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Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Yerushalmi’s Agenda – A $400,000 Study of Imams’ Beards Pushes Anti-Shariah Movement

Hena Zuberi




A project costing hundreds of thousands of dollars titled “Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques” is being hyped as an “important study” by a lawyer, David Yerushalmi, who the ADL describes as one who has “a record of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.”

The study has been strongly criticized by liberal organizations but seized upon by conservative publications, such as FrontPage Magazine and National Review Online, “as proof that Islam constitutes a grave threat to national security. Writing in National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy said the results proved that, “what we wishfully call ‘radicalism’ is in fact the Islamic mainstream.”

What Is The Study About?

Wearing what they said were “Shari’a adherent” disguises, researchers looked for empirical evidence between Islamic practices i.e. hijab, gender segregation, straightening of the lines, the length of the imam’s beard and the existence of (what he terms) violence-prone materials in the 100 masjids surveyed. According to the study, only 3 aspects were found statistically significant. Remarkably, they also observed that the 12 imams who wore the watch on the right hand were right handed.

Gaubatz (director of the project) described these as markers for gauging whether and to what extent a mosque should be seen as extremist. Each of these attributes “comes from Shari’a,” he said.

How ridiculous is this conjecture, but what is more disheartening is that people are taking this seriously. This playing on shallow stereotypes diverts our attention from really seeking out those who do fall in the trap of radicalization and domestic terrorists like David Burget.

Not found ‘significant’ were whether or not the imam wore a thawb and the presence of modern hijab vs. traditional hijab (phew). It didn’t take long for the leap from this study to headlines like “Study: 3 in 4 U.S. mosques preach anti-West extremism” to take place. On one hand his study claims that we are being radicalized by ‘Islamists’ and on the other hand he says Shari’a itself is radical. As the “nation’s foremost non-Muslim expert on Islam,” which one is it?

You can read the study here. An adherence to Shari’a is termed Salafist ideology in the study, which begs the question: for Muslims who do not follow that ideology, do they not attend mosques? Do they not grow their beards?  Do they not wear watches? Are they not Shari’a compliant? Riyadh us Saliheen is one of the seven texts being tarnished as ‘severe material’ in calling to violent jihad without reservations. The study also uses al-Misri’s Umdat al-Salik as another example of a ‘violent’ book – it’s a shame for someone to have done such an expensive study of Islam in America and not know which books are read by which ideologies. The study mentions that wearing of hijab by girl’s ages 5-12 is ‘Shari’a-adherent’ behavior, which shows how much the researchers know about Islam.   

And how exactly were the imams inciting violence in the mosques? Were they giving khutbahs? NO! Were they urging worshipers in talks or study circles to go out and kill non-Muslims? NO! This was a conclusion of the study (which is not being advertised), that despite having “violent text” (their words) in the mosques, there was no indication of actually urging the joining of terrorist organizations or gathering of money to fund terrorist organizations.

So what did the Imams do? They answered a question.

Following the prayer service, the surveyor asked the following question: “Do you recommend the study of: (a) only the Qur’an and/or Sunna; (b) Tafsir Ibn Kathir; (c) Fiqh as-Sunna; (e) Reliance of the Traveller; or (f) the works of Qutb, such as Milestones, and Maududi, such as The Meaning of the Qur’an?”

If the imam or lay leader recommended studying any of the materials mentioned above except the Qur’an and/or Sunna then they were termed as Moderate to SEVERELY violent – leaving an “Ominous Jihadist Footprint” or leading to hyper yellow journalism i.e. Big Peace: “81% Of US Mosques Promote Jihad.”

Who is David Yerushalmi?

He contends that African-Americans are a “relatively murderous race killing itself.” Read his post with context yourself just to make sure that we aren’t jumping to conclusions. What do Americans expect from a racist xenophobe like him? MuslimMatters first wrote abut David Yerushalmi and his non-profit SANE in 2007. His views sound more radical than any Shari’a he is vilifying.

