Muslims WorldWide

Bulgaria follows France and Netherlands in move to ban the veil

Women will not be allowed to cover their face in public in places in Bulgaria. 

Women will not be allowed to cover their face in public in places in Bulgaria.

Telegraph, 17 June 2016 • 12:47am


Bulgaria is on course to become the latest European country to ban the wearing of niqabs or burqas in public places, following France and the Netherlands in prohibiting clothing that covers the face.

The bill, which was tabled by the nationalist Patriotic Front (PF), was backed by 108 MPs, with just eight voting against it, at its first reading on Wednesday.

Bulgaria’s second-largest opposition party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), tried to get the reading postponed by suggesting the measures be covered in counter-terrorism legislation instead, but the move was rejected.

The law states that clothing hiding the face may not be worn in central and local government offices, schools, cultural institutions, and places of public recreation, sports and communications.

Tuncher Kardzhaliev, an  MRF MP, said the bill had no value and did not solve a single major problem, the Sofia Globe reported. The way it was drafted meant it would apply to beekeepers as well as religious clothing, he said.

Those who violate the law face a fine of 200 leva (£80) for the first offence, and for second and further offences, 1500 leva and deprivation of social benefits, the website reported.

Muslims make up about 12 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.2 million population and most belong to a centuries-old community, largely ethnic Turks, among whom full-face veils are not common.

The move at a national level follows a ban in several towns in Bulgaria, starting in Pazardzhik in April. At the time, the local government of the town, which has a population of 70,000 people, said it would prevent tension among communities and boost security in the wake of the terrorist attacks that shocked France and Belgium.

“I am tired to hear that Pazardzhik is the town of the burqas. We want to say aloud that we are not that, but a town of responsible people and we will be associated with other achievements,” Mayor Todor Popov told the national radio.

Part of the Roma minority practices an ultra-conservative form of Islam and its women have started wearing full-face veils in recent years, angering nationalists and bewildering other residents of Pazardzhik.

Many Bulgarians are concerned that the migrant inflows into Europe may pose a threat to their predominantly Orthodox Christian culture and help radicalise part of the country’s long-established Muslim minority.

In February, 13 men – most from Pazardhik’s Roma minority -went on trial charged with helping people join the Islamic State group in Syria, propagating an extremist ideology and inciting to war.

France in 2010 banned full-face veils after years of debate, while in May, the Netherlands introduced a partial ban on wearing a veil in schools, hospitals and on public transport.

The subject has long been debated in Britain. In January, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, refused to endorse a French-style blanket ban but made clear that individual organisations can choose to stop Muslim women wearing the veil.

Background | History of the Burqa

The Koran enjoins all Muslims – whether male or female – to dress modestly and refrain from revealing “any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary”.

Beyond this general instruction, the holy book offers no specific guidance on female clothing. Its pages contain no mention of the burqa or, for that matter, of the other varieties of dress that are now associated with Islam, including the hijab, or veil.

The burqa appears to have originated in Persia in the 10th century, before slowly spreading to the Arabian Peninsula and present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Arabia, a variant known as the “niqab” was promoted by the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam; in South Asia, the burqa was adopted by the Deobandis, the local strand of fundamentalism.

When the Taliban captured Kabul and seized power over most of Afghanistan in 1996, they made it compulsory for all women to wear the burqa.

Elsewhere in the Muslim world, the garment remained largely unknown until relatively recently. It was the rise of the Wahhabi and Deobandi traditions which spread the burqa to areas where it was previously invisible, including West Africa.

Hardly any women wore the burqa in West Africa until two or three decades ago. Today, it remains rare in most countries in the region, explaining why some governments have imposed a ban without a public backlash.

The burqa is a reflection of culture rather than an accepted interpretation of Islam and it remains an alien imposition in large areas of the Muslim world. Since the rise of Boko Haram, it has also come to be seen as a security risk, hence the gradual spread of the ban through West Africa.

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