Burkini ban defies human rights
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France's recent ban on burkinis — a fully covered swimsuit worn by some Muslim women — in several cities raises many eyebrows. It claims to be secular in its decision to mandate removal of all religious symbols from public spaces. What they fail to realize is that secularism defies human rights; where it liberates one from forced religious practice, it oppresses the other that chooses to freely practice their religion.

Throughout time we see progressive targeting of religious attire in France, be it towards Muslims, Sikhs, Jews or Christians. However, it seems there is an extra effort to subdue Islamic attire whose mere purpose is to promote modesty and simplicity. Islamic faith obligates that both men and women cover themselves in any way that does not insinuate attraction between the sexes.

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For women, it means to cover the body, and hair and neck; for men, to symbolically lower their gaze. Muslim women in the west, the smart women they are, have come up with solutions that are acceptable according to Islamic rules and still hip and trendy; such as the burkini.

One must commend the sophistication of Western Muslims that inspire millions to step up and keep doing their jobs, all while wearing long skirts and snazzy jackets. From hipster looks to sophisticated professionals, Muslim women have admirably kept up with the game.

However, at some point one starts to question the special attention to the issue at hand when a high school student gets banned from school for wearing a long black skirt.

How does a long black skirt represent religious clothing? Do we ban wearing black dresses or gowns to parties next because they seem too religiously connected? Did they ban all covered swimsuits such as scuba suits from France after banning the burkini? It all seems a little untoward — or perhaps, Islamophobic.

A 15 year old being sent home from school for making the fashionable choice to wear a long skirt does not mean she is trying to intentionally disobey law. Same goes for burkinis, French Muslims are trying to enjoy some time in the sun while wearing a swimsuit and swim cap above water. What is so religious about it?

Getting to the crux of the issue, the words ‘secular France’ that keep being thrown around as the only reason for the ban is highly illogical. If the French ideal to guarantee neutrality and diversity by means of secular state, they are not meeting those ideals. In fact, they are damaging them by superimposing secularity. If France wants neutrality in the country, it has to promise equal rights, which includes the right to freedom of religion; meaning the freedom to practice whatever the people choose to practice without being reprimanded for it, for the sake of neutrality and diversity.  

Looking at it in a different way; on a spectrum, if Iran is far right on religiosity and France is far left on secularism; neither of them are doing justice to the people or their rights. Women should have the right to wear whatever they want to wear without raising religious concerns over it, period. So, if the Iran critics can stand in the name of women’s rights to remove laws mandating women to wear a headscarf, they should also stand in the same name to liberate women who choose to wear one in France.    

Being brought up in a conservative household, I was asked to wear a hijab when I was 9 years old. At first I did it as my religious duty. However, as I grew older it became a part of my identity. As an American Muslim, I feel liberated by my choice to wear a head covering however I want it. I live the American dream while wearing a head covering, which surprisingly to some, does not make me hyper-religious nor unpatriotic. It is a part of who I am and I am not being oppressed by wearing it.   

According to Pew Research France has one of the biggest Muslim populations in the European Union, housing 4.7 million (7.5%) Muslims as of 2010. If issues such as burkini ban persist, France is oppressing the majority of the Muslim population on their basic human rights and at the same time increasing Islamophobia (perhaps intentionally) in the non-Muslim population.

Asra Rizvi is a Schizophrenia Research Coordinator at Northwell Health- Zucker Hillside Hospital. She is currently doing her masters at Teachers College- Columbia University in Clinical Psychology. She has been wearing a hijab since she was 9.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.