He has close ties to the likes of Pamela Geller; “he is her personal attorney. He incorporated the non-profit entity under which she and Robert Spencer produce their blogs.  This in turn allows David Horowitz to plow funds into their enterprise that have been given on a tax-deductible basis.  Yerushalmi is also representing her in a $10 million defamation lawsuit brought by the family of Rifqa Bary, a teenage girl torn from her Muslim-American family by Christian evangelicals who inveigled her into converting to Christianity and running away from their home while still a minor.” He claims to be an expert on Islamic law. Click here to read more about his views. He said his interest in Islamic law began with the Sept. 11 attacks when he was living in Ma’ale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

He was behind the Stop the Madrassa campaign that got Debbi AlMontaser fired from her job as the principal of the Khalil Gibran Academy; he filed a lawsuit which was dismissed, and he appealed and lost.

I read more about this ‘study’ in this post by Paul Berger in the oldest Jewish newspaper in the US, The Forward. From the perspective of other Jews, what do they have to say about this man?

In a telephone interview with the Forward, Yerushalmi, 55, said that the motivation behind Islamic extremism could not be explained by socioeconomic, political or cultural factors. “The one common denominator,” he said, “was Sharia.” It is too soon to judge the impact of this latest study, but  The Southern Poverty Law Center included him in a recent list of the country’s leading Islamophobes, and the Anti-Defamation League has cited his “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.” In his telephone interview, Yerushalmi denied these charges. He said that he had defended black and Muslim clients pro bono and that the real target of his advocacy is liberalism.

The study concludes that non-Shari’a centric mosques may provide a foundation for reformed Islam which can integrate into a western ‘liberal’ citizenship, but according to his own words, Yerushalmi’s real target of advocacy is “liberalism.” Is this not a duplicity in his words? This makes me believe that the real objective is to reform Islam.

Anti-Islam Activism

Paul Berger notes that “one of the most striking aspects of Yerushalmi’s activism against Shari’a law has been his ability to edge his ideas into the mainstream.” With the death of Osama, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a crushed economy and a debt crisis like none the United States has ever faced, the bogeyman is Shari’a. Yerushalmi has sugar coated his biases, making it sound very acceptable to the masses. Women’s rights, children’s rights – but what is the real agenda?

His legislation has drawn opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union as well as from Catholic bishops and Jewish groups but “he did not believe that court cases involving Jewish or canon law would be affected by the statutes because they are unlikely to involve violations of constitutional rights.” The case that he quotes for the rights of women suffering under Shari’a law used to give a verdict in the US is the same argument that could be applied to Jewish Law. From Judaism 101, according to the Talmud, only the husband can initiate a divorce, and the wife cannot prevent him from divorcing her.

It is hypocritical to say the least when an orthodox Jew who believes in the Torah and the Jewish Shari’a, the ‘Halacha’, and who believes in the authority of religious law and code of conduct would let his extreme prejudice lead him to go to such extents as to deter followers of another faith from following religious code. Is he going to also do a ‘conclusive’ study of temples and synagogues and the connection between wearing of to the kippa (yarmulke), discussing mitzvahs about the Amalekites, teachings of R. Shimon ben Yochai, let alone the readings of the Torat Hamelech? As New York Times reporter Andrea Ellliot writes,

The more tangible effect of the movement, opponents say, is the spread of an alarmist message about Islam — the same kind of rhetoric that appears to have influenced Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect in the deadly dual attacks in Norway on July 22. The anti-Shariah campaign, they say, appears to be an end in itself, aimed at keeping Muslims on the margins of American life.

Failing to influence policy at the federal level, Yerushalmi moved to the state legislature

Andrea Elliot also points out that after failing to convince policy makers at the federal level, David Yerushalmi headed to the state legislatures. Yerushalmi’s template, the Anti-Defamation League notes, “has been the basis for anti-Sharia measures introduced by state lawmakers in several states in recent years.” Berger writes:

A legislative wave is surging through the nation’s heartland: In Tennessee, Louisiana and Arizona, lawmakers have passed statutes prohibiting courts from relying on any foreign law, legal code or system that is contrary to state or federal public policy in reaching their decisions. … In some of these statutes and bills, Sharia, or traditional Islamic religious law, is explicitly cited; in others it is not. In either case, civil libertarians and Muslim groups denounce them as efforts to target Islam. And those pushing for these laws don’t deny this. Republican State Rep. Sally Kern, who sponsored such a bill in Oklahoma, stressed the political potency of the movement, saying, “It’s always helpful when you can say to your colleagues, ‘This piece of legislation is practically identical to about 20 other states.’

