‘I think someone forced you to wear this. I will help you. Here is a fine of €200’. Sounds stupid? Well that’s the bizarre logic of the French rescue plan/law to help around 2000 Muslim women get out of the burka. Whilst prostitution and pornography flourish it is the burka that is banned. The debasement of women in the sex industry is well known but it is the attire of Muslim women that inspires French chivalry. I doubt anyone’s being fooled here – this has nothing to do with helping women but is another instance of the exploitation of women and women’s issues.

The ban is ridiculous. It’s another blemish in the deteriorating relationship between European Muslims and White Europe. But why is Europe getting all jittery about what Muslims wear or to state another example, how they build their mosques? In Switzerland they banned minarets when there were only four in the country. Minarets and domes are fairly controversial construction in other European countries as well. No doubt the burka or the niqab are not mainstream behaviour. Yet European society has enough non – mainstream conduct. Like the men who dress up as women or those who don’t want to wear anything at all. Then why is it that European society finds anything that is ‘Islamic/Muslim’ uncomfortable? The answer may be found in Europe’s historic discomfort with ‘the other’ particularly when ‘the other’ represents a competing ideology. Whilst a nudist at the annual nudist parade does not challenge mainstream European ideology – a Muslim woman in a burka is symbolic of an alternative and in the eyes of the right – a competing ideology.

The burka ban is a good example of this ‘competing ideology discomfort’. For it is not in the number of women i.e. 2000 in a population of five to six million Muslims that troubled the conservatives in France but that these women were second or third generation French citizens and some were white French converts. The ‘cancer’ it seemed was spreading. Those born and exposed to French culture were opting for the alternative.

This is not mere conjecture. An expert appointed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination has found the present attitude and practices of the Sarkozy government as similar to the Vichy regime that collaborated with the Nazi German forces which occupied France during the Second World War. The Holocaust was rooted in the fear of ‘the other’. Popular narrative pins the Holocaust as a creation of Hitler and Nazi Germany but there were Nazis all over Europe. This included France and Netherlands – another country where Muslims in particular and migrants minorities in general have a troubled relationship with the majority.

A few weeks back I had to go through immigration at Heathrow. The immigration officer thought fit to tell me how well qualified he was for the job. He even had a research doctorate. I was naturally curious as to what he was doing in immigration at Heathrow – with a PhD. He replied that he was working to protect his country. What’s the point of the story? It is that he had distinct South Asian features and spoke with a South Asian accent. I am quite certain that his ancestors were not living in England when William the Conqueror marched through. Yet this was his country and he was defending it with pride. However like many citizens with migrant backgrounds, so long as he clings to his migrant roots – he would be as much an outsider as me. The Muslim versus Europe debate takes place in the context of ‘the immigration problem’. Migrants need to integrate they say. Yet most of the women who wore the burka like the majority of Muslims in France were citizens of that country. The question is when do you stop being an immigrant and become a citizen or is it never?

The insecurity is heightened when these parallel ideologies are practiced in parallel societies or ghettos. There are ghettos in every major European capital. If you take London for example there are certain areas which are densely populated by a particular ethnic, racial or religious group – like Brick Lane or Brixton. Who creates these barriers? How do people choose where they live? I am yet to meet a Bengali who can afford to live in Hampstead but who still chooses Whitechapel. That then is the reality. The latest figure to hit headlines is that 94.7% of school head-teachers in 21,600 schools in England are White British. This is just one industry where there is clear evidence of institutionalised racism that prevents other ethnicities from rising to the top. Examples for other industries are also available and well known. In France the unemployment amongst North African – Arab communities was thrice that of Caucasian communities. No one lives in ghettos out of choice but ghettos reflect systemic and institutionalised prejudices against particular communities which hamper their mobility up the social and property ladder.

Europe’s discomfort with the burka stems also from a very colonial mentality which is that ‘what is good for us is good for all’. The corollary of that idea is the idea that only those who are like us are civilised and the rest – barbarians. Thus colonialists attacked, ravaged and destroyed indigenous communities and cultures all over the world under the pretext and goal of civilising them. Many cannot fathom why women in modern Europe opt for the hijab or niqab which to them symbolises oppression and inequality. A Muslim woman who wears an Islamic attire is portrayed as being gullible, enslaved, brainless and opinion less. When she says she feel actually empowered – they look at her with sympathy and scepticism. In the entire debate on the burka, the mainstream Muslim voices were never represented. I doubt if even twenty of the 2000 women who wore the attire were consulted. There is nothing more degrading for political decisions affecting women to be made without prior consultation.

Despite the disgust and the disappointment, the fact remains that Muslim communities will have to continue to live with Europe. The only way forward would be keep working at building partnerships and removing distrust through the process of engagement and dialogue.

  • SD

    Dear Hejaaz,

    Humans invariably have difficulties integrating between tribes – this is a result of our evolutionary past, is well understood, and Europeans are not exempt from these frailties, being mere primates like the rest of us.

    Notwithstanding this instinctive tribalism, modern humans are required, by virtue of our intellectual enlightenment, to overcome such natural barriers. Therefore, despite your criticism, it is a fact that western civilization has been increasingly more welcoming of different tribes, perhaps more so than we easterners have been.

    Most modern western cities are highly multi-cultural, and accommodate far more divergent cultures than you would find in the average eastern city. This brutalizes the natural instincts of human beings, but nevertheless, Europeans fare remarkably well, although I agree with you that France is particularly backward in this regard. Still, just give a job to a “suddha” in Sri Lanka and you’ll see what I mean.

    Nevertheless, the Islamic communities worldwide have received far greater flack than any other community has. Not just in European countries, I would say in non-European countries too. Why? Perhaps the answer lies closer to home than you are willing to admit.

    RE: “Many cannot fathom why women in modern Europe opt for the hijab or niqab which to them symbolises oppression and inequality.”

    It symbolizes the same thing to me, and I’m not a European.

    RE: “When she says she feel actually empowered – they look at her with sympathy and scepticism.”

    That scepticism is well founded. The facts are these

    1. The middle-east, containing the most staunchly Islamic countries in the world, also has some of the lowest levels of female literacy in the world, and consequently, the highest rates of mortality. Female literacy directly correlates to societal health, as per established scientific studies. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalists continue to deny women the opportunity to receive education, or be on an equal footing with men. This is well known, and not something that needs lengthy paragraphs to prove. So much of the Islamic world is tainted with misogyny, supported by quotable verses from the Quran, and display these symptoms in real life.

