Europe’s obsession with what Muslim women should or should not wear continues to expose fierce anti-Muslim sentiments, prejudice and double standards across the continent.
During a global pandemic – when face coverings are mandatory – a referendum in Switzerland to ban women from wearing the burqa or niqab publicly saw over 50% of those who voted supporting the ban. Switzerland will follow France, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Bulgaria and the Netherlands in forcefully controlling what Muslim women choose to wear.
For any objective observer, the ban merely serves to promote anti-Muslim sentiments.
A recent study by the University of Lucerne concluded that the number of women in Switzerland who wore a niqab was around 30 and found no evidence at all of women wearing the burqa. Of 8.6 million Muslims in Switzerland, no one even wears the burqa! Like other far-right propaganda, it is clear this referendum was a mere fear-mongering tactic.
Thankfully, unlike other countries, Switzerland’s parliament and the federal government opposed the referendum proposal, arguing that it was a “fringe” occurrence. But even if most Muslim women chose to wear the burqa or niqab, why do people suddenly have the right to forcefully control their right to wear what they want? Where are all the slogans of “freedom” gone now? The referendum shows that over 50% of the Swiss who voted have confirmed that freedom is for all, except Muslims – least of all Muslim women.
The campaign posters and ads to ban the niqab and burqa, chanting “Stop radical Islam!” and “Stop extremism!” – and their subsequent support, promoted by the Egerkingen Committee which has links to the right-wing Swiss People’s Party – speak volumes on the direction Europe has taken.
The burqa and niqab ban aims to send alarm bells ringing about a non-existent “enemy” – Muslims. This scaremongering and scapegoating aimed at Muslims was seen in Brexit, it is chanted by populist parties across Europe and has been the central theme of divisive leaders like Trump.
There are those, however, who understand the absurdity and true intentions of these bans. In Switzerland, posters of those who opposed the ban read, “‘No’ to an absurd, useless and Islamophobic ‘anti-burqa’ law”.
Many voices in Europe, especially those of the far-right, label Islam as an oppressive religion, especially towards women. But the irony is that the same people then vote for bans that infringe the very rights of Muslim women who choose to wear veils or other face coverings. These people aim to forcefully “liberate” Muslim women while remaining blind to their double standards.
Cyrielle Huguenot, Head of Women’s Rights, Amnesty Switzerland, rightfully said:
“The proposed face veil ban cannot in any way be viewed as a measure for the liberation of women. Rather, it is a dangerous policy that violates women’s rights, including to freedom of expression and religion. This ban would have a particularly negative impact on Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or burqa. If we really want to respect women’s rights, we should let women decide what they want to wear.”
“If the intention of this is in any way to protect women’s rights it fails abjectly. Instead, this proposes to sanction women for their choice of clothing and in so doing undermines the freedoms Switzerland purports to uphold.” (www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/switzerland-face-veil-ban-is-discriminatory-and-violates-womens-rights)
The recent intolerance and prejudice against Muslims will only further divide society and murder peace.
Before France became the first European country to ban full-face veils in public spaces and the discussion of veils was at its peak, addressing the importance of peace and the absurdity of banning the veil or other face coverings, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa said the following at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Peace Symposium on 20 March 2010:
“Governments should not interfere where rights are not being violated. No laws should be prescribed regarding those matters that do not endanger the peace of the nation […]
“Over the past few years the hijab, or veil, has been made an issue in Europe. In France, in particular, an uproar has been created and now they are seriously considering legislation that would partially ban the hijab. Following on from France, politicians in other European countries and for their own political motives are issuing statements supporting a ban and this is becoming a means of injuring the sentiments of Muslims.
“Whenever I have reflected on this matter, I have never been able to understand what the problem with the veil is that it has become such a threat to governments. Is it such a heinous crime to wear a coat and cover one’s head and chin with a piece of cloth that an entire parliament should sit to pass a law against it? […]
“Should legislation be passed against Christian and Jewish ladies who also adopt religious attire? If bans are imposed against the Muslims, then Muslim countries may impose restrictions on some forms of Western dress in response. This issue has the potential to snowball and it will affect the peace of the world.
“By all means, if there is any covering that hides the identity of a person and it is necessary to remove it to identify a person, then the governments or the authorities have the right to do so. But what a travesty, that a woman may be deprived from travelling simply because she is wearing the hijab; or a human life may be deprived of care in a hospital and left in the jaws of death because she was wearing a veil […]
“If this is a crime, then during the winter, all European ladies will have to be deprived of their rights when they wrap their heads with scarves. Certainly, it is food for thought that whether it is such a crime to wear this one metre cloth and whether wearing it renders a woman worthy of being deprived of her basic human rights.
“Is this a definition of modern democratic governments that claim to safeguard the rights of its people? Is this the way to bring together people of different nations? Is this the way to foster love and affection amongst people? Most certainly, every just-minded person will oppose this because these things will make the walls of hatred ever higher and destroy the peace of the world.”
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa said these words back in 2010, when the world was passing through a financial crisis. During the same speech, he pointed out how tackling pertinent issues, like job security, should be at the forefront of governments and not addressing non-issues like banning face veils.
“These days the world is passing through a financial crisis. It is said that the recession has ended, that we have passed through the worst and that now we are emerging from it to recovery.
“But the public is still affected; jobs are still being lost; the purchasing power is still as affected as it was before. These are matters for governments and major steps must be taken, rather than making choices based on personal preferences.
“Will a woman wearing or not wearing a veil affect the economy of the country or the world? Will the wearing or not wearing of a veil or having or not having a minaret affect the moral value of a country or will it lead to recognition of the Creator? Will the wearing or not wearing of a veil or having or not having a minaret improve or harm the peace of the world?”
11 years on and this statement still holds true. A global pandemic continues to cause widespread devastation, break up families, end social life and cripple the economy. Yet for many, issues with Islam and what Muslim women wear continue to be the most pressing issues.