David Yerushalmi… has offered legislators a template that claims to sidestep constitutional objections to singling out Islam by avoiding explicit mention of it (though not all state legislatures have taken this advice).

Who are his co-conspirators?

The study is co-written by Mordechai Kedar, a professor of Middle East studies at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. Why is an Israeli professor who worked for 25 years in IDF military intelligence sending paid operatives to U.S. Mosques? For the past FOUR years! What is his interest in this? He isn’t even an American citizen. Another author of the study is David Gaubatz , a former employee of David Yerushalami, who has claimed that he found Saddam’s long-lost WMDs while in Iraq and has labeled Obama “Muslim” and a “self-admitted ‘crack head.'”

I was going to post this when the study first came out, but I wanted to find out who funded this study and could not find any links until Andrea Elliot traced the funds in her must read New York Times article: The Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement.

The project, Mapping Shariah, led Mr. Yerushalmi to Frank Gaffney, a hawkish policy analyst and commentator who is the president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington. Well connected in neoconservative circles, Mr. Gaffney has been known to take polarizing positions (he once argued that President Obama might secretly be Muslim). Mr. Gaffney would emerge as Mr. Yerushalmi’s primary link to a network of former and current government officials, security analysts and grass-roots political organizations.

Together, they set out to “engender a national debate about the nature of Shariah and the need to protect our Constitution and country from it,” Mr. Gaffney wrote in an e-mail to The New York Times. The center contributed an unspecified amount to Mr. Yerushalmi’s study, which cost roughly $400,000 and involved surreptitiously sending researchers into 100 mosques.

It is a tight knit group with the same names coming up over and over again.  Spencer, Geller, Gaffney, and Yerushalmi. There are anti-Muslim conservatives who regurgitate whatever they are fed and then there are dangerous anti-Muslims bigots who keep feeding the frenzy. Four years have gone by, and day by day, state by state, anti-Muslim bigotry is growing. David Yerushalmi’s name, although not as well-known, is firmly entrenched with the rest of the venomous players of the great Islamophobic Crusade.

Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of She is also a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. She serves on the board of the Aafia Foundation and Words Heal, Inc. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. A mom of four and a Green Muslim, she lives and preaches a whole food, organic life which she believes is closest to Sunnah. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.



  1. Amad


    August 10, 2011 at 2:05 AM

    Excellent wrap-up… jazakillahkhair

    • Avatar

      Hena Zuberi

      August 12, 2011 at 5:11 PM

      Blogging have made me wake up from my slumber – we live in our suburban homes, attend Juma’ah in our masajids, shop at our our halal butchers, and make it to a convention once in a while and think all is well in this country- All is not well and we need spread awareness at a faster rate than the hate that is being spread.

      We could learn some lesson from him- despite failure at the federal level he didn’t give up he continued and made as many connections as he could until his agenda is manifesting in 20 states!! But our uncles can have some more chai

  2. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 3:38 AM

    Sad to say that even though this article focuses on Muslim communities in America being affected by such misleading research and media representation; the impact is and will be global.
    Even some Muslim communities eye their fellow brothers and sisters suspiciously because they follow mainstream global media.
    Ruling by fear, divide and conquer, planting seeds of doubt, dismantling societies seem to be on the agenda of those in power these days.
    MashaAllah, well written informative article.

    • amad


      August 10, 2011 at 5:12 AM

      Thanks for the comments.
      As per our recent policy, pls use a name or kuniya for a handle.

    • Avatar


      August 10, 2011 at 10:42 AM

      Exactly. Unfortunately, many of us subscribe to the same ideologies of racism and inferiority. We must purify our hearts, ask Allah to purify our hearts.

      Very informative article. JAK

  3. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 5:09 AM

    Great article. May Allah help Islam and the Muslims.

