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(AP) A Canadian Muslim organization urged the Canadian government Thursday to ban traditional Muslim garments designed to cover a woman’s face, saying they are medieval and misogynist symbols of extremism with no basis in Islam.
The Muslim Canadian Congress has called on the federal government to prohibit the burka and the niqab because it says that practice of covering one’s face has no place in a society that supports gender equality.
“Muslims around the world know that this attire is misogynistic dress for women that is being promoted by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” said Tarek Fatah, founder of the group. “It is a means of holding women back in society.”
The burka is a head-to-toe gown with a mesh-like panel over the face that allows a woman to see and breathe. The niqab is a veil that leaves only the eyes exposed.
Fatah said the ban should not extend to the hijab, a traditional headscarf that does not cover the face.
Fatah said there is nothing in any of the primary Islamic religious texts, including the Quran, that requires women to cover their faces, not even in the ultraconservative tenets of Sharia law, which is Islamic religious law.
“We feel it is the duty of progressive Muslims to stand up for Muslim society and gender equality in our society,” said Fatah.
Fatah said the issue of the Muslim attire is also a security issue, saying that banks have been robbed in the North Carolina, Toronto and the United Kingdom by men dressed in burkas posing as women.
The proposed ban comes on the heels of reports that Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, dean of Egypt’s al-Azhar university and the country’s highest Muslim authority, is poised to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, against the garments.
Media reports Monday said Tantawi described the face coverings as “a custom that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith.”
Mohamed Elmasry, former president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said the tradition has its roots in cultural customs rather than religious teachings, but that the issue is irrelevant in Canada where the practice is not widespread.
Elmasry disputed suggestions that the garments pose a security threat, saying only a minority of Muslim women living in Canada feel the need to conceal their features in public.
He said he believes those women should have the freedom to decide whether they wish to cover their faces, and that a ban would limit freedom of expression.
“People feel it’s part of their identity, people feel it’s part of their culture,” Elmasry said. “It’s not for you and me to decide.”
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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