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Burqa issue misunderstood in Pakistan: French embassy

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by: Daily Times

* Spokesman says Salafist groups, who encourage wearing burqa, support terrorists’ ideology
* Says France has Muslim institutions who have been very vocal in opposing burqa
* Paris mosque cleric says burqa wrongly presented as an Islamic tradition * Fact sheet by embassy says current debate not about hijab

ISLAMABAD: Although the ongoing debate on wearing burqa is divisive, a vast majority of the five million Muslims and chairman of the French Council of the Muslim Faith in France do not recognise wearing burqa as part of the Islamic culture nor do they associate it with the dignity of women, hence incompatible with the values of the French Republic, according to a fact sheet issued by the French embassy in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Wearing burqa is encouraged by Salafist groups. They are the ones promoting the burqa, advocating that public schools should not teach biology, girls should not play sports, a male doctor – even in an emergency situation – treat a woman etc. The fact sheet further states, “We have been dealing with those Salafist groups for decades now, we know them well. They support the ideology of the terrorists groups which carried out several bombings in France in the 1990’s. Those very groups, who today claim their allegiance to the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, are testing the resistance capacity of the secular French Republic.”

Vocal opposition: France is home to the largest Muslim community with 2,368 mosques and prayer rooms and two under-construction grand mosques. A French embassy spokesman says, “We have representatives-elected institutions of the Muslim faith. Yet, their position on the burqa is not known in Pakistan. But in fact, they have been very vocal in opposing the burqa. Why? Because they don’t recognise it as part of Islam. They work hard for a successful integration of the Muslim community into the French society.”

He says Muhammad Moussaoui, chairman of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said to the National Assembly commission, “The council considers that wearing the burqa is not a religious prescription. It is an extreme practice that we don’t want to see growing on the national soil. We have also said the burqa prevents women from having a normal social life.”

Tradition: Dr Dalil Boubakeur, cleric at the Grand Mosque of Paris said, “It is, therefore, obvious that today the burqa is wrongly presented as an Islamic tradition.”

Through the fact sheet, the spokesman claims that the French did not have any issues with the hijab, saying, “We look at the burqa or naqab as a cultural practice coming from other parts of the world and we don’t think it is compatible with the French secular vision of women’s dignity.” He added, “Because it’s not a religious practice, it does not benefit from the protection of the freedom of religion, which France protects dearly. As with polygamy, we don’t think we should accommodate all cultural practices in France.”

The fact sheet further sates that a committee of the French National Assembly had recommended a resolution against the wearing of burqa in France, but no decision had been made yet. It said the ongoing debate was divisive: some members of parliament opposed the ban, some called for a general ban, while others wanted a partial ban enforced only in public places, where it would be compulsory for women to remove their burqa or niqab. It stated that there could be a resolution stating the opposition of the National Assembly to the burqa – without a binding strength. But, it added that, there could be a law banning the burqa, however, its scope would have to be determined by parliament in the next few days and weeks.

Debate: Dwelling further on the subject, the fact sheet stated that the current debate is not at all about the hijab. The hijab is allowed everywhere in France, there is only one restriction for the state primary and secondary schools where all the conspicuous religious signs – crosses, turbans, kippas – are prohibited. This law, which earned overwhelming public support, is aimed at protecting the country’s strictly secular state from religious influence religion. The debate only deals with the burqa and the naqab, the veils that entirely hide the women’s faces.

An all-parties committee from the National Assembly studied the issue for six months, interviewed hundreds of people, including Muslims scholars, clerics, academics, law experts, sociologists and prepared a recommendation for a resolution against the burqa and the niqab. No decision has been made so far. It will be for parliament to vote on a bill, if one is tabled before it. This is how a standard legislative process works in a democracy.

During a press conference on Wednesday at the Islamabad Press Club, Daniel Jouanneau, French ambassador to Pakistan, said France is home to around five million Muslims, and around 2,000 women wore burqa, most of them French. “Vast majorities of French people, including Muslims consider that the wearing of burqa is not compatible with the French secular vision of the women’s dignity,” he said, adding that this is an issue between a small group of French citizens and the French parliament.

The spokesman further stated that “In France, the state has the responsibility to defend human dignity, even sometimes against a citizen’s will and can limit one’s individual freedom.”

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