    Why on earth should anyone be surprised then, that the burka is merely seen as symbolic of that actual female oppression?

    2. Brainwashing a child from the crib to believe that wearing a cloth bag is “empowering”, does not mean that it is. Scientific studies show that human beings rely a lot on facial cues in their social interactions, in gauging intent, and responding emotionally and empathetically to other human beings. Ignoring such facts, Islamic stalwarts continue to subscribe to the practices of illiterate, 7th century desert nomads. When are they planning to join the rest of us in the 21st century?

    3. While all this oppression and barbarism is going on unchallenged in the islamic world – ranging from honour killings, female circumcision, beating women, keeping them illiterate and second-class, the Muslim world only sees it fit to march out en-mass in protest of some harmless cartoon, or to declare jihad against people who dare to write books offensive to Islam like Salman Rushdie. When might it be a suitable time to turn the spotlight inwards?

    4. And finally, what is the penalty for apostasy in Islam?

    So are you surprised that people don’t see any of these things as being by “choice”, and more by threats and coercion?

    My observation is this, charity begins at home. Start by understanding why people think the way they do – and focus on fixing those things first – instead of criticizing others for being appalled by the obvious.

    And if you still have doubts, I suggest you ponder over why the western world isn’t marching against Buddhists, Hindus, Scientologists or the thousands of other world religions, who all seem to co-exist fine.

    • SD

      Dear Hejaaz,

      Apologies if the tone of my previous post was somewhat strident, but this an issue which offends me deeply. It offends me deeply to be told that women are wearing the Burka out of their own choice, because they think it’s a virtue and therefore, we should keep our mouths shut.

      Yes, I agree with the first part. But if a child was brainwashed into believing that chopping his/her third finger off was a virtue, there will be children who will grow up to do exactly that. Parents who mutilate their own children’s genitals, African tribes which gouge out circles in their ears, or the thousands of other barbaric customs followed by various cultures from cannibalism to human sacrifice, should be ample evidence that people can be led to believe anything, and will follow those customs out of a deep-seated but misled sense of duty.

      That is not how we analyse issues today. We analyse the underlying reasons, and the underlying reasons for the burka stem from pure misogyny – I invite you to argue the case that it does not.

      Please don’t take any of these things personally, but the content of your article suggests that adequate introspection has not been performed before writing it.

  • TT

    In SL, people are allowed to wear whatever they wish. Recently there was much ado about a miniskirt ban but not sure if it was enforced. Even if enforced, it would not target any ethnic/religious group in particular.

    Shame on those European nations to ban a dress loved by a section of its population. There is no need to question others’ religious beliefs. It doesn’t matter WHY a Muslim woman wears it. What matters is if she would wear it had the stupid law not ban it, then allow it!

  • Lakshan

    Islam is in collision course with the Christian (so-called secular) West because of intolerance and medieval mentality inherent in Islam is an anathema the liberal principles of the Western civilization.
    This is a repetition of historical enmity between Christianity and Islam

  • Jack Point

    I am not very happy about the Burqua ban. People should be allowed to wear largely what they please.

    I wonder how many women actually wear this out of personal choice and how many do so because of pressure from family and friends?

    Hypothetically, if some women who normally wear the burqua were to decide to drop it for a day, how would their families and friends react?

  • A comment sent to the Editors of Groundviews by someone based in the US who wanted to remain anonymous.


    There is a difference between imposition of a rule by adopting a paternalistic attitude vs. actually helping to create and protect women’s right to express themselves – here, the same rule that “protects” women actually takes away their choice. And, the fact that this impacts only certain segments of the population of women… I don’t know why it’s not clear that the issue is not protecting women from the burkha, but protecting women’s choice to wear a burkha or a bikini (or burkhini, if appropriate).

    A lot of strange things have been happening in the U.S. as well, such as efforts to stop the building of masjits, as you’re aware. If the burkha law was enacted here, however , it would never pass the muster of the Supreme Court’s strict scrutiny at this moment in time (the way case law leans) in the U.S. – I have to say I feel safe about which way a challenge to the law would go, however unpopular the outcome may be according to Fox News.

    • SD

      RE: “I don’t know why it’s not clear that the issue is not protecting women from the burkha, but protecting women’s choice to wear a burkha or a bikini (or burkhini, if appropriate).”

      Personally, I do acknowledge and accept this point. I don’t think the law itself is a sensible one, not just because I can personally think of a million loop-holes in it, but because it restricts choice, as the commentator has pointed out. However, such a line of logic should consider the following too.

      1. The ostensible rationale of protecting “choice” actually does nothing to protect “women”. A clear message needs to be sent out that these kinds of customs are considered barbaric in non-medieval parts of the world, and are unwelcome in their symbolism.

      2. There are already laws in place restricting clothing choice, such as those preventing the wearing of masks in public in Washington, Virginia and other states. Here’s a nice list: http://www.anapsid.org/cnd/mcs/maskcodes.html

      The reasons include prevention of robbery, and prevention of intimidation, such as in the case of the KKK. The case of the KKK is particularly interesting in this scenario, because the underlying logic is due to its symbolism. I fail to understand how the same symbolism is not applicable to the Hijab.

      This is where I see the value in both the law and the debate, although in strict terms – I do not support the law. If someone wants to wear a cloth bag to please their men, families or imagined gods, they are welcome to it. However, I also reserve the rights to exercise my rights to free speech and declare such an act primitive, anachronistic and symbolic of the oppression enabled by fundamentalist Islam. If islamic moderates fail to criticize these things, then at least the rest of us are morally obligated to do so.

      The further unfortunate reality here is the way moderation itself is exploited. Any attempt to criticize these things are quickly branded as “hate speech”, “Islamophobia” etc, thus insulating the proponents from further criticism. If it’s ok to oppress women under the guise of choice, then it’s imperative for us to retain the ability to point that out. Moderation should not be used against itself. Islamic apologists want to have the cake and eat it too 🙂

  • If this article had been written by a Muslim woman instead of a man, I think it might have cast some real light on how women view the issue. Hejaz Hizbullah writing this is as useful as a French woman writing it. Neither of them are forced to wear the burkha.

    I think the French government probably sees it as a sexism issue. Women being forced to do something (cover up) that men don’t have to.

