Sri Lanka’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved a controversial proposal to ban all forms of face coverings in public places, citing a threat to national security and rightly so.
The move came weeks after Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara signed a note in March, 2021, seeking the approval of the Cabinet to ban burqas – outer garments that cover the body and face worn by some Muslim women
In modern times, Muslims in Sri Lanka have the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department, which was established in the 1980s to prevent the continual isolation of the Muslim community from the rest of Sri Lanka. Today, about 9.7% of Sri Lankans adhere to Islam; mostly from the Moor and Malay ethnic communities on the island.
The Cabinet has decided to ban all forms of face coverings in public places, Cabinet spokesperson and information minister Keheliya Rambukwella, without specifying burqas. He said the decision was taken two years back after a wave of coordinated terror attacks on hotels and churches on Easter Sunday. “All forms of face covers are a threat to national security,” he said. However, wearing face masks to combat China Virus is allowed.
The covering of the full face will automatically include burqa, abaya and niqab. The proposal now must be approved by Parliament to become a law.
Last month, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ambassador Saad Khattak had criticised the proposal to ban the wearing of burqas in the country, saying such “divisive steps” in the name of security will not only hurt the sentiments of Muslims but also strengthen wider apprehensions about the fundamental human rights of minorities in the island nation.
Meanwhile, Weerasekera in a Facebook post wrote that the Cabinet has approved the proposal to ban all face coverings, including the burqa. “I requested approval to draft a law for the covering of full – face adhering to the quarantine law which means there will be no prohibition to wear face masks to prevent the China virus,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror news website.
The Buddhist – majority nation in 2019 had temporarily banned wearing of burqas under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks in which nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels, killing 270 people, including 11 Indians, and injuring over 500.
Muslims make up about 9.7% of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists account for more than 70% of the population. Ethnic minority Tamils, who are mainly Indian Hindus, comprise about 12%, while Christians account for over 7% of the population.
In 2011, France became the first country to ban all women from wearing any sort of veil, or the niqab outside their homes in any public place. The French Parliament began an initial inquiry on the issue shortly after President Nicolas Sarkozy stated in June 2009 that religious face veils were “not welcome” within France. Sarkozy had stated that the law is to protect women from being forced to cover their faces and to uphold France’s secular values.
A study published by Open Society Foundations earlier this year established that 22 out of the 28 EU states have been affected by at least an attempt to implement legislation for banning the face veil either nationally, locally or in specific institutional contexts. Following the example of France (2010), Belgium (2011), Bulgaria (2016) and Austria (2017) have until date legislated general nation-wide bans on the face veil.
In March 2010, a ban on the burqa and niqab in public places was eventually proposed in the Norwegian Parliament by the Progress Party. In 2018, the Norway parliament voted to ban the burqa in schools and universities. France, Belgium, Netherlands, Bulgaria, etc have made face coverings in public a punishable offense under law. In France and Turkey, the emphasis is on the secular nature of the state, and the symbolic nature of the Islamic dress, and bans apply at state institutions (courts, civil service) and in state-funded education (in France, while the law forbidding the veil applies to students attending publicly funded primary schools and high schools, it does not refer to universities; applicable legislation grants them Freedom of Expression as long as public order is preserved).
The Sweden Democrats are the largest party in Sweden that advocates a ban on the burqa and niqab in public places.
The niqab – a garment that is not required by Islam but is considered recommended in some interpretations – is usually worn with a loose, coat-like garment called an abaya and a hijab, or headscarf. Some women pair it with a long skirt and tunic to conceal the body shape.
Moroccan authorities have recently banned the manufacturing, marketing and sale of the burqa – an outer garment worn by some Muslim women to cover themselves in public.
It argued that wearing the burqa could help criminals and terrorists hide their identities. The Spanish resort Sa Pobla on the island of Mallorca has banned women from wearing burqas or face-covering Islamic veils in public places, even though only two women living there are known to do so.
A controversial ban on wearing face-masking garments in public, widely referred to as the ‘burqa ban’, came into effect in Denmark on August 1st last year. Since then, 23 people have been fined under the law, according to National Police figures reported by Kristeligt Dagblad.
Switzerland has banned the ‘burqa’ after a far-right proposal to ban facial coverings won a narrow victory in a binding. Morocco ‘bans the sale and production of the burka’. Research shows that the headscarf ban reduced the economic and social integration of Muslim women into French society. As of 11 April 2011, it was illegal to wear a face covering veil or other masks in public spaces. Veils, scarves and other headwear that do not cover the face are unaffected by this law.
Of late wearing of burqa in public places has become more of a resistance and proliferation of Islam in India.
A time must come when Burqa is banned in progressive countries like India as security conditions are becoming scary due to Muslim Jihad.