Is The Burqa A Sign Of Enslavement?

In the first presidential appearance before Parliament since Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, President Nicolas Sarkozy recently addressed French lawmakers, and one of his primary topics was the burqa: garments that envelope women and mask their faces which are mandated by various orthodox branches of Islam.

"The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue, it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity," Mr. Sarkozy stated while addressing the French Senate and National Assembly. "The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory."

This speech understandably drew praise from enlightened and emancipated women everywhere, and it makes perfect sense that it should be so. After all, we're in the 21st century! Humanity has evolved well past the 7th century stigmas where women were property of men and needed to be kept away from lecherous predatory males under lock and key.

If anyone should be the Poster Child for the removal of the burqa (and other female clothing) it seems that President Sarkozy has impeccable credentials. Just do a Google image search for "carla bruni nude" and you too can check out what the Prez has the privilege of witnessing in the privacy of his bedroom. I don't know how comfortable I would be in marrying a woman (no matter how hot as Mrs. Prez undoubtedly is) who has had her wares spread out over the internet and is the subject of a countless number of masturbatory fantasies by zit faced wankers all over the world, but that's probably because I'm just an old prude.

Since Mrs. President is not likely to be wearing the burqa anytime soon, let's take a moment to analyze whether Sarkozy's statements of the burqa signifying "enslavement" are accurate.

The Holy Qur'an includes several passages dealing with the extent of female clothing.

Surah An Nur: 31
And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful.

Surah al-Ahzab: 59
Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad) That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

I have had the privilege of knowing many Islamic families in my long life. In a few of them the burqa was used, but in most it was restricted to some form of hijab (a form of dress designed to cover, hide, screen, conceal, and shelter the female form) which was not as extreme as the burqa. These women, regardless of dress, were unanimous in their opinion of hijab: It is necessary, and gladly accepted.

To many Western readers this may seem like some form of evil Islamic male plot to brainwash poor stupid women into subjugation. However, the Islamic women I spoke to were all intelligent and educated. They were not enslaved, subjugated, or submissive. Heck, most of them were fiercely assertive matriarchs! Why did they accept hijab or even burqa?

Because they see it as central to the values which enshrine the nuclear family.

And they're right.

The nuclear family is central to Islam and I believe that the religion's single greatest modern accomplishment is in ensuring that the traditional family structure remains strong and stable in these chaotic times. Although I respect Islam but am not a Muslim, if I was the father of a teenage girl who was about to go out one evening in a miniskirt that showed off her butt cheeks and a halter top that left nothing to the imagination, I'd tie her up and hold off Family Services until they called in SWAT snipers and shot me. Although I have been a lifelong admirer of the female form, I'd draw the line at my daughter.

Therefore, can I in all honesty state that I disagree with the Islamic families who realize the dangers of the world and take steps, males and females in agreement and unison, to protect their precious family members from lechery and harm? Absolutely not.

Neither President Sarkozy nor any other head of state has the right to tell me what to think and how to dress. As long as the government states the obvious, such as "you have to take off your veil when you take your drivers license photograph", I have no complaints. But for Sarkozy to tell Muslim women to remove the items of dress that they believe not only are an integral part of their theology, but also act to assist her in walking and dressing in a way which does not draw unwanted public sexual attention to her by strangers, is just plain bald-faced governmental intrusion into the family.

I no more accept that imposition on my Islamic brothers and sisters as I would accept Sarkozy untying my half naked daughter to go parade her in a night club alongside his nude model wife.

My daughter would not be a whore, Mr. Sarkozy. You're free to have the female members of your family show off their tiny tatas to the world, but just stay the hell out of my house, and the houses of Muslims everywhere, whether they be in France or not.

Hijab is not a measure of enslavement. It is a measure of respect.

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Comments 37 comments

Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area

Ramen to that Hal :) Every society has its own norms on what amount of clothes is enough on women, and there is nothing positive to gain in forcing one society traditions on another. Especially in legislation.

However, it works both ways, and fundamentalist muslim states enforcing hijab on western women do not look just either. ;) Not that two wrongs would make right of course. :)

As for me personally, I prefer women with no cloths at all - weather permitted of course :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Out of interest, have you lived in the Middle East?


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Noodle to you too! :) Misha, you and I are both profound admirers of the unclothed female form, and that's just fine. What I do in the privacy of my home is my own damn business. It's a matter of individual freedom. I don't want the government telling me what to wear any more than I want them to tell me what to think. The government's job is to provide for foreign affairs, the national defense and infrastructure, and the enforcement of reasonable laws for the public good. Anything beyond this is INTRUSION and not acceptable in a democratic society.