    • I think it would be smarter to fine the fathers or husbands of these women, but there would be legal issues with that.

      • SD

        The problem is David, many of the women who wear the Burka genuinely do wear it out of “choice” – although this coerced choice might have come about from controlling their level of acceptance in society, or by conditioning them from the crib onwards. Therefore, few women will answer in the negative if asked whether they wear it by “choice”.

        However, as I mentioned in my previous post, just because someone can be programmed to believe in something, it does not make it ethical to do so.

        This conversation also generally results in a stalemate, as Laskhan mentioned. It’s the inevitable clash of medieval ideology with 21st century ideals. For example, the statistics are alarming – “Greece alone translated five times more books every year from English to Greek than the entire Arab world translated from English to Arabic”, according to a 2002 UN Arab human development report. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/opinion/05friedman.html)

        Even more sobering(from the same report): “the total number of books translated into Arabic during the 1,000 years since the age of Caliph Al-Ma’moun [a ninth-century Arab ruler who was a patron of cultural interaction between Arab, Persian, and Greek scholars] to this day is less than those translated in Spain in one year” (http://www.arab-hdr.org/contents/index.aspx?rid=5). It’s no wonder that the Arab world remains incredibly insular.

        These are frightening statistics, considering that only centuries of blood baths finally satiated the Christians enough to outgrow their barbaric fundamentalism. I sincerely hope a repetition of that will not be seen as Lakshan seems to anticipate, because this time round, the fundies have nukes to play with.

        Islam was not always like this, and the Islamic Golden Age in particular was notable. Moderate Muslims have a critical role to play if they wish to repeat and surpass that feat and ensure that Muslims can happily co-exist with other cultures. Instead – they engage in senseless apologetics and insular polemics.

      • SD, I’m neither for nor against the burkha ban; and frankly, I don’t know enough about the background to discuss it in depth. I was just pointing out how the French authorities most likely view it.

        As for women who choose to wear the burkha, don’t forget that there are women all over the world who think that females shouldn’t wear revealing clothes, have careers, be in positions of authority over men, and so forth. And historically, attempts to create freedoms for women (the vote, divorce, etc) have often been opposed by women who felt women should remain at home and be good wives and mothers and nothing more. So that claim can’t be taken as gospel.

  • Europe

    If you don’t live in France, why would you tell France how to legislate? France doesn’t tell the US how to legislate. Why doesn’t all of the US outlaw the death penalty, which France outlawed in 1981? Regarding the headscarf, you could read the law of 1905 and try to understand what it means. And if this law bothers you, you could avoid France!

  • In my opinion, government has no business setting dress codes of any kind. Period.

    There are far more important matters for governments to tend to, and dress codes are a form of oppression.

  • Vic Flegel

    If a muslim woman wants a driver’s license,she should have to uncover her face for the photo.
    When I want to board a plane,I must take of my hat,my coat, my belt,and my shoes, to get through the checkpoint. I would hope Muslim women are required to disrobe just as much.
    There are times when she should have to uncover her face.

    • TT

      And cover her face at all other times as she pleases.

      She is influenced by her culture as much as others. Some cultures are more masculine than others. There is no need to impose one culture over another. Let Muslims follow their culture in France and elsewhere. When there is a genuine and practical need to show the faces, require them to do so.

  • Velu Balendran

    To my knowledge there is no call from even liberated Muslim women to shun the burka. Nor are they inviting support from outside to help give up the burka. Thinking of numbers, Islamic followers may occupy nearly over a third if not more of the globe. So what makes us outsiders think that Muslim women are oppressed when they themselves are not complaining? I think it is the “us vs them” complex, and the resulting insecurity that is driving the issue. My view is that outsiders have no right to engage in this matter.

    Personally, I hate the dress as a fashion-less form of attire which hides beautiful faces of handsome women, whose beauty we have a right to enjoy (from a distance if appropriate) in this beautiful world created for our enjoyment at various levels. That one human being (a woman) is shielded as personal property of another (a man) within a strict cultural setting is abhorrent to my liberal mind. That is a point where I disagree with my Muslim bothers.

  • Hejaaz

    Replying SD:

    To what extent is the choice to wear the niqab/hijab a result of ‘brainwashing’? I have spent a lifetime talking to Muslim women who wear the hijab and the niqab. I can tell you that over 90% of them do it during adulthood in the 30’s and 40’s. Some did it at a younger age – but all do it and continue to do it as a result of personal and conscious choices. In fact I know some who gave it up as well. However we cant come to objective conclusions based on my personal experiences. So let’s look at more objective instances.

    1. It was only when the Taleban was in control of Afghanistan that the burka was made mandatory as an attire for women in public. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, the hijab is mandatory. In all other countries – Muslim women wear it – not because the law requires it. Is that the result of non – formal means of coercion/pressure?

    2. The hijab and the niqab are becoming a fashion only in the twenty or thirty years. A generation before – Muslim women in particularly non – Muslim countries never wore it. So the women who wear it today have mothers and grandmothers who did not wear it. That in itself casts a doubt as to whether the present generation of women have been brainwashed to do this.

    3. Lets take Turkey for example. Kemal Ataturk almost a century ago banned the headscarf and a project to secularise Turkey. Today the headscarf has made a comeback. Women are insisting that they be permitted to wear it. Leyla Sahin took the matter of the headscarf ban even upto the European Court of Human Rights. She is a medical student. Of course she lost the case. The UNHCR report demonstrates the intense fight between the pro and anti groups. (http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,IRBC,,TUR,,4885a91a8,0.html) – So if the attire was intrinsincally unattractive and oppressive why are intelligent women fighting so hard for it? Surely in the course of 90 years and the intense debates in the recent years – the effect of the brainwashing should have been lost?

    4. Let’s look at some other prominent examples:

    Shaheed Fatima – She is one of the top barristers in the UK. Studied at Oxford and Harvard. She wears the hijab. Brainwashed? (http://www.blackstonechambers.com/people/barristers/shaheed_fatima.html)
    Shabnam Mughal – the lawyer who wore the niqab. A lawyer – who argues for the rights of others – who had to have studied a course in human rights to have become a lawyer – still brainwashed?

    Also go and check this link out about a chemical engineer Hebah Ahamed
    Does she sound unintelligent? She holds her own in a debate on CNN.

    What about the journalist Yvonne Ridley. A convert. She wore the hijab in the adulthood. Surely she was not brainwashed from her crib.

