Monday, 16 September 2013

The Veil

Again nearly two months since I blogged, but I must say something about the veil, now that there are proposals to ban it. For millions of years the face has been the chief means by which monkeys and apes recognize each other as individuals and communicate emotion, and the human face is the most expressive of all. To cover it up is an offence against society. Fortunately, Islam does not require women to cover their faces. The Koran says merely that the wives of the Prophet should be addressed 'from behind a curtain' - hijab (33:53), and that Muslim women in general should 'pull close to them part of their dresses' in the presence of strange men (33:59), and that 'they should draw their head dress over their bosoms' (24:31). This is just a demand for modesty, which is required of men too. It is up to individuals to decide how to comply, given the climate and the social context. So I am in favour of banning face covering, but in order not to be discriminatory it should apply not just to Muslim women but to everybody, whatever their sex or religion. Men in balaclavas are far more threatening than women in burkas. There would of course need to be discretion in the case of protection against severe weather, bandaging in the case of facial injury and so on. Men's beards might seem contentious, but their variety of form and colour means that they play a part in facial recognition, and the idea of banning them borders on the farcical. In general anyway, if we are to be fully human we need to show each other our faces.

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