For and against the face-veil

Niqab-wearer and Muslim activist debate French move towards banning full Islamic veil.

france muslim
Nicolas Sarkozy has said face-covering veils are ‘not welcome’ in France [GALLO/GETTY] 

A French parliamentary panel has recommended that face-covering veils such as the burqa or the niqab be banned in public insitutions such as hospitals and schools.

The decision is the result of a six-month inquiry into full veils, after Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, said they were “not welcome” in the country.

Here the issue is debated by Hadiah Ahmed, a niqab-wearing Muslim, and Shaaz Mahboob, vice chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy.


Hadiah Ahmed, 30, is a full-time mother of two in Manchester. She previously worked as an interior designer in London.

“I am a Muslim woman, born and bred in Yorkshire. I studied in English schools, furthered my education to degree level and have worked with celebrity faces. 
I changed my whole lifestyle for my religion as it was the way I wanted to live.

I started wearing the khimaar (head scarf) and jilbab (a long dress-type cloak). A good few years ago as I started to practise Islam more, and it states in the Quran: ‘And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty.’ (24. 31). 

“Targeting the niqab is just an excuse to target Islam, afterall why is it that Christian nuns are not pinpointed for the way they dress?”

Hadia Ahmed

It was solely my decision, and after all, we live in Britain, a place where we have freedom of speech, freedom to live how we want to live!!

I can remember when I first went out in my hijab (Islamic dress), how people were staring at me and calling out things like, “You bomber!”

It was quite funny how, before I started wearing my hijab, men would whistle and make comments and now it was the total opposite.  It’s so strange how people perceive you just by what you wear even though you’re the same person from within.

I found that people were rude, talking to me as if I wasn’t familiar with the English language and as if I was stupid. 

Sometimes it use to annoy me so much as I was educated in Britain, paid my taxes and yet I was being told to go back to my own country!! Hello, I was born here!! 

But now I just laugh and think that it’s so ironic.

Three years ago I went for pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj and there it was when I decided to wear the niqab (a veil which leaves only the eyes uncovered).

When I came back to England I kept on my niqab and the comments just escalated.
Years on, I still get the looks and the comments. However, things are becoming increasing harder for a Muslim woman wanting to practise her religion.

In my opinion targeting the niqab is just an excuse to target Islam. After all, why is it that Christian nuns are not pinpointed for the way they dress?

Or that it’s OK to wear less and for women to be degraded and seen as sex symbols, but if someone wants to cover up and protect their modesty, then there’s a big uproar?

I, as a Muslim woman, should have the right to wear what I want without any question as to why I want to wear it. It’s my identity, it’s who I am.

We are a hard-working family trying to practise our religion whilst living in a Western society.

In my opinion governments should use their efforts wisely to try and promote unity so that religion and society can go hand in hand, so that we can live in peace.”


Shaaz Mahboob is the vice-chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, a charity which promotes religious understanding and addresses prejudice against Muslims.

“Discrimination of any form is considered unacceptable is all civilised societies.

Shaaz Mahboob believes the niqab should not have a place in civilised Western societies 

The burqa or the niqab does just that. It allows one person to remain anonymous during face-to-face communication, thus depriving the right of the other to reciprocate whilst registering the changes in facial expressions, which is vital in such communication, in conjunction to voice that is used for everyday communication.

Whether in public offices, educational institutions or out on the streets, the disadvantage to those who are required to deal with women covered under a niqab or burqa is immense. 

Furthermore, to all the men out there, it is insulting since it implies that every man on the street would somehow get aroused by the sight of a woman’s face and in therefore to protect these women, they must be put behind a suffocating layer of thick clothing. 

This might be true for certain societies where men rarely get a glimpse of women’s faces or skin altogether, and any such sight might awaken their natural instincts.

Whereas in Western societies, especially within the French society, this rationale does not hold much weight since members of the public are exposed to significant display of the skin of the opposite sex, which perhaps renders them immune to any such mental state where they would readily pounce on a woman upon seeing her uncovered face.  

“Not knowing whether an individual amongst them is a man or a woman due to their attire is deeply unsettling

Shaaz Mahboob

The argument put forward by individuals and groups that somehow covering of women’s face is a religious obligation for the reason of their safety from the lewdness of men, falls flat on its face when recalling the etiquettes during Hajj. 

It should be remembered that during this holiest of pilgrimages, worldly pleasures and distractions have been removed by the Almighty, thereby allowing the pilgrims to concentrate on their prayers and associated rituals.

During the Hajj, Islam forbids women from covering their faces, whilst at the same time removes segregation on the basis of sex during the days that men and women, who are otherwise strangers to each other, spend many days in close proximity to each other.

No wonder even amongst the vast majority of women who do choose to cover themselves, only a fringe element finds the niqab or burqa a religious obligation, while the rest are content only with a hijab.

Whether it’s security at airports, identification in banks or during job or dole (income support) interviews, it is the right of the authorities and businesses to be certain of who they are dealing with on the basis of identity and communication.

Furthermore, it is perfectly reasonable that the general public feel reasonably secure about the persons sharing the same public sphere. Not knowing whether an individual amongst them is a man or a woman due to their attire is deeply unsettling and any such anxieties must be addressed by the relevant changes to law.

Burqa or niqab neither has a place in Islam nor should it obtain a place in civilised Western societies where women are equal to men and public safety of all is paramount.

Source: Al Jazeera