    Then what about Aminah Assilimi? The Christian preacher who converted to Islam?

    Replying Europe:

    Yes, if you don’t like France – stay away from it. But what if you are born in it?

    • BalangodaMan

      You have cited a lot of examples but fail to answer the ‘Why’. Why have these people made that fashion choice? The examples are not main stream ordinary people. These are people on the edges of society – barristers and other people who are promoting themselves as individuals professionally. I double very much that they subscribe to the unpleasant political baggage that association with Islam contains (See my piece below). Instead it is more likely to be a marketing idea.

      A further point to support SD’s viewpoint (instead you have cited the exceptions). If, as you say, people in Muslim countries/societies are not driven by peer pressure then why is it that there is a statistically significant number of women who wear Muslim symbols in Muslim societies than elsewhere in the world? Isn’t it because they regard it as the norm? Because it would be painful to step outside the norm in a controlled/controlling society? Because the masses generally feel it would be safer to ‘submit to be controlled’ than to suffer the pain of enduring the western concept of ‘freedom’ and the chaos that comes with it?

      • BalangodaMan

        ‘I double’ should of course read ‘I doubt’!

    • BalangodaMan

      “But what if you are born in it?”
      Oh dear! No Muslims are ever ‘born’ in France or anywhere. A baby child has no religion. It is told that it is ‘Muslim’ or some other religion by other people subsequently, for some strange reason, the necessity for which has eluded me for decades.

    • SD

      Dear Hejaaz,

      About your argument that many people adopt the Hijab later on in life. I’m sure you must be right, but unfortunately, that is no comment on the coercive nature of its origins. Let me clarify.

      In all of the examples you cited, it is perfectly understandable to see why a woman would opt to wear one – considering the extra social respect awarded to her for the “virtuous” act. Thus, this extra respect acts as a form of social coercion that encourages the wearing of the hijab. The increased prevalence of such Hijab wearing in recent times, coincides with the general increase in global religious fundamentalism – a phenomenon that is visible across all religions including Buddhism in Sri Lanka. (And one that greatly interests me)

      This kind of indirect social coercion can make people “voluntarily” do even the unthinkable. The tiger cult of suicide bombers, or the ready made supply of “martyrs” in the middle-east, should be ample evidence of the extent to which social reinforcement helps to “voluntarily” do practically anything.

      Still, let us assume that even this is not the case and that the social respect awarded is zero (clearly false). Let us assume the woman is doing this out of an excess of devotion, living in a vacuum shielded from all social encouragement.

      The point does not concern any of that, the point is – Why? What is the underlying reason for wearing the Hijab? You are yet to clarify and engage with that issue.

      • SD

        I want to re-iterate that I would err on the side of not banning the burka, due to the very freedom of choice that many Muslim fundamentalists take advantage of when it suits them, but nevertheless undermine within their own societies. However, it is easy to see why the British are becoming increasingly disturbed by the symbolism of these issues. Take a look at these videos (especially 2 mins off the first one):

        Think they are off ghettos in Saudi Arabia? Guess again. Here’s what Saudi Arabia looks like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aml9VvhRXrE

        I would guess that even the most rabid Christians fare better than this. As BalangodaMan has pointed out, when will we see a mass demonstration against the above from the muslim world? Should cartoons be the main thing that concern them? Will we see a renunciation and revision of such laws in the Quran? Will we see a revised Quran akin to the king-james version of the bible? Would you endorse such a thing?

        I know moderate muslims are having a hard-time in this situation and I do sympathize with their predicament. Still, as long as this status quo remains, I think the burka ban will be just the tip of the iceberg in the ideological clash between the free world and the muslim world. It is high time for them to speak up, and the burka ban should not be the locus of their concern.

  • wijayapala

    Perhaps this article may shed some light on the Muslims’ thinking. It is so wonderful to see the gripping issues that bring westerners out on the street in such force:

    Cop’s rape comment sparks wave of ‘SlutWalks’

    • SD

      Dear Wijayapala,

      What parallels do you see with the Muslim thinking here?

  • BalangodaMan


    There is one thing that separate the burka issue from ‘just another freedom of choice’ one. So I put to you a pertinent question. But first let me explain.

    It’s true, the free world DOES have a fundamental issue with the Muslim world. In my view it is justified. Here is my argument. ‘In theory’ it is not possible for Muslims to live in harmony in the non-Muslim world of the ‘infidels’. The Quoran is clear on how Muslims should ‘relate’ to non-Muslims. I shall leave out the unpleasant detail. Now, in the case of most if not all other ancient pronouncements (ie. other religions) such barbaric attitudes and imperatives (imperatives in the case of Islam) present day followers have adopted/created a reformed version that is somewhat acceptable around the world in the present day.

    In Islam a ‘reformed Islam’ is not possible. It cannot be changed. It is a system of Law that cannot be changed by man. In theory I, as non-Muslim, should feel quite fearful when coming into contact with a Muslim (whether in a burka or not) because of what I should expect according to the holy books.

    OK, you may say this is a long way from the reality in practice in the modern world. True to an extent. Now here is the problem and my question to you.

    Would you Hejaz confirm clearly to your non-Muslim neighbours and friends, and the authorities in the non-Muslim land that you live in, and the readers of this forum, that you do not intend to follow those specific instructions in the holy books – that you reject and condemn such instructions so that others do not follow them, specifically that you will not harm ‘infidels’ as defined in those holy books or endevour to subjugate them to taxes and such punishment as instructed in those holy books?

    You see, when I make a fashion statement by wearing a brightly coloured shirt (as is my choice) I am expressing individuality, not making a statement symbolising a ‘higher motive’ that carries a lot of unpleasant baggage (unpleasant for others). I would expect a similar reaction from people as a burka wearer would get if I wore a KKK type white mask in the street, or indeed a Nazi SS uniform, though it is also my personal choice. In many countries in the free world such symbolism is outlawed.

    So I leave you with that question again. Why does the Muslim leadership fail to reform Islam, and reject/comdemn and make clear to the billions of Muslims in the world that the holy books are not a recipe for living in the 21st century?

    When it does so the burka will be seen purely as a fashion statement worn by personal choice, and only then will the points in your article become valid. Until then the burka is purely a political statement – ethnic and religious politics, that has driven family politics etc. – and symbolises a supposedly divine law (not made by man), parts of which seeks to oppress the rest of us who do not (by personal choice) recognise such laws.

