The burka ban in Quebec raises some serious questions about how men see women

The Qu'ran prescribes modesty for men before women, and it's clear we should think deeply about that as we look at our patriarchal societies

Atif Rashid
Friday 20 October 2017 12:41 BST
Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, said: 'We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.'
Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, said: 'We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It’s as simple as that.' (AFP/ Getty Images)

Quebec has become the latest place where face coverings have been partially banned. It means those using public services (pretty much everyone) will have to uncover.

It follows similar rulings in France, Belgium and Holland but Trudeau's Canada seemed a less likely place where the veil would be banned. It’s a restriction which will undoubtedly affect Muslim women more than anyone.

With recent sexual harassment scandals coming to light, one wonders why authorities and those in a position of power obsess over women’s clothing.

Canadian politician and lawyer Jagmeet Singh said the ban violates human rights and Prime Minister Trudeau previously called dictating what people can wear a “cruel joke”.

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Everyone should have the right to wear what they choose and the burka is no different. Let's not forget Islam isn’t the only religion to recommend covering up, so women from other religions could be affected by this ban too.

There are many variations of the covering but its philosophy in is essentially the same – to dress modestly, and it’s up to individual women to decide what that means for them.

But, like French authorities shamelessly forced a woman to undress on a beach last year, it’s becoming ever more apparent that some will seek nothing but abuse, oppression and restriction of women under the guise of “freedom”, “security” and “transparency”.

Just because we don’t like, understand or agree with other faiths, cultures or garments doesn’t mean we have the right to tell people what to wear. We think we’re past the days of fascism and intolerance but freedom hasn’t ever been such a false and convoluted concept as it has become these days.

This move in Quebec risks creating rifts in communities and destroying tolerance and understanding of other faiths and cultures.

Security is no excuse – women can remove the covering to identify themselves in courts or at airports, as happens in the UK. This is far more ideological than anything to do with straightforward safety.

Modest dress in Islam applies equally to both men and women. The philosophy of modesty transcends outward appearance, and applies to one’s thoughts and actions too.

The veil is the outward symbol of the inner modesty and purity Muslim women seek by emulating Mary, who is cited as an example for them in the Holy Qur’an.

But it seems as though some are adamant to do away with women’s freedom to have control over their own lives.

While Muslim women are being restricted by law in their clothing choices, other women are sexually harassed by men who have lost all sense of decency and respect and similarly use those women's clothing as an excuse for their inexcusable behaviour. Commentary victim-blaming women in that way for "attracting" Harvey Weinstein's attention has abounded this week. Why exactly we're so obsessed with what women wear and what perceived effects it might have on men and society is beyond me.

This is why Islam begins by prescribing modesty to men first and advocates for them to avoid licentious glances, honour the opposite sex and respect their space.

Only after this the Holy Qur’an instructs women to dress modestly and cover up their beauty.

But it starts with men, who are ultimately the cause of the problem and today seem to feel they can dictate to women how to dress and behave.

There needs to be a change in our approach towards women because the way we’re treating them is quite simply putting men to shame.

In Islam, the mother is honoured so highly that Paradise lies at her feet and serving her is deemed among the noblest causes.

Can we not at least respect the dignity, autonomy and freedom of all women, considering the womb that once nurtured us all?

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