the question of the veil
Must the veil be banned?
The question of the veil has become a heated debate in the British
media. In this debate some fundamental principles seem to be at
stake: Individual freedom to practice one's religion, freedom
of choice, freedom of clothing and discrimination against a particular
community, that is, the so-called Moslem community. Islamists
and some human rights activists maintain that the so-called Moslem
community is being stigmatized and have been under racist attack
since September 11th. They argue that the latest attempts to ban
burke or the nighab is a violation of individual freedom and another
racist attack on Moslems. Let's examine these issues closer.
following one another brought up the question of the Islamic veil
in the British media: Jack Straw's comment on the women wearing
the nighab and the case of Aishah Azmi, a 24 year old support
teacher, who was ordered to take off her full veil, including
the nighab. She took the school to court and the court decided
in the school's favor, and so she appealed against the court's
In my opinion
defending the right to wear the veil in any form or shape and
in any circumstances as freedom of choice is fallacious. It overlooks
other, just as important, rights recognized by modern civil society.
In unconditionally defending the right to wear the veil, one comes,
at best, in collision with other set of rights, i.e. children's
rights, women's rights, societal rights, and the principle of
secularism. In debating about the freedom of wearing the veil,
one must take different circumstances into consideration.
The age of the person wearing the veil.
2. The extent of the veil
3. Where the veil is worn.
Why are these factors relevant in the
foremost it is important to define what the veil is. Is it only
a fashion item, a mere clothing style? The argument that classifies
the veil as a style of clothing is totally misleading. The veil
is a religious ritual, a religious costume. Moreover, nowadays
the veil has become the political banner of a political movement,
namely, political Islam. The veil has become the symbol of Islamic
power. Wherever, Islamists gain power, they force the veil on
women, as a sign of their victory and supremacy.
Why is this
argument relevant to our discussion? It may be argued that irrespective
of its religious or political character and significance, one
must be free to wear any "political or religious symbol"
one chooses to wear. My response, and I believe many others',
to this is a categorical NO. It must be said that in most countries,
including Western democracies, there are certain dress codes at
workplaces and wearing different political symbols or religious
ones are not allowed in the workplace. Therefore, the veil must
also be viewed in this light. We should tear out all this romantic
falsification surrounding the veil. The veil is a religious and
political symbol of a religion and movement that degrades and
The veil as a symbol of women's subjugation
The veil is
both the symbol and the tool for women's subjugation. Islam, as
in fact, all other religions, is a misogynist ideology. Islam
is a direct product of sheer patriarchy. Islam, particularly,
due to its earthly characteristics, penetrates every aspect of
private and social lives of men and women. A woman, according
to Islam, is an extension and subject of a man. She does not have
an independent identity and is defined by her master. The veil
has been prescribed to hide men's property from potential violators.
A "free" woman, according to Islam, is considered an
open and free target, a free ride.
It is absurd
to regard the veil as a fashion item, or a dress style. We should
define the veil as it really is, and as it really functions in
the lives of many women under the rule of Islam: a symbol of servitude
it may be argued that, if one chooses a life of servitude, one
should be free to do so. The modern civil society has a different
answer to this argument. In a free, modern civil society when
safeguarding human rights, children's rights or women's rights
there are laws limiting an individual's right to harm oneself
or to deprive oneself of certain rights and privileges. By the
same token, there must be some limitations imposed on the use
of the veil. This is perhaps where some disagreements arise. This
is where those above-mentioned circumstances come into the picture.
Veil must be banned for underage girls
One of the
achievements of the modern civil society is the recognition of
society's responsibility to safeguard children from any kind of
abuse. The society must be responsible for a child's safety, happiness,
health and their normal growth and development. Past decades have
witnessed a great struggle by decent, human-loving individuals
to establish the concept of children's rights, to recognize a
child as an individual and not the property of their parents.
This is a landmark achievement, which contradicts the essence
of religion. According to Islam, the child is the property of
the father or grandfather and they even have the right to take
the child's life. Therefore, the modern children rights charters
are in basic contradictions with religious laws and customs. They,
in fact, nullify certain religious or "divine" rights.
This must extend to girls living in Islamic communities.
The veil is
a pure discrimination against girls. It hampers their physical
and mental development. It segregates them from the rest of the
society. It restricts their growth and future development. It
assigns to them a prescribed social role according to their gender
and a division of labor. Therefore it must be banned. Society
is duty-bound to safeguard free, healthy and normal development
of these girls. It is a crime to ignore this obligation. Freedom
of choice is purely nonsensical regarding the veil for underage
girls. "A child has no religion". It is the parents'
religion that is imposed on the child. The society must respect
the child's right to a free development. Just the same way that
modern society recognizes the undeniable right to education for
all children, bans child labor and regards physical abuse of children
as a major crime, it must also ban the veil for underage girls.
