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One of the subjects in the headlines in Great Britain at the moment is whether Muslim women should be banned from wearing headscarves, the niqab or the veil in public spaces. The measure in question has entered into force in France and Belgium in recent years, and is also being debated in the form of parliamentary bills in other countries.
Various opinions are now being put forward as to whether the same path should be followed in Great Britain.
Belgium: Use of the burqa, the niqab and the veil is completely banned in Belgium. That prohibition involves not only public services, but all public spaces, including streets, parks, roads and “buildings for public use and serving the public.” Violation can attract prison sentences of 1-7 days. Yet the number of women who wear the niqab in Belgium is negligible.
France: France, with a population of 65 million, is also home to the largest number of Muslims in Europe, approximately 6 million. Some 2000 of these wear the niqab. The “burka ban” in France forbids individuals covering their faces in public areas or receiving public services. Public spaces include the streets. Everywhere, schools, universities, hospitals, courts, post offices, municipal buildings, governor’s offices, libraries, banks, unemployment offices, public transport, metro stations, airports and train and bus stations is regarded as a public space. Those flouting the ban can be fined 150 Euros.
Spain: The burka and the niqab were previously banned in the ton of Lerida, with a population of 135,000. The interesting thing, however, is that the number of women wearing the burka and niqab there is less than 100. Such a law was passed for such a small number of women! The law was later annulled in 2013 since it was incompatible with basic human rights.
Holland, Italy, Denmark. Great Britain, Sweden: In Holland there is a ban on the niqab and the headscarf in all public health facilities, schools and public transport. Local bans on the niqab are in place in some cities in Italy. Petitions have been set up to bring in similar bans in Denmark, and polls have been held in Britain. A referendum is soon to be held in the Swiss Canton of Ticino on the subject of banning the burka. The number of women wearing the burka in Switzerland as a whole is no more than 100. In other words, there is to be a referendum on banning these 100 women.
There is much to be said about these debates, which are becoming increasingly vocal across the world. The most important of these can be listed as follows:
1) A ban on clothing that can restrict a person’s whole life is incompatible with freedom of belief and lifestyle
No matter what their country or beliefs, people’s freedom of beliefs and lifestyle must always be supported. No matter where in the world a Jew may live, he must be free to enter public spaces and attend public meetings and schools, and to enjoy free access to social life by going into restaurants, cafeterias and hotels, in short anywhere he wishes, wearing religious garb of his choice.
In the same way, no matter what country he is in, a Christian must have the right to practice his own religious rites as he sees fit and to wear clothing he regards as sacred.
Muslims must also enjoy the same freedom of belief and practice in countries where Christians or Jews are in the majority. A Muslim can wear a headscarf or a burka or a niqab, as she so wishes. Or if she wishes she can wear low-cut or open clothing. This must be left entirely to her own beliefs and discretion.
Why? Because there is no compulsion in religion. And this is the approach most compatible with peace, tolerance and love.
In the same way that it is perfectly normal for someone to choose such a garb out of esthetic taste or for reasons of fashion, so the fact she chooses to wear it for reasons of faith should make no difference.
2) The demand that Muslim women should not wear the niqab in court is understandable. But introducing a restriction that will impinge on her whole life is a violation of freedom of belief.
Of course it is vitally important for people’s identities to be confirmed in court. It is also exceedingly important, in addition to the concrete evidence submitted in a court case, for facial expressions, gestures, reactions and glances reflecting the state of mind of the defendant or witness to be clearly seen. A request during legal proceedings for a woman to remove her veil may be regarded as quite permissible in these terms.
However, forbidding women who wear the burka and the niqab from wearing these in public spaces, in such a way as to restrict the whole of their lives, is far from that aim. Restricting such people’s freedoms, that do no harm to public security or the provision of justice, gives the impression there is a very different reaction going on.
3) The real reason for the fear of the burka and niqab in France, Belgium and Great Britain is ‘Islamophobia’.
If the reason for such a measure is merely anger and hatred toward Islam, known across the world as ‘Islamophobia,’ then the issue needs to be considered very differently.
People who have such an attitude toward Islam and Muslims must never forget that hatred incites hatred. If they encourage hatred for Muslims, then the same attitude may be encouraged toward Christians or Jews in other societies. And that can only be harmful.
If a country adopts such a perspective toward people living in its territory but who belong to a different faith, then the tension and uncertainty in the world will reach very serious levels.
4) Hostility toward Islam, Christianity or Judaism is unacceptable.
Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and love. The Qur’an advises Muslims to treat people of all faiths and beliefs with tolerance, love and compassion
Muslims exhibit great respect for a Jew or Christian living by his own faith. The history of the Ottoman Empire is full of example of the tolerance shown to Jewish and Christian communities by its sultans.
