Only approximately 150 women in Austria wear the niqab, yet at the beginning of this month, a law was passed outlawing the religious garment. Read that again. A law has been put into effect targeting 150 women in a country with a population of almost 9 million people.
Technically the ban prohibits any type of face covering, including ski masks off the slopes, surgical masks outside hospitals and party masks in public. However, it is clear that in this law, Austria is simply following its fellow European countries; France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Bulgaria with this direct attack on Islamic values.
The Austrian government claims that the law safeguards national values and the concept of a free society. The irony of such reasoning is laughable. The fallacy of freedom has yet again been exposed as the absolute lie that it is, whereby women are most definitely free to dress as they please – so long as they aren’t Muslims who choose to wear the niqab. In such an instance, they will now be criminalised, asked to pay a fine of €150 (£132), and if they refuse to show their faces, subject to the use of force by authorities.
News outlets have reported that the ban was implemented the day it came into effect, as a Muslim woman was forced by armed police to remove her veil in the town of Zell am See. Scrolling through social media reactions to the news, I was shocked to see just how many Muslims advocated the ban, claiming that the niqab has got nothing to do with Islam. For some, it has become easy to distance themselves from a practice that only a minority of Muslims practice, but it is still a part of Islam. What’s more, this ban is indicative of a wider agenda such that today, the niqab and hijab are being debated, tomorrow it will be prayer, fasting, Hajj, and even one’s iman (belief).
Whether you follow the opinion of the face covering to be an obligation or not, it is a legitimate juristic opinion and there is absolutely no doubt that it is a symbol of Islam. We must not forget that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)- the Mothers of the Believers covered their faces, and those women who choose to do so today, do it out of a desire to please their Lord.
Let it be made clear that those criminalising the niqab don’t actually have an issue with the cloth itself, the attack is on Islam. It is clear that any symbol that reflects Islam overtly is either banned or under scrutiny. The niqab is being singled out not because it is a face covering, rather, because it’s a representative value of Islam. The proof is in the reality around you; two examples being the recent burkini ban in France and the ban on Qur’ans and prayer mats in China, neither of which pose the risk the niqab allegedly does, but neither of which are tolerated.
So, what is the solution to such attacks on the values of Islam?
You cannot present a solution without highlighting the problem. We must expose the attacks for what they are – ideological attacks on the ideas and values of Islam that we hold dear. Take a look around the world. Muslims are being physically attacked in Burma, Kashmir, Syria, & so on, whilst the ideological attacks on Islam continue through the demonisation of Muslims by the media, politicians and state machinery in the West.
It is now more than ever that Muslims need to have confidence in their deen and not succumb to the pressure of those working day and night to secularise the values of Islam. This means refusing to accept any aspect of Islam to be insulted, belittled, or placed on trial. We need to have confidence in responding with our voices and making clear the case for Islam as an alternative that is far superior to the values that are being forced upon us.
In the same week that Hugh Hefner, someone who lived his life objectifying women and normalising soft pornography, was eulogised and held up on a pedestal, and a garment that gives women control over who views them is banned, I say simply this – the world needs Islam and the social system that it brings.
To submit to the pressure exerted by those who wish to change and secularise Islam, is to let go of the thing that gives us honour as human beings. Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) said:
“We were the most humiliated people on earth and God gave us honour through Islam. If we ever seek honour through anything else, God will humiliate us again.”