Original Articles

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

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

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

Before reading this argument on recent Burqa-ban by France, you need to know who I am. Raised in an orthodox Muslim Deobandi family, I’ve been educated in Pakistan’s Punjab where urban middle class used to be too sensitive about purdah in 1980s and 90s – the decades when I went to school and then university. Being first generation migrated out of the village in a big city, my father was a part of purdah sensitive educated middle class professional class. But my mother, raised and educated in a secular and Sufist Sindh, fought against Burqa throughout her life in order to save me from this ‘curse’ as she would put it.

Mom succeeded in this battle to the best of my luck and now no one expects her or me in Burqa or purdah in general. Despite being thoroughly religious, mildly ritualistic and overwhelmingly humanist in her viewpoint, I never saw he observing strict purdah. She would cover her head, although, while meeting with my father’s friends and serve them tea – a practice completely absent in my orthodox and backward paternal family. It’s because of her struggle that the family elders were never able to impose either Burqa or hijab – or even a chaddar – on me. All they required of me was to cover my head with traditional dopatta when I stepped out of house. My honest confession: I often cheated on them by just wearing it in their presence. But seeing my aunts and grandmother, I kept wondering all through my childhood, how must it feel to be continually imprisoned in a horrible thing called Burqa.

It has been and is my biggest relief to be among people who are sane enough to be against this practice of subjugating women through veil. But finding so many friends and fellow rights’ activists among those protesting France’s ban on Burqa is shocking and disappointing both. The anti-ban crowd comprises a range of viewpoints – from ardent Islamic, to moderate, to new-age Islam, to seculars, to antitheists and so on. Most heard argument from almost all of them has been their unflinching ‘concern’ for women’s choice and freedom to choose what they want to wear.

To me, this strong sounding argument remains flawed, inconsistent and self-contradictory. How could a choice to commit suicide be that widely accepted? If your suicidal tendency is the result of certain frame of mind, experiences in life, is self-destroying and criminal, so is Burqa. When the society conditions your mind to willingly get subjugated and considering yourself ‘safe’ by hiding behind the veil, how is it a ‘free choice’? Most of the women passionately protesting the Burqa ban are heard saying they do it of their own free will because they feel safe. Well you can feel safe in Guantanamo Bay if you’re conditioned to feel safe that way.

It is a slap on the face of a society where a woman can only feel safe if she hides herself, if she is invisible from public eye, if she conceals herself from the male eye. Stepping on the soil of any Muslim country in a dress of your choice save Burqa, is herculean for any woman. You want to wear a sleeveless top on a hot summer day and go out on the streets of Lahore or Dhakka, it would be appalling if not impossible like it is in most of middle eastern countries. Things would, however, be starkly different in Khatmandu, Kandy or Mumbai even if you put east versus west argument.

There’s a wide gulf between for and against Burqa arguments within Islamic scholars. Major disagreements exist on whether or not Burqa is an injunction of Quran. Even if it proves to be in the holy scriptures, it needs to be reviewed in the context of modern world where men are expected to have at least little hold on their libido, where women are not just sex objects whose unveiled presence in society would be dangerous for public morality.

At the risk of sounding Islamophob or racist against Muslims in west, I would strongly suggest to those who seem too concerned about women’s “freedom” to choose Burqa for themselves, to kindly go back to their countries of origin and fight for women’s choices there. A lot of women in these countries don’t have right to choose their spouse or profession let alone dress. Let us all fight for a free Muslim world where women are free to not wear Burqa. A polite reminder to all the women’s rights activists, of sickening bars on women’s choices in Muslim countries where they are coerced into adopting a life style no sensible male would ever choose for himself. Burqa can never be a free choice of anyone. Had it been, this choice would have been available to men also.

About the author

Abdul Nishapuri


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  • Dear Marvi
    I fully agree with you that this argument “women’s choice and freedom to choose what they want to wear” is flawed. But my point is: Is this Ban by France to safe guard rights of women wearing BURQA? I think its more of current wave of “Islamophobia” that France has banned Burqa! and at this point of time, in these days of friction, this ban is gonna further antagonize and polarize Muslims of World in general and of Europe in particular

  • “At the risk of sounding Islamophob or racist against Muslims in west, I would strongly suggest to those who seem too concerned about women’s “freedom” to choose Burqa for themselves, to kindly go back to their countries of origin and fight for women’s choices there.”

    In fact they don’t have to go back to their countries of origin; they need to be a little bit more considerate about women’s choices within their own families.

