Burqa, Veils and Burkini in the Arab Media

Published: 19 November 2016

Region: Worldwide

Screen_Shot_2016-11-20_at_11.37.37Indian Sport Shooter Heena Sidhu has decided to “skip the Asian air weapon competition” held in Tehran due to the country’s requirement for all female competitors to wear a hijab. She explained her decision in a few posts in her Twitter account saying: “I’m not revolutionary. But I feel that making it mandatory for even a sportsperson to wear a hijab is not the spirit of sport. I’m proud to be a sportsperson because people from different cultures, backgrounds, sexes, ideologies and religions can come together and compete without biases”.

The use of hijab, burqa and other dress codes for women has been in media focus around the world. In the context of war on terror after 9/11 and more recent attacks in Paris, Nice, Brussels, Istanbul and elsewhere, many media tackle this issue from the perspective of religions’ differences.

Two months ago, the mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned “burkinis” – full-body bathing suits – with the alleged aim of protecting tourists and “ensuring their security”. The burkini ban has been introduced along the French Riviera until it was declared “clearly illegal” by the Court.

Most of the mainstream media, as well as news agencies, included information about the truck driver attack in Nice that killed more than 80 people in their reports about the burkini ban. The link between “Islamic terrorism” as stressed by some media, and the way women are dressed on the beach is evident for some officials, right-wing politicians and some tabloids. But not so many media challenged this type of rhetoric.

In the same time, the most of the media in the Arab world reported on events on the French Riviera. Some of them defended the women’s right to choose what to wear, equality and raised the issue of racism. For instance Al Arabiya reported that “secular people screaming at a woman to go home resembles what has happened to many Arab and Muslim women who have tried to defy prohibitions in their society in terms of what to wear … in this case, French secularism seemed to target women’s choices”.

Under the title “Burkini and the Non-religious extremism” Al Sharq Alawsat attacked secularism, saying that “it requires neutrality with other religions and thoughts; however, in the French case, secularism is turning into a mean(s) to destroy other people’s freedoms to secure the ‘perfect neutrality’,” reports this pan-Arab daily newspaper.

In Jordan Times, we could have read that “the burkini is simply a swimsuit for those who choose to cover their bodies”, while Al Sharq Alawsat reminded that “the burkini faces three contradictory stances: mayor reject it because it’s Islamic, Islamic militants because it’s un-Islamic, and a few practicing Muslims approve of it”.

However, some media in the Arab countries followed a different path considering the burkini ban controversial.  As the Observer stated, Al Azhar Islamic university representatives repeatedly said that “the niqab is only a custom or pagan ritual and has no connection to Islam” when it was decided to be banned in Egyptian schools and universities.