    • Anchal

      Quotes from the Quran such as

      “Don’t bother warning the disbelievers. Allah has made it impossible for them to believe so that he can torture them forever after they die. 2:6-7”

      “Christians and Jews (who believe in only part of the Scripture), will suffer in this life and go to hell in the next. 2:85”

      “The curse of Allah is on disbelievers. 2:89”

      are quite scary to be honest. I have read the Quran and a great portion of it is fire and brimstone with threats and warnings about burning in hell. However I don’t remember coming across anything that specifically requires women to cover their entire bodies except their eyes.

      Sri Lanka’s Muslim community is already filled with fundamentalisms of various kinds and there are many different Islamic sects preaching hatred against each other. It has already led to violence (eg the Beruwala Mosque incident). Unfortunately I am still yet to see Sri Lankan Muslim leaders stand up against this extremism.

  • sabbe laban


    The educated women that you site in your reply are brainwashed too. How can you believe in a GOD unless you have been brainwashed?

  • Padda


    I think no one has banned the Hijab. It’s only Niqab and Burqa that is banned. Even in Muslim countries like Bangladesh, Burqua is a banned attire in hospitals and public places because of the risk of theft by people with concealed identities.

    Hijab is fine, because it does not intimidate people by anonymity. But Niqab and Burqa do, and hence banned as a security measure. European law is fine if it addressed the above points, but it seems the intentions are bit more extending than that.

    • BalangodaMan

      Hejaz, we can examine the question of misogyny like this. What is your view if men also wore the burka (out of choice of course)? What do you think might be the reaction of people in Saudi Arabia if men started to wear the burka there? Is there any chance that men in Saudi Arabia will choose to wear the burka for any reason?

      On the question of security, do you think western countries will accept men wearing burkas in the street? At airports?

      On the question of the necessity for facial expression in effective communication – regarding the educated professional women you cite, do these barristers in western countries wear the burka when arguing a case in open court?

      (I also feel you are perhaps using the popularity and wider appeal of the ‘hijab’ to argue against banning the ‘burka’. Are you?)

  • Jason

    Muslim Europeans? There is no such thing as a “Muslim European”. Your not European no matter how much you want to be!

  • BalangodaMan

    Hijab vs Burka

    Hijab – you will see from this link that the Hijab is worn to attract people to the wearer.

    Burka – you will see that the burka has the opposite effect.

  • EW


    I have a different view on the entirely… one which has bought reiverting discussions with my firends, collegues and family !!

    Firstly, the way of the world is such that the rule of law or the norms of that particular land / society supersedes the individual requirement of a particualr set of individuals. Reason being if its law or the norm it agreed by a majority of the land or the legisleture.

    Muslims migt be the largest mionrity in France but if they have to live according to the laws and norms of the land.

    Else why can’t foreginers (other than in Dubai and a few other liberal gulf states) dress as they please, ladies having to cover thier heads when they go out in public, No pork and alcohol served freely, quota systems compelling organisation to recruite locals who are absolute deadweights in organisation and the list goes on to the extent of even precluding people of having statues and practicing other religions barring islam. This in some countires where foregin nationals are the drivers of the entire economy.

    If you decdie to live in a country you need to be preparded to live by the rules, norms and ethics of the country.

    You spoke about brixton, Brick lane etc….. honestly if you have the means of living as you please then no one rpecludes you from owning property any where in the UK. ( look at UK’s top ten rich list.. on BBC).. Indian, Russian nationals fill up atleast 5-6 of the ten slots.

    Whilst having studied in and around the same era with you in school.. I have lived and worked in Australia, UK and a few Asia countries. I beleive racism and securalirsm is most prevalent in asian countires and communities. They create their own barriers. The worst thing is they bring it with them overseas and they beleive that it is their right to excercise such things.

    You need to integrate more with society you live in. You act like a clown or a criminal you are treated like one.

    Freedom of speech, fundamental or civic rights is a fluid thing… You go to china, Russia, Saudi or even in Sunny Sri Lanka .. those civic rights, freedom of speech and religious rights are curtailed. Some due to the law of the land and others are norms and oppression.

    just because you choose to get away from it and come and live in a more plural society does not mean that you have the right to do as you please. Then the next time in France the muslims may start to justify an honour killing !… slighlty exagerrated.. but hope you get the drift.

    Recently, some muslim parents of kids going to a grammer school (UK) requested the school to serve only halal products and not serve pork. I think this is abit over the top. You eat what you get if not you bring from home.. what if some kids only ate pork… then what.

    Recently I was telling some of my Indian friends that they are sometimes as a community considered discourtoues and rude. As people they are not… but the Indian way of life and the way they have been bought up in India amidst competition has not taught them to say sorry when they accidently bump into someone or even that decorum to stand in queue etc etc… These are not considered essentials in indian society.. but in the Western world politeness and etiquette is required and sometimes a norm. My firends do understand the point I was making and I made it as I understood where they came from.. but the reality is that you need to adjust to society.

    Irrespective of you being an immigrant or second / third generation you need to integrate with the wider society you live in. Again if you live in Saudi for three generations it will never give you the right to run around in shorts outside your compund or let a female walk without a head scarf atleast. Also if you are a Buddhist or a Chirstian you will not have the opporuntiy to building a place of worship.

    Whilst every human being has rights, you need to understand that the institution called that state is always bigger and will cater to the majorities benefit. We all need to accept and embrace.

    What if western countries and other stopped immigration and refugee laws.. See how many people will be deprived of basic chances in life.. yes the west will also loose a labour force and make it less plural..

    I think in an ideal world people should be free to excecise their civic and fundamental rights. However, it needs to be tempered along with the rules and norms of the country they choose to live in.

    Religion is something personal to each individual that should be done in the privacy of ones remit and not encroaching on others and the rules and norms of the said society.

    • sabbe laban

      The Burka and Nijab are not even main stream Muslim attire. They are tribal headwear of certain Middle-Eastern people. The Koran which the Muslims believe to be the word of Allah, says that Muslim women should be dressed modestly;not like ghosts at a Haloween party!

      This kind of dress poses a threat to the security to a country in the face of so many lunatics trying to carry out the “God’s wish”, and also create a barrier to effective communication. So, no wonder some countries want to ban it.

