21 June, 2024


Burqa – Wise Decision By Government & The Muslim Response

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass Usuf

Like all dresses Bikini, Burqa and Burkini each has a background which reflects the aesthetic vicissitudes of human preferences relating to the dress of the woman.  Women had either been overly dressed like in the Victorian period or ‘under’ dressed in today’s modern world. She has become an object of optic pleasure for the men and the marketers aware of this have turned  her to a commercial object. The respect and dignity of the woman have been gradually eroding over time. To make matters worse, women had contributed partly to this decline especially, in the late 1960’s. 

Did you know that a woman’s right to choose her own beach wear had been a subject of great controversy?  Read on to find out the absurdity of how even swimsuits have been linked to Islamic extremism.

Burkini Linked To Extremism

Burkini is a type of modesty swimsuit for women. The outfit covers the whole body except the face, the hands and the feet, while being light enough for swimming. It is like a person wearing a wetsuit and a swimming cap. The burkini was originally designed in Australia and Muslim women preferred it as beach wear. It became popular even among non-Muslim women since this avoided exposure to the sun; Those who were cancer survivors and others who were at high risk of skin cancer. The people who had skin problems and the ones who did not want their skin tanned.

Amude Versus G-string

However, when the Muslim women in France wore this for the beach, the French authorities slapped a ban on wearing Burkini, as swimsuits. Basically, the French laicity (secularism) prefer women to show their flesh as much as possible. It may sound funny but it is true that in August 2016, the mayor of Cannes banned the burkini swimsuit, because of a possible link to Islamic extremism.

Apparently, if a Muslim woman wears a G-string or a two-piece bikini she is not linked to Islamic extremism. G-string is a thin strip of cloth covering the genitals with a string-like fabric passing between the buttocks. Our Goviya’s (farmer) amude is much more decent.

Removing Cloth In Public

The New York Times reported that at least 20 municipalities in France, had enacted bans against the garment (Burkini) on the grounds that it is “not respectful of good morals and of secularism” and “not respectful of the rules of hygiene and security of bathers on public beaches.” (August 24, 2016). This duplicity of French attitude was condemned as clearly Islamophobic.  The French media reported that in one case, armed police forced a woman to remove the Burkini she was wearing over her clothes on a beach in Nice. Imagine men forcing a woman to undress herself in public among on lookers.

Critics remarked that the ban on beach burkinis as absurd and illogical. They said that it raises questions over French way of integration – one size fits all type of integration.

Obscene Swimsuit

It may surprise the reader to know that in 1907 the record-breaking Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested on Revere beach in Boston for wearing a sleeveless one-piece swimming outfit. She was arrested for indecency. This dress remarkably resembled the Burkini. Yet, it was then considered to be so revealing and deemed as obscene.

In the early 1900s, women beach goers waded into the water in black, knee-length, puffed-sleeved wool dresses worn over bloomers with long black stockings, bathing slippers, and even ribboned swim caps, according to Victoriana Magazine. So, this is the funny world that we are living in.

Christian And Hindu Veil

Face veils is an attire not restricted to the Muslims alone.  It has remained as part of Western mourning dress too. The tradition of widow’s wearing the face veil has its roots in nun’s attire. The Christian nun’s dress symbolized modesty and chastity. It is as a public manifestation of this sincerity and piety that the mourning veil was worn.

In a Culture article to the BBC, Lindsay Baker writes, “The veil was at times described as a protection against unwanted social interactions during a period of grief. Widows were often represented in popular culture according to certain stereotypes – as women vulnerable and worthy of sympathy, or alternatively, women who were alluring to men, and whose relative freedom presented a potential disruption to the prevailing social order.” (Mourning glory: Two centuries of funeral dress – 3rd November 2014).

In India even the Hindus cover their faces. ‘Ghunghat’ is a head covering or headscarf, worn in the Indian subcontinent, by some married Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Sikh women to cover their heads, and often their faces. Generally, the loose end of a sari is pulled over the head and face to act as a ghunghat. 

The etymology of the word ghoongat, ghunghat or ghunghta is derived from Avagunthana Sanskrit: meaning veil, hiding and cloak and Oguntheti Pali: to cover, veil over and hide.

Postponing The Ban

It must be commended that the government’s announcement to postpone the ban is a great decision. This is a decision in the right direction which amply demonstrates that the government respects the sensitivity of the people. 

Reciprocity from the Muslim community will help build bridges of understanding and goodwill between communities. It is true that out of a 2 million Muslim population hardly 500 women wear the burqa.  However, besides religion, the right to dress is an absolutely personal choice. The right to dress any attire which is not indecent is well protected as a basic universal human right. 

