Original Articles

The burqa debate: “To ban or not to ban?” – by Imaan Hazir Mazari

Related articles: The burqa debate: “Just so you do not have thoughts…” – by Shazia Nawaz

The burqa debate: “Burqa got a befitting French kiss” – by Marvi Sirmed

How do we know when a state oversteps its bounds? When do we, as the citizens of any state, determine how far a government can intervene in our personal lives? When France decides to ban the burqa, that’s when I, personally, feel a state is exceeding its scope of power. Having established that, let this scribe clarify that I, on an individual level, could not even contemplate covering my head, let alone wearing a burqa. However, it is this sort of personal choice and freedom to it that I stand for. This is simply because of the fact that every individual has a right to choose how they dress.

The response towards this ban has been extremely shocking, as a large majority of Pakistani “liberals” have made a number of inane remarks. In order to understand why the burqa should not have been banned, we must address these issues. Firstly, to claim that the burqa is a symbol of Islam and France being a secular state should be allowed to make its own decisions pertaining to its ban, is rather unfounded. Tracing back the origin of the burqa, one must realize that it is not an Islamic tradition. Infact, it originated from the Hindu Caste system when Brahmic men did not want their women to be looked at by lower caste men. Therefore, culminating in the development of Burqa. Moreover, not all individuals wear a burqa to preserve religious sanctity, as such. To many women, the burqa embodies emancipation from the process of globalization and predominant western imperialism (I would advise readers to observe Helen Watson’s study of personal responses of Muslim women, in the UK, to wearing the burqa). Hence, to claim it is an Islamic symbol doesn’t have much ground because this cannot be generalized.

Furthermore, even if it is an Islamic symbol now, the fact remains that, by banning it, France is only going to damage its own society. This is essentially because Islamophobia in the world is on a steady rise. By banning an “Islamic Symbol,” this phobia is being made a reality and would actually cause mass polarization within the French society.

On a second level, when people make claims such as those regarding how Muslim women, not in favour of this reform, should leave France, it reflects their ignorance. Reverting back to the 1800s when colonization was at its peak and the French had colonized half the world, the reason they brought all these Muslims in from their colonies was because they required cheap labour. Now that these Muslims have citizenship, they seem to be socially persecuted due to their appearance. The fact is that not wearing the burqa wasn’t a pre-condition for granting these women citizenship. Therefore, as they have been given this nationality, they have a right to live there and be respected just as much as anyone else.

Lastly, there is something we must clarify to ourselves. A secular state is one in which state affairs have nothing to do with religious dogmas or beliefs. France has a very strong White Christian culture which they are trying to preserve by banning the burqa. In doing so, they are depicting their hypocrisy. If they wish to act like a liberal, secular and multicultural society, then they need to allow such personal freedoms. If they cannot do so, they should not create these facades of liberalism.

About the author

Abdul Nishapuri

19 Comments

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  • I disagree that burqa has its origins in the Hindu caste system. It is rooted in Arab-Byzantine traditions.

    Other than that, the arguments in your article are quite well presented.

  • The same way we ban nudity in public in the U.S. (indecent exposure) France has banned the burqa (overly decent exposure).

    Do you think Muslims will just be like, oh well so much for that modesty business. We in France now baybee! and then they’ll start rapping in French and shaking their bootys?

    No wait. They’ll have to take a French citizenship class, so they’ll just start eating escargots, have wine at every meal, and be snooty and superior towards everyone.

    I wish they would just stop wearing the burqa without it having to be banned.

    http://caloriecount.about.com/burqa-ban-sit-well-ft196520

  • Politicians from both sides have been supportive of the ban. Fadela Amara, an Algerian-born former housing minister in called the burka “a kind of tomb, a horror for those trapped within it”, and André Gerin, a Communist MP who headed up the commission who looked into whether to implement a ban or not, described it as “the tip of an iceberg of oppression”.

    And yet in Britain, Thereas May, the Home Secretary, ruled out implementing a ban because “it would be out of keeping with our nation’s longstanding record of tolerance”.

    The logic around the debate seems muddled, are we saying that a ban is needed because the veil oppresses women and that most women who wear a veil are forced to do so? That the ban is therefore a tool of freedom for women?
    But how is this any different from suggesting that all women have to bikinis between July and September?