  4. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    It is extremely frustrating to see such rubbish being disseminated and accepted into the mass media and subsequently, the majority of the population both in America and outside of it.
    Presentations against “studies” like this one really must be pushed into MSM platforms – perhaps another debate is needed, sis Hena! :)

  5. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    It’s so sad that people would waste so much money on this ridiculous study. Imagine how many poor people that could be helped with that much money. Anyways, I think that this just proves how important it is that we have more programs like United We Stand.

  6. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    I had no idea about the story of Riqba Bari until this article….How sad that those evangelico bigots brainwashed her and manipuated her to the point she lied about her parents about abusing her… During the investigation they could not find any proof of her claims …She said her father threatened her to punch her in the face if she does not wear Hijab and at the same time he was the one supporting her cheerleader hobby and give her permission even when her mom would not !! What a radical Muslim… to allow his daughter to jump and stretch in a mini skirt and display her pictures in this uniform all around the house lol!
    Anyway, it makes me sick to see how some extremists Christians were ready to do anything to just to dirt and slander Muslims and Islam even teaching a child to lie about their parents …If they love Jesus (saw) so much like they say why can’t they follow his teaching !?
    She died and I wonder if she had the chance to see her parents and make peace with them? I hope she did! Just sad…

    • Avatar


      August 11, 2011 at 3:08 PM

      Rifqa Berry died?! When and how?

      • Avatar


        August 20, 2011 at 2:38 AM

        I read a post on her cancer and wrongly understood that she passed away…My mistake …thanks for pointing out :)

  7. Avatar


    August 10, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    What can we as individuals do to combat this (in a peaceful non-violent way, of course) ?

    • Avatar


      August 11, 2011 at 2:12 PM

      Keep speaking the truth and know that Allah’s promise is true when He says that the schemes of such people will eventually unravel and ultimately backfire in their faces (that isn’t the exact language, but we’re speaking English here not Arabic). Reading the Quran in English this Ramadan, one sees this reminder repeated over and over to the Muslims. During the time of the Prophet (s) the mushrikeen, and eventually the Madinite Jewish tribes, were constantly plotting and planning against the Muslims, whether through open attacks, slanderous media-messages, or stealth infiltration. We are going through the same thing, and eventually these schemes will fall apart and backfire, because the schemes of shaytaan are always weak. I mean just look at what happened in Norway? These bigots around the world have spent so much time and money trying to incite violence and hatred against Muslims, and cast blame upon them, that when the Norway event happened they were so happy to jump up and see Muslims commit a terrorist attack. They thought they had more fuel for their fire but then it turned out to be one of their own. Did you see how they floundered? It was a terrible atrocity that should have never happened but it still showed that their own schemes against us backfired on themselves. And it will continue to be so. These nuts are shooting themselves in the feet with their Islamophobic messages. It’s only a matter of time before the threat of right-wing terrorism becomes to large to be ignored when they start attacking liberals more and more (remember how that other nut shot the AZ congresswoman and Sarah Palin floundered about her cross-hairs)? Then these nuts will be under watch just like they want the Muslims to be and FBI will be knocking on their doors for inciting terrorism.

    • Avatar

      Syed Abdul Raheem

      August 15, 2011 at 2:10 AM

      As Salaam Alaikum,

      Solution to all the problems as I see is, indulge in Da’wah and spread Islam in the perspective of Qur’an and Sunnah.

    • Avatar

      Hena Zuberi

      August 15, 2011 at 5:01 PM

      I suggest civic engagement-
      -getting involved in your communities,
      -running for office- starting with school board
      -pushing our children to go into public service
      -going to town hall meetings
      -writing letters to editors in local newspaper
      -visiting your congressman
      -and even small acts like inviting your neighbor over to dinner
      Read this great series by Muslimmatters specialist Mustafa Dill

  8. Avatar


    August 11, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    Four hundred thousand dollars for this c***? Might as well have donated it and made it actually useful. How they love spreading hate and fear.

  9. Avatar


    August 11, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    Now lets do a real study and see how many people who watch Fox News, read Anne Coulter’s books, and read anti-Muslim blogs are significantly prone to murdering innocent people in cold blood in the name of preserving Western values.

  10. Avatar

    Kashif H

    August 14, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    salaam aleikum,

    This should be the topic of ju’mah khutbahs organizing Muslims to at least have talking points to refute this nonsense, but sadly we will be too busy discussing miswak, how to make wudu, and the importance of not eating garlic before coming to the masjid.

