France Muslim Face-Veil Ban: ‘Changing Cultural Norms’ Might Take Generations, by Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh

[ 0 ] April 12, 2011 |

France is the first country to enforce a ban against face veils such as the niqab © Shutterstock

When we heard that Muslim women in France are no longer allowed to wear face veils or head scarves covering their face or eyes in public, we reached out to Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh, Social Psychologist and Chair of the Middle East Sexual Health Committee at the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS), and co-author of The Orgasm Answer Guide. Dr. Nasserzadeh said that when societal issues involve culture and religion, just passing a law may not have the desired effect; in fact, it may lead to further isolation of Muslim women living in predominantly non-Muslim communities. She writes …

Within the Muslim community there are various practices when it comes to the men and women’s outfits. These are mainly based on different gender roles within the community. Please bear in mind that Islam is a religion for some people but for most has become a part of their everyday life. In becoming so, it has evolved and integrated with each culture in a slightly different way, which is why you would see various practices within the same faith group or don’t see all Muslims wearing the same clothing.

“Hijab” is a general term which literally means “cover.” It has been interpreted differently by different groups within the Muslim community based on their local culture. If you look into other religious groups (for example, Jewish or Hindus), you will see that within those communities also exist different sub-groups. One of the ways these subgroups differentiate themselves is by their outfits. This differentiation has various social implications for the members of those communities, including finding the right match for marriage. These differences could be as subtle as the color of the same piece of clothing they wear, or wearing an extra piece to show your belonging to a certain group.

Most practicing Muslim women believe that following Prophet Mohammad’s tradition means they need to wear modest clothing and cover their hair, but not the face (there are debate around this traditions, as well). The modern interpretation of the logic behind this tradition is that this will allow women to participate in social affairs without being objectified and treated based on their gender. Granted, that in some communities, women are made to cover up against their will but most often, practicing Muslim women chose to do so.

Regarding this new law, as much as it might make sense from the homeland security perspective, I could see two potential problems: In cultures such as the Muslims’, where the sense of collectivism is much greater than individualism, being accepted by your peers and members of the community is of utmost importance. Therefore, I don’t believe that this law can make women within certain communities (where this has been a norm to cover their faces) to change their practice, which might then lead to their withdrawal from society and their eventual isolation. Another issue is that women who truly believe in wearing face covers (niqab or burqa) might feel that their human rights and choice of freedom have been ignored. I think this will be a conflicting issue for years to come because this is not just an issue to be resolved by passing a law. We are talking about changing cultural norms, which might take generations.

For more from Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh:

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About Dr. Sara NasserZadeh: Dr. Sara NasserZadeh is a highly accredited psychosexual therapist, co-author of The Orgasm Answer Guide and board member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Dr. NasserZadeh is also a media commentator, consultant in effective [...]
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