By Ameen Izzadeen
To veil or not to veil? Since the lifting of the state of emergency on Aug. 22, this nagging question has divided Sri Lanka’s Muslim community.
The Niqab, or the full face cover except the eyes, was banned under an emergency regulation following the April 21 Eastern Sunday suicide bomb attacks carried out by pro-Daesh terrorists. Also banned was the Burqa – a loose garment covering the body from head to toe.
In the aftermath of the attacks in which more than 250 people died and 500 were wounded, several incidents were reported with Muslim women being harassed and intimidated in public places, including government offices.
The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulema (ACJU), an umbrella organization representing a majority of Sri Lanka’s Sunni Muslim scholars, has insisted that the hijab is Wajib on Muslim women. Wajib is an Arabic term meaning an obligatory act, the non-performance of which is a sin.
However, following the imposition of the state of emergency, ACJU issued a statement urging Muslim women to avoid the Niqab in public places in view of the country’s security needs.
After the state of emergency was withdrawn, some clerics have been using social media to urge Muslim women to wear the Niqab without any fear. In one widely circulated video clip, a man identifying him as Miflal Moulavi says preventing Muslim women from wearing the Niqab is a human rights violation.
“If women can wear immodest European attire in this country, Muslim women should be able to wear modest garments?” he said. The cleric urged women to come out into the open wearing the Niqab.
Come out they did, at least a few of them. Soon they faced trouble. Last week, security personnel on duty at Colombo’s popular Galle Face Green promenade took into custody four Niqab-wearing family members of a Colombo businessman. They were subsequently released after a Muslim politician intervened, but not before police recorded a statement from them. Incidents of veiled women being taken in for questioning were also reported in other parts of the country.
A Muslim activist said Niqab-clad women were still not allowed to mount public buses, and enter some restaurants or government offices. Most public places still display notices warning that wearing a full face cover would not be allowed due to security reasons.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told the media last week authorities are awaiting the Attorney General Department’s ruling to make a clear statement on the Niqab.
Amidst the uncertainty, the ACJU issued another statement urging Muslim women to avoid the Niqab, taking into consideration the possibility of harassment.
Stressing that “wearing the dress code of one’s own choice is one of the fundamental human rights of every male and female on the earth,” the English language statement warned of the possibilities of Muslim women being inconvenienced if they wear the Niqab.
Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission senior lawyer Javid Yousuf told Anadolu Agency that his personal view was one need not wear face cover as part of a religious practice.
“However, there are some people who believe that the face cover is part of their religious beliefs. Since the constitution entitles everyone the freedom to practice their own religion this also is part of that right,” he said, adding that if there was discord within the community about the issue, it needed to be sorted out internally.
“But we cannot impose our views on the Niqab on those who are wearing it and say ‘give it up’ when they believe it is their right because constitutionally it is part of the practice of one’s religion,” he said.
Yusuf pointed out that during the crisis period after the Easter Sunday attacks, the Muslim community unanimously gave up the Niqab in view of the security situation.
Asked whether Niqab had become a security problem now, he said that throughout the 30-year-long insurrection of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Niqab had not been a security issue and there was no indication that it had facilitated the terrorists to carry out the attack.
“I think the government also needs to be sensitive to the feelings of the Muslim who are also the victims of the April 21 attack because the whole thing was turned on the community and there are attempts by hardline forces to slowly deprive us of our rights,” the senior lawyer said.
Sri Lanka Muslim Council President N.M. Ameen feels wearing the Niqab at a time when the country is facing a security crisis is unwarranted and unnecessary.
He said his council had said in a statement that when there was uncertainty over whether Niqab could be worn or not, it was better to avoid the Niqab until the government explained its stance. The statement urged Muslim women not to be misled by those who say women could wear the Niqab as the emergency regulations had been allowed to lapse.
A Muslim student who has been wearing the Niqab for eight years said she would not risk it and wear the Niqab until the government makes a clear statement.
Asked whether the Niqab posed a safety problem, the student, who did not want to be identified said: “Yes, it did.” She also said she feared for her safety if she wore the Niqab and walked on the street. “I fear if I wear it and go, I will be harassed. So it's better not to wear it rather than getting harassed,” she told Anadolu Agency.
She said that given the security situation, she would not insist on her right to wear the Niqab. For the sake of national harmony, for the sake of peace in the Muslim community, she would not go all out to defend the Niqab, she said.
A Muslim teacher, who also did not want to be identified, said she was not sure whether she could wear the Niqab again although the emergency had been lifted. She said she was aware of the harassment the Muslim women faced because of their attire.
The teacher who wore the Niqab for seven years believe Muslim women should have the right to wear what they wanted, just as other people were able to wear what they wanted.
A Muslim woman researcher and academic, who did not want to be identified for fear of threats from extremists, said the Burqa and the Niqab were an alien-cultural attire and not suitable to a pluralist society like Sri Lanka.
She said the Burqa and the Niqab cut the Muslim women and girls off from many opportunities in life -- like education and building a career path.
Meanwhile, moves to bring in fresh legislation to regulate the Muslim women’s attire have been put off. Muslim Affairs Ministry official B.A.C.M. Rameem said a Cabinet paper was opposed by Muslim ministers who argued the existing laws were adequate to deal with the issue.
Senior lawyer Yusuf said that from what he had heard the provisions in the Police Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act were being looked into to deal with situation. But he needed to further study them to comment on how it could be done.
The Niqab has been a controversial subject that has divided Muslim scholars across the world, with some Salafi and Wahhabi interpretations insisting that it is obligatory. A majority of the mainstream schools, however, dispute that opinion.
Original Headline: Niqab seeks return in Sri Lanka amid fears, uncertainty
Source: AA . Com