Morocco has banned the wearing, sale, and importation of the burka, a traditional Islamic veil for women covering the entire face and body. The garment, which is worn as a symbol of religious and personal modesty, also hides the identity of its wearer.
According to local media, the Interior Ministry ordered the ban on Monday and announced that it would go into effect later this week. Reports added that letters announcing the ban gave businesses 48 hours to get rid of their stock.
According to Le360, a senior interior ministry official said, “We have taken the step of completely banning the import manufacture and marketing of this garment in all cities and towns of the kingdom.”
The official, who cited security concerns as the reason behind the ban, added that “bandits have repeatedly used this garment to perpetrate their crimes.”
The report, which remains largely unconfirmed, has been received with mixed reactions in many circles.
Morocco is not considered a hotbed for terrorism and religious motivated violence — at least not in recent times. Also, there is no research linking a ban on the wearing of the burka to a decline in terror activities. Furthermore, the majority of Moroccan women actually prefer to wear the hijab, which resembles the burka but does not cover the face.
Several European countries, including the Netherlands, Bulgaria, and Germany have in recent years also passed laws banning the wearing of the burka, or at least limiting its use in public places.
France, Morocco’s former colonizer, is known for taking an especially harsh position against the burka. In 2010, the French parliament passed a law banning the wearing of the burka in all public places and imposed a fine of about $160.
France has a significant Muslim population, many of them immigrants from its former colonies in north and west Africa. While the French ban on the burka was mostly for cultural reasons and less about security, there has been an upswing in the number of terror-related attacks across France in the years following the ban. Clearly, the numbers appear to show that a ban on the burka is not the silver bullet in the war against terrorism.
In Africa, Morocco may be seen to be following a precedent set by Nigeria. In 2015, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who is a Muslim, proposed a ban on the wearing of the hijab for security reasons. Buhari cited instances where male suicide bombers belonging to the Islamist terror group Boko Haram carried their attacks while dressed as women wearing the hijab.
“Banning hijab is not an option but if these attacks continue, hijab has to be banned,” Buhari explained.
While the move was welcomed by many Nigerians as a necessary step towards tackling the Boko Haram crisis, others were quick to caution that it amounted to a government encroachment on the rights of the citizens, even as it walks the tightrope between securing the state and respecting an individual’s right to religious and personal freedom.
Many human rights groups have also expressed fears that government incursion into matters of personal preference, such as the decision to or not to wear a burka, could result in a slow descent into a dreaded totalitarian or big brother state.
If Moroccan authorities confirm the burka ban, the country would become the first Arab nation to ban the wearing of the burka in public.