Sydney, June 25 (ANI): Australian Islamic leaders are dismayed at French President Nicolas Sarkozy's criticism of the burqa as a threat to "the equality and dignity of the female," saying his comments do not reflect the reality about the status of women in Islam.
The French President's comments were also tainted by hypocrisy, as his own track record on gender issues left a lot to be desired, said Iqbal Patel, president of Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.
Sarkozy expressed support for a ban on wearing the burqa in public, during a "state of the nation" style speech to the first joint sitting of both houses of French parliament in 136 years.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Patel as saying that the burqa reflected freedom of choice, not oppression.
"Islam does not particularly say everyone has to wear the burqa or niqab, it talks about modest clothing. That does not in anyway belittle the status of women; it is purely out of their own choice, so for him to say those words denigrates the religion and the concept of freedom of choice," Patel said.
Jamila Hussain, a lecturer in Islamic Law at the University of Technology Sydney, said she believed the burqa and niqab were inappropriate in Western countries, but defended the decision of women who chose to wear them.
"I think Nicolas Sarkozy should get out a bit more and go and talk to ladies in minority communities, particularly those that wear the burqa, and ask them if they've been oppressed and forced to wear it," she said.
Patel said Sarkozy should take a leaf out of Barack Obama's book, after the US President recently urged Western countries to stop dictating what clothes Muslim women should wear and disguising hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.
He believed French leaders were too keen to "pander to political pressures" such as strong far-right political groups, citing previous moves to ban headscarves in schools. (ANI)