press about the Niqab being used as a cover by women to conceal illicit affairs and liaisons with men.

Why I am for selective banning of the Niqab?

Men blackmail girls and women into wearing the niqab. As far as I am aware there is no requirement in Islam for wearing the niqab. Dressing decently yes but there is no mention in the Quran of Niqab.

YASMIN ALIBHAI BROWN wrote recently in the London “Independent Newspaper”: “Fully Veiled Women Hinder Progressive Islam”. I agree with her when she said:

“Toleration is good but not when it prevents fair interrogation and robust argument. The government must now issue guidelines which specify that faces must be shown in schools, hospitals, courts, airports, police stations, driving test centres”.

However AHLAM AKRAM founder and director of Basira (British Arab Supporting Integration, Recognition and Awareness ) believes that the government must impose a total ban. “All the security risks and social disadvantages will be present everywhere not just in hospitals and airports. Only a total ban of the Niqab will do.” She is totally for a blanket ban.

Akram is an ardent advocate of women’s rights for many years and has written extensively on the subject mainly in the Arabic press. She is also well-known in the Middle East as a defender of human rights.

Julian Bond Director of the Christian Muslim Forum and a fellow writer in the Huffington Post wrote recently “Whatever a Muslim, or Jewish, or Christian, or Sikh, woman chooses to wear on her head is her own decision. Wearing a niqab harms no-one and does not, in itself, cause any problem. If there are security issues there are usually procedures in place to address them”.

But many people see the Niqab as a visual proof of subordination of females. People in the United Kingdom see it as a rejection of British culture and refusal to integrate.

In some Islamic countries girls as young as 10 wear niqab. IN Gaza, the Hamas government imposed the Hijab on elementary school pupils. The full niqab can cause health problems such as vitamin “D” deficiency due to lack of sunlight in a very sunny Arab and Muslim Worlds.

Security Issues:

I am against the Niqab for security reasons and not for ideological or religious reasons. To start with how can the police establish the identity of a terrorist suspect or a common criminal if that person is wrapped in a black tent and the law does not give the police the power to remove the niqab by force if necessary?

Some years ago Mustafa Jumaa’ a Somali who killed a British policeman fled Britain disguised as a Muslim woman wearing the Niqab. No one would challenge him at the airport. The use of the niqab, which leaves only a narrow slit for the eyes, exposed the lax security measure at British airports.
In the city of Philadelphia, USA, between December 2011 and April 2012, there had been at least five bank robberies in which the suspects wore Muslim clothing. Security reasons aside common sense demands that people see each other faces and interact with each other at schools, banks, hospitals, court of law, airports, police stations and even supermarkets.

Britain does not need to follow France’s example of an outright ban on face veils in public – that would be arbitrary and proscriptive. But it is fair to say that facial communication is important in some parts of the public sphere, and that the relevant authorities should be at liberty to require it if they wish. They should certainly be bold enough to stand up to politically correct activists. In that ongoing search for the right balance between the freedom of the individual and the need to build strong communities, we need a mature, common-sense discussion about the effect that face veils can have on the country of which we are all citizens. Most liberal women in Britain believe that the niqab has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom or choice but from the pressure of Muslim men who don’t believe in liberty and freedom but use women as a means of extending their power.

Nehad Ismail is a writer and broadcaster, who writes about issues related to the Middle East from his home in London

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