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Fight against terrorism no reason to ban hijab


A Muslim woman wearing hijab and a mask along Moi Avenue, Nairobi on April 11, 2020 [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Several countries around the world have decided to forbid the use of the hijab, the veil Muslim women wear to cover their bodies and protect their chastity.

In 2010, France became the first European country to ban the Hijab. In the years that followed, other European countries followed suit. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offensively compared women wearing the veil to a letterbox.

Demonising women wearing the hijab started more intensely in Europe immediately after the September 11, 2001 attack in New York. Just before the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US First Lady Laura Bush declared the invasion will, amongst other issues, free Muslim women from the oppression of the veil. However, the offensive against the Hijab started many decades before. Neil Macmaster wrote a book titled; Banning the Veil: The Algerian War and the emancipation of the Muslim women, 1954-62.

In this book, Macmaster described how French colonisers in Algeria forbade the use of the veil for Muslim women during the war of liberation. The veil is a symbol of dignity and honour for Muslims and plans to ban its use is an indication that there are concerns that go beyond the veil itself. Samuel Huntington, in his book 'The clash of civilisations', described how after the collapse of the Berlin Wall the next global conflict was to be between the West and the Muslim world.

The Muslim community is generally conservative and this was seen as a sharp contradiction to the more liberal western thoughts. The fight against the veil has been around for some time even before the rise of the global jihadists. Therefore, the suggestion that banning the veil is part of the global fight against terror is not true. Besides, it is not only Muslim women who cover themselves. Even Catholic nuns do protect their chastity by dressing modestly and covering most parts of their bodies.

The arena of the clash of civilisations is now the hijab. It is the most visible face of Islam. As Macmaster said in his book, the cornerstone of the Muslim faith is the hijab. If the veil is taken away, then the foundation upon which Islam is based might crumble. For Muslim women, removing the hijab is like taking away their faith. The Hijab is a very important article of faith and the likelihood of Muslim women discarding it is very low. If anything, these efforts to ban it might work to the contrary and increase the desire for the women to keep their Islam dress code.

Strangely, India has joined the countries that now oppress women who wear the veil. Recently, a university in India sent away Muslims who were donning the Muslim veil. This is surprising because India, the land of Mahatma Gandhi, has been known for its tolerance towards other faiths. Even more strange is the fact that Hindu women have a dress code that shows their uniqueness. India is a multi-religious community.

Sometimes it is argued that it is the Muslim men who force their women to wear the hijab. But paradoxically, many of the countries that have decided to ban the hijab are doing the same thing by forcing women to remove the hijab. Two wrongs cannot make a right. If western countries are as liberal as they claim to be, they should allow Muslim women to wear their hijab.

Mr Guleid is CEO, Frontier Counties Development Council. 

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