INDIA: Archbishop of Canterbury criticizes European burqa bans

October 19, 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has deplored attempts by governments in Europe to prohibit Muslim women from publicly wearing the burqa, a garment that covers the entire body.

"Governments should have better things to do than ban the burqa," Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, told an interfaith meeting organized by the National Council of Churches in India at its headquarters in Nagpur, during a visit to India.

France's constitutional court on Oct. 7 approved a law banning full-face veils in public, which would prevent women wearing garments such as the burqa.

In March, Belgian lawmakers voted on a similar measure to ban the wearing of clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified. The newly formed government of the Netherlands also has announced it plans to introduce measures to ban face-covering veils.

"I believe that the state ought not to be addressing issues like these. Instead, it should leave such concerns to the religious communities," stated Williams at the Oct. 14 meeting in Nagpur. He described the French ban as "a sign of being overanxious."

More than 100 church leaders, led by the NCCI's president, Methodist Bishop Taranath Sagar, and Bishop Purely Lyngdoh, moderator of the Church of North India, attended the meeting alongside Muslims and Sikhs, and members of the Hindu community.

"We are glad that the archbishop spoke out clearly on the burqa controversy. He is very objective and respects other faiths," A. Majid Parekh, a Muslim leader in Nagpur, told ENInews after listening to the Anglican leader.

Williams told ENInews that the controversy generated by bans on the burqa, the Sikh turban and the Christian cross in some European countries, "shows the extension of secularism too far. This ought to be resisted. The communities should have the right to decide on such issues." Williams said he had protested when a British Airways employee was told she should not wear her necklace cross visibly while at work.

He told the meeting that attacks against migrants in Europe were not the result of Christian prejudice against non-Christians but a "crude nationalist prejudice against migrants and outsiders."

On the link between religions and terrorism, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion said that terrorism is a product of "bad" religion. "The positive affirmation of faith in God and respect for one another is the solution for it," he stated.

Williams was in Nagpur to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Church of North India as a union of six Protestant churches, including Anglicans.