07/15/2010, 00.00
Send to a friend

Fr. Samir: French ban on burqa a welcome law!

by Samir Khalil Samir
For the expert on Islam, the law is an invitation for European Muslims to strive for integration and marginalize Salafi trends of opposition and conflict. Moreover, the burqa has no justification in the Koran or Islamic tradition, it is merely a custom of Saudi Arabia (and some other countries) which confirms chauvinism and the "the woman’s grave".

Beirut (AsiaNews) - What happened? Two days ago the French parliament passed a law banning the complete covering the face in public places, making it illegal to wear a burqa. The amazing fact is the unanimous nature of the vote (355 out of 500, only 1 against). There has been talk of banning the burqa for over a year in France. Initially, a police survey stated that the phenomenon involved a few hundred. But today - in a similar manner to Islamic countries - there are at least 2 000 people who wear the full veil in France. Likewise, in Egypt, from a few hundred in 2001, that number has now reached up to 16% of women.

Now France is talking about 2000, but if nothing is done, the problem will mushroom. It will spread because it is born of an ideological position. Where does this desire to completely cover women come from?


The burqa is not Islamic

From the start, it needs to be said that there is not the slightest reference in the Koran or Islamic tradition (Sunnah) regarding this issue.  Therefore it is not an Islamic norm. None of the Koranic scholars dare say so, but there are many who claim that it is a religious norm.

Its use however is widespread in some countries of Muslim tradition: Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan. The chador has nothing to do with the burqa or the niqab (Arabic word). The burqa is therefore an exception and not a rule at all. But unfortunately these countries - particularly Saudi Arabia - dominate ideology in the Muslim world, their customs, thanks to Saudi Arabia’s money, is becoming more widespread.

For example, millions of Egyptian workers, on returning from working in Saudi Arabia, start living according to Saudi tradition (not Islamic!) forcing their wives also to follow suit. Sometimes they even receive financial support .

The Egyptian man, seeing Saudi women completely covered, grows used to it and feels heartened in his manhood, which moreover is supported – in this case yes – by the Koran itself [1]. Thus, the traditional woman has always understood that to be religious she must be obedient to her husband. So much so that if her husband forbids her to go to pray in the mosque and she goes anyway, she is actually committing a greater sin than not going to the mosque!

There is therefore a predisposition in both sexes to keep wives fully covered, which stems from male jealousy and the subjugation of women. Some women, wearing the burqa, feel protected from inquisitive eyes of men.

It must be said that in many Muslim countries the burqa has been banned because (as in Tunisia) “it is not part of our tradition ", in Turkey it is forbidden in the name of secularism. In Egypt, in November 2009, the late Rector of the Islamic Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the highest religious authority in Egypt, banned it, saying to students: "The niqab is only a custom, it has no link with Islam, neither close or distant!". In February 2010, Egyptian Prime Minister Nazif, called it "a denial of woman!

So who are those people who want to wear it at all costs in Europe? And why? Usually they belong to the "Salafi" trend, which preaches a return to the tradition the first century of Islam. This is common in many groups of Islamic activists, who attract many European women often through marriage. Years ago I was invited to lecture at Göttingen (Germany) on women in Islam. Those who attacked me were not the Muslim Turks in the room, but only three German women doctors, who had converted to Islam. Wearing the veil, they continued to claim that Islam is the best religion for women.

In fact in France the full veil is worn by women who have never worn it before and also by converts. For this we can conclude that the choice to wear the full veil is not born of tradition or religious values, but a ideological spirit that preaches a return to the cultural tradition of seventh century Arabia, often in opposition to the West.

Moreover, its overnight appearance and its spread is due to recent publicity regarding its use in the Islamic world. With the burqa, they claim to be the only truly authentic Muslims.

The European reaction to the full veil

Europe is reacting to the burqa in a firm and decided manner: since yesterday there is a law against it in France, in Belgium there has been a law banning the full veil for several months, the burqa is banned in Barcelona and it is discussed in other parts of continent.

Europeans are against the burqa because it goes against the European tradition: wearing it is in fact a way to reject integration into European culture.

The phenomenon is small - for now - and involves a few thousand women, but creates immediate revulsion. This dress in one piece of cloth, black, a sort of " woman’s grave" it makes them seem like "walking ghosts".  It has become a symbol of the subjugation of women and goes against equality between men and women.

For some time now attempts have been made in the West to reject visible distinctions that create divisions between men and women. But in Arab world as well, since the 1920’s there has been a massive movement, with demonstrations and sit-ins against the veil. And there is a whole genre of feminist literature in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and elsewhere, part of the 1930s campaign against the veil which was a great success. Some imams supported their position. At that time there was no talk of the full veil, even the simple veil was condemned.

Reading the text of the 2007 "Riyadh Declaration"[2], we note that invited Muslim countries start with a premise: We want to reach the world and move towards progress. But this wave of the return of the burqa goes in the opposite direction to progress and is motivated by ideological ends!

On the other hand, the West has its own ideology and sees its use as a humiliation of women. The text of the French law, proposed by Justice Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie said that full covering of the face is contrary to the values of the republic.

It only seems right that the French should defend their culture. The parliamentarians reaction was completely unanimous (only one vote against) . Even the French Socialists – who abstained - have always been against it. When the law was passed in Belgium there were only two against.

This consensus shows that we are touching something important in Western minds. If one considers the ease with which France gives citizenship to migrants, one concludes that the nation has a strong desire for integration. But if the persons in question react by rejecting French or European culture, while simultaneously wanting to live in France or in Europe, then this creates a contradiction and a problem.

