A Muslim woman in Denmark was assaulted in a store by another customer, then ticketed by police, all because she wore a niqab, a traditional veil that covers most of an individual’s face but leaves the eyes revealed.
The woman, Umm Omar, is reportedly the first woman fined for wearing a niqab under Denmark’s new “burqa ban” law, which restricts what clothing women can wear. The law is viewed as directly targeting Muslims in particular.
During an interview with the BBC, Omar explained what had happened in the store when she was assaulted.
“I’m not a bank robber.”— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) August 9, 2018
A woman in Denmark who was fined for wearing a niqab expresses disgust at Boris Johnson’s claim the full face veil makes women look like "bank robbers" & "letter boxes".#VictoriaLIVE pic.twitter.com/NfU2n7vlLx
“I turn around, and I notice this woman staring at me, so I stare back at her,” Omar said. “Then she decides to push me here on my shoulder... I get closer to her so I can push her back, and before I do that, she grabs my niqab ... with both her hands, and she pulls it off me. And then we get into a fight.”
Omar said she thinks she was assaulted because of the new law empowering people to believe they can act out in this way.
“I have no doubt in my mind that she didn't like the way I looked and that she hated it,” Omar explained during her interview. “And that's why she felt like she had the right to take it off me. And I'm pretty sure that it's because of this new law that people think that they can just do it the way they want to.”
Police arrived on the scene, and both women were ticketed for disturbing the peace. Omar received an additional citation for wearing a niqab and refusing to remove it when police told her to. She was fined an amount equal to $155.
Even though she was eventually fined for her supposed transgression, Omar said she will always wear the niqab because she has the freedom to do so.
“I will never stop wearing it because this is my right, and I am pretty sure that this law goes against human rights,” she said.
Her niqab is simply a part of her religious identity, she insisted.
“I didn't do anything wrong. I'm just being me,” Omar said. “And if that's a crime, then something is wrong with them and not me.”
Omar was also asked to respond to recent comments from Boris Johnson, a far-right, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic member of Parliament in the United Kingdom who until recently also served in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government as her foreign secretary. Johnson said last week that Muslim women who wear veils like the niqab or burqa looked like bank robbers.
“It's just disgusting,” Omar said in response to Johnson’s commentary. “The only thing that's been robbed, that's my freedom. I'm not a bank robber. I've never robbed anybody. I never broke the law, besides wearing this, and he must be very ignorant.”
So-called “burqa bans” are legalized harassment of Muslims that obviously go against their democratic freedoms. The right to worship and to practice a personal faith is one that is supposedly meant to be universally respected by countries that espouse a desire to let their citizens live freely. Restricting women from expressing their faith goes against that principle.
There are issues related to intersectional feminism as well within such bans as they don't simply attack Islam but also Muslim women specifically. As Muslim educator Qasim Rashid pointed out in a recent tweet, “Some Muslim majority nations force the hijab,” while “[s]ome western nations force removal of the hijab.”
“The issue isn’t hijab or women,” Rashid went on to write. “The issue is men who force their views on women.”
That’s ultimately the bottom line of this whole debate; do we respect the rights of women to worship in whatever manner they deem proper for themselves? Or are we willing to trample on women’s rights as well as their religious freedoms in order to appease the fears of bigoted Islamophobes?
A country is not truly free unless it allows freedom for all of its inhabitants. These types of bans limit the freedom of faith for millions of people around the globe, and as Omar herself stated, they violate basic human rights.
Banner/thumbnail image credit: Toussaint Kluiters/Reuters