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The Veiled West

By M. Burhanuddin Qasmi  

The Muslim women’s veil issue in France is gradually taking an ugly shape across the world. The ‘extra’ liberal people possessed with a Western life style even in the East count banning the ‘burqa’ as liberating women from ‘the dark ages’ to be in tune with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, yet the majority of Muslims across the globe consider it as a direct attack on one’s freedom of living and religious practice. It is nothing less than the forceful conversion of Muslim women to a Western civilization, some argue.   

France has opened one more Pandora’s Boxes which surely will widen the fresh divide among practicing Muslims the world over. The new friendship endeavor between the West and the Muslim world marked by US president Barack Obama’s historic Cairo speech is to be affected by this new escalation of culture and life style. The 150 million Muslims in India are alarmed and they are gradually starting to show their anger about the way the French government is dealing with the whole issue.      

‘It is a matter of utmost concern that France has decided to enact legislation outlawing the burqa or head covering of Muslim women, the wearing of which is enjoined upon all Muslim women in the Qur'an,’ (Surah: Al-Ahzab 59 and An-Noor 30-31) observed the newly elected member of parliament and a prominent religious scholar Maulana Badruddin Ajmal. In a press statement from Mumbai Maulana Ajmal argued “it is a covering of the whole body as part of a sacred religious injunction, prescribed by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad .” 

The Western world, which prides itself as the champion of democracy, human rights and womens’ rights, gives free rein to nudity and skin show and no Muslim in the world objects to the au natural look. But when they take upon themselves the right to decide what women should wear in public through laws, then it is downright condemnable and blameworthy. 

Freedom, that is a precious, holy thing, cannot be one sided. If freedom gives a license to some women for the wearing of revealing dresses, knickers, bikinis and jeans, then how does it stop some other women from wearing their chosen dresses? Muslim women are mature enough to understand the limits of their freedom and while following the basics of a free democratic world order, France must allow Muslim women to dress the way they like.    

Dressing is an individual and private issue that does not need to come under public scrutiny. 

Catholic Nuns all over the world wear a full dress covering their bodies as also a wimple, or white sarees and full-length gowns, and similarly Sikhs wear beards and turbans to strictly follow their religious rulings. Are these things next in line to be legislated upon and banned in France or countries within the European Union?  

Muslim non-government-organizations and social - religious organizations in India are anxiously following the development in France. A complete ban on Muslim women’s attire will invite public protest which is evident from columns and letters in the Urdu language press. 

In the past too, the world has been inflamed by some Western countries with tags like ‘freedom’ of expression as in the case of the infamous movie ‘Fitna’ and the Prophet of Islam’s derogatory cartoons from Denmark and Norway. If Mr Sarkozy fails to maturely handle these sensitive issues for the Muslim world, this time around the intensity of escalation between the Muslims and French will be the same as it was in the past.  

The Members of Parliament (MP)  from Assam’s Dhubri Maulana Badruddin Ajmal who is also the founder and president of Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) grabbed the Muslims’ sentiments in India and will shortly send a separate letter to Dr. Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India urging him to press the French government to refrain from passing such reprehensible laws that have caused outrage in the community of Muslims in India and the world over.

Maulana Ajmal will also send copies of his letter to the president of India, Ms Pratibha Devi Singh Patil, chairperson of the UPA Government, Ms Sonia Gandhi, minister for the external affairs, the minister for the minority affairs, the French foreign mission, New Delhi, the Human Rights Commission of India and to the Womens’ Commission of India.        

For the common man, such morally purblind laws enrage the community at the receiving end and tarnish the fair image of France as an upholder of liberty, equality and fraternity gained through much sweat and blood in the French revolution and subsequent mass movements in the ‘60s. 

France’s government must take urgent steps in favor of democracy, freedom and peace in the world and take positive evaluation of the concerns of Muslims the world over including the 150 million Muslims in India. It is time for the European Union, and for the entire world to properly define ‘freedom’! Or how one’s freedom is becoming another’s slavery?  The forceful removal of a Muslim Women’s head cover or a ban on her veil is nothing less than oppression— modern cultural slavery enforced on Muslims living in France. Isn’t it the West that is veiled of common sense?  

M. Burhanuddin Qasmi is editor of Eastern Crescent and director of the Mumbai based Markazul Ma'arif Education and Research Centre. He can be contacted at