by Sulaiman Badamasi
My fervent freebie for the World Hijab Day (WHD), 2nd February…
Hijab (veil) is a piece of cloth that is worn by Muslim women. Though can be seen in different sizes and designs, Hijab length covers from woman’s head down to her ankles. It is compulsory in Islam on every woman who attains puberty, to wear it or any other piece of cloth that serves the same purpose when moving out of her home or meeting a man that is not a member of her family or a close relative. Niqab (Face veil), according to the majority of Islamic scholars is not mandatory, but is also part of the Hijab.
This type of dress though, its similar kinds are adopted by people of other faiths (catholic Nuns, Orthodox Christian Nuns, Jews, Sikh etc) and sometimes as cultural outfits (Kanuri, Somali, Amharic, Arab etc) has been gathering momentum in recent years when some activists began to advocate against forcing the women to wear (or simply against wearing) it and some countries prohibit the use of Hijab by officially banning it.
The Republic of Turkey has announced the ban on Hijab and any type of headscarf in early 1980s in an attempt to ensure all overt religious symbols, but the ban was lifted later in 2013 when the government realised that women’s participation in public institutions is below average and that the main reason is; they don’t feel comfortable in public places without having their body covered. In 2004, France became the first European country to ban the Hijab, Niqab, Burqa, other religious symbols and anything that covers one’s face from public places in an aim to ensuring a secured and secular community. In 2010, some Italian regions and Anti Immigrant Northern League have made the Hijab ban official, the ban after which a woman was fined 392 Pounds in Novara, Northern Italy. Belgium followed France and Italy (though not the whole Italy as a country) in 2012 but banning only the Niqab (face veil), with a punishment of up to 7 years jail term or a fine of 380 Euros on the violators. The Dutch government also adopted the ban on Niqab with a proposal of 380 Euros fine upon violation. In 2013, Lagos state government of Nigeria has officially banned the use of Hijab in public schools.
However, human rights activists have been strongly against the ban in the courts of law worldwide, arguing that; it is a violation of the affected group’s right of choice of dress, religion, life style and practice.
To my opinion, “if it is a violation of human rights to force women to wear Hijab, then to force them to remove is also a violation”
Article 18 of the international Human Rights Law – Freedom of Thought – says; “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Let me bring forth and reply to some of the reasons that are being given when banning or supporting the ban of Hijab;
Hijab can be used by terrorists to hide explosive:
Of course some attackers have been disguising under the cover of Hijab to lunch attacks, but the questions, which I may like to ask, are; is Hijab the only thing that the terrorists use? Will banning it bring an end to terrorism? Has banning it ever become an end to terrorists attacks in any country? France, as the first European country to ban the Hijab has recently (in early January 2015) faced an attack which swept away at least 17 lives.
If someone tells me that he still supports the banning because of terrorism, I would then ask further whether he also agrees that all sorts of clothes should not be worn by anyone anymore, because terrorists do also hide deadly materials under their garments. For example; the Northwest Airline Flight 253’s underwear bomber in the US, who attempted bombing in December 2009 was discovered with explosive in his underwear, and recently in Kano-Nigeria, a 13 year old girl was on 11th December 2014 detected wearing an explosive vest, covered under her shirt. Terrorists are also using mobile phones. – does that mean we should all be banned from using GSM? They also are using vehicles. – Why do those governments not prohibit the use of vehicles, garments, mobile phones etc, and the activists too do not chant any boo against them?
Therefore just like it is not all that use mobile phones, garments and vehicles for terrorism, it is not all who use Hijab terrorise.
Women are forced to wear it:
If there are women that are forced to wear it, and you advocate for them not to be forced to do so, why do you not allow those who willingly wear it with passion? Indeed the number of those who wail for being forced to wear the Hijab is insignificant compared to those who protest against banning it. Why is it that those who detest the Hijab have their rights considered but the rights of the ones who want to wear it is neglected?
Tawakkul Karman, first Arab woman and youngest Nobel Peace Laureate, when asked about her Hijab by journalists and how it is not proportionate with her level of intellect and education, she replied, “Man in early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I am wearing represents the highest level of though and civilisation that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It is the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”
“Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are widely criticized by western secular governments for enforcing the compulsory wearing of the Abbayah and Hijab by law, yet France is now doing exactly the same thing. It really doesn’t matter whether a law demands or prohibits the wearing of an item – it is a fact that such enforcement restricts personal freedom that makes it unpopular” Lucy Monroe in 2004.
Thus women are wearing it willfully; therefore their right of choice of cloth should be respected, protected and fulfilled.
It is against formation of a secular community:
A government can be secular but should not feel authorised to forcefully secularise its citizens. The French government has pretended being a neutral government, but should indeed; recognise the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion which further suggests that people should be allowed to practice their religion. By the way, the French government is so segregative in that respect, because in 2014, Father Christmas, which they called “Pere Noel” or “Papa Noel” could be seen on the day of Christmas, moving around, giving and accepting gifts to/from young children in the red and white dress, which obviously communicates the religion to which he belongs.
Mark of separation/ Symbol of existence of parallel society:
In 2009, the United Kingdom’s then leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw, who alleged that was worried about “implication of separateness”, suggested the ban on Niqab, and when detested and faced with mix reactions, he wrote to a local news paper, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph in October 2006 that; he preferred talking to a woman whose face can be seen, and ask women who were wearing them to remove when talking to him. But Straw publicly apologised in 2010 about his 2006 comments. Tony Blair, the then Labour Prime Minister also described it as “mark of separation”.
What I may want to ask anybody that is in harmony with Blair’s view is; do they know that there exists a gay community which can be identified with a different kind symbol in their countries? Are they not different from others, as they have differentiated themselves? Are there no people of other faiths whose dresses communicate the religion which they belong to? Have you not recognised their (gays) rights to differ from other people? How do you apply Article 18 of the International Human Rights law of freedom of thought on those minority Muslims in your countries?
Face to Face contact is required while teaching:
This reason was given when Egypt attempted to ban the Niqab in public schools in October 2009, alleging that it gives a penumbra to some female students who bamboozle in examination halls, and when Britain strived the unsuccessful ban, it stated that; there is need for face to face contact between a teacher and the students. This contradicts what the UK is well known with doing (i.e. online study). Is it not ironical if someone who approves and promotes online study complains of lack of Face-to-Face contact during lectures? I knew a person who studied online with the University of Portsmouth UK in 2009, where he learned through texts and live voice, without even a video due to poor network in Nigeria by then. This means there was total absence of the so called face-to-face contact, yet they have not raised their voice against it. Some institutions do have no any live meeting arrangement (whether textual, voice or video) for online students, but exchange of email messages etcetera.
According to the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination.”
Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 after World War II, International human rights law lays down obligations which states that states are bound to respect. By becoming parties to international treaties, states assume obligation and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights; the obligation to respect means that states must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires states to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfill means that states must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights (UN -OHCHR)
In disharmony with the above, there would be no freedom of thought; which means that the women who willingly chose to but are prevented from wearing the Hijab due to fear of public/government persecution have their rights of freedom from fear and freedom of worship and dress choice violated.
I stand to be corrected!!!