Hi Paraglider. I'm happy to see you back. I appreciate your comment and always appreciate your input whether you agree or not with my specific viewpoint. I have never lived in the Middle East although I have visited Tunisia and Morocco. I have lived for a time in Southeast Asia in a couple of predominantly Muslim nations, however. Thanks!


Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area

Absolutely Hal, and you know that I would rather did not give anything to government and just kicked it away alltogether. :)


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

A tiny teensy weensy bit of government is necessary. What most people apathetically accept as government these days is nothing short of Big Brother Gone Wild. You'd figure that the prospect of saving 70% or even 80% of their total tax load would cause people to wake up and actively back initiatives to chop governments and their unacceptable intrusions down to size, but most people are far more interested in whether Jon and Kate break up! :(


Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area

Not really sure it is needed at all, lately I tend to think that we would have been much better without it. Yet there is definitely a lot of room for arguments there, which don't really belong to this hub :)

Talking about burqas, the funny thing is that in Russian it is male cloths, a kind of heavy pressed sheep wool robe with a hood, used by predominantly muslim Caucasian mountains nations. :D


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Yes, my dear anarchical friend, I can certainly sympathize with your displeasure with governments and we are in agreement except that I maintain we need a little bit of government if for no other reason than to keep the foreign crazies like Kim Jong-Il at bay and to keep the local crazies from helping themselves to my property and my orifices (little do they know that there is precious little of value to either)! :)

Is that Caucasian mountain burqa the equivalent of a parka?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

{{I don't want the government telling me what to wear any more than I want them to tell me what to think. The government's job is to provide for foreign affairs, the national defense and infrastructure, and the enforcement of reasonable laws for the public good. Anything beyond this is INTRUSION and not acceptable in a democratic society. }}

So, it is also wholly unacceptable for the governments in Saudi, Iran, Sharjah et al to require women to wear burqa?


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Absolutely. No government intervention in any way is acceptable in a democratic society (which Saudi Arabia isn't, but that's another discussion).

The government is not here to shape our minds, it is here to serve our needs. I no more accept Sarkozy's initiative in France to ban the burqa as I do any Muslim nation's government in enforcing its use. It is a matter of personal choice to be left up to each individual family according to their beliefs and values.

That is the essence of freedom and it is a fundamental value that many people simply don't seem to care about any longer. :(


gamergirl profile image

gamergirl 7 years ago from Antioch, TN

I am always delighted when I meet women in hijab who wear it properly. Even moreso when they are women like the one lady I used to live near when I was a teenager, who would scold her children lightly to go outside and play more, that they must be young while they can be. She was a brilliant and vibrant lady who always smiled. Mind you, growing up in a small town south of Nashville, it was (at the time) a rare occasion to see a lady in hijab, so this sticks out in my mind pretty well.


Misha profile image

Misha 7 years ago from DC Area

If parka is what eskimos wear, then no. It really looks like an all-height capote made of pressed sheer wool, parka as I know it is much shorter and made of fur. :)

Oh, and burqa does not have sleeves!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Paraglider, those of us who believe OUR government shouldn't tell us what to wear do not always take it upon ourselves to tell other people's governments what to do.

As for Saudi Arabia, isn't it a private kingdom owned by the Saudis? We each of us can decide what the rules are in our own kingdom. ;->


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

gamergirl: I agree completely. I was not raised in a Muslim nation but in southern Italy, where although it's not called hijab, most women of the time would not dream of going outdoors without a headscarf and in many cases a long skirt and a shawl, even in summertime. I grew up to accept that as an essential and necessary modesty.

I was in line at a Tim Horton's coffee shop a few days ago near my house. The location is just half a block from a beautiful beach, it was a sizzling hot day, and there was a stunning lady in her early twenties directly in front of me. I assure you she was not wearing more than 8 square inches of clothing. If that.

I'm just as much of an old perv as any Western male my age and hey, I'd be lying if I told you that I wasn't enjoying the view. However, at the same time, I felt fundamentally embarrassed not only that she was flaunting her goods in such a brazen manner, but also at her effective nudity's intrusion into my personal space. I went to Tim Horton's for an iced cappuccino, not to get aroused. There is a fundamental sense of "wrongness" about it that I just can't simply placidly accept.

Misha: That sounds like an interesting garment. I'll have to look it up. You know me. I'm nothing if not curious! :)

Aya Katz: I see your wink, and fully grasp what you're saying about the Saudis. :)


gamergirl profile image

gamergirl 7 years ago from Antioch, TN

I actually have an odd sort of fascination for all things niqab, burqa and abaya related. I find the wearers to be more up to my imagination, relying on their inner beauty rather than the outer. Though how to explain to one's co-workers that I prefer to cover myself rather than be seen by the world, and that it's not a matter of depression or low self-esteem but more of an attempt at humility and inward reflection?


