Burqa, bombs and intolerance

Published: January 4, 2011

The burqa or niqab has as much potential of being misused as cars, cellphones and the Internet.

A look through the timeline of bomb blasts and terrorist attacks indicate that a majority of attacks in Pakistan are carried out by young men – some wearing vests, others using cars laden with explosives. I believe this spells out a legitimate case to ban young men, vests and cars from public places. After all, in a country like ours which is always on high alert for terrorist attacks, we can’t allow such security risks to roam about freely, can we?

If you find my logic ludicrous, you might want to take a look at the recent debate on banning the burqa or niqab due to security concerns. In an article in The Express Tribune titled “A mark of separation,” Mr George Fulton makes an interesting case for banning the burqa or niqab in Pakistan based on one case of a female burqa-clad suicide bomber killing 47 people and injuring over 100 in an attack on the World Food Programme distribution point in Bajaur.

As unjust as focusing on one incident against the dozens of other attacks carried out by young men may be, what is more astonishing is the sweeping generalisations Mr Fulton makes to depict the veil as a symbol of suppression because in his view “there is little proof that women actively decide to adopt the veil” and he finds it difficult to find any woman of substance who wears the burqa or niqab.

I am amazed at these views. Why is it so difficult for our so-called progressive class which claims to espouse the values of freedom, liberty, tolerance and personal choice to understand that there are perfectly normal, educated and ‘enlightened’ people out there who choose to follow their religion? That there are women who have the freedom to fling off their covers and be fashionably under-dressed, yet they choose not to? That there are men and women who have the liberty to disassociate themselves from religion, yet they choose not to?

It has become fashionable nowadays for our ‘intellectual elite’ to pen an article or two reminiscing about the more secular days when religion was a private affair – when there were no beards, no hijabs, no burqas and no preachers on television. Excuse me for my flawed memory, but is it really true that there was no religiosity a decade ago or is it just that having let our religion be hijacked by militants today, we are now more bothered by its physical manifestations in the public sphere?

And for that matter, why has our so-called open-minded progressive class forgotten the values of tolerance that they themselves preached? Do I smell intolerant fanaticism here?

If there is one attitude that marks this age it is extremism – and that extremism is present not only in the religious class, but in the so-called ‘liberals’ as well. Until we all step into each other’s shoes and understand the other person’s perspective, there is no hope for ending the violence we see plaguing our society.

Making a case to ban what many consider a religious practice (and even if we assume it is a cultural practice, there are still no grounds to ban it) only breeds intolerance. Restricting women from wearing the veil is as much a violation of their rights as forcing them to wear one. We must understand that in the case of the burqa bombing in Bajaur and many others, the issue was not the item of clothing, but the lax in security. Where there are legitimate needs for identification, appropriate measures can be taken to satisfy the requirement by asking the woman to take off the veil in private.

The burqa or niqab has as much potential of being misused as say cars, cellphones and the Internet. What is needed is a proper strategy to prevent this misuse rather than banning these things altogether.


Naureen Aqueel

A Karachi based journalist working as subeditor on the web desk of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sheila

    THANK YOU Naureen!
    Finally a logical response to George Fulton’s patronising previous article.Recommend

  • Emmon Khan

    Useless, tired views expressed a million times. A break plz!Recommend

  • faraz

    I agree that burqa ban would voilate the right to freedom of action.

    But what exactly do you mean by “liberal extremism”? You are equating suicide bombers and murderous gangs with a suggestion in a newspaper article! So Fulton is a liberal extremists because he wrote something in an article! Can you give any example of a “liberal extremist” who murdered innocent people? So people cant even write whats on their mind.Recommend

  • parvez

    You have cleverly over simplified the case to make your point.
    But then in your last para you admit that the burqa has the potential of being misused and a strategy is required to prevent this, so there in two lines you have endorsed the case of the other side.
    The debate on this complicated issue involves religion,societal norms,culture and politics will continue for decades.Recommend

  • Emmon Khan

    It is such articles which through half-baked theories promote and strengthen the cause of the extremists, who then get more people to go for the kill! Let them discuss issues of entertainment and gossip but do not let them destroy the minds of young people and the ultimately the future of this hapless country!Recommend

