Senegal is considering banning women from wearing the burqa, amid rising fears of extremism in the west African country.
The interior minister, Abdoulaye Daouda, said women would no longer be allowed to wear the Islamic dress, which leaves only the eyes exposed. Daouda said the decision was a question of national security and was designed to prevent terrorists from using the burqa as a disguise.
An estimated 92% of Senegal’s population is Muslim. Although the country has not suffered a terrorist attack recently, authorities are concerned that the militant group Boko Haram, based in north-eastern Nigeria, may be trying to extend its range. This month, police arrested five people suspected of having ties to Boko Haram as part of a nationwide crackdown.
Senegal is not alone in west Africa in banning the burqa. This year Cameroon and Chad, also with large Muslim populations, issued similar orders citing similar reasons. “Senegal is just following the trend,” said Martin Ewi, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies.
He said the ban, though difficult to enforce, had been reasonably effective in both countries. “You still have the villages and far corners of the country where people don’t always respect the ban,” he added.
However, the ban was not a foolproof solution, Ewi warned. Two days after Chad instituted a ban, two burqa-clad bombers blew themselves up in N’Djamena, killing at least 27 people including several police officers. “They deliberately wore the burqa to attract the attention of the police,” Ewi said.
The burqa ban has been the subject of debate within Senegal, with commentators struggling to balance the national security imperative with religious freedom. “Its imposition in Senegal will cause social instability … there is a delicate line between preventive measures and respect for individual freedoms,” said Khadim Mbacke, a Dakar-based researcher.
Mbaye Niang, a Muslim leader and member of parliament, said the new law was designed to protect Islam. “We should not allow someone to cover their entire body like terrorists do. This is a tradition of some countries but it has nothing to do with Islam,” he told the local newspaper Le Quotidien. The reason terrorists use this method was because they wanted to attack the religion, he added.
Farid Essack, a religious studies scholar at the University of Johannesburg, said that context was key and the justifications used in Muslim countries did not necessarily apply elsewhere.
“In some political contexts, I find [the banning of burqas] deeply disturbing and an extension of Islamophobia. I don’t think that the Chadian response is a manifestation of Islamophobia,” he said. “Chad … has had several bombings, a number of them were seemingly perpetrated by [fully covered] men, and I don’t think that it is unreasonable, in that context, to insist people should not be completely veiled in public.” The Guardian