The right to wear a burka in Cayman

| 18/07/2016

I am just wondering what Cayman’s policy is on Muslim women wearing burkas in public in Cayman. Also, do they have to remove them when coming through the airport security as they do in France? It was the strangest sight to see a woman with full face covering and long black robes at a local supermarket in our little country…just curious …

Auntie’s answer: What an important question, especially in light of horrific events worldwide and unfortunate rhetoric being ignorantly spouted by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the great things about living in the Cayman Islands is the diversity of the population, despite the size of the country. That diversity extends to the nationalities represented (more than 130, I believe) as well the religions practised (pretty much all them). Even better, within this diverse community, I think it is fair to say that most people are able and willing to get along with fellow residents. It is a pretty harmonious mix.

Nevertheless, I am very happy to step in to shed a little light on the proper (and legal) treatment of a member of a specific religious group, though I did ask for help in navigating the way.

I called on the Human Rights Commission (HRC) for guidance and a representative was very thorough in explaining the ins and outs of religious freedom as laid out in the Bill of Rights under the Cayman Islands Constitution.

The relevant passages are found in Section 10, “Conscience and Religion”. The section begins by saying that “No person shall be hindered by government in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of conscience”, which includes freedom of thought and of religion or religious denomination along with the freedom, both publicly and privately, to “propagate his or her religion or religious belief in worship, teaching, practice, observance and day or worship”.

While this freedom is clear cut, the HRC official was careful to point out one important caveat: “The right to conscience and religion is a qualified right, meaning the right can lawfully be restricted or taken away by the Government in certain broadly defined circumstances, where it is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society to do so …”

Those justifications include the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health, or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practise any religion or belief without the unsolicited intervention of adherents of any other religion or belief.

I realise that is a mouthful, but I think it is important to lay it all out. The HRC official then explained that Section 19 of the Constitution (Lawful Administrative Action) states, “All decisions and acts of public officials must be lawful, rational, proportionate and procedurally fair.” Based on this section, she said, “(T)here is no restriction on someone wearing a burka in public, as long as a similarly proportionate approach were applied if it was deemed necessary to require her to remove it to confirm her identity or for some other reason.”

All right, that answers the first part of your question. As for what someone wearing a burka would face when going through airport security, I checked with the Cayman Islands Airports Authority (CIAA). A spokesperson assured me that women wearing burkas would be privately checked and searched by another female behind panelling which creates a private space. Understandably, the CIAA representative explained, “We need to see the passenger’s face to verify the travel documents.” The CIAA follows similar guidelines as the US Transport Security Administration and the UK Department of Transport.

Since this situation can arise when dealing with other government sections, the HRC official added, “In circumstances where the CIAA (or other relevant government departments such as the Immigration Department, Customs Department, and Royal Cayman Islands Police Service) need to be able to confirm an individual’s identity, they would be entitled to require the wearer of a burka to remove that part of it which covers her face, notwithstanding that this would potentially interfere with her right to manifest her religion.

“Importantly though, allowances would also need to be made to respect her religious rights, and this is why the question of proportionality … is so important – it allows government to interfere with religious rights only to the extent necessary to achieve an objective reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”

For the scenario the reader asked about, the HRC official explained, “(T)he reasonably justifiable objective is the interests of public safety. A proportionate response, which would meet the security (public safety) requirements of the situation without interfering unduly with the traveller’s human rights, might be a sensible policy that allowed her to show her face and confirm her identity to female security officer in a private room.”

I am glad to know that is what the CIAA said it would do.

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Category: Ask Auntie

Comments (34)

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  1. Devil's Advocate says:

    What I find funny here is that we are supposed to accept every nationality, including their religious ideology, visible dress but make no comment. Do you think any of us could go to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Saudi, Dubai even as liberal as they are, UAE, Pakistan, India, even predominantly Muslim towns in the UK, USA, Canada, etc., and dress in “our usual” attire that we are accustom to or practice our religion without fear of persecution? This is something foreign to us and a shock when you see a person covered in full black clothing with only their eyes visible. It is not the norm here, so give us a break if we are curious or wary. You all expect us to swallow so much and not complain or ask questions – where is the understanding from the other end? As you have rightly stated on multiple occasions, we are a small-minded, “set in our ways” Islands. Forcing or dragging us to accept only make people resistant to change or different. Education and not insults usually tend to have better results.

    The women, I have come across in the attire discussed that you are asking us to accommodate. I wonder if the roles were reversed, could any of our Caribbean women be allowed to walk down the street or into the grocery store in their countries in a pair of Bermuda shorts (being respectful) and a polo shirt or t-shirt or summer dress without being attacked or harassed for being disrespectful. No, so give us a break, as I believe we are an extremely tolerant Island considering that we have to work and live amongst so many different nationalities and religions.

