Is the British establishment giving in to a harmful aspect of Islamic fundamentalism? On 16 September, a British judge said a Muslim defendant could wear the veil for all parts of her trial, expect when giving evidence to the jury. According to the British newspaper, The Daily Mail, the judge’s decision made “legal history” .
The judge also said the defendant did not have to testify in open court with her face uncovered. Instead, she may choose to give evidence via live video link or behind a screen shielding her from the wider courtroom, with only the judge, jurors and her counsel able to see her face. He also ordered that there be no artist’s sketch of the defendant while her face is uncovered.
In addition, Judge Murphy’s decision was at odds with a previous ruling; in March last year a judge at the same court told a woman wearing a niqab that she could not sit as a juror for an attempted murder trial.
The judge’s decisions came after the defendant — a Muslim convert — claimed it was against her beliefs to allow any man other than her husband to see her face — even though she only started wearing the veil last May.
Jack Straw, British Parliament member and former Home Secretary wrote an article in which he confirmed: “I also spoke to a national group of distinguished Islamic scholars and learnt that the injunction to wear the veil did not come directly from the Prophet Mohammed but was based upon a much later interpretation of the message of the Koran.”
What Mr. Straw said is right. Not only that, but Islamic Sharia law bans women from wearing the niqab in Mecca during worshiping rituals. A hadith (teachings of Muhammad) says: “a woman in Mecca is not allowed to wear a niqab nor gloves.” This text was confirmed by Islamic scholars as Saheeh [exact] by renowned Islamic Scholar Al-Albani [Al-Sahih Al-Jami’i, number 7445].
Women who want to wear niqab in British courtrooms and schools, then, comfortably ignore the fact that they are not allowed to do so in Mecca?
On 11 September; Birmingham Metropolitan College was forced to drop its campus ban on the niqab, a rule since 2005. This reversal came after an anonymous prospective student complained to her local paper; she said she was being discriminated against by the college because of the ban on the niqab. Nonetheless, the college had to drop the ban after Islamists in the UK launched an online petition attracting 9,000 signatures for protests against the college,
The ban had originally been in place for security reasons, to make sure “students were always ‘easily identifiable.'” The ban also included hoodies and hats, and therefore did not target either Muslims or the veil in particular.
Since security concerns over the niqab can be justified, as several attacks have been carried out by criminals wearing a niqab, the college therefore compromised the security of its staff and students in to appease Islamist fundamentalists.
In February of 2013, a 20-year old Victoria’s Secret’s worker was scarred for life and nearly blinded when a niqab-wearing attacker threw acid in her face as she walked home from work. Her attacker has not been identified yet because he or she was wearing a niqab.
Further, on 5 May 2010, two men wearing niqabs threatened guards outside a British bank and ran off with a box full of cash.
In addition to security concerns, tolerating the niqab in the British legal and educational systems would raise more legal dilemmas, for example: Will niqab-wearing women want their faces not shown in their passports’ photos and driving licenses?
The Conservative Party’s backbencher in the British parliament, Dr. Sarah Wollaston, said the veils were “deeply offensive,” were “making women invisible” and called for the niqab to be banned in schools and colleges. She said: “It would be a perverse distortion of freedom if we knowingly allowed the restriction of communication in the very schools and colleges which should be equipping girls with skills for the modern world. We must not abandon our cultural belief that women should fully and equally participate in society.”
As a practicing Muslim, I fully agree with Dr. Wollaston.
The niqab does not seem to have any foundations in Islamic texts; it rather seems to have come from fundamentalist Islamism, which looks down on women both in its religious texts and its unequal justice regarding women its application of Sharia law.
Permitting the niqab in the British legal and educational systems, therefore, not only further legitimizes Islamist fundamentalism, but also opens the door for enforced apartheid, in which veiled women would keep looking at unveiled British women as different or even immoral, while British Muslim men would look at women as dehumanized creatures to be isolated from the world by the veil.
Such a fundamentalist view — if legitimized by the British establishment — would not only seriously limit the ability of British Muslims to integrate into British civil society, but worse, worse, it would reinforce even more emphatically an official view to British women wearing the veil that they are indeed inferior. In officially hardening this view that a woman’s worth is lower than that of a man — in men’s eyes, in society’s eyes, and in the eyes of these girls and women themselves — the British government would be committing a horrendous injustice.
As a Muslim living in the UK, I believe British Muslims have not been successful in integrating into the British society; if the niqab were to be allowed officially at schools and courts, British Muslims would fail to integrate even further.
The UK must not give in to fundamentalists who tamper with the British way of life and thereby make it even harder for moderate Muslims who do want to belong and integrate.
While freedom of religious practice is held dearly by British laws, and should be, the British legal and educational systems must not be compromised by Islamist ideology, which is deemed extreme and oppressive by so many Muslims.
Mudar Zahran is a Palestinian writer and academic from Jordan, who now resides in the UK as a political refugee.