By Dr. Kwabena Agyapong Osman

Recently a Muslim mother wearing the niqab, a type of head veil covering the whole face leaving only the eyes, was told to leave a Family Dollar shop in Indiana. In Cannes, France the mayor of the town has banned the wearing of burkinis, a full body swimsuit worn by Muslim women in the beaches citing security concerns and branded the clothing “the uniform of extremist Islamism”. And in Germany the Interior Minister recently also called for the ban of the face veil or burqa stating it “doesn’t fit in with our open society”.

These are all unfortunate but increasingly frequent incidences born out of ignorance and the ongoing Islamophobia that has engulfed this country and other parts of the world.

The concept of veiling in Islam has profound philosophy that most non-Muslims and even some Muslims, especially in the West, fail to understand. They question its importance and have a negative perception towards those who wear them.

Such people fail to recognize that the concept of women wearing the veil predated Islam. In the early Christian communities for example, women were veiled. Presently there are some Christian groups like the Catholic nuns who wear a type of veil on their head. They do this because it is instructed in the Bible (1 Corinthians: 11:5-6). They practice it as a religious injunction and not out of coercion.

Similarly, women in the Jewish communities before Christianity and even today in some conservative Jewish groups wear veils over their head and dress in a way no different from Muslim women who are veiled. They also derive this injunction from the Old Testament (Genesis: 24:64-65).

The veiling among Muslim women like the religious communities before Islam is derived from its holy book, the Quran, which teaches that women should not display their beauty or their embellishments and to pull their head covering over their bosoms (24:32). This is an instruction for believing women and indeed any women who submits to the one God to dress modestly to protect themselves from evil mined persons and not be molested.

Based on this injunction, Muslims women put on head veils that they wear in different styles based on culture and geographical location. However, the principle is the same; to show modesty in their outward appearance just as they are required to be chaste inwardly. Hence in all public places, whether it is the supermarket or on the beach, they dress modestly as prescribed.

The Islamic veil of a woman is a symbol of her protection from the external dangers that can affect her moral and spiritual advancement. The real Islamic veil is more than just covering the physical body. It implies also drawing a virtual curtain upon oneself to protect her from all the evil surrounding. This is a concept which most opponents to the use of the veil fail to appreciate and therefore, out of ignorance, call for its ban in public places.

The Islamic veil is not a disgrace or a hindrance for women in any way. It is also not a security threat to anyone. On the contrary, it honors her and frees her from the obstacles that prevent her moral and spiritual advancement and thus it is the means of her deliverance from the suffering and ills that she faces in modern day societies. In reality, it embodies the mercy of God on women. This is something some people of the West have failed to appreciate.

Humans are of the nature that unrestrained looks can lead to dangerous thoughts in their mind with men being the most vulnerable in this situation regarding women. Therefore in the Quranic verse preceding the verse concerning veiling for women, men are admonished to lower their gaze (24:31) when going about their day to day activities.  Thus by these prescriptions, Islam teaches ethics and rules of conduct regarding our daily activities.

If we claim to live in a society that grants freedom to each individual to practice what they believe in, then people like the store manager, the mayor in France or the German Interior Minister should be able to tolerate and accommodate the modest dressing of some of its citizens who, due to their faith, choose to dress in a particular way and do not pose any security risk to others.

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