  • hira jeddy

    well done naureen, iam glad that you wrote this. mr fulton must hear the other perspective too… i was very disappointed when i read what he wrote.Recommend

  • http://deleted vikas ranjan

    Far as I can make out the lady is a votary of complete freedom of choice in matters sartorial for all. If she is advocating the freedom of donning the all encompassing burqa and all revealing nothingness I think one has to support her. However, if the freedom of choice is defined only as the freedom of full cover and not the freedom of full exposure then she is not talking about freedom of choice as such. This then becomes the proverbial case of the devil quoting the scripture.
    And as the lady has so mavellously pointed out misuse of cars does not lead to banning of the car,misuse f the burqa likewise should not lead to banning of the burqa,but then this argument can be extended to anything , arms, weapons, polythene bags, hate literature, salacious matter even murder, afterall armies commit permitted murder so why ban it to the general populace, why not leave it as a matter of choice, albeit sans the misuse.Recommend

  • Hania

    Thank you Naureen

    Very rightly said, we cannot make generalizations about Islam just by looking at one two events in isolation

    another thing, will we ever accept a prescription from a mechanic to treat our tonsils? To get knowledge in a particular field we go to their experts

    Similarly, when it comes to Islamic laws, we should seek help from the experts in this field, and not accept the comments of every other laymanRecommend

  • Erfan

    Naureen Zindabaaad !!!Recommend

  • Farah Zahidi

    Naureen you have brought to light a very important issue. Extremism is simply when we have no tolerance against views opposing ours and take extreme measures to lambast others with our perceptions and ideas. Stopping someone from the right to dress as they see fit is a vioaltion of a basic human right, may it be a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim and may it be a man or a woman. Excellent write-up. Heartfelt & thought-provokingRecommend

  • http://muslimmatters.org/author/Ameera-Khan/ Ameera Khan

    Thank you SO MUCH! Totally behind you on this! Totally! :D two thumbs up

    I took the headcover purely out of choice and I was the first in my family to do so. Say what you will, I know I take it out of love for my religion. And what’s this about covered women not being “women of substance”? Puh-lease! Give me a break! I’m graduating from med school in two months time, Insha’Allah. If you want to have this discussion, please visit my clinic Insha’Allah… you might find a GP or a resident or a consultant, Insha’Allah… and she’ll be glad to have this “women of substance” discussion with you.

    Over and out!

    Hijabi and totally-not-pressured-into-it Muslimah,
    Ameera KhanRecommend

  • Ali Hassan

    “That there are women who have the freedom to fling off their covers and be fashionably under-dressed, yet they choose not too?”
    So the opposite of burqa is under-dressed.Recommend

  • nida iqbal

    excellent work naureen!! simple and to the point!! and the point is crystal clear!!Recommend

  • nida iqbal

    @Emmon Khan:
    please do point out the half-baked theories(if any)!Recommend

  • Burqa Clad

    Excellent.. people use buzz word “Extremism” for winning any debate.
    Extremism is also sticking to ur notion and being intolerant let alone not knowing ur religious values to be in position to ACTually Debate on it.
    The burqa or niqab , cars, cellphones and the Internet are the tools that will change with time. People have enuf time to write provocative things about religious values. Had it have been expended on shedding light over root cause, security issues and other laxness issues, more awareness could have been spread. I second the writer for being so WISE and intellectual irrespective of whether she puts on a veil .Strange to read views on Mr George fulton’s article. Suppressed and unwise thoughts were shared by people who were not even BURQA CLAD… amazing!!!Recommend

  • Muhammed Ali

    Worst article ever !!!!Recommend

  • Reema

    VERY well written Naureen! Thank you for composing the perfect reply to Mr Fulton’s piece. Our elites need to step out of their shells for a bit and understand other people’s perspectives as well.Recommend

  • Hassan Talal Maitla

    Very well written article. Some liberals present themselves as knowledgeable, but as Stephen Hawking remarked “Its not ignorance which we should dread, its the illlusion of knowledge.” Mr Fulton also depicted illusion of knowledge when he wrote that article.Recommend

  • Ammar R

    well done naureen! murderous fanatics who kill thousands upon thousands in the name of God are the Exact moral equivalents of liberals who write their opinions about dress codes in little-read english newspapers. In fact i’m sure these liberals are more harmful. The only major cause of the relentless daily bombings is lax security after all. Certainly not socially pervasive, state-sponsored religious fanaticism.

