World First Look

Is Morocco joining the trend toward restricting the burqa?

In a notice to local retailers and produces Monday, Morocco banned the production, sale, and import of burqas, citing security concerns.

An Afghan woman wearing a burqa walks down the street in Kabul in November 2009.
Jerry Lampen/Reuters/File | Caption

Several European countries have already banned devout conservative Muslim women from wearing the burqa, a head to toe covering, as have several West African nations. Now one more African country appears close to joining the list. 

In a notice to local retailers and producers on Monday, Morocco appears to have banned the production, sale, and import of burqas for security concerns, Al Jazeera reports. The order apparently takes effect this week, despite no official announcement. 

Copies of the letter sent by Morocco’s Ministry of Interior circulated on social networks, and a high-ranking ministry official confirmed the ban to the local Moroccan news website Le360, saying "bandits have repeatedly used this garment to perpetrate their crime." 

In an interview with Le360 Tuesday, Morocco’s former Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family, and Social Development Nouzha Skalli said, "The burka is a symbol of enslavement." 

Yet, it is still unclear if the North African country intends to ban the wearing of the burqa, a long garment that covers the entire face and body and worn by many conservative Muslim women in public. The garment is not widely worn in the country, with most Muslim Moroccan women preferring the hijab, and Morocco's King Mohammed VI embraces a moderate version of Islam.

The burqa is already unwelcome in many European countries, as well as some Muslim-majority countries in Western Africa, citing security concerns. 

In 2011, France, with its large Muslim population, was the first nation to ban women from wearing face-covering veils in public, followed by Belgium three months later. More recently, Bulgaria and the Netherlands have also banned the garment, in addition to some towns and cities across Italy and Spain. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has embraced a proposal to ban the burqa, The Christian Science Monitor reported last month:

“In interpersonal communication, which plays a fundamental role here, we show our face,” [Merkel] said in reference to the Islamic full-body covering that, while rarely worn in Germany, retains symbolic resonance for much of the public, and has emerged as a touchstone for the far right. “And that’s why a full veil is inappropriate in our country. It should be banned wherever legally possible. It does not belong in our country.”

Other articles of clothing associated with conservative Islam have also come under recent scrutiny in Europe. Calling it "the symbol of Islamic extremism," some French cities temporarily banned the wearing of burkinis – full coverage swimsuits that cover the head – last summer, until the nation’s highest administration court ruled the ban unconstitutional.

These bans have ignited heated debates on freedom of religious expression, multiculturalism, and fears of extremism in nations facing what they perceive as Islamic terrorist threats.

"[The ban is an] arbitrary decision that is an indirect violation of women's freedom of expression and wearing what reflects their identities or their religious, political or social beliefs," the Northern Moroccan National Observatory for Human Development said in a statement, according to the BBC.

Hammad Kabbadj, a preacher whose candidacy for parliamentary election was rejected because of his alleged extremist views, also denounced the ban

"It is unacceptable to forbid citizens from wearing the oriental niqab or to interfere in its marketing," he said, according to Al Bawaba, a Jordanian news site.