Cleric: Islam doesn’t call for covered faces

THE most senior Muslim cleric in Ireland has said there is nothing in his religion that states a woman has to have her face fully covered.

A spokeswoman for Iman Hussein Halawa made the statement on his behalf in response to a controversial call by a former Lord Mayor of Cork to ban the wearing in public of full burkas which completely cover a woman’s face.

Cllr Joe O’Callaghan has put down a motion to be discussed by members of Cork City Council next month to ban some garments, including hoodies, which cover people’s faces, because he said they are a risk to security.

The motion has been criticised by the Integration Centre. It chief executive, Killian Forde, said: “The worst part of O’Callaghan’s childish, opportunistic, and irresponsible motion is that he equates criminal behaviour with the wearing of the burka.

“The last thing our society needs is public figures coming out with blatantly xenophobic rhetoric, in order to satiate their own publicity needs. We will be lodging a complaint with the Standards in Public Office Commission regarding this matter.”

Meanwhile, Summayal Kenna, spokeswoman for Iman Halawa and the Islamic Cultural Centre, said there was nothing in Islamic text or history which made it obligatory to wear a full veil over the face.

“As regards attire it’s freedom of expression, but not compulsory. A woman doesn’t have to cover her hands or face,” she said.

Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said he doubted Mr O’Callaghan’s proposal was serious.

In the wake of the British riots, the Fine Gael councillor wants Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to introduce new legislation which would allow gardaí to lawfully remove youths’ hoodies to identify them.

“Prohibiting of the niqab, burka or other facial coverings will only be appropriate in exceptional and clearly- defined circumstances. The essential criteria for any such restrictions on an individual’s freedom of expression and religion are necessity and proportionality. In other words, is it objectively justified by a legitimate aim and are the means of achieving that aim appropriate and necessary?” Mr Kelly said.

He said any such move requires identifying an issue, if it exists; analysing it carefully, “consulting with communities and identifying evidence-based solutions having due regard to human rights principles”.

Mr Kelly said past experience suggests that Fine Gael have adopted a more sophisticated and nuanced stance on issues of this nature. “We would be most surprised if the councillor’s statements represented official Fine Gael policy,” he said.

However, another FG member on Cork City Council, Cllr Joe Kavanagh said Mr O’Callaghan’s proposal did merit some thought.

He said religious beliefs had to be respected, but he couldn’t see why people couldn’t remove hoodies or burkas in public places such as financial institutions and shopping centres: “If you walk into a bank with a motorcycle helmet on you’ll be asked to take it off.”

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