    And what about if women are not being forced to wear the veil but are doing it out of choice? What then of a ban that overturns their choice? What does that say about their right to self expression and self determination?

    But also is there a fine line between choosing to wear a veil as a statement of one’s faith and choosing to wear a veil to minimise the unwanted comments and behaviours of others? At what point does it become a choice rather than a compulsion?
    Or perhaps the French are trying to, in the light of their secular society, to reduce this very visible sign of difference, Jack Straw described the veil as a ‘visible demonstration of separateness’. And yes in a modern Western society it is strikingly different, but is it more of a statement of separation than facial tattoos or piercings or vividly dyed hair? Is banning it then an attempt to create conformity, to force through integration?

    But by actively attacking the right to wear the veil are we not giving publicity to people who want to empathise the differences, might we not be giving ammunition to the ‘they don’t understand us’, the ‘they want to attack our way of life’ groups? May a ban on the veil not minimise the potential for religious fundamentalissm but actually increase the likelihood?

    I’m still wrestling with whether this is a good or a bad ban – even more so I’m wrestling with trying to work my way through what is a minefield of issues surrounding this seemingly simple idea.

    What do you think?

    http://www.muddlingalongmummy.com/2011/04/12/the-burka-ban-a-good-ban-or-a-bad-ban/

  • In order to help other readers of this post to understand it in a better light, let me shed some light on Ms. Imaan , she is the daughter of well known personality in Pakistan Dr. Shireen Mazari. With due apologies to Ms. Imaan as I am sure she would like to assert that her views are her own and are nothing to do with her mother and so on and so forth.
    But I will show how this fact is important in this discussion. But before that to annoy Ms. Imaan little more let me also add that Shireen Mazari is considered by many as the ISI agent and mouthpiece in media, a lot of controversies surrounding her about her dubious and harmful role in putting mediamen’s life in danger. Again this fact is also very relevant to my comments below on this post.
    Finally before I comment on the actual content of this post, let me also point out that the Military establishment in Pakistan had two types of civilian faces , one which is very well known and everybody knows , i.e. the Mullahs like Qazi Hussains and Maulana Fazlu of our Pakistan, the other which is less obvious and little known particularly to the liberals of Pakistan. These are the so-called “moderate” Muslims who pretends to be liberal and anti-establishment however they are just as equal and necessary to the military establishment framework as the Mullah Group. Shireen Mazari and likes are the second civilian face of military establishment.
    Now let me come to the actual contents of this post, though on the face of it this post will seem to be coming from a “moderate” who herself “could not even contemplate covering her head”, but have the right and freedom to support all the ladies who wear burqa as a “personal choice”.
    The young lady inspired by the freedom in her “muslim” family given to her to reject “burqa” and even “cover her head” is out to fight for the right of the “choice” for the “conservative muslim ladies” to wear a burqa. She rejects the notion that “burqa” has Islamic symbol and wants to find its root in hinduism (remember I referred to the ISI link of Shireen Mazari, somehow whether you are Samia Raheel Qazi d/o Qazi Hussain or Imaan Hazar Mazari d/o Shireen Mazari) you are born to research on hinduism :)) , and at the same time she won’t to forget to admit that “even if it is a Islamic Symbol” however it is a matter of choice. Many people tell me that young generation of Pakistan is confused but I usually don’t agree with this particularly in the case like Imaan Hazar Hazari , I say they are completely brain washed corrupted youth. I usually raise the point that although world is afraid of uneducated and poor talibans like Omer Fadai , living in remote village of Peshawar or South Punjab and ready to below himself. However to me such innocent children are not the danger to the world and Pakistan. The real danger lies in the shape of youth like Faisal Shehzad, Ata, Johan Walker Lindh, and upcoming youth like Ms. Imaan. With sufficient conviction in their “ideas” and enough “hatred” against the “infidels”, this youth can prove itself lethal to modern society. We have already seen these in the events of 9/11, 3/11 and 7/7.
    People will point out to me that I am exaggerating a little here, as Ms. Imaan and likes are not really extremist in their views and are quite moderate both in their actions and thoughts. But to be honest we need to understand that somehow hypocrisy is more prevalent in this youth. I remember meeting a young Pakistani man in Europe in a public bar and in a long conversation with other group members (primarily Europeans) the guy seemed to me quite agreeable and moderate. However when we came out the bar and were walking to our destination , he (considering I am a “muslim”) talked at length to me about what he believes and how much he hate these “White Christians” , killing the Muslims all over the world and so on…. And then he told me that why don’t I join him in the prayer. You will find many such examples all around you. These youth have been trained in hypocrisy, they don’t have any problem in hiding their real ideas and convictions.
    Ms. Imaan like many youths fascinated by the likes of Zaid Hamid, Zakir Naiks, Israr Ahmed and Ahmed Deedat of this world, may prove a deciding factor in determining the future of whole world.

