5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih spoke to niqab-wearing Danish Muslim student Sabina. She told him that the niqab ban in Denmark is the result of fear-mongering by right-wing politicians and that it will have a huge impact on the lives of the small minority of Muslim women who wear it.
Denmark’s ban on full-face veils came into effect last week. Those violating the ban will be forced to pay 1,000 kroner (£118), with fines ten times higher for repeat offenders.
5Pillars: What’s your reaction to the niqab ban in Denmark?
Sabina: The ban is now enforced and the first niqab-wearing woman has been given a fine already after she was attacked in front of her friend’s children and her niqab was ripped off her face. And when the police arrived they actually gave her a fine. So we have had a lot of feelings of anger and sadness but then again we have seen a lot of support and the story has gone to all the corners of the world and that’s great. But it’s still extremely difficult and very hard to cope at this moment.
5Pillars: How is this going to affect you personally because you are refusing to take off your niqab?
Sabina: It’s going to have a huge effect on my everyday life because every time I step out of my door there’s a risk of me getting a fine, or there’s a risk of me being attacked or getting my niqab ripped off my face. Every time I step out of my front door I have to consider whether it’s necessary or not. I can’t take the bus, I have to make sure that I can drive everywhere. If I can’t, I can’t leave my house. So it restricts us and actually isolates us a lot.
5Pillars: What will it mean in terms of your work and education. Will you be able to study, will you be able to work?
Sabina: Personally I will be able to study because I’m not wearing my niqab at my university, but some of the other girls who do study with their niqab on will have to unfortunately give up their studies and give up their work.
5Pillars: What does the niqab mean to you?
Sabina: The niqab means a lot to me. It’s a very spiritual choice which I made a couple of years ago. I love it – it’s a way for me to connect with God, it’s a way to represent who I am and it’s a part of my identity, it’s a part of my faith. And besides being a very spiritual choice I also see it as now being a sign of protest.
5Pillars: The Danish authorities are justifying the ban by citing security concerns. They’re also linking the niqab with extremism and “Islamisation.”
Sabina: Some of the arguments which they use are extremely illogical and they do not make any sense at all. One of the arguments they used is that the niqab is a threat to the nation’s security which is not true as the niqab has never been used as a means to commit a crime and all the niqab-wearing women in Denmark have no problem with identifying themselves to any authority at any time.
Whenever we go to the airport or go to the bank or are stopped by the police they ask for identification and we show our faces and we identify ourselves, so it’s never been a problem before.
And then they say “Oh, we are doing it in order to free women who are oppressed or the women who are forced to wear the niqab,” which again doesn’t make any sense at all. Back in 2009 the Danish Government ordered the University of Copenhagen to make a report in order to find out how many women in Denmark are forced to wear the burka or niqab. And the report concluded that out of all the women who wear the niqab in Denmark, none of them are forced to wear it. All of them do it as a personal or religious choice and more than half of them are actually ethnic Danish converts.
And also it’s very illogical and it doesn’t make any sense to say that you want to free women by giving them fines. Now, they’re actually saying that instead of giving them fines we have to give them prison time. And this again just proves to us that they’re not considering what’s good for the so-called “oppressed women” because are you going to free them by giving them prison time?
It’s extremely clear that the only reason for them making this ban is because they want to push everything that symbolises our religion out of the public sphere. For example, they’re already talking about banning the hijab.
5Pillars: Tell me about the situation for Muslims in Denmark.
Sabina: It’s getting extremely difficult to just practice your religion in Denmark; we are constantly under attack, whether its the niqab ban, whether it’s halal meat, whether it’s Muslim schools, whether it’s the hijab. As soon as you turn on the TV the only thing you hear about is immigration and Muslims.
5Pillars: Why is it like this in Denmark?
Sabina: I honesty don’t know; it’s as if some of these right-wing political parties who are in the government get a lot of votes if they just campaign about fear. That’s all they’re spreading; they’re spreading fear and they’re spreading negativity and hate and this is the consequence of that.
And I honestly believe it’s also a consequence of Muslims not being vocal enough. Unfortunately, Muslims in Denmark are very silent therefore prejudice towards Muslim communities just grows and grows. So it is a consequence of Muslims not being proud enough of who they are, not sticking to their Islamic identity.
5Pillars: Is the public in Denmark generally behind this ban or are there differences of opinion? Have you experienced acts of solidarity from non-Muslims in Denmark?
Sabina: There is a lot of difference of opinion in Denmark – we have a lot of people supporting the ban but then again we have a lot of people who are standing with us against the ban. We had a demonstration last week and around 3,000 people showed up in support.
People feel that this ban targets a religious minority living peacefully in the country and it’s actually also unconstitutional. A lot of people see this ban as being against all Danish values such as freedom of expression or freedom of religion. Unfortunately, the Danish government is just throwing all of its values out of the window. Even judges have said that this is unconstitutional and even the police are confused about how they actually have to enforce the ban so it’s just created a lot of chaos.