This must be added to all international children's rights charters.
The veil is a physical, mental and social abuse of girls and it
must be recognized as such by the international community.
Secular society verses the veil
In a secular
society, religion must be a private affair of any individual.
The state must be separated from religion and stay away from promoting
any religion. A secular society can better defend individual rights
and civil liberties. Contrary to the commonly held belief, religious
hatred or communal stigmatization can better be avoided in a secular
society. In a secular society wearing or carrying any religious
symbol at state institutions and in the place of education must
be prohibited. By doing this, the state and the educational system
do not promote any particular religion. Religion remains in the
private sphere and clashes between followers of different religions
is somewhat avoided. Therefore, I believe that the recent legislation
in France regarding the banning of wearing any religious symbols
in state institutions and schools is an appropriate step in the
believe that its main shortcoming is to still allow private religious
schools to operate. This leaves the girl's fate in the hands of
religiously-fanatic parents to send her to private religious school
and ghettoize her life completely. This is not respecting individual
freedom and civil liberties; this is discrimination against a
group of girls who are isolated from the society at large and
their lives are ghettoized by their parents and so-called leaders
of their communities. The society must defend the right of children;
girls living in Islamic communities are no exception. The society
and the state have responsibility for their normal, healthy and
Burke or the nighab, an individual right
or a societal right?
The veil comes
in different forms and shapes, from a scarf, to a robe-like loose
garment that covers the woman's whole body (it looks some what
different in different countries, or according to different Islamic
sect's rules) and finally the burke or the nighab. Burke has become
known as the symbol of Taliban, the most severe restriction imposed
on women's appearance.
Must a woman
be allowed to cover herself under this most severe form of the
veil? In my opinion: NO. The banning of burke or the nighab can
be argued from two angles, 1) the societal right and 2) the women's
my opinion, when dealing with burke or the nighab, we surpass
the sphere of individual rights. Here, we enter the sphere of
what I call societal rights. The person under this kind of veil
has no identity in the face of fellow citizens. The society cannot
work with faceless humans. At a workplace, and I mean any workplace,
it is the right of the fellow workers and customers to see the
face of their colleagues or the personnel. There is also the issue
of trust at stake. You can not trust the person who has covered
their face. Eyes and facial expressions are the key to communication,
if you hide these, there can be no real communication. Therefore,
wearing burke or the nighab must be banned at the workplace.
that the question of trust and identity goes further than the
workplace. It is just as important on the bus, in the park, in
the recreation ground, etc, that you can see the face of the person
in your immediate surroundings. Here it is the question of individual
rights verses the societal rights. There are instances where the
society rightfully decides to deprive certain individuals of certain
rights for the benefit of society as a whole. For example, banning
smoking in public places and imposing severe restrictions on smokers,
limits the individual rights of smokers, but it is defended on
the basis of health benefit for the whole society. Burke or the
nighab must be banned for the benefit of society.
we argued above, that the veil is a symbol and a tool for women's
subjugation and degradation. This is one of the main reasons for
demanding that it be banned for underage girls. Nevertheless,
we agreed that in a free society an individual has the right to
choose servitude, if he/she chooses to do so. However, we also
argued that there are certain limitations imposed on self-harming
practices by individuals. Female circumcision, which after a long
and hard battle became known as what the practice really is, being
female genital mutilation, is now banned by many Western governments.
Women rights activists had to fight vigorously in order to bring
consciousness about this brutal religious practice and succeeded
to ban it in these countries. There are many different religious
sects and not all their practices are permitted by the law. Therefore,
religious freedom does not mean freedom to practice just any religious
command or custom.
that burke or the nighab should also be categorized as those religious
practices prohibited by the law. Burke or the nighab deprives
a woman of any identity. By allowing its use, we recognize the
existence of some identity-less women who walk around in a ghost-like
shape. This is a real insult to human dignity. The society should
not permit such degree of degradation and humiliation of humans.
This is outrageous. This must fall under the category of the limitations
society imposes on self-harming practices. I add in passing that
I doubt deeply the nature of voluntary and free choice regarding
the veil, particularly in this severe shape. But we will not get
into this debate here.
redefine the veil. We should debate this question widely and openly.
Hopefully, we come to the agreement that certain limitations must
be imposed on the veil: banning of all shapes of the veil for
underage girls. The use of the veil at public workplaces and educational
institutions and total ban on burke and the nighab.
Azar Majedi Site
Women's Liberation Iran (Azadi
Mansoor Hekmat Foundation
New Channel TV