by Ruxana Nasser
In light of the recent news reports about the ruling by His Honour Judge Murphy on the defendant insisting on wearing a face veil during the course of the criminal trial, I feel compelled to write a few words.
As a Muslim women working as a Criminal Barrister in the Crown Courts in London, I have knowledge and experience of the necessity that the defendants show their face in the dock and in the witness box.
The Judge has a valid point. For your information and in my support of the judge the Islamic injunctions in the Holy Koran about the Niqab (head covering with full face cover) and hijab (another word for head covering but without the face covering) and jilbab (outer body covering of the body with loose clothes) can be found in two different chapters of the Holy Koran in chapter 24 (called Al-Nur) verse 32 and again at chapter 33 (called Al Ahzab) verse 60.
All too often the Islamic injunctions are used by some politicians to stamp out covering all together or they are used by Muslims to stamp out any reasonable and sensible interpretation. The interpretations regarding these verses vary depending on the understanding of Arabic language of the interpreter and quite frankly on his or her spiritual understanding of the verses. In particular, it appears that very few Muslim women in my opinion seem to understand the fact that the purpose of the requirement of such covering is to prevent sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and sexual fervour in society.
This purpose is stated in the verses themselves. So the purpose is not open to debate or interpretation. Undoubtedly the purpose stated in the Holy Koran for the niqab, hijab and jilbab is to prevent mischief. Thus the principle of the mischief rule is inherent.
There then remains an examination of the purpose of this defendant insisting on remaining veiled in the witness box or the dock. She certainly cannot insist that her removing the face covering alone will create the mischief envisaged in those verses. The purpose of the face covering or the niqab is not breached by a judge asking her to remove her face covering for identification purposes and or when giving evidence in the witness box. As the purpose is not to uncover her for sexual assault, exploitation or arouse sexual fervour in court. A court room is not a normal situation or a normal circumstance. Removal of the veil for identification purposes is not uncommon in Muslim countries. In particular, it is even recorded that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) himself when walking with his wife Safiyyah removed her face veil in order to clarify her identity to a passer-by as the said situation warranted that her identity should be made clear. If the prophet himself can remove the niqab to identify his wife in order to prevent any mischief against her, then the precedent for removing the veil in some circumstances is laid. The whole purpose of these injunctions is to prevent mischief, and conversely if keeping the veil on causes or has the potential of causing a mischief (as it will if she is allowed to keep her face covered thereby preventing a true assessment of her testimony) then the veil or the niqab should be removed.
Therefore this defendant’s insistence on wearing a veil during court proceedings is outside the pale of Islam all together. She should in fact be required to remove her face covering throughout the court proceedings as there is an overriding purpose to seeing her face which is permissible by Islam in such circumstances as outlined above. On a wider principle, the administration of justice in a reasonable and fair society is of paramount consideration rather than the individuals rights which in this case are not infringed. She has not been asked to bare all, just remove her face covering which is reasonable request given the nature of the proceedings which are that she had been accused of witness intimidation. Any answers she provides accompany her facial expressions and body language. A juror makes an assessment of the truth of anyone providing testimony in court by listening to the answer, observing their face and their body language.