Research Handbook on Law and Religion
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Research Handbook on Law and Religion

Edited by Rex Ahdar

Offering an interdisciplinary, international and philosophical perspective, this comprehensive Research Handbook explores both perennial and recent legal issues that concern the modern state and its interaction with religious communities and individuals.
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Chapter 19: Of burqas (and niqabs) in courtrooms: the neglected women’s voice

Renae Barker

Abstract

Courts across the common law world, including New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK and Australia, have been required to consider whether or not Muslim women can wear an Islamic face veil (often referred to as a burqa, burka or niqab) while giving evidence. This chapter considers the views expressed by these women in these court cases. In doing so it fills a gap in the existing literature by bringing to the fore the voice of Muslim women who are frequently positioned in public discourse as silent victims who must be liberated and for whom others must speak. The women consistently cite matters of religious obligation and female modesty as the reasons for their request to wear a face veil in court. While this is consistent with the extant literature, the reasons given by women in the cases are narrower than those given by women in empirical studies. The author theorizes that this may be due to the context in which these women are providing a justification. In particular, they are constrained by the need to present a reason (to wear the veil) that is capable of legal protection, in this case freedom of religion.

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