Syria’s niqab ban is part of a clash within Islam itself

Quietly, away from the fanfare that accompanied the French vote on banning the niqab in public, and calls by Philip Hollobone to impose a ban in Britain, the Syrian government has instituted its own, more limited, ban, removing teachers who wear the full face veil from teaching in public schools.

At first glance, such a move might seem puzzling: Syria, with dozens of religious sects and a nominally secular government, has managed for decades to use a light touch, at least when it comes to personal faith.

But the rise of religion among the population has shaken the leadership … Syria’s struggle with Islamists and visible symbols of Islam is part of a wider clash, a clash within Islam itself. Political Islam is gaining ground across both the Arab world and Muslim-majority countries. What happens in this debate matters profoundly, because the same debate is taking place within Muslim communities in the west.

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The debate, crudely put, is over the space between the personal and the political.

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