The burqa, a garment worn by some women practicing the Islamic faith has been banned in 13 nations around the world. Australia is in the midst of a debate about whether to become the 14th nation to ban the wearing of the burqa in public spaces. 

Q:  What is the significance of the burqa?

A: There is often some confusion about “the burqa.” A burqa is a one-piece robe with a mesh faceplate that originates in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan — only women from this region wear this particular item of clothing. A generic face-veil is called a “niqab” and is often worn with a black robe called an “abaya” and a headscarf called a “hijab.”

Q: Do you think similar bans might happen in other countries?

A: My understanding of the bill being debated in Australia — I haven’t heard of a law being passed yet — is that it would ban all full-face coverings in public spaces. The rationale presented for the bill is that not being able to see people’s faces presents “a security threat.” 

Q: Do you think it is right to ban the burqa — not only in Australia, but also in different countries where this is happening?

A: These bills are manifestations of Islamophobia, the hatred and fear of Islam, Muslims and the discriminatory practices that result from that fear. Features of Islamophobia include the belief that Islam is, by definition, separate and “other,” and that a Muslim identity is therefore incompatible with belonging to a Western nation state. Islamophobic narratives present Islam as a threat and Muslims as manipulative in order to justify racist discrimination against them. 

Q: What do you think the burqa ban does to the religion of Islam and Muslim women?

A: The law under debate in Australia is Islamophobic because it presents the clothing choices made by Muslims as a security threat in order to justify racist discrimination against Muslim women. 

Q: Considering the burqa is such an important aspect of Islam and considering that many 21st century women see this as, “Oppression to women,” how do you think Muslim women feel about the burqa ban? 

A: The burqa is not an important part of Islam — it is a piece of clothing with cultural and religious significance for some women. Different Muslim women will have different opinions about such a ban. Many Muslim women do object to veils of various kinds, others choose to wear veils for a variety of reasons — some cultural, some personal, some political and some religious. My opinion is that stripping women of their right to dress as they choose is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and stripping only Muslim women of that right is
simply racism.