  11. Avatar


    August 20, 2011 at 11:10 PM

    I think the person is overfilled with money, he don’t know where to use it!!! May Allah Guide him!

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#Current Affairs

Faith Community Stands With Peace And Justice Leader Imam Omar Suleiman During Right Wing Attacks

Hena Zuberi



In a follow up to the right-wing media platforms attack on Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists, as well as criticism of Israel policies, Faith Forward Dallas issued a statement.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanksgiving Square – Faith Leaders United for Peace and Justice is a Texas-based interfaith organization that has worked on many initiatives with Imam Omar Suleiman.

The statement reads:

“Imam Omar Suleiman a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice!!!!!

Time after time in our city, in the United States and around the world, Imam Omar Suleiman has been a spiritual and moral voice for peace with justice. When others seek to divide, he calls for unity. Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square works to unite faith leaders for justice and compassion. Imam Suleiman has been a trusted leader among us. In the wake of his beautiful prayer to open the House of Representatives on May 9, he has received threats of violence and words of vilification when instead he should have our praise and prayers. We call upon people of good will everywhere to tone down the rhetoric, to replace hate with love, and to build bridges toward the common good.

Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square”

Commenters on the Faith Forward Dallas statement have left comments of support.

The group has invited locals and other leaders to endorse and share the statement. “Endorsed! I love and fully you Imam Omar Suleiman!” wrote Karen Weldes Fry, Spiritual Director at Center of Spiritual Learning in Dallas (CSLDallas), commenting on the statement.

Some commentators do not understand the manufactured controversy.  Heather Mustain writes, “What people are writing is so vile. They obviously didn’t even listen to his prayer!” Imam  Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives on May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas, TX.

“I’m grateful for the faith leaders with whom I’ve built relationships with and served with for years that have shown full support throughout this process. Together we’ve stood with one another in solidarity in the face of bigotry, and in the support of others in any form of pain. We will not let these dark forces divide us,” said Imam Omar Suleiman in response to the outpouring of love from the people he has worked with on the ground, building on peace, love, and justice.

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#Current Affairs

#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives

Zeba Khan



Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.

Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.

News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The  ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.

Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.

The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.

“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”

MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.

You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar


A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk Into a Church in Dallas

At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source:

Muslim congregation writes letters of support to Dallas Jewish Community

The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News

Historic action: Muslims and Jews for Dreamers

“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Bend The Arc

Through Dialogue, Interfaith Leaders Hope North Texans Will Better Understand Each Other

“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Kera News


Conversations at The Carter Center: Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights 

Source: The Carter Center

Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred

My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN


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#Current Affairs

From Sri Lanka – The Niqab Ban and The Politics of Distraction




This article was originally published on Groundviews


As of last Monday, Sri Lanka is taking a seat at the table next to a list of 13 other countries from across the world who have passed legislation banning the niqab or face veil.

Amidst incensed murmurs from certain parliamentarians, and following a discussion with the country’s main Islamic theological body, the All Ceylon Jammiatul Ulema (ACJU), the President’s office has announced that ‘any garment or item which obstructs the identification of a person’s face would be barred.’ Sri Lanka has been under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks which killed over 250 people. The ban will hold until emergency regulations are lifted.

Ever since the identification of the all-male terrorists behind the massacre as members of militant group ISIS, Muslim women -for some inexplicable reason- were to bear the hardest brunt. Instances of headscarved Muslim women being refused entry at various supermarkets and prominent establishments, was followed by the usual scaremongering via alarmist infographics doing the rounds yet again ‘educating’ the public of the differences between the burqa, hijab, and chador.

A victory indeed for both anti-Muslim voices, as well as to many within the Muslim community seeking to audibly amputate themselves from a supposedly dated form of Islam – one that they claim has no bearing to inherent Sri Lankan Muslim identity.  A view that discards the notion that any religious or ethnic identity is fluid, in flux, and subject to constant evolution.

