The “Burka Ban” has been at the centre of much conflict over the course of the last few years. With a growing global concern for public safety, many countries around the world have introduced legislation to prohibit people from wearing any item of clothing that covers their face, the most recent one of these being Denmark, who introduced the ban earlier this year. Now although this legislation in Denmark does not explicitly target Muslim women, a majority of the people affected by this ban are Muslim women.
While the Quran does not explicitly state that this is the clothing that women should wear, it calls for both men and women to ‘cover and be modest’. As with most religious scriptures, the specific rules surrounding attire are open to interpretation and have adapted and evolved over centuries of changing cultures, spread throughout various nations. Although some scholars, predominantly those in more conservative communities in the Muslim world, argue that it is a religious obligation, this is not necessarily the case. Naturally, when there are over a billion people in a movement, ideas, values and interpretations will vary. Modesty is a very relative concept, where what might be modest to one person, may be alternatively be seen as provocative by another. It is a subjective concept that is personal to every individual.
So what is the problem?
In his column for the Daily Telegraph which talked about the “Burka Ban”, ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson wrote, “If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree. I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes.” He went on to say that if “a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber,” he would ask her to remove her face covering in order to speak to him. Johnson stated that humans “must be able to see each other’s faces.”
Johnson took it a step too far. His inflammatory and hateful comments angered many members of the Muslim community, feminist groups and MPs. He not only further aided the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been dividing communities for almost two decades now, but successfully managed to further isolate a massive segment of society that is already struggling to integrate. Can you blame them? When the people who are meant to represent you hold these bigoted views and are able to spout hatred and go unpunished for their actions, you have no inclination to be a part of that community. British Muslims across the country live in fear of discrimination and fear for their safety because of people like Boris Johnson. But that isn’t even the main problem with any of this.
We’re now in 2019, and yet people are still trying to dictate what women can and cannot wear. In many conservative Muslim nations, women are forced to wear the burka. This is just as oppressive as the fact that some are unable to exercise their right to religious freedoms and not wear their burka in public without facing a fine. These laws not only take away the people’s right to practice their religion, but equally strip away a part of their identity, whilst also forcing women to dress in a way that may make them feel uncomfortable. The issue is not one of public safety or religious freedom, it’s greater than that; we need to let people, not exclusively women, take back control of their bodies, what they wear and how they wear it.
by Zoya Chishti