    • BalangodaMan

      When Muslims are living in a non-Muslim land a fundamental conflict arises that cannot be resolved. In Islam, the laws of Islam take precedence over the laws of the (foreign) land, because those laws are ‘man made’ and the laws of Islam are ‘made by god’. No Imam has been willing to publicly state/acknowledge the opposite, so far. It is an awkward situation for moderate Muslims living in the west.

      Agree that one culture should not impose itself on another. In this case, it is the non-integrated Muslim immigrants who are seeking to impose their culture on France. France is resisting. (Comes back to SD’s question – why on Earth should Muslims want to live in a non-Muslim country?)

      • SD

        Dear BalangodaMan,

        I noticed that both you and Hejaaz attributed a question to me which I never raised – that of why Muslims would want to live in the west? I never asked that question, so I’m getting a bit confused about its context and relevance. Could you clarify?

        Nevertheless, the issue you raised is relevant. Do Muslims desire Sharia law in the west? Many imams openly claim that this is their desire. What on earth?

        This raises the deeper question of how far cultural sensitivity must extend and how much a culture should accommodate ideas and ideals which are fundamentally at odds with its own.

        Ultimately, this boils down to a battle about a fundamental notion in western civilization – which Wijayapala also touched on with his protest against marching for “sluts”.

        It’s a battle between “individual freedom and responsibility” against the notion of “religious surrender” in Islam (Islam means surrender to Allah after all) or in Wijayapala’s case, social conformity I’m guessing, as defined in Buddhism perhaps?

      • TT


        “In this case, it is the non-integrated Muslim immigrants who are seeking to impose their culture on France.”

        I disagree. They don’t want other French women wear these. They only want them to wear these. It is fair. Let them have what they like. Don’t force them to choose between their religious practices/culture and France. It doesn’t affect the others.

        They have sufficiently integrated.

        e.g. They don’t marry more than 1 woman at the same time.

        Give them time and they will integrate.

        “why on Earth should Muslims want to live in a non-Muslim country?”

        Why on earth should not they live in a non-Muslim country as long as they legitimately migrated there or born there?

      • BalangodaMan

        SD, yes I was going by Hejaaz’s comment without checking myself. My apologies.

        Hejaaz, there is no evidence that the wearing of the burka is on the rise in non-Muslim countries (among European women for example) for the reason of women feeling ’empowered’ or ‘more comfortable’. (Nigella’s business relies on publicity. The burkini was on many front pages. She has a new product launch soon in Australia. It was a smart PR move). If you really want to prove that ‘culture’ is not a factor in choosing to wear the burka show me evidence of widespread or any burka wearing among non-Muslim European women (not as a publicity gimmick or wierdos, or professional people seeking empathy with their target audience but actual exercise of personal choice with no underlying agenda). Not many, ha?

        I totally, completely and utterly disagree that the Hijab and the Burka can be used interchangeably on this issue. The 2 Google Images links I posted earlier show that clearly. I happen to find the hijab attractive.

  • Hejaaz

    Firstly thank you to all for posting your comments. I enjoyed reading and responding to them.

    However this will be my last response. I would like move on – with whatever agreement/disagreement we have on this issue. May be on a later date in another forum we might revisit these issues. I have made my arguments and I leave it to the audience.

    A lot has been written since my last comment. I would like to respond to the key arguments.
    1. Why do women wear the niqab and am I ignoring the issue? In my article I have started that women wear it because they feel it is empowering. Listen to Hebah Ahamed on the CNN debate and you will hear it for yourself. So I have not ignored the issue. I have stated it loud and clear.

    2. If we tell someone enough times that something is good they will believe that it is so: that was SD’s first argument in the first few posts. For a very long time some women in India were told that jumping into the pyre of your dead husband was an act of virtue. I don’t see mass scale demonstrations by women demanding their right to perform sathi pooja. Similarly from a very small age people are told that going to church on Sunday is an act of virtue/social requirement/religious obligation – but now we see churches closing down with low turnout. So there is a limit to the virtue mantra. When it does not make sense – people will stop doing it.

    3. In the case of the niqab/hijab – it has been the opposite – it has made a resurgence after a period of lapse. Women like Leyla Sahin are fighting the laws of their country to wear it. She is just one in many thousands. Don’t insult your own intelligence by responding that these are irrational choices made out of ‘brainwashing’ or ‘peer pressure’ (BalangodaMan – thinks that it is a marketing strategy!). Recently Nigella Lawson chose to cover up and wear a burkini, what peer pressure or brainwashing for her? (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1378326/Nigella-Lawson-hits-Bondi-beach-burkini.html) People wear clothes because they feel comfortable in it.

    4. If you decide to live in a country – you follow the laws of the country: Laws of Nazi Germany required Jews to wear the yellow star, in apartheid South Africa – the law of the land denied black people their rights, in the US – the laws treated the blacks as second class citizens – etc etc. There are enough examples where majorities – abuse that numerical advantage to enact laws that disadvantage minorities. Just because it is the law – it is not right.

    5. Am I joining the hijab issue with the niqab issue for my advantage? The arguments traditionally have been the same. So I have dealt with the two together. However none of the two key proponents – SD and Balangoda – have said that they are pro – hijab and anti – niqab only. Even then – the arguments would be the same. My examples have straddled both.

    6. BalangodaMan – the quran does not require me to do anything that you suggest. Be watchful of your sources rather than you Muslim neighbours.

    7. Anchal: same to you. None of the accepted and authoritative translations – carry the text you produce of the quran. Whose translation are you reading?

    8. Finally – there is more to Muslims than Saudi Arabia or the Middle East.

  • Hejaaz

    A point to BalangodaMan:

    You asked whether barristers wear the niqab in court – Shabnam Mughal – is on that issue. She wore it in court. On Security issues – listen to Hebah Ahamed on the CNN link.

  • SD

    Dear Hejaaz,

    RE: “In my article I have started that women wear it because they feel it is empowering.”

    Yes. But you have not stated the rationale. Why do they feel empowered? What is the underlying basis for this empowerment?

    RE: “So there is a limit to the virtue mantra. When it does not make sense – people will stop doing it.”

    We all know that’s not true. It took 500 years of struggle to overcome the dark ages and this sathi pooja barbarism has been going on for more, and still does in some remote parts of India. Ironically enough, thank god to those christians it’s less now eh? 😀

    RE: “People wear clothes because they feel comfortable in it.”

