Senegal debates banning burqa to stop terrorists disguised in Islamic dress

Faced with the rise of Boko Haram in west Africa, Senegal is contemplating joining the Republic of the Congo, Chad, and Cameroon in outlawing the traditional garment worn by some Muslim women.  

Robert Harbison/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Women in burqas walk through street market in Kabul, Afghanistan August 2002.

Senegal is considering a nationwide ban on burqas, amid rising fears of Islamic extremism in the West African country.

Interior Minister Abdoulaye Daouda said that he would uphold an order to ban women from wearing burqas through which only their eyes can be seen in the predominantly Muslim country, according to the Guardian

Mr. Daouda said the move would be a question of national security and would be designed to prevent extremists from using the garment to hide their identities.

"The burqa is not a matter of religion … When the full veil is a security problem, all Senegalese should support the president in this regard. We will surely [move] towards banning full veil and we will work for this decision to be followed up," Daouda said on Senegal's RFM radio station.

In recent years, Senegal has faced growing fears of violence from Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group based in West Africa that has wrecked havoc in Nigeria and its northern neighbors.

The possibility of banning the burqa has stirred debate in country where 94 percent of the population is Muslim.

“Its imposition in Senegal will cause social instability … there is a delicate line between preventive measures and respect for individual freedoms,” said Khadim Mbacke, a Dakar-based researcher told the Guardian.

“We should not allow someone to cover their entire body like terrorists do. This is a tradition of some countries but it has nothing to do with Islam,” Mbaye Niang, a Muslim leader and Member of Parliament, told the local newspaper Le Quotidien.

This year alone, three other African countries also outlawed the burqa.

The Republic of the Congo became the first country in the region to ban the garment as a measure to reinforce the country’s secular identity and also prevent the veils from being used as disguises in terrorist attacks, the BBC reported.

In July, Cameroon barred women from wearing burqas and face-covering veils after bombs carried by women in burqas killed at least 14 people.

The same month, Chad imposed a ban on burqas following suicide bombings that claimed the lives of 33 people in the nation’s capital of N'Djamena.

The ban was not a foolproof solution to reducing the threat of terrorism in the country.

Just days after Chad instituted the ban, a male bomber disguised in the garment blew himself up in the main market in N'Djamena, killing 15 people and injuring 80.

The comments by the Senegalese official come just days after police in the country scaled up operations against Boko Haram. AP reports that four imams accused of links to the Nigeria-based insurgent group have been arrested.

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