Opinion: Hijab Banned but Face Mask made Mandatory: Secularism or Islamophobia?
By Adn Ahmad
In 2011, the government of France introduced a controversial law that banned all facial coverings including the hijab, burqa, and niqab, in an attempt to elevate security in public by preventing facial concealment. Due to recent circumstances caused by the global pandemic, many governing bodies, including the government of France, have mandated facemasks as a standardized measure of safety in all public areas. The French government, however, has also stated that the burqa and niqab restrictions are to remain in effect despite the obligation to use a facemask in public. Violation of the facial concealment ban would result in a fine of €150 but is exempt in the case of wearing a face mask due to Covid-19. In addition to a hefty fine, a French citizenship education class is required to be taken by anyone who violates the ban. In light of the duplicitous statements made by the government of France, the true intentions of the hijab ban have become evident. Despite being the largest religious minority, the Muslim community in France has been forced to conform to the country’s anti-Islamic standards. This ultimately creates an obstacle for Muslim women as the task of leaving the house becomes a challenge in itself, interfering with their ability to lead a normal life. In fact, the United Nations stated that the ban itself is a violation of women's freedom and religion.
With the outbreak of Covid-19, the emphasis made by the French government on the existing religious article ban is overtly self-contradicting as the law prohibits Muslim women from wearing a burqa/niqab but instructs citizens to wear face masks in public at all times. The French government claimed that the main reasons for the original religious article ban were for security as well as secularization in France. However, it can be perceived more as Islamophobia. This is because the ban seems to be more intended towards eliminating Muslim face coverings in specific, as they are much more common to see regularly as compared to other distinct religious articles, such as large crucifixes or even Jewish Yarmulkes. Furthermore, previous events in France indicate a potential ill will towards the niqab/burqa with many hate crimes that took place in France against Muslim women wearing the niqab/burqa in the past. Additionally, the act of refraining from wearing a face mask in public and jeopardizing the health and safety of others does not incite a punishment from the government. But wearing a burqa or niqab which, likewise, covers the face, provokes a penalty and re-education course regarding proper citizen behaviour which is undoubtedly discriminatory towards Muslims. As a result, Muslim women that choose to wear the hijab/niqab for varying reasons based on their personal interpretations of the Quran are no longer able to express their religious point of view in public. Therefore, the opinions of Muslim women are suppressed as a result of French laws that forbid them from implementing their individual Islamic values within their daily lives by wearing a burqa/niqab. All in all, the act of upholding and emphasizing the niqab/burqa ban during times of crisis reveals the hypocrisy present amongst the government and even citizens in France that is a result of the xenophobia, bias, and intolerance towards people of differing religions.
Although it is difficult to solve an international problem that contends with the laws that reside in a specific region, there are a couple of approaches that can be adopted in order to resolve the challenges faced. One example of a possible solution is to educate others about the real reason as to why women in Islam wear a facial veil in order to alleviate fears surrounding the niqab/burqa. This way, people who are misinformed by potentially biased media sources are educated, rather than afraid of the unfamiliar. An alternative solution to help Muslim women in France in the long term is, to speak out against the law itself. As the largest minority in France, it is absurd for many Muslims to be confined in their homes due to the inability to practice their own religious tradition in public. Because of this, it is important to speak out against the law in France that negates the freedom of expression and liberty in order for justice to eventually take place.
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