Editor’s Note: Written by Nusrat Qadir Chaudhry (@njqrn), national spokeswoman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Geneva is a city proud of its distinction as a global hub for diplomacy and its embracement of the motto, “Post tenebras lux,” meaning “Light after darkness.” However, the phrase that the city used to pride itself on has lost its meaning after a new law banning Muslim women from wearing the burkini to public swimming pools was recently passed.
Geneva is diving into murky waters by attempting its own ban on the burkini, reminiscent of the failed attempt by France to ban the full-covering wetsuit often worn by Muslim women choosing to dress in modest swimwear. The city council has declared that the decision was a matter of hygiene in public pools, yet the law’s language is targeted towards Muslim women who cover. The argument that the burkini is unhygienic is simply a cover for segregation. Specific guidelines have been given for what exactly is allowed in a public pool area–women are required to wear a one or two-piece swimming suit that must leave arms and anything below the knee exposed–and they clearly discriminate any woman who wishes to cover her body. Promoters of such laws argue that they instill European values, yet they are far from enhancing the values that Europe espouses.
Banning the burkini is a precept limiting a woman’s right to choose what she wears. These laws are oppressive to many and contrary to European secular values who seek to “liberate.” Women should be allowed to choose their personal attire and should not be forced to accept laws that oppose their personal or religious beliefs. Once a city begins to discriminate against women based on their personal beliefs it sparks a slippery slope that’ll lead to the public’s ostracization being enforced in schools, public buildings and other shared spheres of society. This turns women into outcasts rather than an integrated part of society and leads to a segregation and alienation that have detrimental effects on any civilization, further putting a wedge in promoting respect, tolerance and equality.
National spokeswoman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, @njqrn, says Geneva’s burkini ban is far from being an issue about hygiene and more about discrimination against Muslim women. pic.twitter.com/Os1s9HAfmB
— The Newsmakers (@The_Newsmakers) December 13, 2017
The burkini is in no way a symbol of oppression and it is appalling for those making the case that it is somehow similar to wearing a swastika in public. This is an extreme and disturbing comparison, to say the least. While the swastika is representative of oppression and hate, the burkini is simply an option in modest swimwear, no different than wetsuits worn by divers or people who have skin conditions and cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to the sun.Women who choose to cover their body should not be viewed as presenting some oppressive display. In reality, their choice to avoid any attire that is overtly revealing in public only upholds traditional standards set by Europeans as a form of decorum of respect and decency.
Geneva’s city council should consider the words of the worldwide spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who is believed by the Ahmadiyya Muslims to be the fifth khalifa of Islam. He has stated that on the one hand, Western governments attack Islam believing that it espouses compulsion and hardship, while on the other hand imposing those on others. Laws like the burkini ban claiming to “free women” are actually restricting them by taking away the right to choose their own clothing. Those who see the burkini as oppressive should really begin to tackle the root causes of oppression which lie in discrimination, lack of access to services and unequal economic opportunities. These are injustices against women that are prevalent worldwide, which the burkini ban plays right into.
Muslim women must be allowed the right to make their own decisions. Rather than being banned from doing so, they should be supported and their expression of religious or personal beliefs should be left unregulated. This clothing ban is an interference to how Muslim women present themselves while actively participating in society. Geneva should instead encourage the freedoms that Muslim women leverage when wearing the burkini. Otherwise, such laws will inevitably force the targeted women to withdraw from public view, leading Geneva to promote the oppression and offenses it claims to be fighting.
Geneva must protect itself from past European failures that ostracize groups of people and realize that such bans only result in a segregated and disenfranchised society. By pretending the burkini ban is about hygiene, the city is deluding itself and enabling discrimination, closing the door on any liberty and light it once proclaimed.