British Muslims for Secular Democracy (bmsd) are concerned about the ramifications of the French ban on niqab in public places, which came into force yesterday. This new legislation could further marginalise the small minority of women in France who cover their faces. Further, bmsd notes that the severity of the French Government’s approach will certainly make some people question the right of the state to tell Muslim women how to dress. In fact, some women could be impelled to adopt the niqab as a knee-jerk response to what is widely perceived as a growing anti-Muslim feeling. We would urge these women to be guided not by emotions, but by reason.
bmsd supports the right of men and women to dress how they choose on civil libertarian grounds. However, we would also bear in mind the Council of Europe’s recommendations in its 2010 report, “Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia.” While they opposed a general ban on the niqab, they acknowledged that very limited restrictions may be justified “for security purposes, or where the public or professional functions of individuals require their religious neutrality, or that their face can be seen.”
We therefore support consistent identification procedures for people who cover their faces only in particular settings such as banks, airports and any place where child protection issues are invoked. Public-facing employees should be prevented from concealing their identities. We also agree with the Council of Europe’s resolution which suggested punishment for any perpetrator who was found guilty of coercing others into wearing niqab.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob, Vice-Chair of bmsd, said: “It is true that we need to challenge assumptions within Muslim communities that women are obligated to wear certain items of clothing. However, a total ban on the niqab is not the answer, and only serves to exacerbate tensions between various communities in France.”
Notes to the editors:
- bmsd is made up of a group of Muslim democrats of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, who support a clear separation between religion and the State.
- bmsd’s mission statement: “To promote civic engagement, social inclusion, responsible citizenship and good governance particularly within constituent Muslim communities of Britain; in order to build an understanding of the shared values between all citizens to enable them to live in an inclusive, pluralist, secular and confident Britain.”
- bmsd claims no mandate or false representative status. Our primary concern is democratic engagement not detailed theological analysis or debate. The level and depth of commitment to the doctrinal core and orthodoxy of the faith varies among Muslims as much as it does in members of other faith groups. bmsd founders wish to create a platform for alternative, diverse Muslim views, essential for a progressive, multi-layered, democratic identity that is not in conflict with itself or fellow citizens.
- For details please visit http://www.bmsd.org.uk
- For any further queries, please contact: Dr Shaaz Mahboob on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07961 365 751 or Tehmina Kazi on 0207 242 8691