The following are quotes from an opinion article in the Times, by Saira Khan.
Some Muslims would criticise the way my mother and I dress. They believe that there is only one way to practise Islam and express your beliefs, forgetting that the Muslim faith is interpreted in different ways in different places and that there are distinct cultures and styles of dress in Muslim countries stretching from Morocco to Indonesia. But it is not a requirement of the Koran for women to wear the veil.
The growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of radicalisation. I was disturbed when, after my first year at university in 1988, I discovered to my surprise that some of my fellow students had turned very religious and had taken to wearing the jilbab (a long, flowing gown covering all the body except hands and face), which they had never worn before and which was not the dress code of their mothers. They had joined the college’s Islamic Society, which preached that women were not considered proper Muslims unless they adopted such strict dress codes. After that, I never really had anything in common with them.
It is an extreme practice. It is never right for a woman to hide behind a veil and shut herself off from people in the community. But it is particularly wrong in Britain, where it alien to the mainstream culture for someone to walk around wearing a mask. The veil restricts women, it stops them achieving their full potential in all areas of their life and it stops them communicating. It sends out a clear message: “I do not want to be part of your society.”
Some Muslim women say that it is their choice to wear it; I don’t agree. Why would any woman living in a tolerant country freely choose to wear such a restrictive garment? What these women are really saying is that they adopt the veil because they believe that they should have less freedom than men, and that if they did not wear the veil men would not be accountable for their uncontrollable urges — so women must cover-up so as not to tempt men. What kind of a message does that send to women?
But a lot of women are not free to choose. Girls as young as three or four are wearing the hijab to school — that is not a freely made choice. Girls under 16 should certainly not have to wear it to school. And behind the closed doors of some Muslim houses, women are told to wear the hijab and the veil. These are the girls that are hidden away, they are not allowed to go to universities, they have little choice in who they marry, in many cases they are kept down by the threat of violence.
Source: Times Onlines (English)