    You are truly a Philosopher Queen! Don’t let these ‘liberal extremists’ win! they might even try to stop the Righteous Fanatics from exploding their bombs every day. then who’s going to do all the moral policing and save people from hellfire in this country? Recommend

  • Shabbir

    This article is a pack of logical fallacies..!Recommend

  • http://farahqayum.wordpress.com/ Farah Qayum

    In truth there isn’t anything revolutionary in this article, but I’m more perturbed that people expect one article to provide an answer to a deep-rooted and complex problem. We need continuous debating about the niqaab in order to reach a sensible consensus on it. Articles like this keep the subject in the public domain, and for that reason I am glad you wrote it.

    I am in favour of a developed strategy for niqaab-wearing. And anyone with half a braincell can see that equates to those who choose to wear it, being legally able to wear it, whilst sustaining laws which mean it doesn’t compromise safety and security.

    This isn’t a question of religion, it’s one of freedom of choice and expression. The world lacks common sense, quite tragic really.Recommend

  • Yusaf Khan

    I think rather than banning the burqa we need to have a large womens police force that can do the full body checks to look for suicide bombers. I also think that the face is our identity. I don’t understand why anyone would want to wear a burqa because the sole purpose of hiding the face is to hide someones identity. Even during Hajj a women is not allowed to hide her face so I cannot comprehend why some think it is an Islamic requirement to wear a burka. Still I dont believe in banning a burka. Recommend

  • Ayesha Ijaz Khan

    Actually Naureen, the attack in Bajaur is not the only time the burqa was used to cover up illicit activity. If you recall, the Lal Masjid maulvi also tried to escape with the help of the burqa. Moreover, there was an incident in Karachi when men carrying guns tried to create mayhem in Korangi but were fortunately stopped short of their plans when the police spotted so many burqas on a motorbike. BTW, very few women wear the burqa out of choice. The overwhelming majority are forced to wear it. So then should one be more concerned for the few who are deprived of wearing a burqa or the many who are forced to do so?

    Faraz makes a good point asking what do you mean by “liberal extremists”? Expressing an opinion does not make one an extremist unless the opinion incites people to violence—that then is extreme.

    @Reema—-yes, people do need to get out of their shells and understand the peoples’ perspectives and that includes the bulk of our population living in villages where women work in the field to earn a living—try doing that in a burqa! Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    Why doea nO one write about the day to day intolerance shown by religious people towards non practising muslims. For some reason, they are unable to digest the fact that there are non practising muslims around them?Recommend

  • yousafzai

    excellent article!Recommend

  • Rabiya

    “Restricting women from wearing the veil is as much a violation of their rights as forcing them to wear one.”
    Well said!! =)Recommend

  • Tyrone

    Well written and the issue is that we are all afraid of the ‘other’ read To Kill a Mockingbird which shows clearly what fear does.
    Whether we’re liberal or extreme we seem to ignore the dangers posed by men we see women as threats whether they wear burqas or skimpy clothes we’re all guilty of misogyny.

    So Pakistanis are united in one thing the obsession over the female. This obssession takes many forms from people against burqas to people villifying prostitutes and killing women for adulter and immorality etc while men go scot free!

