Muslims in the Arab world are incensed and Muslims in France are walking a delicate line after President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed for an all-out ban on full Islamic veils.

“Ridiculous” and “misplaced,” said a Muslim vendor Thursday at an outdoor market in a working class, ethnically mixed Paris suburb. “Racist,” said a Sunni Muslim cleric in Lebanon.

The rector of the Muslim Institute of the Paris Mosque, however, held off on harsh criticism, saying only that any ban should be properly explained, and noting that the Qur’an does not require women to cover their bodies and faces.

Sarkozy upped the stakes Wednesday in France’s drive to abolish the all-encompassing veil, ordering a draft law banning them in all public places — defying France’s highest administrative body, which says such a ban risks being declared unconstitutional. Such a measure would put France on the same track as Belgium, which is also moving toward a complete ban amid fears of radicalism and growing Islamic populations in Europe. Sarkozy says such clothing oppresses women and is “not welcome” in France. French officials have also cited a concealed face as a security risk.

Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Mosque, had a cautious response Thursday. “Muslims in France … are respectful of national law,” he said, but added that any law should allow “a reasonable period for education” about what it is for.

Key questions are how the bill will be phrased — whether it will contain exceptions for face-concealing costumes at a Carnival parade, for example — and how a ban would be enforced. Muslim countries, too, have struggled to deal with the niqab. Egypt’s top cleric recently decreed that Muslim women should not wear the niqab inside offices but he said they can wear it in public.

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