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French President Francois Sarkozy’s remarks pertaining to burqa (outer garments for Muslim women observing hijab) has lent a handle to the electronic media to indulge in Islam-baiting by criticizing the Islamic standpoint on the status of women in society. I am no scholar or Islamic cleric to issue an edict on a particular issue, nor do I have any right to advise others. But my opinion is being occasioned by this particular statement of President Sarkozy wherein he held the burqa a tool of subservience of women.

The Creator of this earth has given certain directives regarding the women’s attire in the verse 59 of chapter 33 and verse 31 of the chapter 24 of the Holy Quran. It is for the women having faith who should make themselves aware of the directives, their implications and fashion their lives accordingly, lest they are held responsible for violation of the Divine will in the hereafter. Allah has directly commanded the Muslim women about His likes and dislikes, hence the obligation of Muslim women to follow them. I am not in a position to issue any diktat to them. For the benefit of the reader I quote below the relevant verses from the Qur’an:

               “Enjoin the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that is chaste for them. Surely Allah is well aware of their actions.” (Al-Quran 24.30)

“Likewise enjoin the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty; not to display their beauty and ornaments except what normally appears thereof; let them draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their charms except to their husbands……..” (Al-Quran 24.31)

“O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, daughters and the believing women that they should draw their outer garments over their persons. That is more proper, so that they may be recognized and not harassed. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”  (Al-Qur’an 33.59)


I am not sure if Sarkozy has used the word ‘burqa’ in his statement but let us be clear that this word does not find a mention in the Holy Quran. Followers of Islam are spread all across the globe. I cannot say with certainty as to which term or word is common among which of the Muslim communities. Two other words hijab and abaya are also in vogue among certain communities. But the two verses referred above use two other terms namely jilbab and khumur. Various translators have derived varied meanings and coined them into their languages. But it is quite easy for an average reader to derive the crux of the Divine command.

Muslim women dress themselves in widely different ways across the nations. It is dictated by three elements namely, the interpretation of the Qur’anic commands in the local languages, climate and ethnic flavor in terms of colour, texture and local material. Iranian women cloak themselves under ‘chador’ which comes in varying colours. Black burqa is common among the womenfolk of Indo-Pak-Afghanistan sub-continent. Even women in the Gulf nations use abaya mostly black in colour but it comes in multiple designs and is substantially different from the Asian ones. Bohra women in India and Pakistan use multi-coloured burqas which flutter sideways. Noted American writer Jonah Blank has used sobriquet of ‘butterflies’ for these women as their technicolour side flaps would suggest. (Ref. Jonah Blank, Mullahs on the Mainframe, Chicago University Press).


The Muslims across the African continent use a blend of garment which in itself includes a loose outer covering. In Malaysia and Indonesia, it is headscarf and a loose upper garment that characterize the hijab. Turks insist more on headscarf and a coat which gels with their cool climate. It would be noticed that while at a few places, face is covered, at others, it remains visible. During annual pilgrimage of Hajj, the face of the female pilgrims remains uncovered.

Muslims living around the world have fashioned their women’s garment in accordance with the diverse interpretations of the verses related to the modest dressing code that Islam prescribes. It must be borne in mind that modesty is the content of the dress code. It could take diverse forms which it indeed does in a variety of geographical climes. Islam provides full scope for this diversity. But the West clearly shows double standard in matters of attire. While men in those nations wear 3-piece suits covering their entire physical being, the women go about exposing their daily chores exposing their anatomy in mini-skirts and tight jackets. We would be rather happy to see the Western women as much covered as their male counterparts appear eager to earn the sobriquet of ‘well-suited males’. This hypocrisy is rather amazing for us, the Asians.

We could merely call upon them to look at this double standard in matters of attire for men and women. We do not intend to launch a verbal warfare against them. Sarkozy’s statement is only likely to widen the gulf between the Muslims and the West. He needs to engage heads of Muslim community organizations in France in a dialogue in order to appreciate their viewpoint. Finally we beseech Divine guidance for the entire world