SHAFAQNA – 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”.
“The decision was a question of national security and was designed to prevent terrorists from using the burqa as a disguise”, Daouda said.
An estimated 92 percent of Senegal’s population is Muslim. Although the country has not suffered a terrorist attack recently, authorities are concerned that militant group Boko Haram, based in northeastern 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.
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.
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.