It is therefore illogical to approach Muslims from a spirit of ‘Islamophobia.’ On the contrary, true Muslims are highly virtuous people that can act as role models on this subject.
However, Jews and Christians must treat Muslims with the same tolerance.
5) Neither the burka nor the niqab are compulsory in Islam. Muslim women can therefore easily make an exception in circumstances that might otherwise impede the working of the law or provision of justice, and assist the justice system.
Muslim women can assist the functioning of the law when the law so demands. Because the burka and the niqab are not obligatory forms of clothing in Islam. The decision to wear them depends entirely on people’s wishes and preferences. Therefore, as in the debates currently taking place in Britain, when a veiled women has to give a statement in court, then in my opinion she can make an exception and facilitate the working of the justice system.
Because the moral values of the Qur’an foresee justice working in the most flawless way. And it submits a moral conception that can build justice across the world. As a requirement of that moral conception, a Muslim woman needs to be as helpful as possible when it comes to the most justice decisions being taken, and must not constitute an obstacle to this.
6) Islam is an easy religion.
Allah does not wish difficulties on people. Through the Qur’an, Allah offers His servants the most comfortable, the most desirable and the most beautiful lifestyle. That life style involves a model in which men and woman have equal rights and in which they live in the greatest blessings, under the most tasteful and comfortable conditions. The moral values of the Qur’an contain no life style or practices that impose any hardships or pressure on women.
7) Islam is opposed to extremism.
The fear being experienced across the world in the form of ‘Islamophobia’ is one involving extremism, not Islam itself. However, people with little knowledge of Islam are unaware of this distinction.
Apart from a very few unlawful things set out in verses, The Qur’an opens the door of freedom to its fullest extent. And it permits full use of the benefits of modernity, art, science, entertainment and happiness.
However, many people in the world are unaware of these truths about Islam. They imagine Islam, may Allah forbid, to be a religion that restricts and suppresses the life of this world, freedoms, joy and blessings. The main reason why they come to this opinion is that they base their judgments on people who adopt “the extremist mindset” and apply it as “so-called Islam.”
The representatives of extremism are people who misrepresent Islam by applying practices that have no place in Islam in the supposed name of the faith.
In the true Islam, however, Muslims are the most modern, best quality, cleanest, nicest, most open, purest, best groomed, best dressed people in the world, with the best possible conception of art, who implement it in the best way, and who live in the cleanest, best quality and best furnished homes and gardens. And their aim is to constitute such a high quality society of believers in the world as a whole.
8) Women are free to act as they choose in Islam.
Another idea that has led to the development of ‘Islamophobia’ is the error that women are regarded as second-class people in Islam. According to this perverse and extremist way of thinking, which appears nowhere in the verses of the Qur’an, and which is part of the nonsense added onto Islam at a later date, women are described as “half-human.” And their lifestyle, rights and freedoms are restricted in the light of this perverse belief.
However, the true Islam is the exact opposite of this extremist view. Women are as free as can possibly be in Islam. In Islam, woman is not someone who acts solely under the control of a man, with no right to use her free will and relegated to the background. Apart from the very few unlawful things revealed in the Qur’an, woman is an independent entity, and as free as can be.
With her moral virtues, profound intelligence, expert understanding of art and science, powerful affection and compassion, lofty sense of responsibility, pure way of speaking, fine language and effective way of speaking, a Muslim woman is a blessing that beautifies the world.
Woman is also one of the loveliest beings created by Allah in this world. She is one of the finest manifestations of Allah’s creative artistry, knowledge and beauty. With her beauty, radiance and powerful effect, she is therefore one of the most decorative adornments in this world.
However, one of the main reasons for ‘Islamophobia’ is that people are unaware of these facts about the place of woman in Islam.
The solution for France, Belgium and Britain is the elimination of extremism and for people to be told of the true Islam
Banning women’s clothing will not solve France’s or Belgium’s or Britain’s problems. Preventing 100 or 1000 women stepping out onto the street or forbidding them from veiling their faces when they do so, will not save those countries from the ‘Islamophobia’ that has enfolded them. In the same way, lifting these bans will not represent liberation for those women who wear the burka and the niqab.
The real solution, for both sides, is for two important matters to be brought out into the open:
1- For people with an extremist mindset who misinterpret Islam to be told about the true Islam and thus freed from their extremism.
2-For people who are caught up in the fear known as Islamophobia because they are falsely acquainted with Islam to be told that the extremist practices they witness are not the true Islam, and to be shown a modern, high quality model of Islam.
Once these two issues are resolved, the West will have no fear of Islam and Muslims, and people who do not represent Islam will be able to stand up and establish a model that strengthens Islamophobia in the supposed name of Islam. The world will see the beauty of the true Islam and live by the comfort of that understanding.
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