Issue Report: Banning Muslim hijab

Should the Hijab be banned in schools, public buildings or society in general?

In popular use “hijab” means “modest dress for women” among Muslims, which most Islamic legal systems define as covering everything except the face, feet and hands in public. According to Islamic scholarship, hijab is given the wider meaning of modesty, privacy, and morality, the word for a headscarf or veil used in the Qur’an being khimār. Since the 1970s, hijab has emerged as a symbol of Islamic consciousness “and an affirmation of Islamic identity and morality” in opposition to “Western” values. Muslims differ as to how “hijab dress” should be enforced, particularly over the role of religious police that are enforcing hijab in Iran and Saudi Arabia. For many people the Hijab or Muslim head covering symbolizes a repressiveness in Islam, for its supporters, it is simply an article of clothing worn on the head. Wearing the hijab doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman wants to cover herself from men, but is rather often worn to symbolize the willingness of a women to sacrifice part of her freedom to God. Recent controversy has arisen around France’s plan to ban the Hijab (along with other visible religious symbols) in schools. France’s secular constitution provides the grounds for excluding religion from their schools. However it is not just western countries who have taken this approach. Turkey has for many years suppressed the Hijab in schools, public buildings and among employees of the state. Part of the controversy surrounding France’s plans has come from its timing. In the aftermath of 9/11, many minority Muslim communities in western countries view bans on the Hijab as part of a wider attack on Islam conducted in tandem with the ‘War on Terror’. Therefore, the issue is as much wound up with perceptions of Hijab as the practicalities of the dress itself.
See Wikipedia’s article on the Hijab and Islamic dress controversy in Europe for greater background.

Rights: Does government have a right to ban wearing the hijab?

Religious freedom has limits; head scarves are outside of protections

Religious freedom has some obvious limits. Religiously-endorsed death-by-stoning, for instance, does not receive the protection of freedom of religion in secular democracies. Therefore, it need only be determined that head scarves are inappropriate and socially harmful in order for it to be banned. Indeed, head scarves are an oppressive, undemocratic, and socially harmful symbol that should not, therefore, receive the protection of “freedom of religion”.

Head scarves are not fundamental to Muslims expressing their faith.

Head scarves are not an essential element of the Islamic faith and the connection between believers and their God. In fact, the Quran does not explicitly call for the wearing of veils. Veils are, rather, a cultural expression in the Islamic community. A ban on veils, therefore, does not fundamentally restrict the freedom of religion of Muslims.

Banning head scarves upholds equal treatment and opportunity

Many societies are founded on secular values that do not permit the sponsorship of any religion by the state. In this climate it is important that all citizens of the state are seen as equal. If some dress differently than others, deliberately identifying themselves as members of one religion, this can harm the unity and ethos of the state. This holds particularly true for institutions of the state like schools and government offices.

Muslim women opposition to veils is not adequately represented

Leslie Cannold. "For equality, ban the hijab in public schools". The Age. August 31, 2005

“It is largely Muslim men who are insisting that “their” girls and young women will be upset, concerned or made fearful by the banning of the hijab from public schools. But given such leaders are rarely democratically elected, little less by a voting base that includes women, how can we know whose interests they really represent?”

A head scarf ban violates the right to freedom of religion and expression

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in 2004: “The proposed law is an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice. For many Muslims, wearing a headscarf is not only about religious expression, it is about religious obligation.”

Wearing head scarves is unlike religious extremes such as stonings

Christina Duval. "Banning the hijab. Against the ban, for secularism." Workers Power. Feb 2004

“In justifying the former, [Rumy] makes the error of rolling together the headscarf issue with religious practices that socialists unequivocally call for the banning of: such as death by stoning for sex outside marriage or clitoridectomy[…]Such practices are clearly examples of savage and cruel religious oppression and are imposed on the women involved. Socialists think donning the headscarf is wrong, since it is a symbol of Islam’s oppression of women, but adopting the symbols and practices of oppression (even if due to family and cultural pressure) is clearly not in the same category as being physically damaged or attacked in the name of religion.”

Wearing head scarves does no harm and violates nobody's rights

"France: Headscarf Ban Violates Religious Freedom". Human Rights Watch. February 27th, 2004

“Under international law, states can only limit religious practices when there is a compelling public safety reason, when the manifestation of religious beliefs would impinge on the rights of others, or when it serves a legitimate educational function (such as prohibiting practices that preclude student-teacher interaction). Muslim headscarves, Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses—which are among the visible religious symbols that would be prohibited—do not pose a threat to public health, order or morals; they have no effect on the fundamental rights and freedoms of other students; and they do not undermine a school’s educational function.”

Wearing the Hijab is protected by religious freedom under UN Charter.

