Sri Lanka Bans All Forms of Face Coverings Following Easter Attacks

April 29, 2019 Updated: April 29, 2019

Sri Lanka has banned burqas and other attire that cover the face in public following the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks across the country that killed at least 253 people and injured more than 500.

The Sri Lankan government issued a decree on April 28 which read, “Wearing garments that cover the face completely will be banned from tomorrow, to ensure public safety.”

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said he was using an emergency law to outlaw the garments, calling burqas “a security risk and a flag of fundamentalism” after the issue was raised in a private members bill on April 24, CNN reported.

“President Maithripala Sirisena took this decision to further support the ongoing security and help the armed forces to easily identify the identity of any wanted perpetrators,” a press release from the president’s office stated.

“This directive specifies the need for one’s face been clearly visible for ascertaining their identify as its main criterion. The President has issued this directive to ensure national security and a peaceful and reconciled society, where no ethnic group or community would be subjected to discomfort,” the statement read.

The ban, which took effect April 29, comes just days after a Sri Lankan member of Parliament called for a ban on the burqa across the country.

Professor Ashu Marasinghe, a United National Party member, was responsible for the private member’s motion in Parliament, stating that the burqa isn’t traditional Muslim clothing.

Marasinghe said the burqa should be banned on national security grounds and claimed that it has previously been used by both male and female terrorists to carry out terrorist attacks, Mail Online reported.

“Our Muslim leaders have also accepted that Burka is not a traditional Muslim attire and some places even have notices [requiring visitors] to remove the Burka before entering,” Marasinghe said in his motion, according to the New York Post.

“Accordingly, considering the national security I propose to ban the burqa,” he added.

The April 28 decree bans the burqa, which covers the entire face and body with a mesh opening for the eyes, and the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered. Sri Lankan women will still be able to wear the hijab and the chador in public—both of which cover the neck and hair but leave the face uncovered.

Of the country’s majority Buddhist population of 21 million, around 10 percent are Muslim, the TRT World reported. The niqab and burqa are only worn by a small number of Muslim women in Sri Lanka compared to other areas in the Middle East, due to different political influences and the prominence of opposing ideas from sects life Sufism.

The burqa has been banned by several other countries around the world, including France in 2011, Bulgaria in 2016, Austria in 2017, and the Netherlands and Denmark in 2018, IB Times reported.

Writing in the Spectator in March 2017, Qanta Ahmed, a Muslim woman who was raised in a British family, described the veil as “a sign, I think, not of assertive Islam, but of what happens when Islamists are tolerated by a western culture that’s absurdly anxious to avoid offence.”

Speaking of the burqa and niqab in December 2016, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a reformist Muslim and founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said, “I think they should be banned publicly.”

“When people go into public, identity is what makes us human and what makes us have a personal individualism that gives us our rights. Without our identity, there are no rights,” he told Reform This.

The ban comes in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings that targeted a string of churches and luxury hotels across Sri Lanka.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the blasts in an announcement on April 23, according to the group’s Amaq propaganda agency, but the government says a link between the suicide bombers and the terror group has not been proven.

Two further local Islamist groups with suspected links to ISIS—National Thowfeek Jamaath and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim—have been blamed by Sri Lankan authorities.

A majority of those killed and injured in the blasts were Sri Lankan, while 38 foreigners were among the dead, government officials said.