    When wil we see a campaign we can all subscribe to against the unfair treatment of women who are not naturally fair?Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    @Emmon Khan: This article is (probably) in response to George’s article, and hence the repetition of the views was necessary. Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    @faraz: Liberal extremists are not dangerous like the traditional ones, and I don’t think the writer hinted anything like that. The point I see is the intolerance towards the other belief. The right-wingers want everything “non-Islamic” banned, and it seems now the liberals are following suit on the other end. Since rational thinking is something liberals are proud of (taking the liberty since I consider myself as one), one would not expect them to “ban” stuff like this, when the logic behind it is extremely weak. Recommend

  • S.Haque

    Complete nonsense and twisting of ground realities at best!! Writer needs to know that many women wear that burka just to avoid the ugly stares of creatures coming out of madrassas, people roaming around in the markets and streets, ogling at the waiting areas etc. She has all the right to wear whatever she feels like, but thinking that all women wear burks, niqab, or hijab out of their own free will is as if the writer has been living in a paradise all these years and does not know the kind of society we live in. Recommend

  • Asad Shairani

    @Ayesha Ijaz Khan:
    Even if we accept the statement that ‘very few women wear the burqa out of choice’ – which in my opinion is highly subjective – banning the burqa would not promote choice, which is the intention, but simply would change the face of enforcement. Stopping suicide bombings without proper intelligence is almost impossible, banning pillion riding, burqa, shawls etc. won’t help.Recommend

  • IZ

    And for that matter, why has our so-called open-minded progressive class forgotten the values of tolerance that they themselves preached? Do I smell intolerant fanaticism here?

    Yes, George Fulton, who, for some strange reason suddenly represents every single liberal person in Pakistan (their views are exactly the same because they belong to a group hive mind – with Mathira as the borg queen) is definitely doing EXACTLY the same thing as murdering men, women and children, blowing up schools, whipping women, burning shops and gunning people down in the streets. Writing an article suggesting a burqa ban is EXACTLY the same thing. We should immediately round up all these so-called progressives and kill them all before their intolerant fanaticism does any more harm. Recommend

  • SBK

    It has become fashionable nowadays for our ‘intellectual elite’ to pen an article or two reminiscing about the more secular days when religion was a private affair – when there were no beards, no hijabs, no burqas and no preachers on television

    Simple and to the point……Recommend

  • yousaf

    Its intersting to see how liberal facists are reacting to this article…. they simply cant tolerate half page response in the name of freedom of expression but they would definitlely fight for some one of their own who would proliferate humiliation against any thing related with religion.

    By the way how about Mr. Bush & Tony Blair, just name two liberal bigots, who killed millions just to ‘protect their way of life’ Recommend

  • Junaid Dar

    Nice work sister!

    in lights of article from George I had already kept my facebook status to

    I’m sensing a ban on ‘Islamic Full Veil in Public’ in our country very soon! And our so called beloved Media will take a big part in this Sacrilegious campaign

    Now, feeling glad that can change it ….

    May ALLAH Bless You n Entire UmmahRecommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii

    This Blog is purely a persons opinion from the eyes through the prism of her own choice.
    there have been many article comommarted for burqa/niqab.
    All have been only for or against its wearing.


    Hope somebody will enlighten.Recommend

  • Tanzeela Afzal

    Good article Naureen!Recommend

  • Ali

    Burqa or jeans are not indiginous to Pakistan – our traditional dress is more than adequate for religious purposes so why do we need to adopt foreign (middle eastern or western) attire?

    The shalwar kameez is useful in the heat, and a properly placed dupatta is an adequate covering of the head as per religious and cultural requirements. It lends a gracefullness to the lady that no jeans/hijab/burqa ever can.

    It is the mark of a respectable Pakistani woman – if it was and still is good enough for my 5 time namazi mother, then why is it not good enough for the girls nowadays? Why is just being Pakistani not good enough for anyone anymore?Recommend

  • Hina

    Great work Naureen!

    Putting a ban has never solved problems and it never will. As the writer said, appropriate measures and proper strategy is required to uproot such problems.Recommend

  • Hira Mujahid

    Well done naureen!Recommend

  • Just Another Ayesha

    You’ve got it covered, Naureen =)
    I honestly think that there are more pressing issues in the world than what a woman wears or doesn’t wear. As far as clothes are concerned, only a liberated woman can choose to hide her beauty behind layers of cloth. Real beauty is not Photoshopped, airbrushed or plastered on billboards. It’s underneath that skin. That’s why many girls cover the irrelevant. And I wish that was why we’d spend more time saving Muslim women in persecution rather than questioning their choices of living. Recommend