  • Well said Peja Sahib .

    “Many youths fascinated by the likes of Zaid Hamid, Zakir Naiks, Israr Ahmed and Ahmed Deedat of this world, may prove a deciding factor in determining the future of whole world.”

  • @ Ms Iman

    How could you say that ?

    “Tracing back the origin of the burqa, one must realize that it is not an Islamic tradition. Infact, it originated from the Hindu Caste system when Brahmic men did not want their women to be looked at by lower caste men.”

  • To Mr. Shakeen Arain:

    I had been researching the origins of the burqa and came across this piece of evidence, in addition to its origins in the Arab World. That’s how I can say it. Capisce?

    To Mr. Pejamistri:

    1. I really wish my mother was with the ISI; at least then our single-parent household would have one guaranteed source of income. Incase you didn’t know, her relations with the ISI have been very strained over the last few months particularly. The ISI did not even support her when the PPP government removed her from the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. That is something for which I, let alone she, can never forgive them for.
    2. Stating that my mom has put “mediamen’s lives in danger” is rather unfounded because she remains a significant contributor to the media. She was the editor of The Nation, appears regularly on television channels and talk shows, is the Media Spokesperson for Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaaf and was a regular columnist for The News. I’d advise you to substantiate after writing, and if you can’t, don’t write.
    3. WOAH. I have no hatred towards any religion. PLEASE refrain from grouping me with whoever you named. Do not EVER dare to make any sorts of assumptions regarding my religious “preferences” or opinions on other religions. I’m neither confused nor vengeful, as you would like to believe to comfort your pathetic self. Firstly, the “even if” argument I ran is a typical debater argument that we run to substantiate a line on two separate grounds, thereby, attributing it greater validity. Being a debater, that’s what I did, hence, not making me confused, but smart, unlike YOU. Secondly, saying the burqa has its origins in the Hindu Caste System isn’t a way of defaming Hinduism, unless you feel the burqa is an inherently horrible and atrocious symbol. Even then, that is your hateful view of Islam then, since you see it as an Islamic symbol, rather than my hateful view of Hinduism. Therefore, I’d advise you to clarify your own contradictions.
    4. Lastly, don’t ever think you have the right to assume or make remarks regarding my character. Have a problem with what I write, go ahead and state that clearly. Don’t talk about who’s daughter I am, what my religious inclinations are or who my role models are. Have the decency to destroy arguments, like a normal human being, and not slander my character. I am Shireen Mazari’s daughter, and am proud to be. I’d like to see if your mother can achieve half as much as mine has. I am a moderate and do not believe in covering my own head, but until the day that the last drop of blood leaves my body, I will fight for the rights and freedoms of all individuals, particularly, my fellow Pakistanis. I have my own views, my own inclinations and my own beliefs, but that, in no way, allows you to judge who I am or make assumptions regarding my likes and dislikes. I don’t know who the hell you are or what you think of yourself, but I don’t tolerate this rubbish from anyone. If you can’t argue with a 17 year old girl like myself, don’t try and hide behind slander, just don’t try arguing. I’ve been through this since I was 14; people accusing me of being brain-washed and corrupted only because I could voice my opinions better than they did and only because I had a strong opinion. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve learnt that this is only because you’re insecure of a teenage girl, which is sad, but also is a boost to my ego. So thank you for your inspiring comments.

