Muslims in Sri Lanka are concerned that the short-term ban on the face veil could lead to the further marginalisation of Muslims in society.
Last week on Easter Sunday, Sri Lanka faced one its darkest days with multiple bomb attacks across the island on churches and in hotels. As a British Sri Lankan Muslim, I was devastated to hear about the attacks and rushed to ring family and friends in Sri Lanka to see whether they were okay.
I stand united in solidarity with the Christian community and entire Sri Lankan community affected by the tragedy and deeply condemn the deplorable attacks that are antithesis to the tenets of Islam, as do many Sri Lankan Muslims in the country and around the world.
A week on from the attacks, President Maithripala Siresena announced a ban on face veils for “public protection” under emergency regulations. While Muslim women in burqa and niqab understand that safety is paramount, many Muslim women who wear the face veil will comply with the law but feel that their religious rights are violated.
Muslim women in Sri Lanka who wear the face veil have always complied in identifying themselves for security purposes, and at checkpoints and in this situation they are willing to cooperate. However, a long term ban is feared, and Muslim women may feel further marginalised in an already tense and fearful environment.
The move to ban the burqa is not the right approach to combat the forces of hate and can instead make the Muslim minority feel subjected to even more scrutiny.
An interfaith meeting with all religious heads and the prime minister was held one day before the ban where the issue of face veils was discussed alongside the top Islamic body of Sri Lanka, the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulema (ACJU).
The ACJU agreed that they would take the initial approach of issuing advice to all Muslim women in the country to remove the face veil when necessary for security reasons amidst the heightened security situation.
A ban was proposed at the meeting by a member of the congregation, but Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said that a ban would be “improper” and that it is not right to dictate what a Muslim woman can wear.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith called for a “workable solution based on a consensus, which will take into account the needs of national security while being implementable”.
Despite the meeting, a day later an emergency ban on face veils was issued and posters across the country outside shops in Sri Lanka show images of the Muslim burqa and niqab with an X sign over it to show that no Muslim woman would be allowed in wearing one.
Sri Lanka has already faced anti-Muslim attacks and fears are growing that Islamophobia may further heighten after the Easter bombings. The population of Sri Lanka is made up of 6 percent Christians according to the country’s 2012 census and 9.6 percent Muslim, 12.6 percent Hindus and 70.2 percent Buddhist. Muslims are a small minority in the country, and the amount of Muslim women wearing the face veil is even less.
The tragedy of the Easter bombings should not be exploited by those who seek to pit communities against one another and cause divisions. Instead, people need to come together, stand united against the terrorists and work towards peace and unity. Victims of the tragedy and their families require support both physically and emotionally, and we need to get together to rebuild the churches and offer worshippers a place to pray while churches are being restored.
Terrorists across the world have no religion, but their main aim is to cause destruction and divisions amongst peaceful communities. Any signs of the community facing a lack of unity will be playing into the hands of the terrorists.
Muslim women should not feel that they are being punished for acts of the terrorists that they in no way agree with and utterly deplore. It is also worth noting that the terrorists have gone against the very tenets of Islam which calls to protect Christians and all those in humanity and look after one another with love and kindness.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered a covenant that all Christians should be protected and their churches, so how can we even call these terrorists Muslim?
The majority of the country’s Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist population want to live in peace and harmony, and by getting together as one community, we can defeat terrorists and all forces of hate that seek to divide us. Banning a veil will not contribute to the rehabilitation of the country, but will only further spur Islamophobia for the Muslim community in the country.
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