This is a translation of an article by Badria Al Bishr that was published in Al hayat newspaper yesterday:
It seems that Muslims and, Arabs specifically, want to turn the veil to a case similar to the cases of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, and child marriages. By that analogy, I mean convert cultural habits to acts of worship. For example the use of the issue of women rights in the battlefields between the fundamental Islamists and the British government. Some Arabs circumcise their daughters in secret and with the help of unregistered midwives, risking the lives of their daughters, and depriving them of a normal life. They consider FGM as a form of obedience to God, and some Muslims who hold British citizenship remove their daughters from Britain and force them into marrying while not being of legal age. They do not see anything wrong in lying and fraud, and depriving girls of their rights. All of this is justified by their desire to follow Islam.
Then when such issues come to light and are exposed to public opinion, the Islamic world begins to discuss whether or not Muslims have a right to practice these worships as citizens. This is done without the world understanding that these practices are cultural practices and do not reflect the essence of Islam. Just as when France banned the veil in the streets and Sarkozy would sometimes give security issues as a reason and other times that the ban preserves the identity of women as a human because her face is her identity. No one stood up to say that Sarkozy’s reasons are compatible with Islam, where the human face, male or female, is its identity and should not be obscured. This is an opinion stated by the most fervent Salafist Muslim scholars, such as Alalbani in his book «Muslim women’s hijab in the Quran and the Prophet’s tradition». The protestors to the burqa ban also did not go back to Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, the previous head of Al-Azhar and one of the most important religious entities in the modern Muslim world, when he announced that the veil is not religion, but custom. They instead searched out for extremist fatwas as these were the only ones that would satisfy them. They insist that the removal of the veil, even in such illegal circumstances is a sin, even if it forced women to stay at home, abandoning their interests and the interests of her family, or forced them to pay a fine equivalent to almost two thousand riyals.
Recently, the issue arose again, but this time in Egypt, where the decision was made to prevent female students wearing the niqab to sit examinations at Egyptian universities since the niqab obstructs identifying the student. Although I am with the right of people to express themselves, I would like to point out that the Islamic movements that resort today to defend themselves by claiming a democratic right forget to either take all the truth or leave it whole i.e. that the application of democracy is inseparable from liberalism. Democracy does not warrant you to exercise what is inhumane under the pretext of freedom of cultural practice and personal freedom of belief and expression just because of your Muslim or Arab culture. practices and beliefs such as FGM, child marriages or intimidating women into believing that if they don’t wear the veil, then they have renounced the religion.
The protection of human rights even if the majority opposed, is not subject to a vote. If I had a hand, I would say to them to go play your games far away from our women’s rights which have always been a political toy. I would ask them to direct their games toward men’s rights. The closest parallel to the veil is the shaving of beards, which most Salafi schools agree is prohibited. Despite of this we don’t see anyone banning licenses for barber shops. People are not stopped in the streets or in the universities and chased with advice and discipline. Only the Taliban do this with their men.