The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in the UN charter and considered by many to be a basic human right. Some religions require special diets, others prayer at specific times. Why shouldn’t a religious mode of dress receive as much protection as these other aspects of religious freedom? Wearing head scarves is a must in Islam. Thus, government must not interfere with one’s religion and the right for one to practice the religion they have professed.

Public bans on head scarves encourage private bans

If the government bans the wearing of head scarves in public places, what can possibly prevent private institutions from doing the exact same? The answer is nothing. Indeed, in France, where public bans have been in effect, many private companies or organizations have implemented bans on the wearing of hijabs. In other words, governments bans have created a slippery slope to widespread discrimination.

Wearing the Hijab does no harm to other individuals.

Religious freedom should have no boundaries, except for maiming, killing, hurting, etc.. Yet, the Hijab does no harm to other individuals, so qualifies for protection as an expression of religious freedom.

Secularism: Is a ban important to preserving secularism?

A Muslim head scarf ban is important to preserving state secularism

Former French President Jacques Chirac in calling for a ban on head scarves in 2003. – “Secularity is one of the republic’s great achievements. It plays a crucial role in social harmony and national cohesion. We must not allow it to be weakened.”

A state does not jeopardize its secularism by allowing head scarves

"Turkey: Headscarf Ban Stifles Academic Freedom". Human Rights Watch. June 29th, 2005

“the protection of religious freedom is fully consistent with secularism in state institutions. Accommodating different forms of religious headgear does not suggest that state authorities endorse any particular religion and does not require additional state resourc

France is hypocritical in head-scarf-ban "secularism"; funds Christian schools

Sharon Smith. "The racist hypocrisy behind the hijab ban" Socialist Worker. February 20, 2004

“there is something profoundly hypocritical in banning Islamic religious symbols in the name of secularism and gender equality–while the French government continues to subsidize private education for that other globally influential misogynist religion, the Catholic Church, at a higher rate per pupil than public schools.”

Symbol? : Is the Hijab an oppressive, undemocratic symbol?

Headscarves symbolize and foster the oppression of women

This is particularly true in countries such as Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan where it is compulsory. Often Muslim dress rules for women are seen as more severe than those for men. Inequality between men and women is a form of discrimination and liberal societies should fight all forms of discrimination.

Women can better defy sexual oppression by uncovering themselves

If men oppress women sexually, isn’t it better to stare that oppression in the face, instead of playing into the hands of sexual oppressors by covering up.

Muslim head scarves do not foster a respect for the female body

If women cover-up, how are men supposed to develop a respect for the female body? How are woman supposed to develop a similar respect? In fact, it is clear that men act more sexually oppressively when they never see a woman’s body (because woman are veiled), and then suddenly see a woman without such a veil. Instead of fostering respect, veils foster a deprived lust and disrespect for the female body.

Wearing the Hijab makes women more self-conscious, not less

Nadia Gaber. "Why I Won’t Veil". The Harvard Crimson. November 17, 2006

“It’s ironic—though the justification for the hijab is to make women less preoccupied with their looks, I have never been more conscious about my appearance than I was in Egypt. Because I am of Arab descent, foreign eyes gazed more keenly at me—at how much skin I showed and how much makeup I wore—than they did at my white friends, although their U.S. passports were no bluer than mine.”

The idea that women must wear headscarves to be dignified is offensive

The core principle of headscarves is that it protects the modesty and dignity of the woman. This is a nearly universal interpretation of the act. This is an offensive premise. It considers that the physical features of women are inherently offensive in appearance and that men are incapable of containing their sexual impulses upon seeing a woman’s natural form. It holds that the only way a woman can be dignified and accepted in society is if she conceals her true identity and form. These are offensive and undemocratic principles and do not belong in a modern democracy.

Headscarves falsely presume that men can't contain sexual impulses

It would be sad to believe that men are incapable of containing their sexual impulses in the face of a beautiful female form. Are we to believe that men are such vile, primal sexual creatures that they cannot look past a woman’s sexual form to her larger self? We would make cave-men of ourselves to believe this.

Headscarves make women sexual objects and increase predation

If head scarves are mainly about protecting women from the sexual impulses of men, this turns women into mere sexual objects for men. Indeed, by creating this atmosphere, head scarves have appeared to stimulate extreme crudeness and sexual predation among men in Muslim countries.

Head scarves aren't about oppressing women; there are good reasons

Rosie Healy. "Lifting the Turkish Ban on Hijab: A Secularist Responds". Mass Media. March 3rd, 20008

“People know the secularist perspective [on hijab,]” writes Ms. Al-Zaim. “Do they know the pro-hijab, Islamist perspective?” She declines to express that perspective, but my understanding is that Muslim women cover themselves for a variety of reasons such as obedience to god, modesty, deflecting sexual attention, and maintaining their cultural identity as Muslims in day-to-day life. One young woman writing for the web forum Islam For Today identifies hijab as a “form of liberation” from the media, the fashion industry, and male criticism.”

