by Leslie Shaw
The Moroccan Interior Ministry has ordered garment-makers and retailers throughout the North African country to stop making and selling burqas. They have further been instructed to liquidate their stocks of the garment within 48 hours or risk confiscation.
On January 9, ministry officials visited markets to hand-deliver written notices informing sellers and tailors of the decision to stop production and sale of the garment. The notice was also posted on social media platforms.
“Following the observations of the authorities, we notice that you sell burqas. We are calling on you to get rid of these garments within 48 hours and to refrain from selling them in the future,” the notice read.
A senior official at the ministry was also quoted by media outlets as saying that they had “taken measures to completely ban the import, manufacture and marketing of this garment in all cities and towns in the kingdom.”
The wearing of the burqa is relatively rare in Morocco, whose ruler King Mohammed VI advocates a moderate version of Islam. Most women wear the hijab, a garment covering the head but not the face.
The decision is motivated by security concerns, since in the past criminals have donned burqas for concealment. Salafists are worried that the ban will be extended to the niqab, a face veil which, unlike the burqa, has a slit leaving the eyes visible. This garment is common in Salafist communities, particularly in the fundamentalist north of the country, from where thousands of jihadists have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq.
“Is Morocco heading for a ban on the niqab, which Muslim women have worn for five centuries?” asks Salafist Sheikh Hassan Kettani on Facebook. “If so, it will be a catastrophe.” Another Salafist militant warned that the burqa ban was a first step towards banning the niqab, which would lead to a split in Moroccan society.
Hammad Kabbadj, a preacher whose candidacy in the October 2016 parliamentary was invalidated, reacted by saying the ban was unacceptable in a country where the wearing of Western swimsuits was considered a human right.
Former Minister for Women Nouzha Skalli commented that the burqa ban is “an important step in the fight against religious extremism.”
Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).