Muslim women who veil and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights: A socio-legal critique

Hussain, Tassadaq (2016) Muslim women who veil and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights: A socio-legal critique. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Islamic veiling has been the subject of many theological, social and legal debates, which are fluid and their intensity has been further influenced by its contextualised meanings such as religiosity, modesty, identity, resistance, protest, choice and subjugation. Literature on Muslim veiling has either examined its treatment by legal or socio-feminist perspectives, whereas this thesis critiques the religious, socio-feministic and the legal discourses. The contemporary discourse is dominated by competing binaries that label it as a tool of oppression or one of empowerment. Many of the assertions are based not on the veil’s multiple meanings or the wearer’s true motivations but on misplaced assumptions of moral authority by those who oppose or defend the practice, as well as native informants professing to represent veiled Muslim women, leaving Muslim veiled women’s voices muted. Having examined the religious imperative that has a patriarchal basis, the thesis constructs a critique of the two dominant discourses central to the contemporary debates on veiling. One discourse defends the practice as empowering whilst the other calls for prohibitions on the practice using liberation from oppression as a justification, particularly with issues surrounding the wearing of the full face veil. This is followed by a critique of the key cases generated under Article 9 ECHR, which attempts to balance the religious rights of those who veil with the rights of others. The case law highlights that the ECtHR not only falls short in disclosing satisfactorily how it has struck a balance between these competing rights, but also fails to adopt a neutral stance to religious expression through symbols, its reasoning being based on contradictory stereotypes of Muslim women as passive and victims of gender oppression in need of liberation. The influence of such stereotypes and an inadequate application of the margin of appreciation doctrine have led the ECtHR in validating state prohibitions on the hijab and the full face veil, thereby failing to acknowledge the voices of the veiled women at the centre of a human rights claim, delivering a further blow to them. Post the case of S.A.S. v. France the ECtHR has exasperated this even further by allowing an abstract principle of ‘living together’ as a justification for the full face veil’s prohibition in public spaces, resulting in Article 9 rights of Muslim women who veil being endangered even further by the introduction of such an open-ended ground.

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