    Aah now we are getting warmer, but you’ve made your exit already, rather conveniently I must say. How come wearing a bag in the burning sun makes only women feel more comfortable and empowered? Again, what is the underlying reason that you keep evading the open articulation of?

    RE: “However none of the two key proponents – SD and Balangoda – have said that they are pro – hijab and anti – niqab only. Even then – the arguments would be the same”

    BalangodaMan clearly stated it, and so did I. No one has banned the Hijab, and I don’t even advocate banning the Niqab, and clearly stated it.

    RE: “BalangodaMan – the quran does not require me to do anything that you suggest.”

    If the quran does not advocate these things, what on earth are those mullahs in Birmingham saying? Does that not buttress my initial point – that moderate muslims have bigger fish to fry than writing articles about Burkhas?

    RE: “Finally – there is more to Muslims than Saudi Arabia or the Middle East.”

    I definitely agree – but the point is this. Unless moderate people make it clear what that “more to islam” is, preferably by demonstrating that they are in stark opposition to the values espoused by the fundies, no one else will notice. This was the whole point I’ve been trying to make throughout. Act now on those issues – why waste time on silly burka bans when girls in London are being genitally mutilated?

    • BalangodaMan

      Hejaaz, the statement ‘the burka makes women feel liberated and empowered’ is greatly misinterpreted. As already noted by SD, we don’t see men taking to the burka in the hot burning sun to be empowered , nor do we not see Europeans seeking liberation sporting a burka surrounding them. So that can’t be correct. (any comment?)

      Here’s my take. Women in the Islamic culture do not grow up with the conditioning necessary for being comfortable appearing in public (this is where the problem lies). The burka makes it possible for them to go out in public but remain hidden, not have to engage with the outside world (in the way we take for granted) which they would naturally feel to be ‘un-natural’ and fearful of. Whilst this can be described as ‘liberated’ or ’empowered’ it is important to remember that that is quite a specific sense in the context.

      The answer? Women should also enjoy the education and the training/upbringing/conditioning that would make it possible for them to take part in the wider world, in public, without stress – so a burka would not be necessary, indeed it may be a hindrance. True liberation and empowerment is to break out of the constraints put upon them from birth (not perpetuate it with ‘workrounds’ like putting a tent around them, like being house-bound but in a movable house). I recently heard Saudi Arabia referred to as ‘the largest women’s prison in the world’.

      • SO

        Dear BalangodaMan,

        You say that women ought to be educated – but then what about the educated women who wear it? That’s the key point that has been left unaddressed. The fact remains that women from all over the world are demanding their right to wear it. You say that ‘women in the islamic culture do not grow with the necessary condititioning’ – what proof do you have? Have you done any emphirical studies? Can you point me to some studies done anywhere else? Are you simply reinforcing your own prejudices?

      • BalangodaMan

        SO (not to be confused with SD!)
        You say “The fact remains that women from all over the world are demanding their right to wear it”. The burka? Really? Which world is that?

  • BalangodaMan

    SO, let me clarify. When you say “women from all over the world are demanding their right to wear it” perhaps you mean women in the Muslim culture only. No one is disputing that (except for the exaggeration). The discussion is about whether the demand of the right to wear it is coming for cultural reasons (which no one has disagreed with so far. I certainly have not disagreed that that is the reason, though I do not approve of it – as I find it impractical and intimidating and symbolises an oppressive system) or do you mean that ALL women find the burka desirable? If you mean the latter then in what country are NON-Muslim women clamouring to get their hands on a burka? To wear for work for example? Devotees in Buddhist temples? Schoolgirls at Ladies College? Congresswomen in Capitol Hill? Who? Where?

  • myil selvan

    Dear Hejaaz,
    It is sad to see yet another Muslim trying to strenuously defend Islamic practices subjectively. Your article raises some good points but in the end is fundamentally flawed because you see it through an Islamic lens, which is subjective. I understand some of your subjectivity since you are a Muslim and have grown up with these practices.

    But as SD has asked. what is the underlying reason for women wanting to wear the burqa/niqab? You say Empowered, but why do they feel empowered?

    My understanding is that 1. It is an issue of identity 2. My freedom being violated 3. My faith being denigrated 4. Which I think is most important: if I don’t do it I might go to hell or something bad will happen, or God wont like it hence something detrimental or because I want to honour God.

    Hejaaz you further state:
    “For a very long time some women in India were told that jumping into the pyre of your dead husband was an act of virtue. I don’t see mass scale demonstrations by women demanding their right to perform sathi pooja.”

    My take:
    That’s because Sathi pooja has been banned(illegal) for a long time thanks to the British. But if they (the women) were told that they should throw themselves into the pyre and that it would take them to heaven and a blissful life, there probably would be women wanting to do it. Same goes for suicide bombers who die for a cause and they are promised paradise or heaven in return.

    You state:
    “Similarly from a very small age people are told that going to church on Sunday is an act of virtue/social requirement/religious obligation – but now we see churches closing down with low turnout. So there is a limit to the virtue mantra.”

    My take:
    True some churches have closed down due to poor attendance but not all.It also depends on regions (Europe may have seen that trend). But again why are they not going to church? Because 1. they have the freedom of choice 2.Maybe they don’t believe in it anymore. 3. Unlike in most Islamic countries the state(UK in this case) doesn’t force them to believe in going to church. But those who do believe attend church.

    You state:
    “When it does not make sense – people will stop doing it.”

    My take:
    But what do you mean by “make sense”? That depends on the individual. If it makes sense to die for a cause then they will do it as is the case with suicide bombers (some would say they are brainwashed, but that is the whole point to brainwash them to think it makes sense)

    You state:
    “In the case of the niqab/hijab – it has been the opposite – it has made a resurgence after a period of lapse. Women like Leyla Sahin are fighting the laws of their country to wear it. She is just one in many thousands. Don’t insult your own intelligence by responding that these are irrational choices made out of ‘brainwashing’ or ‘peer pressure’ (BalangodaMan – thinks that it is a marketing strategy!).”

    My take:
    Once again it is because those who wear it think it is for a higher calling/ or to honour God/ or to reassert their identity. These are strong factors in taking strong stances.

    You state:
    Recently Nigella Lawson chose to cover up and wear a burkini, what peer pressure or brainwashing for her?

    My take:
    Nigella probably wore it to shade her body from the sun (sunscreen if you will). Or maybe that it looked catchy to her to look different at the beach, etc, etc.

