Qatar-based Islamic scholar Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi urged those European countries which are considering outlawing the full veil (niqab) to review their plans, saying that a wider ban on niqab might prompt clerics to campaign for imposing a â€œmodest dress codeâ€ on foreigners living in Muslim countries.
In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Qaradawi said the recent outlawing of the face-covering veil in public by Belgium along with a French draft law to make it illegal would be a violation of both religious and personal freedoms.
â€œI hope that France, Belgium and all of Europe will show respect to Islamic values and creed. Banning a Muslim woman from wearing the niqab would only place her in a dilemma about whether to comply with the law or obey what she believes is a religious order,â€ Sheikh Qaradawi told a congregation at the Omar bin Al-Khattab mosque at Khalifa South town.
However, the scholar, who is the chairman of the Dublin-based International Muslim Scholars Union, said the face-covering veil was not obligatory in Islam and that a woman should cover the head and neck but leave the face open.
â€œAlthough I think that wearing niqab is not obligatory and that women should only wear the hijab (covering the head and neck, but leaving the face visible), I am totally against banning a Muslim from wearing niqab if she is convinced of it as a religious obligation,â€ he explained.
â€œI do not represent all Muslim scholars. There are scholars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries who consider niqab as obligatory and there are millions of women who wear it by their own free choice. If I asked them to stop wearing it, I would be violating their personal and religious freedom,â€ he maintained.
Quoting from a letter he had sent to former French president Jacques Chirac, the scholar said the ban imposed on hijab in schools would be a betrayal of the principles of the French Revolution, namely liberty, fraternity and equality.
â€œI told (president Chirac) that prohibiting women from wearing the hijab would be discrimination against them and make them hate France which is known to be a leading country for freedom,â€ he added.
In his letter, he had also dismissed the notion that hijab was a religious symbol for Muslims as â€œuntrueâ€, saying that if it was a symbol, why they were allowed to take it off when they were in the presence of other women or male relatives.
â€œWearing hijab for Muslims could not be dealt with as wearing a necklace with a cross pendant for Christians,â€ he said.
He indicated that the sentiments against niqab or hijab were a reflection of a desire by European countries to impose their culture on others.
â€œI have received a recent visit by French ambassador Gilles Bonnaud and I explained these things to him. I told him that Muslims believed in the unity of humanity but also believed that each nation should stick to its traits,â€ he added.
â€œWhen Muslims ruled India, they did not close down temples or impose a ban on cremation. It is the duty of each nation to respect the values of the other, but with the European case, we can make it difficult for French and Belgian women who stay in Muslim countries by asking them to stick to a modest dress,â€ he quoted from the conversation he had with the French ambassador to Qatar.