Material for legends

Material for legends

Burka wearer © dpa

Many Western countries warn of disenfranchisement of women and call for ban on veiling. But what is the Islamic dress code all about – and what is the legal situation??

"A veiled woman is like a pearl in her shell", says an Islamic proverb. In many Western countries, this attitude is seen as an obstacle to integration and warns of the disenfranchisement of women. Recent terrorist attacks and fears of increasingly aggressive Islamic fundamentalism have done their bit to fuel the debate.

France prohibits bathing day for veiled women

In France, far-right and conservative politicians recently prevented a bathing day for veiled Muslim women and their children at a fun pool near Marseille. Meanwhile, the city council in Cannes in southern France banned the wearing of the burkini on the beach. Reason for the prohibition of the full-body bathing suit: Such a beach clothing could lead in the present situation to a disturbance of the public order.

The tone is also getting harsher in Germany. Several prominent representatives of CDU and CSU demand a burqa ban. SPD Vice President Ralf Stegner, however, sees this as an attack on religious freedom.

Veiling based on three Koranic passages

But how did the Islamic dress code for women come about in the first place?? All schools of law of the Islam count the veiling to the faith obligations of the woman, stress Islamic scholars. They are based primarily on three Koranic passages – which, however, can be interpreted differently.

Sura 24, verse 31 calls for women to "draw their veil (chimar) over their bosom". At the time of Mohammed, Arab women's dresses were cut so wide that their breasts were visible. The verse does not propagate an obligation to veil the face. The veiling of the bosom in public is, moreover, a matter of course, even according to Western dress customs. By the way, some people translate chimar not as "veil", but as "shawl".

Sura 33, verse 53, stipulates that Muhammad's male guests may speak to the Prophet's wives only when they are separated by a hijab, a curtain. The rule, which may have only concerned Muhammad's desire for privacy for his wives, was later interpreted by many Quran exegetes as a command for strict separation of the sexes and isolation of women. Today, the Arabic term hijab refers to anything that keeps people from looking, especially loose clothing that conceals a woman's body.

Sura 33, verse 59 calls on believing women "to put some of their garment over them. This ensures that they (as decent women) are recognized and not harassed.". The Arabic original does not explicitly mention the covering of the head.

Sayings of Muhammad handed down

The traditional occasion of the revelation also shows how much it is bound to its time: for previously men would have mistakenly mistaken a group of Muslim women for slaves and sexually harassed them. Today, according to Islamic feminists, it is not clothing regulations but criminal laws that should protect against sexual violence.

The Sunna leaves no doubt about the obligation to veil through traditional sayings of Muhammad: "No more should be seen of a woman than her face and hands," he is said to have said. According to other traditions, Mohammed considered women to be sinful, seductive creatures whose charms could lead men astray. A woman who leaves her house is met by the devil, it is said.

There is much to suggest that such remarks were put into the mouth of the founder of the religion by a misogynist body of scholars after the fact. Veiling and banishment of women from public thus became supposed will of God. In addition to the headscarf, the most common veil, there are various face veils and full-body coverings, from the chador to the burqa. Since the re-Islamization in the 1970s and 80s, the veil again dominates the streets of Islamic cities. In many countries it is a de facto regulation, in Iran and Saudi Arabia also by law.

Liberal legal position in Germany

The current legal situation in Germany, on the other hand, is largely liberal: in principle, anyone can dress as they wish in public. This also applies to the wearing of the face veil niqab or the full-body veil burqa.

In 2012, the Bundestag's Scientific Service concluded in an expert report that a general ban on the burqa would be unconstitutional. It violates the neutrality requirement of the Basic Law against religious confessions. It said a ban was only permissible on a case-by-case basis – "as the result of a balancing exercise with conflicting constitutional rights". Burqas can already be banned in schools, for example.

The laws are much stricter in neighboring France, where it has been illegal to wear a hood in public since 2011. In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights confirmed the legality of the regulation, which also affects burqas and niqabs. There was no violation of religious freedom, it was said.

Rather, she said, the ban on veiling was a legitimate goal to preserve open interpersonal coexistence in society.

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Christina Cherry
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