guest post by Shaaz Mahboob of British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Discrimination of any form is considered unacceptable is all civilised societies. The burqa or the niqab does just that. It allows one person to remain anonymous during face-to-face communication, thus depriving the right of the other to reciprocate whilst registering the changes in facial expressions, which is vital in such communication, in conjunction to voice that is used for everyday communication.
Whether in public offices, educational institutions or out on the streets, the disadvantage to those who are required to deal with women covered under a niqab or burqa is immense.
Furthermore, to all the men out there, it is insulting since it implies that every man on the street would somehow get aroused by the sight of a woman’s face and in therefore to protect these women, they must be put behind a suffocating layer of thick clothing.
This might be true for certain societies where men rarely get a glimpse of women’s faces or skin altogether, and any such sight might awaken their natural instincts.
Whereas in Western societies, especially within the French society, this rationale does not hold much weight since members of the public are exposed to significant display of the skin of the opposite sex, which perhaps renders them immune to any such mental state where they would readily pounce on a woman upon seeing her uncovered face.
The argument put forward by individuals and groups that somehow covering of women’s face is a religious obligation for the reason of their safety from the lewdness of men, falls flat on its face when recalling the etiquettes during Hajj.
It should be remembered that during this holiest of pilgrimages, worldly pleasures and distractions have been removed by the Almighty, thereby allowing the pilgrims to concentrate on their prayers and associated rituals.
During the Hajj, Islam forbids women from covering their faces, whilst at the same time removes segregation on the basis of sex during the days that men and women, who are otherwise strangers to each other, spend many days in close proximity to each other.
No wonder even amongst the vast majority of women who do choose to cover themselves, only a fringe element finds the niqab or burqa a religious obligation, while the rest are content only with a hijab.
Whether it’s security at airports, identification in banks or during job or dole (income support) interviews, it is the right of the authorities and businesses to be certain of who they are dealing with on the basis of identity and communication.
Furthermore, it is perfectly reasonable that the general public feel reasonably secure about the persons sharing the same public sphere. Not knowing whether an individual amongst them is a man or a woman due to their attire is deeply unsettling and any such anxieties must be addressed by the relevant changes to law.
Burqa or niqab neither has a place in Islam nor should it obtain a place in civilised Western societies where women are equal to men and public safety of all is paramount.
This was written first for Al-Jazeera
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Filed in: British Identity,Civil liberties,Religion