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Debate: Banning Muslim hijab

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

Background and context

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.

Contents

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

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Yes

  • 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.


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No

  • 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.


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Secularism: Is a ban important to preserving secularism?

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Yes


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No


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Symbol? Is the Hijab an oppressive, undemocratic symbol?

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Yes

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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No

  • 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.


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

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Yes

  • 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]


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No

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]


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

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Yes

  • 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.


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No

  • 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.


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Choice: Are individuals pressured in to wearing the hijab?

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Yes

  • Muslim women are pressured by social conventions to wear the Hijab Pressure comes both socially from wanting to look like other women in their community and religiously from imams and family leaders pressing for observance. This pressure limits the accuracy of the counter-claim that Muslim women have the individual "choice" and freedom to wear the Hijab.
  • "Choosing" to wear head scarves merely internalizes oppression "Banning the hijab". Workers Power. Feb 2004 - "It is true that many Muslim women willingly wear the veil, but even if this is an expression, or assertion of cultural, religious, and racial identity and self-pride, for example, in response to a hostile, racist environment (rigorous research needs to be done as to why exactly Muslim women in the West do this), it is nonetheless tantamount to their internalising their oppression. As such, it is an oppressive response to their oppression."


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No

  • A ban violates the rights of women who freely choose to wear veils How can it be ascertained whether a Muslim women wears a Hijab as an act of individual faith, opposed to in reaction to cultural pressures? It may be impossible to isolate the extent or limitation of "free choice" involved in this act, making it impossible to generally claim that the trend of Hijab wearing among Muslim women is culturally imposed, and against free will. It would be wrong, therefore, to attempt to confidently ban Hijab wearing on the basis of this indeterminable point.
  • Pressure to wear veils is fine; cultural pressure is universal Most people are affected by the societal norms surrounding them. Fashion trends could be seen in exactly the same light as religious traditions, and could also be argued as limiting "choice" in an equivalent manner. Is it possible, subsequently, to accuse the creators of more Western fashion trends of limiting the ability of their followers to "choose" their own fashion statement? How can we isolate wearers of the Hijab as violating freedom of "choice" principles through cultural pressures, if we then allow similar cultural pressures to limit "choices" among more Western cultural expressions.
  • Muslim head-coverings help keep women safe. Muslim women must cover their head and other parts of bodies except palm hand and face (or called aurah or aurat) to avoid any bad things to happen to them and to give protection for them.
  • Only the husband has the right to see a woman. It is also the specialties for them when they get married. It would be exclusive for their husband. Only the husband can watch their 'aurat'. If not, at the end of the world, those who did not cover their 'aurat' will be punished by the God. And for those who did, they will get reward such as heaven.


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School: Is it appropriate to ban head scarves in public schools?

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Yes

  • Separation of Church and State demands banning the hijab in public schools "Banning the hijab". Workers Power. Feb 2004 - "My starting point is that secularism is a fundamental pillar of socialist politics and therefore socialist organisations must have this at the heart of their programmes and campaigns. This necessitates the demand for the complete separation of the state from religion, which implies that state education must be rigorously secular (this is not to suggest that there should be a complete absence of religion from the curriculum; on the contrary, aspects of all the world's major religions should be taught - but not dogmatic, religious teaching and rituals, and certainly no privilege accorded to Christianity - as well as critiques of religion and the irreconcilability of religious 'truths' with science)."
  • Banning head scarves in schools protects children from being forced "Banning the hijab". Workers Power. Feb 2004 - "However, even whilst arguing against it, the left should support the right of women to veil themselves. But this right should not be extended to schoolgirls. [it is] a fundamental denial of the rights of a child (some argue that it is, in fact, a form of child abuse). The reality is that there will be cajoling and coercion by parents for girls as young as five to wear the hijab at an age where they will have little clue about their parents' religion (and that is why girls from non-Muslim families, who are free from this, do not wear it). Therefore, an important democratic right - equality with non-Muslim girls - is denied them."
  • The Hijab causes problems in schools, such as division and alienation. It is potentially divisive in the classroom, marking some children out as different from the others and above the rules that the school enforces for everyone else. This may lead to alienation and bullying. Full headscarves may also be impractical or dangerous in some lessons, for example PE, swimming, or in technology and science lessons where machinery is being operated.
  • Head scarves initiate other forms of oppression in school "Banning the hijab". Workers Power. Feb 2004 - "It is important to stress that veiling not only acts as a barrier to normal relations between veiled Muslim and non-Muslim girls, it is invariably the precursor to other forms of oppression: the drive to gender segregation, restrictions of veiled girls to partake in physical education, especially swimming, or indulge in dancing etc. Moreover, some parents might go further and push their daughters to completely veil themselves, that is, to wear the burqa. If this were unacceptable to opponents of the ban, then why should the hijab be acceptable? For the reasons underpinning both are the same."


