Headscarf Banning Around the World

The headscarf is so entrenched in the daily style of many Muslim cultures that it seems impossible that it was discouraged and even banned at times in countries like Egypt and Algeria. If Hoda Sharaawi today stepped off the train back from Europe and threw off her abaya as she did in 1923, it would likely ruffle not a single veil, I’d wager. The headscarf popularity among Muslims in the Middle East-and across the world-has grown immensely since the times of secular, Western-backed ‘democratic’ governments.  In Europe the question is whether or not to ban hijab, but lest one believe that headscarf banning solely exists in the Islamophobic Western nations, think again: Turkey still imposes select bans on the veil, and Tunisia only recently lifted a ban. A look:


A Muslim woman protesting in Paris
A protester in Paris: “The veil covering your eyes is more dangerous than that covering my hair” Sourced from Gaurdian.UK

Trappes, France, was the latest site of discord involving the burqa among Western nations as residents rioted and cars burned. France, which bans women from wearing the burqa or niqab in public (since 2011) also has banned students from wearing any type of religious symbol in educational settings since 2004 and has become quite a controversial figure in this regard. Since the niqab banning ‘identity checks are being carried out more and more, but surprisingly it doesn’t appear as if the women are always charged a fine for the incident; in any case, they are not forced to walk home without the garment on.

A young Martiniquaise woman, Cassandra B., was walking with her husband on July 21st  in this largely-immigrant Parisian banlieu near Versailles when police stopped her and demanded that she reveal her identity. Her husband, Mickael K., insists that although she normally reveals herself to police, this time “elle n’a pas eu le temps de montrer son visage” [She didn’t have time to] according to France TV. The police insist that Mickael attacked them after violently refusing, showing proof (hmm, sounds like a possible George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin debacle). France TV reports that the case will be judged in September, which means that another round of riots will be likely in this he said/she said affair, unless, of course, Mickael is acquitted.

Islamophobia in France, which is measured by the Collectif Francais d’Islamophobie, seems to be growing at an ever-increasing pace, to the point where hijab- or burqa-clad women will even get harassed in the street by pedestrians, and mothers are prevented from attending school field trips with their children. When it comes to France, any sort of Muslim headcovering seems to be an issue, and unfortunately this seems to go beyond questions of safety or secularism. Perhaps the Trappes riots will serve as a warning sign, but I doubt it.


France’s south-western neighbor Spain is contemplating joining on the Burqa-Banning Bandwagon-at least, the region of Catalonia is: in early July Ramon Espadaler, Interior Minister for Catalonia, announced that the state would be regulating burqas and niqabs as well as masks “for reasons of public safety” as quoted by Secularism.org.uk. The Spanish federal government actually prohibits this type of law because it-duh-violates human rights just as badly as the Saudi laws forcing women to don the niqab does. I didn’t recall too many hijabis in Barcelona, the capital city of Catalonia, when I visited, but it is unfortunate that parts of Spain (Catalonia isn’t the only local municipality trying to install such a ban), which was once ruled by Muslims, are resorting to such measures. Ultimately, I feel that women who wear burqas/niqabs should be subjected to identity checks- a simple showing of an identification card, or perhaps a quick face check (with a female officer if practical/possible)- because security is, after all, no joke. Otherwise you have certain problems, such as a recent occurence in Canada….


The issue of public safety vs. the burqa becomes glaringly clear in the case of a Toronto 14-year old who hit up several liquor stores and bought booze, all the while wearing a burqa. Not only does the burqa/niqab disguise gender (which could be bad if, say, some pervert wandered into a woman’s restroom whilst hiding under a burqa) but it can also disguise, obviously, age. Interestingly, former Muslim Canadian Congress president Farzana Hassan is all for banning burqas in public, siding with her Conservative politicos because it’s a “safety issue.” Canada has already banned the burqa during Canadian Citizenship Ceremonies, but quite frankly I don’t see how there could be any more cases of underage burqa customers buying alcohol because, after all, what woman who wears a burqa drinks alcohol?! (It is also extremely unlikely that she would be buying alcohol for a family member or friend, either).


One wouldn’t automatically think that tiny Belgium had a high enough Muslim population to warrant legal action for/against headscarves, but it turns out that burqas and niqabs have been banned in public since 2011. Some officials described it necessary to ensure public safety; other’s stipulated that they didn’t want a “Pakistani import” which wasn’t required by the Qu’ran anyway. Although I agree with the latter statement, it nevertheless is a perceived “religious” habit obviously by the women who wear it; opening up the “is it required?” door would be a critical and difficult debate that I would love to witness but might be beside the point. Several cities already ban hijabis from holding civil servant jobs; the city of Ghent, located in north-west Belgium, withdrew its legislation for such a ban back in May when an overwhelming number of protesters (more than 10,000!) signed a petition. Given that the petition wasn’t just signed by Muslims, it shows that the general population isn’t always in favor of the human rights violations their normally more liberal governments are trying to impose.


There is hope for conservative Muslim women living-or working- abroad in Muslim-minority nations, at least those women who play soccer (that’s football to you non-Americans). Soccer/football leader FIFA has announced that Muslim players can now sport hijab on the field, thanks to the development of 2 hijab prototypes, one by Montreal-based fashion designer Elham Sayed Javad, a non-hijabi Muslim. In many Muslim-majority countries women who play sports are often made to wear hijab (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, etc.) yet in the Western world, hijabs are often viewed as a safety hazard, hence the 2007 FIFA ban on hijabs. Although I am happy for these athletes, I can’t help but think that other religious symbols are not allowed to be shown on the field. What makes it OK to allow hijabs but not crosses or Stars of David or any other religious iconography on sports uniforms? The answer highlights the unique twist when it comes to the Battle of the Religious Symbols: women who wear the hijab will not leave the house if they are not allowed to wear the hijab. Likewise, most women who wear the hijab would not take it off for a sporting match and then put it back on. Therefore, if hijabs are banned then hijabi-wearing Muslim women are shut out of society and having a life because they won’t go out in public scarf-less.  So while it might seem unfair that Muslim women can run around in hijabs playing soccer while a Christian athlete can’t wear a cross on her jersey,But hopefully Sports-Hijabis will be able to play ball and break down Muslim stereotypes (for now, I think the niqab and burqa are not a sports concern).




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