Saturday, August 07, 2010

Does one need to wear a BURQA anywhere? PRO AND CON

Judge orders woman to remove face veil
(The Australian: Ross Swanborough)

A Perth judge has ruled a Muslim woman must remove her face veil when
giving evidence in a fraud trial.

The 36-year-old woman wanted to wear her niqab at the trial of the
head of an Islamic School, who is accused of inflating student numbers to obtain government grants.

However, the defence raised concerns that the jury members would not
be able to assess the woman's evidence properly.

In her decision, District Court Judge Shauna Deane said she did not
consider it appropriate for the woman to wear a niqab.

However, she stressed her judgment applied only to this case.
(Updated 20/8/10)

Why I must wear burqa in court.

The West Australian
August 5, 2010, 2:45 am

The Perth mother who has found herself embroiled in an Australian test case on the right of Muslim women to wear a burqa when giving evidence in court has spoken about her fears of exposing her face in public.

As national debate raged yesterday over the extent of the rights of Muslim women to choose to dress according to their faith, Tasneem said she did not want to be portrayed as a woman who was obstinately trying to "make a point".

Tasneem, who does not want her surname published, said while she would comply with any order imposed by the court, she would feel stressed, uncomfortable and awkward if forced to remove her niqab while testifying in a fraud trial in the Perth District Court.

A niqab is a form of clothing commonly called a burqa.

"For so many years now it is just a part of me," she said yesterday. "I felt that I am just a witness, I didn't commit a crime and if I did, I would have to face the consequences. But I just felt, why must I be exposed in front of all these men when I am just a witness? If I didn't need to be called that would be better for me."

Tasneem is scheduled to be called as a witness in a fraud case against the director of an Islamic college where she had taught. Prosecutors have told the court that Tasneem is reluctant to appear without wearing her niqab.

But defence counsel Mark Trowell has raised concerns that jurors would not be able to make a proper assessment of Tasneem's evidence if they could not see her face.

District Court Judge Shauna Deane will consider the issue today.

Tasneem said that for nearly 20 years she had chosen not to show her face to any men other than her husband and her closest male relatives. She made it clear that her decision to conceal her face was not a compulsory obligation of her faith, which only required that she wear a hijab covering her hair.

Tasneem also spoke of a common misconception that Muslim women were oppressed by their husbands. She said concealing her face with a niqab was not a "restriction" imposed by her husband, rather a personal choice she had made at age 17.

If the court ordered her to appear without her niqab, she would prefer to do so via a video link-up in a closed room with another woman.

Born in South Africa and moving to Australia seven years ago, Tasneem said she had been told yesterday that if she appeared in an Islamic court she would be required to remove her niqab. But she said this did not alleviate her fears of exposure and discomfort.

Tasneem has been forced to remove her niqab for immigration officials when travelling overseas, and she said she recognised this was necessary. But she said these intrusions on her privacy were performed quickly and with respect.

Tasneem said there were rare occasions when she was targeted in public because of her dress, usually with misinformed remarks.
"If I was having a major problem, I would have maybe considered taking it off but it's not like that," she said.

By Abdullah Saeed



• Related Story: Burka bandits justify a burka ban, ABC Unleashed, 06/05/2010
• Related Story: Banking without interest, ABC Religion and Ethics, 20/07/2010

The legal status of the Muslim "face veil" is back in the headlines as a Perth judge determines whether a devout Muslim woman is permitted to wear a burqa when testifying before a jury in a fraud trial.

This, of course, is a very mild version of a legal debate that has been very prominent in Europe.

Belgium is the first European country to make it illegal to wear a face-covering veil in public. France is moving in the same direction, and it will likely pass a law banning the "face veil" in public, with penalties ranging from fines to possible imprisonment.

Other European countries are likely to follow Belgium's lead.

There are also some voices in Australian politics - such as Fred Nile and Cory Bernardi - that recently have argued for banning the face veil.

This is a matter that requires careful, clear thinking. But before getting to what I deem to be the heart of the matter, it is necessary to clarify terms in order to avoid unnecessary confusion

There are two types of "veil" that some observant Muslim women commonly wear in public: a full-body covering that includes the face (the burqa), and a partial covering that conceals the entire body except for the face and hands (usually known as the hijab).

Very few Muslim women wear the face veil, while a good number of observant women wear the hijab. In any case, most Muslim women in the West and elsewhere do not wear either the face veil or hijab, but rather choose to wear other forms of modest dress.

