Hijabs only please: Uncovered women banned from Iraq’s Karbala

Published February 13th, 2017 - 09:18 GMT
Hussein Mosque, Karbala (Wikimedia Commons)
Hussein Mosque, Karbala (Wikimedia Commons)

Just as a wave of countries is busy banning the niqab in public, one Iraqi city is bucking the trend to refuse entry to women not covering their heads.

While Morocco and Austria may have been the most recent nations to criminalize the full-face covering, Karbala in Iraq appears to have gone in the other direction, imposing its version of modest dress on female visitors.

Last night, the following was posted on a Facebook page purportedly belonging to the chairman of the Karbala Provincial Council, Nasif al-Khatabi.

I promise you, people of Karbala, that from today I will spread Islam in Karbala and make my course according to the way of Muhammad, and of his relatives.

Today, the council agreed not to allow visitors to enter without the hijab. We will also take the decision to ban music in the holy city, as well as dancing and tight clothes, with God's permission. And women will not be able to go out without an abaya or whilst wearing makeup. Let's protect the sanctity of Karbala. Your servant, Nasif al-Khatabi.

Karbala is considered a holy site by Iraq’s Shia majority, being the location of the tomb of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. For members of the Shia sect, Hussein is considered to be one of the imams, the spiritual and political successors to the Prophet. The battle of Karbala in which he died was a key moment in the emergence of shi’ism.

The shrine dedicated to the Imam Hussein in Karbala attracts millions of Shia visitors each year, particularly during the annual Ashura pilgrimage.

Some Iraqis have agreed wholeheartedly with the council’s apparent decision. One wrote “Bless your hands, you shepherd of Islam and Muslims, and protector of the treasuries from the corrupters.”

Another responded:

We are in agreement, God willing, in service of the sacred province.

However, many more have criticized the decision as an invasion of individual rights, attacking al-Khatabi in the more than 2,000 comments on his post.

You must have liked the Daesh project… the members of Daesh have convinced you.

Instead of going looking for the poor and helping them, they search for tired-out expressions, which they use to trick the people with.

One Iraqi page even went so far as to share the reasons as to why this rule would be unconstitutional under Iraqi law. The post calls upon the country’s president to enforce the constitution in this case.

If Karbala has in fact imposed such a restriction, perhaps Iraqi women could seek empathy from their Saudi neighbors, who have long lived under similar dress codes. In a recent case, a young Saudi woman was arrested after a picture of her in a Riyadh street without a hijab or abaya went viral on Twitter.


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