  • I can appreciate your views Marvi, but I respectfully disagree. You describe your own experiences growing up in Punjab, Pakistan where the burqa is often indeed forced upon women. But you fail to see the other side of the coin. The counter-argument is not as simplistic as you deem it. The general opposition, at least mine, to this law arises from several reasons: 1) the fact that it stereotypes Muslim women as lacking agency and in need of liberation; 2) it lays down the foundations for de-secularization of a state. At its core, the law is highly Orientalist.

    It furthers the thinking that the Third World in general and the Muslim world in particular must always be brought the light from the ‘modern’ and ‘rational’ east – that Muslim world is a place in which women have no agency and are no more then subjects of patriarchal institutions waiting to be liberated.

    You state: “When the society conditions your mind to willingly get subjugated and considering yourself ‘safe’ by hiding behind the veil, how is it a ‘free choice’?” But that can be true about any widespread system of belief: capitalism, feminism, liberalism, democracy etc. In fact, I could make the counter-argument that you yourself are conditioned by society to be anti-niqab and therefore your choice against niqab is not a ‘free choice.’ An atheist can make a claim about Islam in itself being an oppressive religion-and many do-and further argue that people don’t accept it out of free will but because they have been conditioned. Did your mother’s behaviour and actions, commendable as they are, not condition you?

    In essence, what you are suggesting is that a woman is wearing niqab either because she has been oppressed or because she’s too dumb to know that she’s been conditioned. You cannot deny complete strangers the benefit of thinking for themselves, and using reason to arrive at the conclusion that they in fact do want to wear the niqab.

    Now you say that there’s a lot to be done to advance women’s rights, I agree. I am all for ensuring that women are free to wear what they want and anyone who denies them their rights ought to be severely punished. The answer certainly does not lie in allowing the state to interfere in matters of personal choice.

    Even if 99.9% of the women who wear the niqab, do so against their will, you are denying the 0.1% who might do it out of free will. That’s wrong because it sets a dangerous precedent. Once the state is allowed to encroach on such matters, where will you draw the line? Instead, our energies should be focused on ensuring that the other 99.9% of women can exercise their right not to wear the niqab.

    When you’re talking about a universal law, the question isn’t whether women who wear the niqab do so out of free choice or not. Rather, it is whether women should be able to freely choose whether or not to wear the niqab or any other piece of cloth for that matter. (What that cloth represents is individual interpretation!)

  • France’s burqa ban may be based on a different idea of necessary morality, but Britain is in no position to point and hoot

    The arguments about the burqa ban seem interesting in two ways. For the first, there is an inversion of the standard American arguments about free speech to be made. Under the first amendment, free speech is regarded as a fundamental American value; what’s more, all kinds of behaviours have been held to qualify for this protection, even though they don’t involve speech. I think the second part of this argument is entirely valid. One can “make a statement” without using words at all, or when the words used seem entirely irrelevant to the message being conveyed. But if it is the case that a speech act need not involve speech, then countries that have un-American laws restricting speech can just as well pass un-American laws restricting speech acts, too. Whether this can be stretched to cover a burqa ban is another matter. But the principle seems clear enough.


  • As France’s burqa ban begins, 32 women speak out

    11 Apr 2011 22:02
    Source: Other // Open Society Foundations

    Anne, an assumed name, a 31-year old French woman who has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, leaves the police tribunal in Nantes June 28, 2010. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

    Open Society Foundations

    April 11 2011, PARIS—Wearing the full-face veil in France is a matter of personal choice, and not a refusal to integrate, according to a new report released today by the Open Society Foundations.

    Starting today, France’s so-called burqa-ban will make it illegal to wear any face covering in public spaces, except in places of worship or in a privately-owned car. Not abiding by this law could lead to fines of up to €150, which can be accompanied or replaced by compulsory citizenship classes.

    Unveiling the Truth: Why 32 Women Wear the Veil in France offers the views of 32 women across France who wear the full-face veil, their reasons for doing so, and their experiences in public before and after the debate over banning the veil. It is an attempt to distinguish the real-life experiences and perspectives of the women who wear the veil from the popular myths and misperceptions promulgated by the media and national figures.

    “This report is about the unrelenting stigmatisation of a minority and the apparent incompatibility of Islam with European values. My worry is that the law coming into effect today, together with another debate on secularism in France will be the beginning of a slippery slope where other countries in the region look to score political points by passing similar legislation. Legislative responses to inclusion of European Muslims should douse tensions, not inflame them further,” said Nazia Hussain, director of the Open Society Foundations At Home in Europe Project.

