Burka Rage?

Burqas are fast becoming a heated subject in parts of Europe, notably France and Belgium. The UK Telegraph reported an incident over the weekend where two women came to blows over the burqa:

[A] 26-year-old Muslim convert was walking through the store in Trignac, near Nantes, in the western Loire-Atlantique region, when she overhead the woman lawyer making “snide remarks about her black burka”. A police officer close to the case said: “The lawyer said she was not happy seeing a fellow shopper wearing a veil and wanted the ban introduced as soon as possible.

Apparently, the shopkeeper and the burqa-wearing woman’s husband had to break up the fight before the police came and carted the women away.

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France and Belgium have both introduced legislation that limits wearing the burqa in public places. Muslims claim discrimination, while others fear it might lead to other encroachments on the right to freedom of religious expression.

Many religions, Catholicism included, have a traditions of wearing head coverings. But the burqa, which covers all of the body but the eyes, goes well beyond the proscription for modes of dress in Islam; according to University of Birmingham professor Haiffa Jawal and others, the decision to wear a burqa is based more in a political ideology than a religious one. For many, it is a symbol of oppression — but, interestingly, the woman arrested in the burqa brawl was a convert to Islam, and so adopted the manner of dress (ostensibly) by choice.

It’s hard to know what to think. Does the legislation limit freedom of expression? Is it discriminatory?  

It would seem there’s also a safety issue: In recent news, it was reported that a young woman was strangled when her burqa caught itself in the wheels of a bumper car at an amusement part. There was also an account of a woman who caused a traffic accident because of her limited visibility while driving in a burqa.

Either way, the issue seems likely only to become more heated. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Jawal said she hoped that lawmakers would approach the issue through intercultural dialogue rather than allowing it to become a political football, given the tenor of the times. 



  • Irene Lagan

    Irene Lagan is the general manager of Guadalupe Radio in Washington, DC. She is a former collaborator for the English language section of Vatican Radio, has written for several publications, and holds a Masters degree in philosophy. She served as managing editor at the National Catholic Bioethics Center while in Boston, and has been published in Ethics & Medics, the National Catholic Register, Zenit, Franciscan Way, the Arlington Catholic Herald, and The Boston Globe. In addition, she has taught university students as an adjunct professor and has consulted in the area of communications and development for non-profit organizations.

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