Let me begin by distinguishing between the Hijab which is the head cover and Niqab which is the more comprehensive whole body cover which extends from head to toe.
In recent years and particularly since the end of 2009 I have been following the debates about why women choose to wear the niqab or the full cover of the face also known as Burqa'. I read dozens of reports in the Arabic press about men disguising themselves as women to commit crimes in shopping malls where women gather in large numbers. I also read that in Iraq a man wore the niqab to get close to girls and commit indecent immoral acts. In Iraq the Niqab was used by women to smuggle weapons and explosives. In Europe the black dress was used to hide illegal drugs and to commit other criminal activities.
An Iraqi friend told me that the Niqab has been a blessing in disguise in Iraq. I asked how and why? She said it costs too much money for the impoverished Iraqi women to visit the hair-dresser. It also costs lot of money to buy make-up for the face. For women and girls with very limited amount of money, to look beautiful and desirable is an expensive business. So the niqab helped to alleviate the problem by hiding it. A woman feels safer covered from head to toe. An Iranian acquaintance told me some years ago that the niqab was a God given solution to old and ugly women. I said why and how? He said the Niqab provides the refuge and shelter behind which unattractive Iranian women hide their faces. But, I said, how a man is to know that the woman behind the veil is ugly or beautiful. He said this is precisely the point. No one would know, so the older unattractive woman feels protected and besides, men assume that she is beautiful. This must be frustrating for pretty females and comforting for their less attractive sisters.
Often and during the summer months in London, one comes across a familiar sight of a niqab covered Arab lady walking heavily behind her man who swaggers like a peacock in front of her. He is not holding her hand or whispering sweet nothings in her ear. But he is busy eyeing English girls wearing revealing t-shirts.
Is it really a woman's choice?
Of course one can argue that women have the right to choose what to wear and not to wear. But is this true of the hijab and niqab? I am inclined to agree with Nesrine Malik a Sudanese lady living in the UK. Writing in the Saturday Daily Telegraph she says "I was forced to wear the veil and I wish no other woman had to suffer it" Nesrine argues that: "Those who defend the right of women to wear the niqab under the banner of religious freedom gloss over the fact that this "freedom" is often dictated by social pressure. Those who oppose it under the banner of secularism and the oppressive nature of the niqab are making their own assumptions about Muslim women's motivations".
"The debate about the veil is not about religious freedom. It is about civil liberty proscribed by practicality - a liberty that entails that no woman should be told what to wear, except where this choice actually infringes on someone else's rights".
On visits to the Middle East, I hear lot of stories about young ladies having to wear the hijab not out of choice but due to family influence. Pressure is exerted on her by her father, brother and husband. The father is influenced by his peers in the local mosque. Men blackmail girls and women into wearing the niqab. As far as I am aware there is no requirement in Islam for wearing the niqab. Dressing decently yes but there is no mention in the Quran of a black tent covering a woman from head to toe with two slits for the eyes. Hijab and niqab began to be noticed in the late 1980s and the 1990s with the rise of the so-called Islamic fundamentalism, Salafism and Jihadism.
Why I am for selective banning of the Niqab?
I am definitely against the niqab for a variety of reasons: Many people see it as a visual proof of subordination of females. People in the United Kingdom see it as a rejection of British culture and refusal to integrate. One is tempted to ask why they don't choose to live in an Islamic country and enjoy their Hijabs and Niqabs unhindered and unnoticed.
In some Islamic countries girls as young as 10 wear niqab. IN Gaza, the Hamas government imposed the Hijab on elementary school pupils. The full niqab can cause health problems such as vitamin "D" deficiency due to lack of sunlight in a very sunny Arab and Muslim Worlds.
I am against the Niqab for security and practical reasons and not for ideological or religious reasons. To start with how can the police establish the identity of a terrorist suspect or a common criminal if that person is wrapped in a black tent and the law does not give the police the power to remove the niqab by force if necessary?
Roki Aprisdianto (29), a convicted Indonesian terrorist held at the Jakarta Metropolitan Police detention centre, has escaped disguised as a woman in niqab, according to the police.
Some years ago Mustafa Jumaa' a Somali who killed a British policeman fled Britain disguised as a Muslim woman wearing the Niqab. No one would challenge him at the airport. The use of the niqab, which leaves only a narrow slit for the eyes, exposed the lax security measure at British airports.
In the city of Philadelphia, USA, between December 2011 and April 2012, there had been at least five bank robberies in which the suspects wore Muslim clothing. Security reasons aside common sense demands that people see each other faces and interact with each other at schools, banks, hospitals, court of law, airports, and at police stations.
However again I agree with Nesrine Malik when she says "When it comes to matters of security, identification, and other legal matters it is highly reasonable that a woman be asked to show her face. All further legislation on the matter should be rooted in freedom of choice".
I am in favour of banning the niqab but I don't insist on a blanket ban.