Now a draft bill is under consideration of French Parliament
imposing a fine of Euro 700 on any woman wearing burqa covering her
whole body in any public place and her husband twice as much if he
forces hear to wear burqa. This is for the first time that women
would be penalized for wearing burqa. Earlier France had banned
Muslim girls wearing hijab in schools. It argued that these
religious symbols interfere with its commitment to secularism and
its secular culture.
In fact nothing happens without political ideology being behind it.
This measure is being championed by rightwing politicians who are
exploiting anti-Islam feelings in France among a section of people
under the cover of secularism. However the socialists are opposed to
any ban on burqa though they are also not in favour of women wearing
burqa. They feel women should be discouraged rather than banning
burqa (which includes covering face).
The Socialist spokesman Benoit Hamon announced that wearing burqa is
not desirable but is not favourable to legal ban which would amount
to an inconsistent ad hoc ban. Mr. Hamon said on RTL Raido “We are
totally opposed to the burqa. The burqa is a prison for women and
has no place in the French Republic”, he said. “But an adhoc law
would not have the anticipated effect”.
The stand taken by Socialists appears to be quite logical. One
cannot stop women from wearing burqa through a legal ban. It is
quite undemocratic to punish one for wearing certain type of dress.
It is anti-democratic and anti-secular for a multi-cultural society.
Let it be very clear that to cover entire body including the face is
not necessarily an Islamic way.
The ulama hold different views on the subject. Majority of them hold
that covering face and hands is not prescribed by Qur’an or Sunnah.
Only very few theologians and jurists want women to be fully
covered. To compel women to so cover their bodies and face is indeed
against women’s rights and dignity. And a woman should be a free
agent to decide for herself what to wear within decent limits and
However, this freedom also includes right of women to cover their
face, if thy so desire and if they think it is requirement of their
religion. When I was lecturing in Bukhara University among a class
of women students all of whom were wearing skirts and their heads
were uncovered, two women came fully covered including their faces.
All other women demanded that these two burqa clad women should be
I said imagine burqa clad women were in majority and two women had
come wearing skirt and uncovered head and majority of burqa clad
women had demanded those two women being thrown out, what would you
feel. I, therefore, argued that let us not get violent because
someone dresses unlike us. We should dialogue with them and persuade
them, if we can, not to wear such dress fully covering themselves.
There could be number of reasons why one prefers to wear certain
kind of dress. May be there is coercion by parents or husband which
is undesirable. Or may be one thinks it is religious requirement and
one tries to assert ones right. Or may be one is trying to fight
Certain dresses also become identity markers. Many Muslims who
migrate from Asia and Africa experience cultural shock when they see
French or other European women wearing scanty dresses, even wearing
bikinis. Thus they feel all the more compelled to wear their
Also, in France and several other European countries migrants are
marginalized and have feeling of alienation which pushes them into
practicing their own cultural norms. And then it is also to be
remembered all Muslim women in France do not wear such dress
covering themselves fully. In fact many Muslim women have integrated
themselves into French society by taking to western dress.
Thus legal ban will only build up resistance among traditional
Muslim women and they would try to defy the law resulting in social
tensions. It would be far better to resort to persuasive ways to
discourage traditional Muslim women not to wear all covering burqa.
And persuasion alone will not work unless backed by other measures
economic as well as social to fight alienation of religious and
Thus one needs multi-pronged measures to contain this problem.
Muslim Ulama and intellectuals living in France also have to adopt
creative ways to reinterpret Islamic traditional sources to suit new
conditions. It is quite necessary to revisit traditional sources
rooted in medieval feudal culture.