We Asked British Muslims How They Feel About a Burqa Ban

A recent YouGov poll put British public support for a burqa ban at 57 percent.
September 2, 2016, 3:55pm

Photo by Chris Bethell

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

This week, a YouGov survey found that 57 percent of Brits were in favor of banning the burqa in public places. And hot on its heels was the burkini—46 percent would like it to be outlawed. It seems like the British people still aren't onboard with the idea that Muslim women are fed up of being spoken for, so with that in mind, I talked to some British Muslims to find out if they really do want your advice on what to wear. (They don't.)

Aliya*, 23

"I don't choose to wear the veil, but I stand up and support women who want to wear it. I believe any man or woman should be able to express themselves in any way they want. The veil might not banned in the UK, but it doesn't come as a surprise that Brits are in favor of a ban.

I think a ban is a slippery slope. Muslims who already feel under attack will feel even more marginalized. I can already imagine the conversations that will be happening: 'First they came for the veil; next they'll come for the headscarf.'

I have an idea for anyone who feels uncomfortable with a veiled woman: Next time you see a veiled woman, do the most un-British thing and strike up a conversation with her. You'll be surprised by how, underneath that veil, is a very normal woman who's as British as they come."

READ: British Muslim Women Discuss How It Feels to Be Constantly Spoken For

Hussein, 24

"I'm not surprised by the data—I mean, hostility toward the burqa (and it's not even a burqa) has been there since way before 7/7. And thanks to a cocktail of sleazy tabloids and stoked up patriotism, the burqa has basically become a symbol of everything that's anti-Western. Our current conversation pits women who wear burqas against women who wear bikinis as a way to characterize this supposed clash of civilizations.

Ultimately it's stripping women on every side of this 'debate' of their agency, and refusing to recognize that women can—and should—make their own choices without men using them as tropes to assert their own political position. I think the 'burkini ban' in France, coupled with the resurrection of the right in the West, does reflect a wider trend. Not just of curtailing women's rights, but namely the rights of women of color. The whole of Europe is going through this identity crisis at the moment, so I see the burqa as a symbol of those anxieties."

Omar, 26

"When I found out about people wanting the burqa banned, I was in denial. If we define the burqa ban as police running around ripping clothing off women by force, I don't believe a majority of British people want that to happen. I don't believe that a majority of British people want our police to be doing that. British people are better than that.

We should be open to the possibility that this poll is not completely reflective of Britain. I always wonder with polls who they talked to and how they framed the question. You've got to take into account how people understood it. If you understand the question as 'do you think the burqa is wrong,' of course most British people think that. Most Muslim people think that; otherwise most Muslim women would be covering their faces, but they're not. I'm going to do a Corbyn and put my fingers in my ears."

Asma, 26

"It's like it's almost become fashionable to attack Islam. Just take the Olympics. No one was bothered about Muslim men. They were much more concerned with what women were wearing and how they stood out.

As Muslim women, we're trying to participate in general life and maintain our modesty at the same time, but [things like this poll are] making it very difficult for us to integrate. Right now, I can't play professional basketball because I wear a hijab. We shouldn't have to sacrifice our religion. It's scary because I felt like I was comfortable living in England, and I thought I was accepted, so then when you see the poll, it's as if everything you believe is your life, and thinking everyone was accepting turns out that it's not actually true. You've been living a lie. It's almost like they want to liberate Muslim women, but a lot of it is just down to fear.

If I could say one thing to people who want to ban the burqa, if they wore something that they valued and they believed to be part of their identity and who they were and someone external asked them to remove that, how would they feel?"

Maryam, 23

"I wear my hijab, but I wear normal clothes, so I blend in quite a lot more than people who wear the burqa. Not knowing who's underneath the burqa is still scary for Muslims. I don't think people actually realize that. It's not something that I'm used to so it does still push me away from the person. For non-Muslims, it must be quite scary for them, too. Being brought up in a Western society, we've been taught to have eye contact and look at people's faces as a sign of respect. But I don't think there should be a ban because Muslim women are wearing more clothes. I think everyone should wear what they want as they please.

Do I feel that what British Muslim women want to wear is being curtailed? Of course. Even though I don't wear things that don't shout, 'I'm a Muslim,' I've still been targeted. If the media keep portraying 'this person is wearing a burqa and they could be a terrorist,' then more people are going to be targeted. And that's quite a scary thought.

If I could say one thing to people who voted to ban the burqa, it'd be: Don't be scared of us."

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