I have now left Sri Lanka and arrived in Singapore, and have started to reflect on my time there. Still most fresh in my mind is the rising hostility to Muslims in the country; best exemplified by spiralling dialogue over Halal certification, and the wearing of Hijab’s and Niqab’s.
Leaving aside Halal certification for now, I want to concentrate on an issue that has long concerned me; if you ban Hijab’s and Niqab’s, what else is unacceptable? In other words, if you ban religious head coverings, what other kinds of head coverings are unacceptable, and, if there aren’t any, why?
For example, many people in Asia (but, admittedly, not as much in Sri Lanka), wear surgical masks to combat the health risks arising from pollution. These masks also cover the face, is it ok for people to wear surgical masks? What about a Women that has been disfigured and wishes to cover her face? What about a Woman who is just shy or modest and wishes to cover her face? What about nuns and Women in many orthodox faiths? Or even, what about a Woman who wakes up one day and decides to cover her face for no reason whatsoever? Is covering ones face or head ok in these instances? And if these are ok, why is it unacceptable for a Muslim?
I understand the concerns behind Women being forced to wear head coverings, but many Muslim Women do not wear head covering because they are forced to (the Women in my family for example). In this case it is a personal choice, albeit one that may be informed by their religion. But as I have pointed out, Muslim Women are hardly the only Women who choose to cover their heads. If only Muslim Women are forced to remove their head coverings, it is religious persecution plain and simple. If all Women are forced to remove their head and face coverings, it is hardly more fair.