Arguments for banning the face veil are often based on a particular understanding of the "full" veil.

In the West, the face veil is often seen as a relic of the middle ages, a sign of women's oppression by Muslim men and a requirement that keeps women completely cut off from the rest of the society.

It is also seen as a major barrier to women's participation in social, political and economic life, and one of the most obvious signs of the growing influence of "extremists" in the public square.

Banning the face veil is thus regarded as a way of upholding Muslim women's human rights, of freeing them from oppression and helping them to integrate into Western society.

Of course, these arguments are not just confined to non-Muslims in the West. There are plenty of Muslims who would see the face veil in exactly these terms.

The reality is that for the vast majority of Muslims in the West and elsewhere, the face veil is not considered an Islamic obligation. Even very observant, practising Muslim women would argue that a women's face need not be covered.

While it is hard to find any accurate data on Muslim views on the face veil, in practice the number of women who wear this covering is very small.

In a country like Australia, only a few hundred women at most would wear the face veil - likewise in several European countries. It is reported that in France roughly 1900 women wear the face veil. Out of the 57 or so Muslim majority countries around the world, the face veil would only have a significant presence in a handful.

For many Muslims, it is simply a cultural practice from the past, justified by some Muslims using a rather restrictive reading of a few Islamic texts But for most mainstream Muslims, there is no explicit obligation in the Qur'an for Muslim women to wear the face veil.

The vast majority of Muslim scholars, past and present, argue that a woman may leave her face and hands uncovered in public, because they are necessary for women to undertake work or to participate in social activities.

Some scholars even see the face veil as a religious "innovation" or introduced practice after the Prophet Muhammad's death, something that should be rejected.

Even during the most important and sacred religious event of the year - the annual pilgrimage to Mecca - Muslim women are specifically commanded not to cover their face.

In the daily prayers - one of the five central pillars of Islam - most Muslim scholars say that a woman is not required to cover her face. Hence, most observant Muslim women either wear the hijab or simply opt for another form of "modest" dress that does not involve even covering the hair.

It is true, however, that during the late twentieth century an ultra conservative expression of Islam has been making its mark on the world, and a component of this movement is a strong emphasis on veiling. The taking up of the face veil has increased among some women largely because of this influence, even in societies that have historically had no attachment to either form of the veil.

Given that most Muslims do not see that face covering veil is an Islamic requirement and thus do not practice it, perhaps one could argue that it should be banned.

While it may be necessary to discourage such forms of veiling in public, my sense is that a ban on the public wearing of the face veil is likely to be counterproductive.

If the motivation for this restriction is to free Muslim women from segregation, seclusion or patriarchal control, a ban is very likely to have the opposite effect.

Any ban could easily be taken by some Muslims as a "war" on their religion, and they would then use the face veil as an "Islamic" symbol to be defended, a kind of rallying point.

In this context, less conservative Muslims would also likely be attracted to the face veil as a symbol of protest, which would only serve to increase its popularity. This appears to be what has happened in France when the hijab was banned in public schools; - its uptake among young women in particular actually went up.

Quite apart from the rhetoric about the face veil and women's oppression, there are some Muslim women - though very few - who sincerely believe that wearing a face veil is their religious duty and they wear it based on their own personal conviction.

For those who hold this view, as a society that respects freedom of religion, Australia should allow people to wear what they want in the name of their religion, as long as it does not affect public safety and morality.

As a society we allow both men and women to wear very little in public. Perhaps we should allow people to wear more if they want.

If there are public safety or security issues related to wearing the face veil in certain environments, then the state can and should take this into account. But this, I would argue, has nothing to do with religion. It would be more analogous to the restrictions that govern the use of appropriate clothing in particular environments (such as the compulsory wearing of helmets in construction zones, and so on).

Equally, there are workplaces where showing a person's face is necessary for carrying out that role competently. In professions such as teaching, nursing, medicine, engineering and the like, there is an expectation that employees should show who they are. The state representing the community may oblige those who are in these professions to show their face.

Similarly, at airports and when entering other sensitive places like certain premises and banks, people are required to show their identity.

Those who wear the face veil perhaps should have the right to wear it in public and private. But they probably do not have the right to insist that they should be allowed to wear it in all workplaces or environments.

If those who wear the face veil argue that it is their right to work in these professions and wear the face veil at the same time, then the community has the right to say no to them.

Even Islamic legal norms dictate that the community has the right to declare certain things unacceptable or acceptable as part of public interest.
Abdullah Saeed is the Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne.

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