Many Muslim women view the veil as a means to protect their modesty and privacy.

Just as we would not force any women to be seen in public in her underwear if she did not feel comfortable doing so, why should a woman be forced to show her hair if she does not want to? Modesty is a personal judgement call; some are comfortable in the smallest bikini while others prefer a lot more clothing. No one but the woman herself should make that decision.

The Muslim veil liberates women from sexual attention.

Muslim women often argue that the Hijab liberates them from the sexual gaze of men. Indeed, in many cultures, men act like sexual predators toward any woman that does not conceal herself. They make cat-calls, sexually harass, and sometimes molest unveiled women. A woman has a right to protect herself from such predation with a head scarf. Such protection liberates women to act more freely and expressively, and without fear.

Wearing the Muslim head scarf is an act of obedience to God.

Many acts are simple reminders of our relationship with God. A good example is fasting. It could easily be called strange or even immoral self-flaggelation. But, the purpose of it is to honor and remind-one-self of God. Many women wear veils for this reason; simply as an act of faith. It provides a daily reminder to Women of their God and their willingness to sacrifice for their God.

Head scarves help Muslim women maintain their cultural identity.

There is a long and rich cultural history surrounding the Hijab. Many Muslim women wear veils in order to connect with this history and culture.

Head scarves enable Muslim women to defy sexual oppressors

In countries and cultures where men act as sexual predators, women use the veil as a means to defy their oppressors. Depriving women of this tool would be to disable an important tool of defiance and self-defense.

Wearing head scarves is often a political, not religious, act

Amitai Etzioni. "Let Them Wear Scarves". Huffington Post. April 10, 2008

“Others argue that the headscarf is not so much a religious but a political symbol, as Anne Applebaum does in Washington Post — this only makes my point stronger. Since when do we ban people in a democracy from displaying symbols that communicate their political viewpoints — whether these are, say, pro-gay rights ribbons, or the peace signs of those who oppose nuclear weapons?”

Discrimination: Can a ban help fight discrimination? Or would it hurt it?

Banning wearing religious symbols makes discrimination more difficult

"Chirac: Ban headscarves in schools". December 17, 2003

“If we are talking about a star of David, the hand of Fatima or a small cross, those are acceptable, but when it’s very obvious, in other words, when if they are worn people can immediately see what religious faith they belong to, that should not be accepted.”

Muslims in the West need to embrace culture/head-scarf-ban

Labour’s Ruairi Quinn said immigrants who come to Ireland need to conform to the culture of this country. – “If people want to come into a western society that is Christian and secular, they need to conform to the rules and regulations of that country. Nobody is formally asking them to come here. In the interests of integration and assimilation, they should embrace our culture.”[2]

Banning head scarves is an attack on Islam

Banning head scarves dehumanizes Muslims

Tolerance of head scarves exercises emotional compassion and peace The Qur’an mentioned the ‘Hijab’ for the women as well as men. It is mentioned for the man in Ch. No. 24 (Surah Nur), Verse No. 30: Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. [Quran, 24:30] “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers,…” [Quran, 24:31]

Muslim women often wear head scarves to protest racism

Banning the veil distracts from more pressing discrimination issues

Banning head scarves impairs the integration of Muslim communities

A head scarf ban will disproportionately impact Muslim girls

A head scarf ban can hinder/prevent Muslim women from marrying

Opposing Muslim head scarves is a pre-text to opposing immigration

Other symbols: Is banning other religious symbols important along-side a head scarf ban?

Banning head scarves is appropriate when along with other religious symbols

France has instituted such a ban on Muslim head scarves, Jewish skullcaps, and large Christian crosses in public schools. This ensures against any concerns of religious discrimination against Muslims.

Banning head scarves is worse than banning other religious symbols.

While some defend a ban on Muslim head scarves by pointing to bans on other religious symbols, there are important differences between these symbols. The head scarf performs an actual physical function (protecting the dignity of a woman). Crosses and skull-caps do not perform such physical functions. By depriving a woman of a head scarf, you are not merely depriving them of their symbol, but also forcing them to go without a functional religious tool.

Banning other religious symbols is only a front for targeting Islam

Sharon Smith. "The racist hypocrisy behind the hijab ban" Socialist Worker. February 20, 2004

“To be sure, the French ban targets not just the hijab, beards and bandanas that denote Islamic affiliation, but also Jewish skullcaps and “conspicuous” Christian crosses (the fate of the Sikh turban has yet to be determined). Nevertheless, few in France–where the press has dubbed the ban “the law against the veil”–believe that the target is anything but Islam.”

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