A small victory for Muslim women’s rights in Britain
By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis
A British judge has made a welcome ruling. At a hearing in London today, Judge Peter Murphy ruled that a Muslim woman must remove her full-face veil – known as the niqab – to give evidence.
In his ruling Judge Murphy said: “The ability of the jury to see the defendant for the purposes of evaluating her evidence is crucial.”
The 22-year-old woman, from London, has refused to remove her niqab and reveal her face in front of any man.
At an earlier hearing she pleaded not guilty to the charge of intimidating a witness.
Commenting on the ruling, the BBC’s legal correspondent, Clive Coleman said:
It is an important element of adversarial trial by jury in England and Wales that the facial expressions of a witness or defendant are part of the evidence in the case.
The jury is entitled to rely on their observations of the defendant both when he or she gives evidence, and also throughout the trial, as they see how the defendant reacts when evidence is given by others.
None of that is possible if the accused’s face is covered.
You can read the full BBC report here
Aside from the legal aspect of the case, there is an important matter of principle involved. Writing in the Independent newspaper, Yasmin AliBhai Brown, who is a practising Muslim, says:
That all-covering gown, that headscarf, that face mask – all affirm and reinforce the belief that women are a hazard to men and society. These are unacceptable, iniquitous values, enforced violently by Taliban, Saudi and Iranian oppressors. They have no place in our country. So why are so many British females sending out those messages about themselves?
Some think they are outsmarting anxious Western institutions by covering up, winning dispiriting culture wars which will give them no advantage in our fast moving world. Young women in niqabs are either testing the state as teenagers do their parents or think their garb is political action – but for what? Many women, mothers in particular, have been brainwashed by proselytisers who want to spread conservative Islamic worship across Europe and North America. They are well funded by sources based in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states…
This is a struggle between the light of the faith and dark forces here and also in Islamic countries. The clothes symbolize an attempted takeover of the religion just when believers are looking for liberty, autonomy, democracy and gender equality…
In this struggle the advocates of the veil find it hard to defend their indefensible position. Listen how Akeela Ahmed, Muslim Family Specialist for the Christian Muslim Forum, struggles to answer the simple questions put to her by BBC presenter John Humphrys on the 16 September edition of Radio 4’s “Today” programme:
The right to practice and manifest one’s religious belief is protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). But there is nothing in Islam that requires women to wear the niqab – a sack symbolizing oppression and inequality in a male-dominated world which regards our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives as inferior beings, morally and intellectually.
Today’s judgement is a step towards the emancipation of Muslim women in Britain. But it is only a tiny step forward. In his ruling Judge Peter Murphy said that although the woman in question must remove her veil when giving evidence, he would allow her to hide behind a screen to shield her from public view while giving evidence but that she had to be seen by him, the jury and lawyers. He also said that at other times during the trial she will be allowed to keep her face covered while sitting in the dock.
This is unfortunate. What Britain needs is a law similar to the French law, which bans the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclava, niqabs and other veils covering the face in public places.
There can be no justification in a free society for symbols of oppression and backwardness masquerading as inalienable rights.