    During a six-month period, the Parliamentary Commission heard testimonies from some 211 people about the proposed ban. Only one of those people was a Muslim woman who wore a full-face veil. Kenza Drider was only permitted to speak after repeatedly contacting the Commissions’ president. Drider was also interviewed in the Open Society report

    Key Findings:

    Testimonies from the women clearly indicate that none of the respondents were forced into wearing the full-face veil.
    The adoption of a full-face veil in the great majority of cases is the result of personal choice, without any pressure from family members.
    In most cases, the women interviewed said they adopted the full-face veil as part of a spiritual journey.
    The recent negative media attention surrounding Muslims in France encouraged a number of interviewees, especially younger ones, to adopt the full-face veil.
    All the interviewees were happy to unveil their faces for identification purposes whether asked by an official or employee. Only three women said that this needed to be done by another woman.

    “Why should I remove my niqab? I am not an outlaw, I am not a terrorist, I am not a criminal, I am not a thief. I, who today respect all the laws, the laws of God and the laws of the Republic, will tomorrow become an outlaw,” said Camile, one of the 32 women interviewed.

    For more information go to: http://www.soros.org/initiatives/home

    The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 70 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health


  • I have not followed this much, but I think the ban in France, while being applicable to the veil is basically against all covering of faces. It does make sense considering that the burqa has been known in the past to have been used as a disguise and not just by women. There would be equal outrage for a policeman to ask a veiled woman to remove her veil, and that would definitely be seen as racism. I think it is better that the faces are uncovered.

    But then I am against religious uniforms. Particularly ones that objectify women and negate individuality.

  • A lot of the points I wanted to make have already been made by Hasnain. Here’s my take on the matter: http://pakteahouse.net/2011/04/14/burqah-ban-a-womans-prespective/

    Women being forced to wear the burqas by their families, societies, or the State is not different than those being forced by the State not to wear one.

    Its about a persons right to choose and not about what the burqa represents, because it may not represent the same thing to everyone.

  • Utterly misguiding, extremely biased and sheer personal view from a woman who do not represent a typical Pakistani woman.

  • FANTASTIC ARTICAL…..Burqa has no root in actual Islamic ideology….this is a part arab tradition..and in arab especially the NAJAD of SAUDI ARABIA area which was the base ground on WAHABIA movement……

  • The other day I was talking to a “facebook fan” of Molvi Shah Rukh Khan (Err.. Dr. Zakir Naik) he told me the stats about women rape in United States as quoted in Molvi Shah Rukh Khan speech. He was very excited as he found the strongest argument in the favor of “islamic modesty”, In the words of molvi
    آپ کس کو چھیڑیں گے ، شارٹ سکرٹ والی کو یا نقاب والی کو

    The guy was excited to as he found the web site NOW (National Organization of Women) where some of those stats referred by Molvi were quoted.
    The guy said you see “every 60 second a women is raped in United Stats”.
    However soon he started fuming at me when I told him according to the definition of “rape” by NOW , Molvi Shah Rukh Khan rapes here wife probably every night and probably his father had raped 1000’s of time his mother in her life. Unfortunately neither his wife nor his mother were able to report theirs rapes to NOW. And they think that there are no “rapes” in Islamic Society.

  • Burqa n Hijab is not an controversial issue …this is an open choice for Muslim women…why west n other make it controversial n debating issue ???
    I like to remind that western dermatologist were first who share a research that covering a face during peak timing is best for skin , in order to save your face from direct rays of sun.And mostly dermatologist recommend covering in case of skin problems…then why Just for an Islamic point of view…. Hijab is getting controversial ? I couldn’t understand !

  • wow Marvi your mother’s situation is so identical to mine. i belong to khi, sindh but married in a mullah-ish family where thankfully my husband is not the orthodox kind like his family is…i can totally understand how my struggle is right now and will be for my daughter (if or when i give birth to one) and will be the same that your mother experienced some time ago…its extremely sad that so many years have passed but such situations within our country, especially in Punjab have not changed…how long will this continue? why must anything even religion be forced onto any individual, male or female? why must a person be coerced into doing something? is there ever going to be any freedom of thought, action and words in this nation???

  • How sad it is that in France the naked and half naked ladies are cont controversial but wearing “something to cover” is looked down and is considered a sin – How sad it is that to make fun of the commandments One Supreme God.

  • It is also “heart-warming” that the nations who die repeating “Freedom of Expression” and equality and justice don’t actually know what they are…

  • very well put Marvi. Opponents of the ban use the “freedom of expression” argument. That is hypocritical, cynical and illogical.

    How can freedom of expression apply to an instrument of oppression?

