As France’s ban on full-face veils went into effect Monday, making “the country of human rights” the first European state to pass legislation on the niqab, Beirutis appeared to be divided on the issue, although most agreed a similar law could not be implemented in Lebanon.
“I’m against this law. Everyone is free to wear what he wants and to live his religion as he wants,” said a 52-year-old woman from the neighborhood of Mazraa, who preferred not to give her name.
Rania Shehab, who is Muslim, said she believed the niqab presented “a bad image of Islam” but denounced the French ban. “I don’t think it’s fair. I’m against extremism, I’m against the niqab but I’m also against the law. What happened to personal freedom?” she asked.
But 23-year-old Khouloud Znait praised France for the ban, said that “it was time for women to stop wearing niqab,” and added that “people should respect the environment they live in.”
“Everyone should be free,” countered Zahra Harissa, a 25-year-old photographer. “I’m a Muslim and I don’t forbid Christians to wear a cross or go to church.”
Rania Hanin, a 36-year-old designer who works in Geitawi, also said she believed religious choices should be a personal matter. “I’m a Christian, they’re Muslim, everyone is free to do what they want,” she said.
Abbas Haidar, a 23-year-old who works in construction, strongly condemned the law. “If the husband wants [his wife] to wear [the niqab], she wears it,” he said, and stressed that the state should not be involved in this “personal decision.”
May Mneimneh, a 28-year-old secretary, predicted that women in France would refuse to remove their face veil to “comply with this law.”
Some who expressed support for the French decision cited security reasons. “We can’t know who is under the veil,” said 21-year-old student Jad Monzer, arguing a niqab could be used to “commit terrorist acts” and to “hide a bomb.”
Eva, a 48-year-old woman who declined to give her last name, was mainly concerned that “Lebanon was heading toward being an Islamic state.”
“Here, we’re scared that they will pass a law to force people to wear niqab,” she said.
Some had not heard about the ban but hailed France for its decision, such as Jamila Chikhani, 75, who owns a store in Mar Mikhael. She said he wished a similar law would be implemented in Lebanon. “Of course they need to forbid it. Why do they wear that? They should take it off.”
“Look at how women dress in the Gulf, they look like ghosts,” she added.
But despite having different opinions on the subject, most Beirutis interviewed agreed that a similar law could not be implemented here in Lebanon, with many believing full-face veils were not an important issue as only a small minority of women wore them.
“Lebanon is not Afghanistan or Pakistan,” said 33-year-old Hamed Harb.
To Khodr Najm, a 32 year-old who works in a bank, such a law would bring violence and even more political instability to the country. He mentioned the controversy sparked by former minister and Tawhid Movement leader Wiam Wahhab, who said last month that women in the Gulf “look like garbage bags.”
Lebanese American University student Ali, who preferred not to give his last name, said that in Lebanon, a ban on full-face coverings would be seen as an “attack on Islam as a whole.”
Rania Hanin stressed Lebanon was a multi-sectarian society. “We’re used to having different religions; it’s normal here,” she said. Agencies