The Moroccan Ministry of Interior has notified burqa producers and retailers of the immediate prohibition on the sale and to get rid of the current stocks within 48 hours, according to Moroccan World News. The reason cited is security concerns over the unquestioned anonymity permitted by the garment to criminals to carry out their activities.
Most Moroccan women wear the hijab or the headscarf which does not cover the face and very few prefer the burqa, compared to conservative Islamic countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is generally not conceived as a part of Moroccan culture as many Moroccans, including some conservatives, see it as a neocolonial import from the Gulf states, reports the New York Times.
Instead of targeting the wearers of the garment, the government is pursuing the ban from the retailers’ end to soften the edge. Morocco, a Muslim-majority country and former French protectorate, has been trying to encourage more moderate expressions of Islam and subtly warm conservative Islamists to not go too far, although extremist acts remain rare. Many, however, argue that the decree goes against the law — it lacks any legal backing — and against human rights.
The controversial issue has spurred a fierce debate about whether burqa ban is a repressal of religious freedom of women or a praiseworthy move towards women’s liberation. The ONDH, or Northern Observatory of Human Rights, condemned the Ministry’s decision in its press release by calling the ban “arbitrary” and an infringement on women’s right to dress and express themselves freely. On the other hand, Al Jazeera reported that Nouzha Skalli, a former family and social development minister, welcomed the ban as “an important step in the fight against religious extremism”.
Others were more keen on exploring the authenticity of cited reasons. Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, founder of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat and an expert in comparative religion with a focus on women and Islam, told the New York Times, “If it is true that there is a ban, to me, the ban is justified for security reasons,” she said. “But at the same time, there is not evidence for associating the burqa with security threats. I would like to know how many people they have arrested.”
For the most part, the stands and issues on this subject in Morocco remain similar to elsewhere — with almost all possessing a grain of truth. The right of Muslim women to cover their faces and bodies has been at the center of political debates in many other countries. Last year in September, the Bulgarian parliament banned the burqa in a similar bid to boost security in the wake of various terrorist attacks in Europe. France has been the most notorious in this regard, where the face veils — burqa and niqab — were outlawed back in 2011 (followed by Belgium) and which last year made news with the controversial Burkini ban. Chad, Switzerland and Egypt are other countries with partial bans on the face veils. Most recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a ban on December 6 last year. In most European countries, face veil issue has also become an easy way for politicians to score points with a section of the electorate which has been increasingly wary of the incursion of migrants and refugees from the Muslim world and where the Islamophobic sentiment has been on the rise.