Asian Muslims warn of backlash to French veil ban
Islamic authorities in Asia warned Wednesday that French lawmakers' decision to ban full-face veils could spark a terrorist backlash, arguing the decision only widened rifts with the Muslim world.
The top Islamic body in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, said Tuesday's vote had violated French ideals on human rights, while Malaysia's opposition said the decision could stoke extremism.
"Middle Eastern Muslim women wear full-face veils as part of their culture and religious belief," Amidhan, the chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council, told AFP. The country is home to roughly 200 million Muslims.
"If the French parliament wants to champion human rights, it should allow women to wear the veils in public. If it's for security reasons, the question is to what extent is there a threat posed by women wearing burqas?"
The opposition Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) said the vote had angered Muslims and could trigger terrorist attacks, and urged France to engage with rather than alienate Muslims.
It will undermine "the efforts of many organisations to narrow the gap between the Western and Islamic world", PAS deputy president Nasaruddin Mat Isa told a news conference in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
"We hope it will not spark further terror activities. The French move has sparked anger around the Islamic world."
Nasaruddin said the ban violated individual rights, and that Muslim women should be allowed to wear what they want in France, just as non-Muslim French women are permitted to dress as they wish in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
"They can come here and wear their bikinis," he said.
PAS lawmaker Hatta Ramli said he did not accept arguments that the burqa, a full-body covering with a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a full-face veil that leaves an opening for the eyes, suppress women's rights.
"I don't think that holds water," he said.
India's chief Muslim cleric, Syed Ahmed Bukhari of the vast Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi, said he "vehemently condemned" the ban and described the law as anti-Islamic.
The outspoken reactions came after the French parliament passed a law prohibiting the wearing of the full-face veil in public, meaning a ban will come into force early next year unless it is overturned by senior judges.
The Senate passed the bill by 246 votes to one. Having already cleared the lower house in July, the bill will now be reviewed by the Constitutional Council, which has a month to confirm its legality.
India's Bukhari urged the French judges to reverse the ban.
"One cannot be forced what to wear and what not to wear," Bukhari, who is followed by millions of Indian Muslims, told AFP.
"Habits of Christian nuns are not much different to the burqa so it is quite obvious the French government is against Islam and Muslims of that country," he said.
"We vehemently condemn this. Governments must treat all religions equally."
© 2010 AFP