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 7 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

Awesome hub here. I was shaking my head at first when I thought you were agreeing with Sarkozy. I am not sure he's wrong in his opinion, to my eyes, the burqa is an oppressive and backwards requirement but, Islamic women would disagree, and it is meant for good in their culture. It is wrong for a government, (unless it's a theocracy), to impose its values on religious people, unless, like you say, it infringes the rights or well being of others.

In a free world I am obligated to defend the right of Muslims to wear burqas. As a religious person, I am even more obligated, because if I don't, someday they might tell us to take the fish off of our cars, and the crosses from our churches, because they are oppressive.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

gamergirl: It's unfortunate but in this age we have become desensitized to the constant sexual stimulation and the objectification of women as providers of visual arousal. While most women in our society aggressively protect their rights to wear whatever they want, I believe that they are blind to the fact that such flaunting does not free them at all, but imprisons them into a state of being a perpetual sex object. They become of interest only because they are "hot", not due to any cerebral or emotional quality.

Alexander Mark: Thanks! We in the West can certainly be excused for believing that the burqa is oppressive, but again, I can only point to my own experience where women I have spoken to have appreciated and enthusiastically embraced the burqa. Who are we, any we, to tell them no?

Your comment about where the line would be drawn on banning various religious practices brings to mind Martin Niemoller's famous poem:

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

And then... they came for me... And by that time there was no one left to speak up."


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 7 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

he he, I was thinking about that poem, but didn't know it in full, glad you posted that.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

See, I told you I had ESP! Extra Strong Perspiration! :)


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

Typed a long message which vanished. Eh Laptops. So I will just say as long the individual has a choice then no problem


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Individual choice is of paramount importance, and it is that exact choice which would be eliminated by Sarkozy et al.


Staci-Barbo7 profile image

Staci-Barbo7 7 years ago from North Carolina

As it is a fundamental right in constitutional governments that one be allowed the freedom of religion - and free expression thereof until another's rights are infringed - I will stand and support the inalienable right of Muslim women to follow the dictates of their consciences and wear the hijab, abaya, and burka in public. 

I believe there would be a strong backlash to enacting such legislation.  Affected Muslim families would likely become more fundamental in outlook (not necessarily in core beliefs), as they see their religion disrespected and their human rights violated, in an effort to preserve their belief system and family autonomy.  Muslim daughters and wives might be forced into closer familial confinement (and, arguably in the same vein of logic proposed by Sarkozy, subjected to increased subjugation as a result) as the best means of avoiding the issue of choosing whether or not to follow or break the law governing the wearing the burka in public.  Finally, there is the risk of inciting and frustrating conservative Muslim men to such an extent that would likely result in a shift of blame to Muslim females.

To force Muslim women to put off these garments by force of law is to place them in an awful position:

1) they must choose between what their religion teaches them to do and what their religious teachers and families expect of them;

2) if they follow the law and adopt a less 'subjugated' style of dress in public, these women are placed in danger of serious, bitter accusations from the pious men in their families of inappropriate behavior or inciting lust in men outside their families.

2a) Such a predicament places these women at a higher risk of domestic abuse and, almost unspeakably, at a higher risk of the ancient practice of homicide upon "impure" females by family patriarchs.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

I completely agree with and endorse your very well thought out and expressed statement. It cuts to the core of the issue and truly brings the debate into clear focus. Thank you! :)


llanishen 7 years ago

Burkhas are really handy; I put one on when going to work and when neaking to the pub, this way the mrs cant see me.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Actually I've often wondered how women who wear the burqa recognize each other on the street! :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

My point about Saudi was that the introduction of burqa is fairly recent. Old photos from Saudi show women 'modestly dressed' on the streets and markets, wearing headscarves, but not veiled or covered. It was not the women who decided in relatively recent times to cover up completely. It was the edict of the old male clerics. It is neither traditional nor strictly cultural. Nor is it a religious duty in Islam. It is a perversion of Islam.


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Hal, when I first heard of Sarkozy's idea I thought it was a good one. Having read your hub and comments I have changed my mind, Anyway it must be very liberating to be able to pop out to the shops with out having to even comb your hair and without having to wonder what to wear. Modesty has gone out of the window these days which I find a little sad.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

You talk about the individual - but appear to attribute to men (yourself, Sarkozy) the final judgement....