The grand slam however is primarily for the current political establishment, members of whom are probably high-fiving each other as a result of this kneejerk symbol-politics manoeuvre on having supposedly successfully placated the public of their fears of homegrown terrorism. A move that bleeds hypocrisy for it comes at the cost of subliminally ‘othering’ an already marginalized segment of a minority community, while at the same time PSA’ing for peace and coexistence in this time of crisis.

What is most insulting to the intelligence of our society however, is that amidst all this brouhaha, only few have questioned the actual relevance of this new ban to the current state of our security affairs.

No eye witness report nor CCTV footage showed that any of the suicide bombers from any of the coordinated attacks across the country were on that day wearing the niqab/burqa/chador at the time of inflicting their terror. The men were in fact dressed in men’s attire, with faces completely exposed. It might serve to add here also that they weren’t dressed in traditional Muslim man garb either.

How then did the face veiling Muslim woman get pushed under the bus as the most identifiable sign of radicalism?

It is obvious that the government was cornered into passing this legislation, as was the ACJU too in having to support this move. While all communities have only their praises to sing for the exceptional work of the security forces in tracking down the attackers within only just hours, the country’s elected leadership was in dire need of respite following what many experts claim was a massive intelligence failure, a blunder involving the wrongful identification of a terror suspect, and incompetence in the handling of events overall. A distraction was desperately required. Something needed to give, and it just so happened that the niqab-donning Muslim woman was the easiest scapegoat.

To an outsider unfamiliar with Muslim religious symbolism, the face-veil can come across as alien, even unnerving. And while our first instinct is to otherize in an attempt to help deal with the discomfort of dealing with any unknown, a woman out in the street in a niqab is -for as long as anyone can remember- most certainly not an oddity that has compelled anyone to stop and recite their final rites.

The misguided belief that the face veil is a marker of extremism isn’t and hasn’t ever been based on any empirical research. If studies were to be carried out, results would show that Muslim women in general -let alone those with a face cover- have a little role to play, if any, for acts of terror committed in all the countries that have banned them.

Contrarily, there is a clear proven relationship between terrorist attacks and increases in recorded Islamophobic incidents against Muslims, with women being disproportionately targeted. One can then dare infer that being visibly Muslim carries a greater risk to oneself, than to the people around them.

The niqab ban has been put in place as a security measure they say – a flexing of muscles towards any semblance of radicalization that will deter any future acts of terror in the country. Naturally, the perpetuating of this ideological hegemony is doing Muslim women no favors. If anything, the ban is a wholly counterproductive one, in that it ostracizes an already marginalized segment of a minority community – a sliver of a percentage out of the 10% that is the country’s Muslim population.

If -as commonly believed- veiled Muslim women are being hopelessly persecuted, the ban will serve only to increasingly confine these women to their homes, under the control of the men accused of governing their lives, and further disconnected from being able to assimilate with society. Even more dangerous, there are studies which prove that having to live in an environment that is aggressively policed on the basis of belief is more likely to harbour radicalization.

Absurdity of the non-connection of the attacks with the niqab ban aside, this in itself should be a war cry for secular feminists advocating for everyone’s basic right to the civil freedoms of a liberal society. Where now are the proponents and ambassadors so wholly soaked in the ‘Muslim woman saviour complex?’ A segment of Muslim women has been forbidden from wearing what they feel best represents their Sri Lankan Muslim identity. They were not consulted before this legislation was passed, nor were they given the chance to show their willingness to cooperate on instances where identification was required.

Ludicrously, discourses surrounding veiled Muslim women are paradoxically lobbed back and forth according to the convenience of the times. In times of world peace, they are oppressed and subservient to patriarchal whims and fancies, while in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack there are hostile and threatening, capable of devising all kinds of evil. They are either victims of violence or the perpetrators of it.

This age-old preoccupation with Muslim women’s attire is in actuality a gross conflation of conservatism with extremism. In claiming that a strip of cloth holds the answer to combatting a severe global threat is trivialising the greater issues at hand. If there was a direct correlation between the attacks and veiled individuals, legislation forbidding the covering of the face in public would be wholly justified. But there is none.

Muslim women shouldn’t be faulted for the cracks in the state’s china. In not being able to answer the hard questions of accountability, lapses in acting on available intelligence, and general good governance, those at the top should leave well alone and consider hiding their faces instead.

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