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No

  • Banning head scarves in school stigmatizes Muslim communities Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, told Reuters, "A law on religious symbols in the school environment could stigmatize a whole community." The issue is that it gives the appearance that head scarves are, generally, bad. Those that wear head scarves outside school will be seen, to a greater extent, as acting immorally. This will alienate and stigmatize Muslim communities.
  • Schools make up problems about the hijab as an excuse for intolerance of Muslims. In a multicultural society, students should be aware of the different religious practices and cultural traditions of their classmates, and be taught to understand and respect these. Without such respect, Muslims and other groups with distinctive dress, such as Orthodox Jews and Sikhs, will be driven out of mainstream education and forced to educate their children separately, which will really create divisions and alienation. As for the so-called safety issues, most classroom accidents occur when loose, long hair gets caught in machinery or in a flame - not a problem when hair is held in place under a headscarf!


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Security: Does Hijab wearing undermine security and intelligence efforts?

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Yes

  • Veil-wearing can make it very hard to identify individuals. In the current security climate this poses a problem for many potential terrorist targets like banks, government offices etc. Faces are hard to check against ID photos and CCTV systems are rendered ineffective.
  • The Hijab disguises key features of an individual more than hats. These forms of decoration do not render impossible identification techniques, whereas a head scarf has this potential. The degree of the disguise is the important characteristic.
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No

  • Non-Muslim items of clothing conceal features of identity too. Many other things, like motorbike helmets, baseball caps and beards can also make identification difficult, yet they are not banned. Almost all Muslim women would be happy to remove their head coverings for female security officers in a private side room. All these difficulties can be overcome relatively easily if a little consideration is shown.


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Fundamentalism: Does banning the Hijab help discourage religious fundamentalism?

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Yes

  • Approving of the Hijab approves its fundamentalist principles. Approving of Muslim head coverings in society erroneously cements the Hijab as an essential tenet of Islam in the minds of non-Muslims as well as believers. However many different schools of Islam exist and as on other issues, they often disagree how to interpret the Koran’s dress prescriptions. Moderate interpretations accept modest forms of modern dress while severe interpretations require full covering with the Burka or similar veil. Banning the veil furthers the cause of moderate interpretations and prevents the entrenchment of severe interpretations.
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No

  • Banning head coverings provokes greater extremes of fundamentalism. Framing laws to ban only Islamic forms of dress could be considered an attack on one religion. Feeling under attack could cause the Islamic community to close off into itself. They could set up religious schools where their children can dress as they want them to and not mix with children from other faiths. These effects could never be good for the integration of society and would further the influence of extremists. Internationally, the perceived attack on Islamic values would inflame wider Muslim opinion, feed conspiracy theories and add to the dangerous feeling that there is a clash of civilisations.


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Backlash: Can banning head scarves avoid Muslim-community backlash?

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Yes

  • Banning Muslim head scarves will not cause fundamentalist backlashes "Banning the hijab". Workers Power. Feb 2004 - "The third major argument against the ban is that there will be an Islamic backlash as this will drive Muslims into the arms of the religious right. Again, no evidence is ever provided for this assertion. The reality is that within the Muslim ghettos, their grip is already powerful - and it is precisely because of the threat to their influence that they have protested so vehemently over the issue. They know that a secular education is a major threat to their power and control, especially control over ideas. Their indoctrination starts very early - about three years of age - as they systematically try and break children from critical thinking."


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No

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Public opinion: Is there public support for banning head scarves?

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Yes

  • The French strongly support banning Muslim head scarves. A 2003 poll in France showed 69 percent favor a law banning the wearing of head scarves and other religious symbols.[4]
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No

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Pro/con resources

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Yes


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No

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Pro/con organizations

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Yes

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No

  • French Council of the Muslim Faith
  • The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Motions:

  • This House would take off the veil
  • This House would ban the Hijab
  • This House would ban Muslim dress in schools
  • This House would ban the Hijab at work
  • This House believes in secular education
  • This House would ban religious symbols in all public institutions

In legislation, policy, and the real world:

See also

External links and resources:

Books

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