  • Sara Abdul khaliq

    enjoyed the article, i was getting quite nauseated by reading all the burqa/religion/beard (or anything related to religion) bashing articles on ET, it seems like ppl just never get tired of writing about how much they HATE the burqa/beard/ISLAM…
    The only problem i have with these so called ‘liberal’ minded people is that they claim to fight for women’s rights (by being anti-burqa) but they can’t seem to realized that the thing that oppresses the women (and men) of this country is POVERTY!!! but they really could care less about whether the poor of this country have food to eat or anything of that sort, all they care about is that they better not being wearing a beard, burqa or a be religious!!!
    These people actually can tolerate a burqa clad woman if she happens to fit into their ‘oppressed’ category, but they cant stand seeing someone who is educated and of their status and wearing a burqa!!!! what kind of hypocritical liberal mentality is this?!?!?!
    @Ayesha Ijaz Khan and @ Faraz:
    i think by ‘extremist liberals’ the author meant to refer to a group who is out to impost its point of view on other, an extremist group thinks that their opinion is the only valid one, whether other like it or not. the religious extremists are out to do the same (they think that their opinion is the only valid one and they want to impose it on others). the only difference between the two groups is in their methodologyRecommend

  • Majid Urrehman

    JazakAllah Naureen!Recommend

  • jahil_awam

    Master piece Naureen!, and befitted reply for liberal fascists like Fulton and Fasi Zaka and few others…these bunch of ignorants need excuses to liberate Pakistani women with g-strings, tanga bikinis and what not!

    @Muhammed Ali

    Please liberate us with your views! go ahead! or else I have every reason to call you ‘extremist liberal’Recommend

  • faraz

    @Sara Abdul Khaliq

    Everyone has the right to develop his own point of view regarding issues. I have no problem if a person holds extremist views and practices those views upon his own life. But the problem arises when a person imposes his views upon others. So, how did Fulton impose his views on others through an article? As an observor coming from a different cultural background, he simply made an observation. The entire world gives views about each others socio-cultural norms. But the author here is comparing him to religous extremists who impose thier views upon others through brute force. She is labelling a columnist as liberal extremists, and comparing it to a religious extremist who blows himself up in a market.

    You are comparing an opinion with murder? Isnt this tolerance at your part that you cant even to listen to a different point of view. And you are making assumptions from your ownself and then commenting on it; show some objectivity.Recommend

  • http://www.ayeshaijazkhan.com Ayesha Ijaz Khan

    @ Sara Abdul Khaliq—your definition of “extremist” is flawed. Most people, whether liberal or not, would like to impose their views on others. Those who favour the burqa believe that others should wear it too while those who don’t favour it, mock it. That does not make one an extremist. What makes one an extremist is to what lengths they would go to impose their view. So the entire issue is the methodology, my dear. If someone talks, or even shouts about something that does not make them an extremist, but if they hold a gun to your head, and force you to do it or throw acid on your face if they see it uncovered then that does make them an extremist.

    @Asad Shairani—the reason I said that very few women wear the burqa out of choice is because I lived in Saudi Arabia for 12 years, where I was forced to wear either a chador or an abaya in public even though I had no desire to do so. The overwhelming majority of Saudi women are forced to wear the abayas and you can see this on a flight to London when come landing time, most women take them off. Many who keep them on do so out of fear of the brothers, husbands, etc. Only a small minority really do it out of choice. My Iranian roommate in college had exactly the same view. Speak to women in Afghanistan and certain parts of Pakistan where it is imposed upon women as well and you will find the same answer. I do not deny that there are women who do it out of choice but they are very few in comparison and mostly those who have not lived in conditions where they have been forced to do it but are suddenly fascinated by this new thing and hence like to experiment. I see some young girls in London who take on the hijab, then take it off—that is choice. But in Kabul or Miranshah or Riyadh or Tehran it is generally not choice.

