New Delhi : Many Indian Muslims Tuesday reacted sharply to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s burqa remarks saying wearing a veil was a matter of individual choice in Islam and not a sign of a woman’s subservience as the French leader has said. India has the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan.
“First of all one must understand that no one is imposing burqa on any one in a country like France. Woman there and anywhere else wear it by their choice and a person’s choice of dressing should be respected,” Maulana Abdul Khaleeq Madrasi, pro vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom, one of the most important seminaries in Deoband town in western Uttar Pradesh, told IANS.
Madrasi said imposing a ban on burqa would in a way “take away a person’s freedom what to wear and what not to wear”.
Sarkozy in a speech to lawmakers Monday said the burqa — the head-to-toe garment worn by some Muslim women that conceals their faces — was not in accordance with the French values and that instead of a sign of religion its a sign of subservience.
Sarkozy also said that he would hold an inquiry to find out whether Muslim women wearing burqa in France, the country with largest Muslim population in Europe, undermined French secularism and women’s rights.
Amir Ali, associate professor of political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) here, said such statements in a country like France will produce counter arguments and women would come out wearing burqa in defiance of any such step of banning the veil.
“Sarkozy is speaking from the French impression of a society, he needs to see the things in the context of socio-political reaction that it might produce. Many women in France who don’t wear burqa will argue for their choice and start wearing the burqa in retaliation,” Ali told IANS.
Zoya Hasan, another political science professor at the JNU, said though historically the burqa was a sign of subservience but “in the present society everyone should have a choice to practice his or her religion and culture, which includes the dress pattern”.
A senior cleric in Delhi, Mufti Muqarram Ahmad, said: “Wearing burqa is a matter of personal choice and the idea that such a dress takes away a woman’s freedom in different fields of life is a wrong impression which Sarkozy and most of the western societies have built because of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan”.
Some young Muslim women in Delhi also found Sarkozy’s remarks objectionable.
“I fail to understand why has he come up against the burqa while the dress that Christian nuns wear is almost the same. I don’t wear burqa, but my sister does though no one has asked her to do so. It’s our personal choice,” Yasmeen Khan, 24, who is studying at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, told IANS.
Yasmeen prefers to wear denim trousers and T-shirts as against her younger sister Firdaus Khan, 22, who studies history in the same university.
Their home has other studies in contrast too. While one of their brothers sports a long beard like many Muslims do, another has a bohemian look with flowing hair and a guitar in his hands.
This is not the first time such a controversy has erupted in France. Earlier in 2004, the country had enacted a law banning the Islamic headscarf and turbans in public schools that sparked a fierce debate both at home and abroad.