- (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl)
Since Interior Minister Claude Gueant has passed a law in April that banned women from wearing full headdress pieces, 237 women have been cited and six convicted. The law however, viewed by some as anti-Muslim, has not prevented the continuous rise of converts to Islam.
Recently, a Muslim woman was fined for driving with a full-face veil, which French authorities cited as a safety issue because it reduced her field of vision. According to French newspapers, the woman was cited in Saint-Brieuc Brittany, after spokesman Laurent Dufour explained that the driver “seemed hesitant in her driving.”
The driver was fined on the spot. Dufour compared the distraction to others like eating or smoking while driving and said, “This is an issue of skill, safety and visibility.”
The French law, which was passed April 11, 2011, bans full-face veils, often called burqas or niqabs. Other European countries, like Belgium, have followed suit.
In December, Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, also announced that immigrant women would have to remove full-face veils when taking their oath for Canadian citizenship.
In an AP report, Kenney described the issue as, “a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of Canada's identity and the country's values of openness and equality." He said, “Women who feel obliged to have their faces covered in public often come from a cultural milieu that treats women as property rather than equal human beings.”
Many agree that the law directly interferes with what some Muslims regard to be religious duty. Rachid Zaieri, a French citizen, told National Public Radio (NPR) in April, after the law was passed, that there had been “a rise in political talk against Islam in the past few years.”
He commented that most believe that the burqa ban is part of those negative talks. "We don't feel this law is sincere," he said. "It doesn't mean we're for the burqa. But we think the law is just an excuse to tell French people, 'Watch out, there is a growing Muslim population that you should be afraid of.’"
Those, who support that the law is just a matter of safety point out that the law applies to all citizens and is not restricted to burqas. No French citizen is allowed to mask his or her face in public.
In November, Muslim women being persecuted in Saudi Arabia, faced different challenges. An article, published in Dunya al-Watan, based in Gaza and translated by translating Jihad read: “The Council for Commanding the Good and Forbidding the Evil (the religious police) in Saudi Arabia confirmed Wednesday that it will force women to cover up their eyes, especially those which ‘provoke fitna.’”
The University of Maryland in Baltimore County defined Fitna to mean “a beautiful women or a femme fatale whose attraction makes men lose their self-control.” However, despite issues that Muslim women are facing in Saudi Arabia, Gueant said that nearly a quarter of the women police questioned in France had converted to Islam.
A study conducted by Faith Matters revealed that 5,200 people had converted to Islam in 2010. It also showed that 56 percent of those were white British and 62 percent were female. In 2001, there were 60,669 converts to Islam in the United Kingdom, a number that has neared 100,000 by now.
A vast majority of the women who converted also changed their wardrobe to adopt the hijab although most still rejected the niqab. The hijab does not cover any part of the face where the niqab covers all of the face except the eyes. Niqabs can also be made to conceal the eyes, which would be comparable to burqas that cover the entire face.
In the United Kingdom, 71.6 percent of people are Christian and only 2.7 percent Muslim. People who converted to Islam also said that they felt the decision had more to do with culture than Islam. In a 2010 article titled Why Do Western Women Convert to Islam, Julie Bindel interviewed a Muslim woman named Saskia, who had made the decision to convert.
Saskia defended the position of Muslim women in Islam verses Western society, "Women are respected and not seen as sex objects. Western women are defined by their appearance but we are viewed as whole human beings. I find the veil liberating," she said.
The French government estimated that fewer than 2,000 women across the country wear a religious veil, which covers their face. Those who do, describe it as an emotional experience.
"I feel like I'm doing something higher," 22-year-old Someya said to NPR. "I'm wearing it for God and for my husband, so that he'll be the only person who can see me and be able to appreciate my face."
Sarah Morvan, 18, told NPR she would now have to stay at home more and considered the veil a shield from onlookers that kept her cut off from society -- a feeling she embraced.
France President Nicolas Sarkozy, has made several public comments on the face covering veils saying the niqab and burqa isolate women and take away their humanity or that the veil imprisons women and views them as contrary to a secular France.