Muslims Must Engage

The Muslim community must proactively engage with the government.  It is not aware of the complexities of the religion of Islam and its practices. By positively working with the government, the Muslim community will be able to ensure that steps taken affecting the community are done in the most suitable manner. 

Further, this will help build confidence that Muslims are no different from any other community living in this country. That, they too, are keen in the national affairs of the country, its national security and peaceful Coexistence as tools basic for the progress and development of the nation.

Government Praised

It is very wise of the government to have decided not to interfere in this matter. Any interference will cause bad taste in many spheres. The local Muslim citizens would be worried, the Muslim countries of the world will be taken by surprise and, finally, the international community will come down heavily on the government for human rights violations. 

Dialogue and engagement should be the way forward for all sides. There is a huge difference between arbitrary action and the consultative method. The latter approach invariably results in a win-win situation which is of prime importance in matters of good and responsible governance. In fact, it will augur well for the government to address other concerns too, in this manner. By this approach solutions will be generated by and within the community which naturally will be long lasting and more effective. Precisely because it had developed organically and, therefore, the willingness to ensure compliance.

I am certain the Muslim community is more than willing to partner with the government in order to allay its national security concerns.

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Mass Usuf
    I think your article is one-sided and your criticism against France is unfair.
    I don’t think the decision of some countries including France and Switzerland to ban niqab and burka has anything to do with religion. For example, wearing balaclavas is normal in European countries.
    Muslims enjoy full religious freedom in other countries, although they deny the same to foreigners in Muslim countries.
    If you think a Muslim woman has a right to wear “burkini” in France, don’t you think a French woman should also have the same right to wear a “bikini” in Muslim countries?
    France is not a Muslim country. They have their own culture which is their right. You should learn to respect cultures of other countries, not only Muslim culture.
    The problem with Muslim males is that, when their families migrate to other countries to work or live, they expect those countries to change their laws to accommodate the wishes of Muslim women. In actual terms, it should be the other way.
    Niqab and burka are more Arabic than Islamic. For example, Pakistani women don’t wear them. I think it is mandatory only in Iran and Saudi Arabia. That means, the Iranian and Saudi Arabian women have a choice to not migrate to France.

    • 1

      Champa, I have to agree with you. Further wearing anything in public which can hide your identity is certainly a security risk. It certainly affects the safety of others around. These are not mere imaginations, and people have made use of such attire to cause harm and escape. It may be a right of the Muslims but can truly be a threat to other’s security. So where do we draw the line. Nobody is complaining about wearing these within their homes. Wearing them in public is certainly a security threat which nobody can deny.

    • 0

      don’t count ur pigs before they are bacon – the ban will come in May 2021.

  • 10

    According to the 2012 Census of Population, in Kattankudy alone there were over 20,000 female Muslims, almost all of whom are draped in black burkas. So the writer’s claim that “… out of a 2 million Muslim population hardly 500 women wear the burqa” is both frivolous and dangerously misleading. Even among the more than 80,000 female Muslims residing within the Colombo MC limits, the number of black burka wearers will exceed this magical figure of 500.
    The Muslim community has nothing to gain by down-playing the ‘seriousness’ of the issue. We must be brave enough to acknowledge the true facts that define the problem, especially if it is due to some weaknesses on our part.
    The elephant in the room is the process of De-Arabization that the members of the Islamic faith in Sri Lanka must engage in if they have serious aspirations of achieving a harmonious and mutually-respectful relationship with the other religious communities.
    The meridian of the main road at Kattankudy should have Thambili trees rather than Date trees.

  • 3

    Dear Usaf

    I do not accept you Taking ownership of Muslim woman and telling them what they should wear.

    The consensus around the world amongst Muslim woman where freedom of expression is allowed they do not cover there faces be it in any Muslim and non muslim countries. This has nothing to do with a single reasoning/argument you have used for your case making..

    We as citizens of the world support all Muslim woman to be free and express what they want is one side of the story.

    Other side of the story is human facial exposure is required for security/art/community building/human expressions/love and romance/all we do from cradle to grave. The fact you have to confuse all the rest of the body as to who is naked and what else is covered or not is not what has been discussed here and you set out to divert for your absurd case making in a very devious way… with the face..forehead/eyes/nose/mouth tells me you are very confused/blinded with some other hate/agenda.

    Why we(HUMANS) wear covid masks, during sand storms face covering in deserts storms and even in my village in certain windy seasons we all do, mountaineers wear face coverings has nothing to do with Muslim religion either.

    • 3

      This shows you are happy to abuse Muslim woman for your personal politics that we do not approve…..if our government has been forced to take a step back is a huge step back on woman rights/progress/liberation nothing to do with other religious prejudices but you are being allowed to prevent a Nation from her own destiny/democracy.
      we need world female forums to discuss this issue immediately as GoSL giving up on this cause is a huge stab on the back for Muslim Woman world over.

