Burqa – Wise Decision By Government & The Muslim Response

Mass L. Usuf

Like all dresses Bikini, Burqa and Burkini each has a background which reflects the aesthetic vicissitudes of human preferences relating to the dress of the woman.  Women had either been overly dressed like in the Victorian period or ‘under’ dressed in today’s modern world. She has become an object of optic pleasure for the men and the marketers aware of this have turned  her to a commercial object. The respect and dignity of the woman have been gradually eroding over time. To make matters worse, women had contributed partly to this decline especially, in the late 1960’s.

Did you know that a woman’s right to choose her own beach wear had been a subject of great controversy?  Read on to find out the absurdity of how even swimsuits have been linked to Islamic extremism.

Burkini Linked To Extremism

Burkini is a type of modesty swimsuit for women. The outfit covers the whole body except the face, the hands and the feet, while being light enough for swimming. It is like a person wearing a wetsuit and a swimming cap. The burkini was originally designed in Australia and Muslim women preferred it as beach wear. It became popular even among non-Muslim women since this avoided exposure to the sun; Those who were cancer survivors and others who were at high risk of skin cancer. The people who had skin problems and the ones who did not want their skin tanned.

Amude Versus G-string

However, when the Muslim women in France wore this for the beach, the French authorities slapped a ban on wearing Burkini, as swimsuits. Basically, the French laicity (secularism) prefer women to show their flesh as much as possible. It may sound funny but it is true that in August 2016, the mayor of Cannes banned the burkini swimsuit, because of a possible link to Islamic extremism.

Apparently, if a Muslim woman wears a G-string or a two-piece bikini she is not linked to Islamic extremism. G-string is a thin strip of cloth covering the genitals with a string-like fabric passing between the buttocks. Our Goviya’s (farmer) amude is much more decent.

Removing Cloth In Public

The New York Times reported that at least 20 municipalities in France, had enacted bans against the garment (Burkini) on the grounds that it is “not respectful of good morals and of secularism” and “not respectful of the rules of hygiene and security of bathers on public beaches.” (August 24, 2016). This duplicity of French attitude was condemned as clearly Islamophobic.  The French media reported that in one case, armed police forced a woman to remove the Burkini she was wearing over her clothes on a beach in Nice. Imagine men forcing a woman to undress herself in public among on lookers.

Critics remarked that the ban on beach burkinis as absurd and illogical. They said that it raises questions over French way of integration – one size fits all type of integration.

Obscene Swimsuit

It may surprise the reader to know that in 1907 the record-breaking Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested on Revere beach in Boston for wearing a sleeveless one-piece swimming outfit. She was arrested for indecency. This dress remarkably resembled the Burkini. Yet, it was then considered to be so revealing and deemed as obscene.

In the early 1900s, women beach goers waded into the water in black, knee-length, puffed-sleeved wool dresses worn over bloomers with long black stockings, bathing slippers, and even ribboned swim caps, according to Victoriana Magazine. So, this is the funny world that we are living in.

Christian And Hindu Veil

Face veils is an attire not restricted to the Muslims alone.  It has remained as part of Western mourning dress too. The tradition of widow’s wearing the face veil has its roots in nun’s attire. The Christian nun’s dress symbolized modesty and chastity. It is as a public manifestation of this sincerity and piety that the mourning veil was worn.

In a Culture article to the BBC, Lindsay Baker writes, “The veil was at times described as a protection against unwanted social interactions during a period of grief. Widows were often represented in popular culture according to certain stereotypes – as women vulnerable and worthy of sympathy, or alternatively, women who were alluring to men, and whose relative freedom presented a potential disruption to the prevailing social order.” (Mourning glory: Two centuries of funeral dress – 3rd November 2014).

In India even the Hindus cover their faces. ‘Ghunghat’ is a head covering or headscarf, worn in the Indian subcontinent, by some married Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Sikh women to cover their heads, and often their faces. Generally, the loose end of a sari is pulled over the head and face to act as a ghunghat.

The etymology of the word ghoongat, ghunghat or ghunghta is derived from Avagunthana Sanskrit: meaning veil, hiding and cloak and Oguntheti Pali: to cover, veil over and hide.

Postponing The Ban

It must be commended that the government’s announcement to postpone the ban is a great decision. This is a decision in the right direction which amply demonstrates that the government respects the sensitivity of the people.

Reciprocity from the Muslim community will help build bridges of understanding and goodwill between communities. It is true that out of a 2 million Muslim population hardly 500 women wear the burqa.  However, besides religion, the right to dress is an absolutely personal choice. The right to dress any attire which is not indecent is well protected as a basic universal human right.

Muslims Must Engage

The Muslim community must proactively engage with the government.  It is not aware of the complexities of the religion of Islam and its practices. By positively working with the government, the Muslim community will be able to ensure that steps taken affecting the community are done in the most suitable manner.

Further, this will help build confidence that Muslims are no different from any other community living in this country. That, they too, are keen in the national affairs of the country, its national security and peaceful Coexistence as tools basic for the progress and development of the nation.

Government Praised

It is very wise of the government to have decided not to interfere in this matter. Any interference will cause bad taste in many spheres. The local Muslim citizens would be worried, the Muslim countries of the world will be taken by surprise and, finally, the international community will come down heavily on the government for human rights violations.

Dialogue and engagement should be the way forward for all sides. There is a huge difference between arbitrary action and the consultative method. The latter approach invariably results in a win-win situation which is of prime importance in matters of good and responsible governance. In fact, it will augur well for the government to address other concerns too, in this manner. By this approach solutions will be generated by and within the community which naturally will be long lasting and more effective. Precisely because it had developed organically and, therefore, the willingness to ensure compliance.

I am certain the Muslim community is more than willing to partner with the government in order to allay its national security concerns.

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