The Muslim response

According to the reactions I've read and after participating in several forums on the French law, I can say that the majority of Muslim men and women are against the full veil. Only the fundamentalists (the Salafis) are in favour of it. Yet the majority of Muslims in Europe and France seem to be against this law. I can think that this is only for psychological reasons. "We – they say - are the community that is always pointed out as dangerous, we are victims of Islamophobia, it is an attack against Islam, we are always painted as the bad guys ....

Actually it is the other way round: there is a campaign against Western culture in the Islamic world - at least by a part of Muslims. So who is the aggressor and who the aggrieved? Each group can certainly make judgments about the goodness or otherwise of one or another culture. But if a Westerner is to live in Egypt and then spits on Egyptian culture, at best he should leave. If he does not like the culture if there is no shared feeling, why stay? My culture may have some flaws, but then let us work to change it together, do not despise it from the outset.

Well I have rarely seen Muslims that encourage other fellow Muslims to integrate and fit into the community where they live, the culture of the country where they are. Yet this should be their first natural attitude: gratitude to the country where they are and pride of belonging to this country.

And this raises a question: is being a Muslim or Christian or Jew antagonistic to "being Italian or Moroccan, or Russian?  Can we equate religious identity and national identity? Still today, in the West, if people are introducing themselves to a group, they say: "I'm German, or Polish, or Egyptian", but no one thinks of saying "I am a Christian." For the Muslims, the answer is often "I am a Muslim”, as if it indicated belonging to a homeland. The result is a dual belonging, as if saying "I am French, but Muslim." This evokes the attitude of the Jews in 1800, analyzed by Karl Marx in his book "The Jewish Question" (Zur Judenfrage, 1843) in response to the study of the theologian Bruno Bauer, published a few months before with the same title.

I would therefore like to say to the Muslims; it is up to you to educate your people, encouraging them towards integration and not confrontation. Why do your thousands of imams - often paid for by Muslim countries and not by communities in Europe - not teach integration with European culture? Maybe because they are in the front line of those who are anti-Western!

Instead of criticizing the French government or some other European government, why not undertake a little self-criticism, condemn terrorism and those who oppose integration!

In France the Muslim community is not for violence but no Muslim ever come out onto the streets to condemn fundamentalism and Salafism. Yet the struggle against fundamentalism is one of the most urgent priorities of the same Islamic countries. It is now clear that it is fundamentalism that is holding back the development of the Muslim world, right up to the point of becoming fanaticism, which can lead to terrorism.


The law, an invitation to the Muslims of Europe

The recently voted French law seems balanced. It provides for six months of time allow people become used to the new rules, to allow reflection and evolution. The wording is very cautious: it does not talk about the full veil, rather it refers to the complete covering of the face. It explains exactly how and when it is forbidden, it also outlines exceptions (illness, medical bandages, carnival, etc ...). This law does not want to be anti-Muslim - even if the occasion was born of the full “Islamic” veil - but a more general rule that applies to everyone, a standard of living together. The penalties are also interesting: a fine of 150 Euros or citizenship education, a kind of educational training for coexistence.

The law presents a large difference between the penalty for those who wear the burqa (150 Euros) and for those who force others to wear the burqa: a fine of 30,000 Euros a year in prison (twice if it involves a minor). It also explains outlines the following types of cases: men or women (not just husbands or fathers) who by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power, abuse of authority force someone to cover her face. This shows that the purpose of the Act is to achieve the values of equality and freedom.

Was this law really necessary?

Was it really necessary to do this? Building on the experience of Muslim countries, where the full veil is increasingly becoming the norm despite the desire of those in charge to stop it,  I think that without a law, the ideological context of the current Muslim world, would drive more Muslim women to wear it.  

Therefore this law is both important and beneficial, not because it's about a piece of cloth, but because it addresses a ideological mentality of opposition and rejection, which ultimately brings more harm to the Muslim community and society overall. The full veil is a symbol that clearly says "No to your civilization." This symbol is disputed in most Muslim countries in the world! But it is equally important that the French Muslim community, the largest in Europe, enters the playing field and cooperate with all possible means in a common reflection. Beyond the veil, it is about the global attitude to Western society, different from Muslim society [3], better in some aspects but worse in others, which is entitled to exist and to be law. Because they are French Muslims - like all citizens - have a double duty to defend this civilization and criticize it.

Islam is growing in Europe through migration and demography. Are Muslims ready to accept this society where they are a minority (although I always repeat "it is the second religion of Europe")? It would be important to help the Muslim community to integrate into European culture, albeit with the necessary corrections. The Muslims of Arabia will be the ones to make this integration possible, rather the Muslims who already living in Europe. The Muslim world is especially facing modernity. Until the 1970's it tried to assimilate modernity, by reflecting on its culture. The Salafis tendency is to reject modernity, with the sole exception of the advanced technology it produces, in short, harvest the fruit without learning how to produce it because it's too dangerous! It's time to expand our vision to be 100% European and 100% Muslim or Christian or Jew, or atheist, etc..

The law is thus more an invitation to the Muslim community rather than something against Islam. It is a way to reconcile being a part of French civilization with a Islamic faith deeply lived and rethought.


[1] The full veil is not a precept of the Koran, but the absolute authority of man over woman is part of Islamic tradition and Koranic law.



[2] Published in March 29, 2007, and sponsored by the Arab League, it aims to relaunch steps towards peace in the Middle East.

[3] It is worth remembering that this Western civilization, heir to the Christian civilization, is however very different: Christians must defend it and criticize it.

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
An anti-burqa law to renew Islam in Europe
If Muslims ask for Europe’s "empty" churches...
The resurgence of Islamic terrorism after the Arab Spring
Abdennour Bidar: Mohammed Merah, a monster created by Islam’s illness
Fundamentalism: "diabolic" union between religion and politics


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”