  • 3

    Baning or not is the issue how to deal and heal the issues which purposely created ok leave the matter, Mr. Mass L. Usuf giving a thoughtful idea to build confidence.
    “Dialogue and engagement should be the way forward for all sides. 
    I am certain the Muslim community is more than willing to partner with the government in order to allay its national security concerns.”

    Its an open truth that mislims not threat to national security her is an statement
    “On March 7, 2018, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, who currently served as the Chief of Defence Staff of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, stated that “we are living today thanks to them (the Muslims)…Our intelligence during our conflict time was entirely run by our Muslim community …They sacrificed their lives, they went with us in the long-range reconnaissance patrols to go to the LTTE areas, they were fluent in the language, and they protected us…”
    Now all these facts became hiden truth.
    When Burqa and Madrsas became security threats. Is it before or after Easter attack?
    Unfortunately unnecessary issues given priority to manipulate the reality mislead the innocents to live in fear.

  • 4

    A woman (or a man) should be free to wear ANYTHING she/he likes except when it contravenes laws on nudity/decency or is clearly a security risk. A head covering and complete body covering as worn by nuns, Muslim women, my grandmother etc pose no risk. Complete face covering, arguably, does.
    The government has no business legislating on clothing except for the above point. Sinhala-Buddhists have no business enforcing any dress codes on others. The point is that Sarath Weerasekara is a known racist therefore the Gotabahaya regime is stupid beyond measure in allowing SW to have any hand in this issue. Already this government is earmarked as racist – SW drawing up laws for Muslims is like Hitler drawing up laws for Jews.
    I have looked at many burkini images on the web. They appear no different from a diving suit and diving cap. It is racism in France which prohibits the former and not the latter.

    • 1

      Dear Professor:
      Yes, “complete face covering” arguably does pose security threat. But not nearly as much as very many other common attires/ and accompanying accessories do.

      If it’s the challenge of identification with “complete face coverings”, then that can be overcome without the ban of such covering as many nations have successfully managed to do so; law requires removal of face covering for official id purposes.

      Law enforcement officials don’t have the legal provision to randomly seek the identity of any individual (e.g. check NIC) whether the individual’s face is covered or not, unless under Emergency Laws.

      It was 100% racism in France too. France was overall anti-muslim for a longtime with the burgeoning muslim population in the country, long before eventually enacting the full-face covering ban under various pretences (E.g. women’s rights, security, and preservation of French culture). Hypocritical of any democracy to strip individuals of their due rights and freedoms.

    • 0

      We should look at this from a human cohabitation issue, People segregations issue…..there is nothing in islam about complete face coverings. We should stand up for Muslim woman right and our right to have normalcy in living together as communities….brothers and sisters…just as we oppose any prejudice towards any other we also ensure we shouldn’t be prejudiced by others too?????
      This is the lowest form of prejudice to say I we are different….we can apply normal communication/expression/work together/live together/fall in love with each other…a new concept in human communal living none of us are ready for …worse than the Covid hardship and why we accept this violence this man is committing on Muslim woman first and then all of us in the name of what??
      Whois prejudiced towards to whom here?????? I will cover my face and start walking around/coming to work/school/teaching..we all need new training in how to live a new way of life as though life challenges are not hard enough??????????? separate schools/separate classes/separate everything????????

  • 5

    Burqua became an issue after a few Muslim barbarians carried out terrorist attacks.
    Sinhalayo do not believe Islam or ordinary Muslim folks are a threat. They believe, for very good reasons, Wahhabi Muslim extremists are a threat. About 1000 Muslims have been brainwashed by Wahhabi Muslim foreign preachers. There are two women who have vowed to become suicide terrorists at large. They have bought white dresses probably to act as ‘Upasakammas’ and attack temples.
    Muslims have imported about 3000 swords and only about 600 have been found. Probably the rest could be hidden in places where Muslims know. What happens if Muslim extremists come with swords to a public place and start chopping Sinhalayo?
    So, how can Muslims say there is no security threat?

  • 1

    “Burqa and Burkini each has a background which reflects the aesthetic vicissitudes of human preferences relating to the dress of the woman.”

    This is not true. Some women prefer to wear a face veil on occasion as a fashion statement or for a solemn occasion, as in funerals. However, this is very different from a religious doctrine that commands women to wear a scarf (burqa) or niqab against her will. Out of all the religions in the world, only one enforces this rule. This rule falls under so-called “Shariah Law.” If Shariah Law runs counter to the legal code of the country in question, then it is non-binding. The author mentions various stages of undress inWestern countries. However, that is a voluntary choice made by women. No one is forcing Western women to wear bikini or G-string. It is good to see Sri Lanka take a stand against Shariah Law, as this law forms the basis of all Islamic extremism.

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