A niqab is a cloth which covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab. It is worn by some Muslim women in public areas and in front of adult males. Most often, it is worn by Muslim women as a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality.There has been much debate on the wearing of burqas and niqabs as a judge ruled that a woman should not be allowed to give evidence in court whilst wearing the niqab. Judge Peter Murphy said that the human rights of the woman could not be allowed to trump the rights of the judge and jury to be able to see a defendant’s face while they gave evidence in court. He said,”That is not a discrimination against religion. It is a matter of upholding the rule of law in a democratic society.”

The judgement seems very reasonable to me; as lawyers have pointed out, the jurors need to be able to read the faces of the defendants as well as hear their words.Some believe it is an infringement of a woman’s religious beliefs and others think the ruling should have gone further, banning the wearing of burqas and niqabs in all public places as it is demeaning to both men and women. Birmingham Metropolitan College had forbidden students to wear the niqab but, accused by a student of ‘discrimination’ and presented with an epetition with 9,000 signatories and the threat of a demonstration,the ban was reversed. Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering has tabled a Private Members’ Bill that would outlaw the wearing of a niqab in public place. He said he had no doubt that the Government should have given more support to Birmingham Met in backing its ban. “This campaign has been orchestrated by professional agitators and the college has rolled over too fast. It is a shame but I am not surprised because they have come under huge pressure. The D of E needs to issue protective guidance to prevent colleges and schools being bullied.” He thinks as do many writers and feminists including Muslim Yasmin Alibhai Brown that the wearing of the veil is ‘uncivil’ and ‘medieval.’ “We are not a Muslim country,” he said.

The trouble is with these sorts of debate is that it can be a chance for those of certain political persuasion to demonise Muslims.Some niqabis have taken great pains to state that they choose to veil, they are not forced into it. Some even veil against the wishes of their family. They believe they are still able to engage meaningfully in communities, doing charity work, teaching and volunteering. They go out of their way to interact with people. They are compliant in taking off the niqab in some security situations, for example at an airport. There is a widespread belief in some sections of the media that they are Saudi-funded fundamentalists.More liberal commentators worry about the liberty issues-should we all be free to wear what we want? Why are veils so bad yet we are OK with folds and rolls of overhanging flesh and other sights of near nakedness on Friday and Saturday nights in the city.I suppose this is a valid opinion but I can’t but feel that effectively masking one’s face in public, even if by choice, is offensive to other people.