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Veiled Racism: Europe between Banning Niqab, Forcing Face Masks

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization has advised people to wear face masks.

While face coverings are fast becoming the norm to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, many people are questioning the law forbidding niqab on the basis of public safety.

For example in the UK in 2018, the now-prime minister Boris Johnson compared women who wear the burqa/niqab to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

📚 Read Also: Aren’t Women in Niqab Too Oppressed?

Shaina Ahmed, a 32-year-old nursery teacher and wife of an imam in the south east of England, says that prior to COVID-19, wearing niqab or face covering in Britain could be “so exhausting”.

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“[I] feel like I have to be extra friendly in public, because I am representing the Muslim community to the non-Muslim community,” she told The Independent.

Veiled Racism: Europe between Banning Niqab, Forcing Face Masks - About Islam

Difference Narrative

Niqabi Muslim women say that although they welcome the introduction of face coverings now, they feel frustrated at the difference in narrative.

“If I’m wearing the niqab and the person next to me is wearing the face mask, we’re covering the same parts of our face, we’ve just done it for different reasons,” said Yasmin Bakkar, 26, a cover teacher in secondary schools across Leicester.

France made all religious face coverings illegal in 2011. On 10 May 2020, they made COVID-19 face coverings mandatory with penalty fines for those who disobey. Yet, the Burqa is still active.

“The new rules have exposed people’s biases,” Bakkar says.

“It was never about breaching security measures or about identification or even it being a communication barrier in wider society. It was always what the veil represented and as it represents Islam, people assumed covering your face was a backwards mentality.”

Ahmed hopes COVID-face coverings will undermine any future arguments about niqabs being incompatible with society.

“Not only do I feel as though it confirms my beliefs and what I’m doing in society is not wrong, it’s now protecting my health. That feeling is pleasant, however long it may last.”

An earlier fatwa from the Egyptian Fatwa House said that “It is not obligatory for a Muslim woman to cover her face and hands. Niqab falls under “permissible acts” (mubaahat); a woman is rewarded for wearing it but not punished for abstaining from it. A woman fulfills her religious duty concerning her dress by wearing the hijab.