French Confusion On Meaning of Burqa, Niqab and Hijab

As the debate rages on in France over burqa, an outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women, Muslims believe the fuss has served to highlight one scary fact; that French people don’t know a burqa from a niqab and hijab. The furor was sparked in France since Communist MP Andre Gerin proposed a parliamentary probe into what he describes as the rising number of Muslims who wear burqa.

But the debate saw politicians, opponents and advocates of the burqa using interchanged terms such as burka and niqab, despite the fact they describe very different types of Islamic dress.

John R. Bowen, a professor of anthropology who has been asked to testify by the parliamentary commission, agrees that there is confusion in France over the issue of burqa.

Bowen does not think there will be a law banning the niqab. Nor does Yazid Sabeg, Mr. Sarkozy’s commissioner for diversity and equal opportunity, who said it would be unenforceable.

Report Claims that Burqa use in France is Marginal

Two French police intelligence agencies have issued reports calling burqa use in the country a “marginal phenomenon,” one of which claimed fewer than 400 women wear the full-body covering. The wearing of burqas has been a controversial issue in France. French legislators have pondered banning the use of burqas and niqabs, full-face veils that ,unlike burqas, do no not obscure use of the wearer’s eyes altogether.

One of the reports, released by French intelligence agency Sous-direction de l’information générale, found only 367 women in France wear the burqa. But the report does not claim that number is a comprehensive figure, and urges further study into the issue, Le Monde reported. A committee of 32 legislators from all four major political parties in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, is expected to deliver its report on whether burqas should be banned by the end of the year. André Gerin called the new estimates “ridiculous.”

Le Figaro Article Describes the Rise of Burqa-Wearing Women in Vénissieux, France

Vénissieux, a city of 60, 000 in the outskirts of Lyon, has witnessed an important increase in the number of women wearing burqas and niqabs, according to this article by Le Figaro daily newspaper. Locals estimate there may be 100 burqa-wearing women in the small city, which is also home to communist-party mayor André Gérin, who initially launched the possibility of a nation-wide commission to consider the practice and its legality in France. Gérin claims that more than half the population are foreigners, most of whom have migrated from North African and are Muslim. The now famous “Marche des Beurs” departed from the city in 1983.

French Deputies Open Debate on the Burqa

A coalition has come together in the National Assembly of members who wish to consider women who wear the burqa and the niqab in the French territory. 58 deputies (43 from President Sarkozy´s Union for a Popular Movement or UMP) from different parties signed a proposition put forward by André Gerin (Rhône) to create a new government commission to consider the implications of the practice in France. Gerin claims that the practice is increasingly common. The suggestion has created much debate. Government spokesperson Luc Chatel told the media that, “If it were determined that wearing the burka is a submissive act, and that it is contrary to republican principles [. . .] parliament would have to draw the necessary conclusions.” There are currently no figures which indicate the actual number of women who wear the burqa or the niqab in France. The author of Musulmans de France (Éditions Robert Laffront, 2007) estimates there to be between 30,000-50,000 Salafists in the Republic.

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith) told reporters, “We are shocked by the idea parliament should be put to work on such a marginal issue.” Fadela Amara, however, pushed for action, claiming alarm for the number of women “who are being put in this kind of tomb”. Sihem Habchi, president of NPNS (Neither Whores Nor Submissives) echoed Amara, noting the group´s support of such a commission. Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Mosque of Paris, also supports the idea of a new inquiry, saying that face covering of women is a fundamentalist practice not prescribed by Islam. Should the remainder of the house agree to the commission, it would draft a report to be released no later than November 30, 2009.