    S Haque makes a really good point above. And, my reason for banning the burqa is not only that it is a security risk—that is only one aspect. Mostly my reason for banning the burqa is because it is a symbol of oppression and societies where it is commonplace are oppressive for women—it is used to hold them back in education, professionally, legally. When Iran imposed a burqa, it also got rid of women judges. In Saudi, women can’t drive. In both countries, women need the permission of their husbands to travel abroad. In Turkey, on the other hand, when Ataturk got rid of the burqa, the literacy rate among women shot up astronomically. Ataturk may be responsible for human rights violations, but at least he had something to show for it. When the Taliban types engage in those violations, they have nothing to show either. So my view is that when France bans the burqa, where only about a handful of women are taking it on, it is doing it out of Islamophobia and hence it is the wrong reason. But when Syria does it, I support it—because there the reason is not Islamophobia—it is a concern for women’s rights. I think we need to make these distinctions and speak to women who live in societies where these things are imposed in order to come to a realistic assessment.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Motorcycles banned in DIK: DPO
    DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Motorcycles would be banned in Dera Ismail Khan, District Police Officer said Sunday.He said even motorcycle rickshaws would be banned in the district until further orders.Recommend

  • Someone

    The writer didnt label Fulton as a liberal extremist. She just spoke about an attitude of intolerance which is a form of extremism, nor did she compare an opinion with murder or say liberal extremists are as dangerous as militants. There is a difference between terrorists/militants and just an extremist/intolerant mindset. Stop jumping to conclusions people! Recommend

  • Fazl-e-Azeem Bari

    great work naureenRecommend

  • maria ishtiaq

    if your articl makes taking hijab any easier and even if it does not, i say jazakillahu khair :)
    god bles uRecommend

  • Haajar Eberle

    @S.Haque: I’d like to know where the writer suggested that ALL the women who wear a burqa/niqab do so of their free will? Besides, which women are you speaking of? The women in Pakistan? India? Or the women all over the world. You must have traveled extensively and interviewed many niqabi women to speak on their behalf. What about the many women in the US who cover? There are no “creatures coming out of madrassas” roaming about here. And the hundreds of women in the Middle East and Europe who cover only because of personal religious beliefs and free will and not because of “ogling” men?

    Thank you Naureen for the well-written article! I give you the authority to speak on my behalf as a peaceful, free and educated niqabi woman :). I would like to keep my niqab on!!!Recommend

  • Shariq Qureshi

    Kudos to the writer for picking up and addressing an interesting subject in an interesting manner.Recommend

  • Maha

    If there is one attitude that marks this age it is extremism – and that extremism is present not only in the religious class, but in the so-called ‘liberals’ as well.

    Naureen! As a Pakistani woman, i don’t observe pardah but i have no problem with those who observe it. You talked about liberal extremism. There is no such term as that. Liberals don’t use guns to make their point heard neither they pass fatwas. If someone is against burqa then it’s an opinion. Take it as that. Noone is forcing you not to wear it. Rest assured liberals will not go to extreme length otherwise it will negate the very idea of liberalism..
    If liberals can stand people opinions about them for being immoral then people dislike for burqa can be taken in the same vein. What do you think?Recommend

  • http://sameensadaf.blogspot.com sameen

    an excellent article……..keep up the good work!……….if there is no such term as liberal extremism then there is no such term as fundamentalists or relgious extremists either ……..if anyone is interested then read this as well…http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=229506&Cat=9&dt=3/17/2010.Recommend

  • hassan

    As per the saying in Quran/Hadiths/Sunnah, the women should wear the burqa/hijab/niqab….this is compulsory, and not voluntary.

    I assume you support the above, since you have not protested strongly against the forcing of veil on women, as mentioned in the Holy Books.

    But You say: *“Restricting women from wearing the veil is as much a violation of their rights as forcing them to wear one.”*

    What you mean is this: Forcing someone to wear a dress is NOT a violation of rights.

    But, forcing someone NOT to wear a dress IS a violation of rights.

    Can’t you see some logical fallacy over there?Recommend

  • Nobody

    Correction, niqab and burka are NOT compulsory. Head covering (hijab) and modest garb (which can be anything that covers the important parts of your body and conceals your shape, doesnt specifically have to be an abaya) are compulsory.
    That being said, forcing any kind of dress or outlawing any kind of dress seems to be the same thing to me: trampling civil liberties. Let men and women decide what they do or do not want to wear….tragically that’s too simplistic for today’s world.
    well done!Recommend