    You said:
    People wear clothes because they feel comfortable in it.

    My take:
    True. But is it comfortable to wear the Niqab/Burqa, especially a black one, in a warm climate? The main reason is, those who wear it do it thinking they are honouring God by wearing it or that they will get some blessing out of it. It is something that they have grown up with or start doing when they get serious about their religion/faith.

    You state:
    If you decide to live in a country – you follow the laws of the country: Laws of Nazi Germany required Jews to wear the yellow star, in apartheid South Africa – the law of the land denied black people their rights, in the US – the laws treated the blacks as second class citizens – etc etc.

    My take:
    Unfortunate as it may be the Jews were forced to follow those laws, whether they were right or not. Same in South Africa. Same in Saudi Arabia. Same in Pakistan. Same in Iran, etc, etc.

    You state:
    There are enough examples where majorities – abuse that numerical advantage to enact laws that disadvantage minorities. Just because it is the law – it is not right.

    My take:
    True, just because it is law it is not right. But while that law is in effect the minority or whoever will have to follow it, as long as it is enforced by the enforcing authority, which is the state in this case.

    You conveniently talk of South Africa and the USA but what about in Muslim countries where the law makes non-muslim minorities second class citizens? At least the U.S. and South Africa have done away with those discriminatory laws but they are still in force in a lot of Muslim countries.
    Do you agree with Sharia law imposed on non-muslims?
    Do you agree with blasphemy laws that put non-muslims in fear? For example if a christian were to say Jesus is God, that could be interpreted as blasphemous to Islam, because Islam calls Jesus a prophet. So you can see the difficulties a non-muslim would have in practicing his/her religion with blasphemy laws.

    You state:
    “BalangodaMan – the quran does not require me to do anything that you suggest. Be watchful of your sources rather than you Muslim neighbours.”

    My take:
    Hejaaz, you would have to agree that SOME muslims are using references in the Quran to infidels to incite hatred against non-muslims? I think the key issue here is INTERPRETATION. Unfortunately a significant majority of muslims subscribe to a very conservative interpretation of Islam.

    You state:
    “Finally – there is more to Muslims than Saudi Arabia or the Middle East.”

    My Take:
    I fully agree. But you can’t blame people when Muslims give prominence to Saudi Arabia by going on pilgrimage to mecca(in Saudi Arabia) or when Muslims want Sharia law which is practiced in Saudi Arabia and some other countries of the middle east in whole or in part. I’d like to see a muslim stance or interpretation that differs from the Saudi Arabian centred Middle east.

    Finally, it seems like you are doing a Law degree in the UK? Why did you choose the UK? Why not Iran or Saudi Arabia? Even you see the benefits in going to Europe. You can’t always have everything, we do have to compromise.
    Where did you study in Sri Lanka? Probably one of the many christian missionary schools. You see there is a lot to gain from different perspectives and diversity. Let’s embrace it and value it.

    I hope you will respond. Would be glad to hear your response and have a discussion.

    • BalangodaMan

      Perhaps the people who feel that women feel liberated when wearing the burka would tell us if they think men too would feel similarly liberated if they too wore the burka? If not why not?

      • BalangodaMan

        A further observation on being ‘liberated’. I would question the meaning given to the word by the author. I feel ‘being liberated’ is a Muslim woman choosing NOT to wear the burka. Choosing to wear the burka is ‘conforming’, not liberating.

  • Anchal

    Hejaaz, the quotes from the Quran come from the following site:


    It is interesting reading – make note of the right hand column. If you click on the links there it will give you quotes from the Quran regarding the matter.

  • himapke

    if you go to a muslim country you have the same thing, you think you can do what you want an american or european in a muslim country? i dont think so, so why would the rules be different in europe?

  • dingiri

    I just watched this video clip of a Buddhist priest belonging to the “Budhu bala sena” stating his position on this Halal issue.


    Although I initially dismissed it as the latest stunt by the extremist Sinhala Buddhist lobby, after listening to it I felt what he said wasnt really racist and that he had a point.

    What he is saying is that Halal certification is being imposed on non moslem manufacturers who in turn pass on the cost of Halal certification onto the largely non-Moslem population. This is tantamount to black mail as the Ulamas are going around telling manufacturers that Moslems have been told not to by anything (not just meat products) if it doesnt have Halal certification and then going on to extort money from the manufacturers for this certification. The money so collected then goes to fund programs that are for the exclusive benefit of Moslems only. This is bound to create a backlash from the non-moslems as their money is being used to develop Islam without their consent and the inevitable outcome will be where non-moslems will bring an equal pressure on manufacturers by threatening to boycott anything with the Halal certification insignia. This will inevitably lead to a situation where Moslems only buy products from Moslem manufacturers and Sinhalese only buy products from Sinhalese manufacturers which would be a most undesirable outcome for all concerned.

    Basically, their position is.. “We (the Buddhists) dont extort money from Moslem manufacturers so they can sell to the Sinhalese. So why should Moslems extort money from Sinhalese manufacturers (which is then funelled into Islamic projects)?” Again – he makes the exception for meat products which he accetpts is a traditional requirement for Moslems. So he is not being racist.

    Incidently this is not just an issue in Sri Lanka. It is also flaring up in the west. I recently viewed a program on British TV which roughly followed the same lines of argument. The halal certification body in the UK is going around telling manufacturers that if they want to reach the 1 Billion strong moslem population they need to get Halal certification. Again this does not extend to meat products only. Even clothes, cosmetics and other consumable products are being required to obtain Halal certification with this threat. And the certification is being used to make easy money, akin to a form of blackmail or protection money. And as there is only one Halal certification body they have a monopoly of the industry and charge anything they want. A very good business model for extortion by another name.

    The question is being asked how Moslems all these years did not require a Halal certification for water, clothes, cosmetics pharmaceuticals etc. and were happy to use anything in the market but are suddenly insisting on Halal for everything. Is this a genuine religious thing or is it a crafty way of making money for the Islamic cause?

    And it is not at all racisit to ask this question. (Although I agree many of the other actions by the Sinhala Buddhist Nationalists are racist such as the demolition of the Anuradhapura Shiite shrine, The attack on the Dambulla Mosque and the campaign to claim the Kuragala shrine solely for the Buddhists due to the ancient Buddhist stupa located within the premises.)