  • I agree with you that every individual must have the right
    to wear as you said”personal choice and freedom”. Then you should also condemn those Mullahs and individuals who compel women to wear Burqa.In India at Calcutta the Aliah University threw out Ms.Shirin Midhya who refused to wear Burqa as demanded by Student council controlled by saudi assisted fundamentalist students. I found rather funny your argument that Arabs and Prophet Muhamed(PUBH) got influenced by Indian caste system and made burqa a dress code for Islamic woman.I humbly request you to visit the Ajantha and Ellora caves and also thousands of Temples in India and show one single woman wearing the burqa or even the veil.

  • If its not obligatory according to Quran & Sunnah, then its only a cultural thingy!!! Do at Rome as the Romans do!!! So y not respect others culture specially when you are residing there. If you expect a foreigner not to wear a short skirt in your country…… or you make it obligatory for non muslim women to wear Burqa/Veil when they land in Saudi Arabia and Iran……….. then better leave your culture behind and act accordingly.
    I wud have opposed the ban, if it was obligatory according to Quran & Hadith !!!! 2ndly still if you are not convinced you have to admit that you are racist and bias, coz u never raised voice against making it obligatory to wear a burqa/veil in certain countries jz coz they r so called muslim countries?
    Yeah walking nude or short skirt is not the religious issue, its a culture……….. same like covering face is not a religious issue and its only a culture of some countries/parts.So practice your culture at your own country but not in other country…………thats it 🙂

  • Hey Pejama,

    How does it feel to get ripped a new one from a 17 year old (girl)?

    You are a pathetic shameless creature!!!

    Go a head change my moniker and giggle like prepubescent boy!!

  • Over the last one year, I have been researching on my thesis about the “Westernized Taliban: The Younger Generation”, the essence of thesis is that it is not the illiterate, poor uneducated teens living in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan/Yemen , who are the real danger to the world. Unfortunately It is the whole generation that has grown up in the age of Islamic Internet/Islamic TV Channels (Peace TV et all.) , the “well” educated , highly pumped up and extremely opinionated young teens who with little more conviction and devotion to their beliefs and enough money/resources might just become Faisal Shahzads and John Walker Lindh of this decade. And this is whole generation not just two persons.
    I have chosen Ms. Imaan and Fariq Zakir Naik (and one of her sister Rushda Naik) to follow. 
    I compare this generation with the generation that grew up in 80’s/90’s in Pakistan and which is playing havoc these days in my country. The new generation growing up under umpteen Islamic Channels and Molvi’s rhetorics and having false belief in their superiority and unbounded hatred, is going to prove lethal not for single country but for whole world.
    People do say to me, that this is exaggeration but I see it as a real danger.

    P.S. Imaan I did not respond to you, because I am just following you as my subject :). I was actually appreciating your energy level, my younger one always tells me to take actimel whenever I am tired 🙂

    @janjua/shirin Mazari
    Hope this answers your curosity.

  • aoa,
    please get your facts straight regarding what is a ‘burqa’ and what is a ‘veil’ and what is ‘face covering’.
    In Islam women are required to wear a ‘hijab’ (very specific) and they can cover their face. how they cover it is their choice. a burqa is hijab and veil in one cloth. veil is hijab plus one extra accessory (the veil) and you can cover your face with a dupatta as well.
    It is obligatory upon women to wear the hijab (and not a variant of it). you don’t wish to it is your choice. but Allah (SWT) has not given this choice.
    Please read this sister’s views as they are quite close to what you are saying without refusing to recognize the obligation of hijab:
    http://serenitypearls.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/to-pardah-or-not-to-pardah-that-is-the-question/
    May Allah guide you.

  • @ Reaching out to the left
    Would you like to quote the book. Hijab is not mandatory. Women are only advised to cover their ” zeenats”.

  • Your post actually made me happy but after reading comments of many readers here, I just don’t know what to think anymore. Listening to Zakir Naik,Israr Ahmed makes you a danger for this world? and banning burqa/hijab is very intellectual ..right? Im sorry Im very emotional right now, another habit of being a ‘muslim’ but seriously people I can’t understand thos, who call themselves muslims and cannot even raise a voice against these unjustified laws and they even disagree with Quran and sunnah? Oh not to forget they even think that wearing burqa/hijab is not “‘obligatory’ according to Quran” (Danish Khan)
    Seriously? Have u ever tried to read Quran?
    Thank you writer for raising your voice,something which our oh so precious ‘liberal muslims’ can’t stand.