Australian law may require Muslim women to remove entire head covering when proving identity


A NEW law that would require Muslim women to remove a burqa or niqab to prove their identity to West Australian police has been introduced to the state’s parliament.

As part of WA’s Criminal Investigation (Identifying People) Amendment Bill, the law will require “a person to remove headwear or do other things to facilitate the officer being able to confirm a person’s identity”.

Officers will also get explicit powers to detain a person while they comply.

It will apply to an item of clothing, hat, helmet, mask, sunglasses or “any other thing worn by a person that totally or partially covers the person’s head”.

Showing the face suffices for passports which are a standard document for establishing identification, so it is not clear why the law needs to be worded in such a way that it includes the head-covering that many Muslim women wear for religious reasons (the hijab).

While the schools of Islamic law disagree whether covering the face is recommended or required, there is consensus concerning the obligation to cover the remainder of the head. Even when covering the face is considered a personal obligation, women are still permitted to uncover it circumstances where there is a justified need to establish identity, such as when bearing witness in court, or when engaging in transactions or contracts.

I understand requiring Muslim women – even those who consider it a religious obligation – to reveal their face when there is a reasonable need to establish their identity. What I do not understand is wording the law in such a way that Muslim women can be required – and detained until they comply – to remove a head covering which they consider to be a religious obligation to wear, when their identity can be established without doing so.

Hopefully the law will be reworded to allow Muslim women – and others, such as Sikhs – to retain their head-coverings since doing so does not prevent police from establishing their identity.

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