The head imam of the Estonian Muslim community, Ildar Muhamedšin, has voiced his opposition to the proposal by Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna, under which Estonia would ban wearing the burqa in public.
In an interview with ERR's Russian-language portal, Muhamedšin expressed hope that “common sense would prevail” and wearing the important religious attire would not be forbidden.
“This initiative, regardless of whether it is just a proposal right now, is a serious violation of Estonia's constitution. All citizens have a right to follow and express their religious beliefs and wear religious clothing as they wish. Tsahkna's idea is an example of a discrimination based on religion. In effect, it's blasphemy. Perhaps we shouldn't also permit monks to wear traditional clothing then?” Muhamedšin asked rhetorically, adding that “it is weird to hear proposals like these in a democratic country.”
Muhamedšin said that, based on other countries' experience, a suggestion to ban burqa serves a populist purpose by the politicians who want to increase their ratings.
“Tsahkna's initiative clearly violates human rights and Estonian Muslims are prepared to stand up for their rights. I doubt that that it will be passed into law, but should this absurdity happen, the local Islamic community is prepared to appeal to the European Union institutions,” he said.
Last week, Social Protection Minister Margus Tsahkna asked Urmas Reinsalu, the justice minister, to analyze possible problems from the inflow of asylum seekers. The majority of asylum seekers coming to Estonia will be from predominately Muslim nations and there is a chance some immigrants will want to observe strict religious rules, including clothing, therefore Tsahkna also proposed banning clothes which cover the face, such as burqas. “We have become accustomed to be able to identify people in public space,” Tsahkna said.
A burqa is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions, but not all, to cover their bodies when in public.
It has caused debate across Europe before. In 2010, both France and Belgium banned wearing the burqa in public, and the Netherlands did the same this year. The United Kingdom has not taken an offical stance yet and the wearing is allowed, although a poll in 2011 indicated that 66 percent of British people supported banning the burqa in all public places.
Editor: S. Tambur