Dubai: The fatal stabbing of an American school teacher by a niqab-clad assailant in a women’s restroom at an Abu Dhabi mall has drawn mixed reactions across the country as to whether or not the face covering should be worn for security reasons.

Islamic scholar Ahmad Al Qubaisi said wearing the niqab is not mandatory in Islam, which is why he said if it is a matter of national security, women can be asked not to wear it.

“The niqab is not obligatory... Therefore, if it is necessary to ban it for the security of the country and its people, the government can ask women to not wear it,” he said.

Al Qubaisi said in certain situations the niqab has already been banned by Arab countries. “For example, Iraq banned women taking a university exam from wearing it. They have to take it off to make sure that the actual student is taking the exam and not someone else.”

Riad Kahwaji, Director-General of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said: “Most Islamic associations do not see the  niqab as part of religious jurisprudence. Islam requires women to dress modestly and wear a hijab, but does not urge them to cover their face.”

Kahwaji said if a ban were to be implemented it would require the local leadership to discuss it with tribal leaders. “The niqab is not a religious tradition but rather a cultural one in the Gulf. The niqab is a Bedouin tradition that precedes Islam.”

No unanimous agreement

Shaikh Khaleeq Ahmad Mufti, on the other hand, said while the niqab can be banned in certain situations, it should not be banned as a whole.

“According to my studies, Islamic scientists had not unanimously agreed on whether the niqab is mandatory or not. In certain situations, especially if it comes to the protection of the people and the country, women can be asked not to wear it.

"For example, women are required to show their faces in passport pictures and the airport. But I don’t believe it should be banned as a whole. Other solutions can be worked out instead.”

Amal Mohammad, 35, an Emirati who wears a niqab, said if her country banned the  niqab as a matter of national security, then she would support its decision and not wear it. 

“Islamic scientists have unanimously agreed that the niqab is not mandatory in Islam, it is optional. I wear it by choice for extra merit. If it is a matter of national security, to protect my country and its people from those who are taking advantage of the niqab to perform crimes and ruin the image of Islam, then I would take it off.”

Amal also said one can tell if someone is wearing the niqab to hide themselves or not. “Speaking as someone who wears it, I think one can easily tell if a person is wearing the niqab to hide themselves.”

British national Jamie G., 35, on the other hand, believes a ban on the niqab is disrespectful to those who believe in wearing it.

“Aside from being impossible to implement, this move would be disrespectful to those who believe in covering their face for religious and modesty reasons, especially in a country in which this is common. If someone is willing to stab another human to death, the inability to hide their face behind a niqab is not going to stop them.”
Ali Bashar, 25, a Palestinian, also believed that complete avoidance of the niqab is unnecessary.

“Everyone should have the right to wear whatever they want. Any robber or murderer would hide their face before performing a crime, yet they are still found through investigations, fingerprints, etc. So why should we discriminate against a group of people?”