    The Burqa doesnt just “represent” the marginalisation of women, it is an instrument to marginalise them.

    Good on you Sarkozy

  • مولانا عبدالعزیز برقعے میں فرار ہوتے ہوئے گرفتار

    Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi escaped in Burqa – Part – 1

    Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi escaped in Burqa – Part – 2

    Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi escaped in Burqa – Part – 3

    Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi escaped in Burqa – Part – 4

  • I have only scanned some of the replies above..I note that most of the pro Burka argu

  • Sorry doing this on touch screen and hit submitt in error. I notice that the pro burka arguments are issued by MEN. I am a Muslim convert via the Quran. If these women wish to live wearing this form of oppressive clothing then they should live by its code..not drive cars..not go out without a male escort…not vote…not have any property rights…not go to school…etc.The same as we have laws against indencent dress WHY NOT AGAINST THIS..I hasten to add that the burka is not tollerated in a lot of Muslim countries. I was witnessed a burke hissed at by MEN in a Tripoli street. This extream form of Muslim uniform is actually NOT part of the dress code of Egypt etc.
    I find it disturbing that the only burkes I have encountred has been silly young English gals “converting” to Islam. OR 2nd generation Muslims whos family have come from non burke countries such as Syria. After all burkarization is the new Rock and Roll…A new way to show your teenage rebellion.
    I do feel that France should maybe have just treated this form of uniform with the contempt it deserves and ignore it…now these burkes are getting the publicity they crave for…the look at me generation!!

  • May be a form of burqa would be ideal for people who does not like crowded places or are agoraphobic, who may have scars on their faces, they may feel comfortable wearing it. To have some sort of permission by Law of medical reasons for wearing it, should be looked into.

  • OMG..to the the lady that has honestly tried to justify this form of dress as providing protection from the sun. I had to go for my Brothers wedding in the desert of Southern Libya in JUNE. I actually did cover up (BUT NOT MY FACE as I needed to see where I was going). My Libyan female kin thought my white jella absolutely hillarious! And they will never let me live it down! Tradtional in the desert about 100 years ago the Burka did make some sense BUT not in Northern Europe where we have hardly any sun. And in fact darker skinned people suffer from Vitamin D defficency because of the lack of exposure to the sun! SO better get that Buka off and get some beautiful soft Northern sun on you! AND of course there is always SUN CREAM!!

  • Pejamsatre..well done..I have had this quite honestly distubing “fact” thrown at me. It is only Turkey that has so far got any stats..and they are not looking good. Cairo I beleive has only one overloaded rape centre and as the data is just being corrolated the rape rate is in fact HIGHER..even worse it is mostly interfamily rape. AND how odd that most porn is downloaded in the middle east! BUT from a male point of view..are Muslim men saying that they are so backward and so full of lust that they cannot control their urges and so women must be hidden (by the way the Quran does NOT ask for such a dress code). Well why not the men too! I note the stupid thing is Muslim men don western dress!

  • Strongly disagreed. With all due respect. The trouble with our current generation who call themselves “the moderate muslims” more like the modern westernized culture oriented people is that they only see things what they want to see, they want to prove things right what they actually do. Proving something right just because one does that particular thing for him/herself and moreover trying to impose it on others is an absolutely inequitable. Its surprising to see the majority of our generation supporting this kind of stupidity or not speaking up, i mean how can we be so naive about this. Suggestion: If you dont like something for yourself, dont try to impose it on others by saying that its not right for them and they shouldnt wear burqa (in this case). Mind it, by advocating such causes you are challenging Islam as a religion itself. Dont make a mockery of it. I suggest that let us all study our religion first, only then we ll come to know what is what and why. Thing is i think its better for us to be close to our roots and remember who we are rather than getting getting ourselves confused in the mist of modern western culture and the culture which our neighbors are imposing on us for a long time. Otherwise the example of “Dhobi ka kutta” will be upon us.

    REMEMBER: “Know who you really are, not what others want you to be”

  • All people belonging to any other religion or else: You do what you do and let us do what we are ought to do. But DO NOT try to impose your wants on us, ever.

    Marvi Sirmid: If someones husband is a hindu, that doesnt mean we all have to be under the influence. If you know what i mean. After all we all have our norms

  • late Dr Israr once said that we will keep non muslims in our country as third grade citizen in our Caliphate, Non muslims countries are entitled to do the same with their muslim citizen as we have no right to complain them as our own religion teaches us the same.

    When asked what the muslims in non muslims states should to avoid treated like third grade citizens, he conveniently replied, they should migrate to a muslim country.