In many nations, Niqab has been banned. And there is a growing apprehension in some others that it should be banned, citing various reasons - ranging from security threat to women's oppression. They look over it condescendingly, misconstruing that it oppresses women. Islamic teachings dictate that Muslim women must wear Hijab (headscarf) and cover her entire body with the exception of her face and hands when they are around strangers, away from their loved ones, or exposed to unrelated men. There is a difference of opinion on this matter, and many Islamic scholars stipulate that covering of the face (Niqab) is also required.
Muslim women wearing the Niqab do so to obey the Creator, to protect their beauty for their spouses, and to guard themselves from the undue advances of the men. If the women want to wear Niqab in order to fulfill their religious obligation that emanates from their faith, they should be welcome to do so.
Some claim that one can commit a crime and get away with that because of wearing Niqab. Well, criminals can wear any kind of clothing to evade the security system, including but not limited to, large colored sunglasses, fake moustaches and beards, wigs etc. Are we going to ban all these apparels? In fact, the bigger question should be as to how many Muslim women wearing Niqab committed crimes or were caught as criminals? And if any (or many) committed any crime, what should be done to ensure security?
The security concern may be dealt with by checking their identification or apply other technological means to deter any future crime. When there is a need to identify, the Muslim women can show their faces in a private area, preferably to other women. That serves the purpose of identification check. But, outright banning the religious attire punishes everyone without any sound reasoning. And that is certainly not justice.
A nation cannot claim to promote freedom of expression, yet practice blatant religious discrimination. It is not in the interest of any community, nation, and the world to curtail these rights that are enshrined in the constitution of a civilized nation. Such missteps impede the efforts to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
As Thomas Jefferson aptly made his point:
"All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."
The point is this is women's prerogative to wear what they want to. Wearing the Niqab is the choice of the Muslim women themselves. It is their right to practice their faith the way they see it right. It cannot be forced upon them. Since it is their choice to wear it, exercising the choice doesn't amount to their oppression per se. It would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise.
Not responding to this concern may jeopardize other civil liberties that we seem to have taken for granted. Where would this wave of Islamophobia stop? How would it stop when we refuse to act constructively? Freedoms were achieved after tremendous sacrifices. How could we lose them so cheaply? And more importantly, in this time of huge unemployment, recession, budget deficits, not to mention many other societal ills, should this really be our priority?
We should not let this happen. We should set an excellent example for our fellow human beings and our generations to come. Let us act in the positive direction....
Asad Latif has an engineering background and is a writer based in Toronto, Canada. He writes on diverse issues - social, political, economic, religious, and technological. He can be reached at alatif2002yahoo.ca.
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