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Paraglider: Of course I believe that a moderate hijab is far preferable to the total cloaking, but my point is that if it part of a woman's religious and values belief system that she should wear a neon bird's nest on her head, she should be able to. It is of course important to ensure that the neon bird's nest does not have the "Tim Horton" effect I noted earlier. Other than that, it's a matter of personal freedom.

Gypsy Willow: The amazing thing about most women who wear various levels of hijab is that underneath they are immaculately dressed with extreme elegance and luxury. But I agree that it could be very helpful when running out to the market at 7 am because you're out of corn flakes! :)

LondonGirl: I don't understand your comment. Are you referring to me? In my Hub I have consistently stated that this is a decision for the family, not the HEAD of the family.


Lilmizwonder 7 years ago

To sum up "my" opinions, I think that requiring or banning anything is rediculous unless it somehow protects those whom are required to follow the decree as the point of having a government is to protect those whom are under it. Anything more is in my opinion absurd. Also, I think that dressing-up at all is rediculous unless it serves a practical function such as boosting one's confidence, looking proffessional for certain jobs or interviews...etc. But I do not like that people dress-up just because that is what "women are supposed to do" or because someone is worried what "other people think".

*Please note that I am a female who wears the biggest t-shirts and loosest fitting clothes that one can find. Also, the only make-up that I ever wear is stage make-up for performances as it is required; I almost never wear any jewlery; and I only brush my hair once a week, as that is how often I go to work/volunteer... How is that for a woman?

Also, did I make any grammatical errors in this message (I have "poor" grammatical skills...)? I would also appreciate any criticisms...


Lilmizwonder 7 years ago

Oh, I meant to type '"my" hair' instead of "my hair"--I do not believe in ownership (this does not mean that I will not pursue anyone for plaigarism and what-not...)


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

I'm usually very well dressed. Shorts and T-shirts even in winter and Crocs when weather allows. I was torn as to whether or not to go Armani, but I decided to go WalMart instead. :)


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

The way I see it is, if a woman wears these garments because she wants to, it is dandy.  If she is being made to wear them by her father, husband or the Taliban it is not good. 

On the other hand, when a person emigrates from one culture to another they must expect to accommodate in some respects to the culture of their new home—or stay where you are.  Women should not be able to hide their identities on their driver's licenses or to board public transportation such as airlines in Western countries because we have security risks.  I can't walk in the airport in a ski mask.  If I wanted to live in Saudi Arabia I would expect to have to conform to their expectations of my behavior and dress and if that was unacceptable to me I would stay in Florida. 


r-m 7 years ago

dear James A Watkins

i appreiciate your opinon, it 100% right.am amuslim woman whos wearing hejab and no one forced me to wear it, neither my husband nor my father, in addtion both of them belive that i have my rights to do what i want to do . onestly , am so happy with hejab , its enough for me to know that hejab is good for me becous the creator advised me to do it and i found alot of benifits while am wearing hejab.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

James A Watkins: I completely concur. Not only on the free choice but on the When In Rome Do As The Romans Do aspect. I mentioned earlier about the necessity to have regular security be respected and thus there are times when a woman does have to be veilless, but it can be done with respect and privacy.

r-m: Your case is exactly what I was discussing in the Hub. Many outside of Islam think that Muslim women are subjugated by their men and forced to do things that Western women would find unacceptable. It is clearly enlightening to see that ladies such as yourself not only accept hijab but seek it willingly. No one should be forced to do anything against their will, and the minority of Muslim women who do not want to wear hijab should never be coerced to do so, even if they have to emigrate from their home nations.


GeniusMuslim 7 years ago

Really nice article...

I wanted to wear niqab (another form of burqua) but my father insisted not to let me do so, but praying long he allowed me to, and I'm not brainwashed, Praise be to ALLAH, I'm very open minded, cultured and educated, and taking it off me is what I call oppression. My free choice.

Thank you once again.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Thank you for your comment. I trust it is enlightening to many Western readers to understand first hand from a niqab wearer that it is not some sort of sadistic male domination imposition on a woman.


just say no ti islam 5 years ago

So NO dress standards for men at all....and all this burka crap is just so men don't get aroused...my suggestion...if you are in so little control of your own body, if you are hardly more than an animal may I suggest castration ( chemical or surgical) or perhaps having your eyes sewn shut...give the sisters a break for the next 700 years or so since they have been doing all the hard lifting for so long...and just because muslim women ( and the men to for that matter) have been brainwashed from birth to crave oppression, doesn't make it not be oppression...any way you look at it islam is one sick twisted geopolitical movement...I will not dignify that travesty by calling it a religion. It is long past time for the world to abolish it!

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