Chad’s ban on Is­lamic veil fol­low­ing at­tacks splits Mus­lim opin­ion


Chad’s de­ci­sion to ban women from wear­ing the Is­lamic veil, which came two days af­ter bloody sui­cide bomb­ings hit the cap­i­tal, has di­vided Mus­lims but the gov­ern­ment de­fends it as part of an anti- terror strat­egy.

“Wear­ing the burqa must stop im­me­di­ately from to­day,” Prime Min­is­ter Kalzeube Pahimi Deu­bet told re­li­gious lead­ers on Wed­nes­day, af­ter the twin bomb­ings left 33 peo­ple dead and more than 100 oth­ers in­jured in the cap­i­tal N’Dja­mena.

No­body has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks, but author­i­ties blame Nige­rian ji­hadist group Boko Haram, which has car­ried out many sui­cide bomb­ings in­side Nige­ria in the past six years, some­times by women who hid ex­plo­sives un­der mod­est outer gar­ments.

Chad’s army has spear­headed a re­gional mil­i­tary ef­fort to fight Boko Haram as the mil­i­tant sect ex­tended ac­tiv­i­ties be­yond Nige­ria’s north­east­ern borders. Af­ter Mon­day’s blasts, the Cha­dian air force bombed Boko Haram po­si­tions in­side Nige­ria.

Many Mus­lim women in N’Dja­mena wear the full- face veil with just the eyes ex­posed known as the niqab, which is usu­ally black. But Deu­bet out­lawed any cloth­ing “where you can only see the eyes.”

In a coun­try where Mus­lims make up 53 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion — with Chris­tians ac­count­ing for 35 per­cent — the ban on the Is­lamic veil, in­clud­ing the com­pletely face­cov­er­ing burqa, has prompted mixed re­ac­tions.

Ab­del­sadick Djidda, a 45- year- old teacher, said the move was “taken for our safety.”

“Wear­ing the burqa doesn’t de­rive from Cha­dian cul­ture,” he said. “It comes from else­where. And it’s rec­om­mended nowhere in the holy book ( the Qu­ran).”

Djidda added: “As a Mus­lim, I find that peo­ple go over­board a lit­tle with this cam­ou­flage.”

‘Seize all burqas on sale’

Other Mus­lims are shocked by the de­ci­sion, which comes as the holy fast­ing month of Ramadan gets un­der way.

Has­san Barka, a me­chanic, said he didn’t see the con­nec­tion be­tween the burqa and ter­ror­ism.

“It isn’t peo­ple in burqas who com­mit at­tacks and this dress has be­come cus­tom­ary for many Cha­di­ans,” said Barka, a me­chanic. “It is dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment this de­ci­sion. Maybe time is needed to spread aware­ness.”

The tough pro­hi­bi­tion is a first in Africa. Some coun­tries like Tu­nisia or­dered sim­i­lar mea­sures be­fore now be­cause of a grow­ing risk of ter­ror­ist at­tacks, but they were par­tial and tem­po­rary steps.

The Cha­dian regime has or­dered se­cu­rity forces to “go into the mar­kets and seize all burqas on sale and burn them,” while warn­ing of ar­rest and sum­mary trial for any­one caught dressed in the veil and robe.

“The Su­pe­rior Coun­cil of Is­lamic Af­fairs ( CSAI) finds that the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion is not con­trary to the prin­ci­ples of Is­lam,” in­flu­en­tial CSAI chair­man Che­ick Hus­sein Has­san Abakar has ruled.

In a poor na­tion that bears deep scars af­ter the bloody in­ter- faith clashes dur­ing a civil war in 1979- 1982, Pres­i­dent Idriss Deby Itno has long been wary of the emer­gence of ex­trem­ist move­ments.

In power since 1990, when he top­pled dic­ta­tor His­sene Habre — who is set to go on trial in Sene­gal for crimes against hu­man­ity on July 20 — Deby has re­peat­edly stressed that “the sec­u­lar na­ture of the state is an es­sen­tial value.”

‘Very tol­er­ant Is­lam’

“We’re lucky to have very tol­er­ant Is­lam. The Mus­lims of Chad are mainly Su­fis, they are paci­fists,” said the sec­re­tary gen­eral of King Faisal Univer­sity in N’Dja­mena, Abakar Walar Modou.

“But Is­lam can be ma­nip­u­lated. In ( the civil war) politi­cians tried to plunge Chris­tians and Mus­lims into chaos,” he re­called.

As Boko Haram has gained ground to­ward N’Dja­mena, which lies on the bor­der with a nar­row strip of Cameroon that sep­a­rates it from Nige­ria, the author­i­ties have re­dou­bled their watch over the cap­i­tal. The regime seeks to pre­vent rad­i­cal Is­lam from tak­ing root in Chad, where con­ser­va­tive Wah­habis and Salafis make up be­tween 5 and 10 per­cent of Mus­lims, ac­cord­ing to the U. S. State Depart­ment.

“The Boko Haram phe­nom­e­non has thus far had no im­pact on the pop­u­la­tion, but the risk is there,” warned Walar Modou.

“The CSAI keeps an ex­tremely close watch over Quranic teach­ings, preach­ing in the mosques and even the ra­dio,” he added.

Last March, author­i­ties dis­solved a Salafist as­so­ci­a­tion held to be a risk to law and or­der. In­ter­na­tional watchdog Free­dom House in 2013 re­ported bans on some Is­lamic char­i­ties op­er­at­ing in poor dis­tricts.

“Purely and sim­ply ban­ning an as­so­ci­a­tion is no so­lu­tion,” Walar Modou said. “You can’t halt an ide­ol­ogy that way, it causes frus­tra­tion.”

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