    Before you claim I am bias. No, I do not want to see the tourists/locals walking through town in thongs or speedos as there is a time and a place for all attire. Public streets is not one of them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    OMG I think I want to be a moslem.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Let’s not allow that here…..the burka is worn only to completely make a female a “non-person” by men of twisted and warped ideologies!! We say NO…… the Cayman Islands burkas are NOT worn…..Period

  4. Anonymous says:

    OK. I love reading Mark Twain so i looked it up and here is what he says in his Letters from Earth:
    “Adam and Eve entered the world naked and unashamed — naked and pure-minded and no descendant of theirs has ever entered it otherwise. All have entered it naked, unashamed, and clean in mind. They have entered it modest. They had to acquire immodesty and the soiled mind; there was no other way to get it. A Christian mother’s first duty is to soil her child’s mind, and she does not neglect it. Her lad grows up to be a missionary, and goes to the innocent savage and to the civilized Japanese, and soils their minds. Whereupon they adopt immodesty, they conceal their bodies, they stop bathing naked together.
    The convention miscalled modesty has no standard, and cannot have one, because it is opposed to nature and reason, and is therefore an artificiality and subject to anybody’s whim, anybody’s diseased caprice. And so, in India the refined lady covers her face and breasts and leaves her legs naked from the hips down, while the refined European lady covers her legs and exposes her face and her breasts. In lands inhabited by the innocent savage the refined European lady soon gets used to full-grown native stark-nakedness, and ceases to be offended by it. A highly cultivated French count and countess — unrelated to each other — who were marooned in their nightclothes, by shipwreck, upon an uninhabited island in the eighteenth century, were soon naked. Also ashamed — for a week. After that their nakedness did not trouble them, and they soon ceased to think about it.

  5. A curious female. says:

    Yeah, CIG has nothing else to do but police what people wear. I personally have some weird thoughts when I see Scottish men wearing skirts.

  6. Anonymous says:

    So you have an island of people that are against religious practices that are foreign to them, you dislike homosexuality and same-sex marriage as evident by recent controversies, and you’ve made it clear all over CNS that you have an extreme distaste for expats. For such a small population, this writer should have included a topic on pure ignorance into the letter.
    “The friendliest people in the Caribbean”. Yeah, as long as your conformed to their beliefs….

    • Anonymous says:

      Nothing like making a sweeping statement when you have no clue what you’re talking about. You obviously know nobody on this Island to be spouting such ignorance.

      • Anonymous says:

        Nah, you are wrong. The first sentence of the question is clearly offensive to Muslim women. It is picking on Muslim people.

        Why would not he/she wonder about what Cayman’s policy is on XXXXXX women (men) wearing XXXXXX in public in Cayman? Why did he pick Muslim women?
        As if they wear in public something so inappropriate that it must be regulated.

    • Anonymous says:

      The original writer of the question asked the question in a perfectly reasonable manner…I don’t know what you’re getting so bent out of shape about !

    • Anonymous says:

      What makes you automatically assume I’m Caymanian….now whose being biased?

    • Anonymous says:

      Why do you automatically assume that I am a Caymanian and not an expat or tourist myself ?? not the least bit ‘narrow minded’ and biased eh ?? I suppose you think Ex-Pats and tourists don’t have a mind of their own !?!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Personally, I think it might put some people a little on edge, after all seeing a full Burka, is probably not a common sight here, in fact, I believe it might attract some “unwanted” attention due to the small probability of their lack of understanding, and or curiosity.

    But in my humble opinion, I haven’t seen or really heard of any issues towards people wearing Hijabs.

  8. David says:

    Your comment on Muslim women is biased, I’m not even going there, don’t fall for that crap! And your statement on “tourists wondering around town in bikinis” is quite narrow-minded too. Why not spend a moment addressing the attire that some Caymanian women & men enjoy. Have you ever seen a local female flaunt a top and bottom that’s clearly 3-4 sizes too small? You know, the ones whose physical features would be best kept from attention. Do you think it’s appealing? Or, how about the male wearing his pants below his backside and over his boxers? Those guys somehow think the entire island needs to know his color choice in drawers that morning.
    Do these bother you, no? Well, rest assured there are tourists who are sickened by it…but, it doesn’t seem to stop us from “wondering” around to spend our money in your town…
    Take a deep look in the Caymanian mirror my glass house-

    • Anonymous says:

      David 7.47am…Look at your argument…you’re displaying exactly the bias that you are accusing the writer of – what a hypocrit you are! Your argument is the same in reverse. Your lack of tolerance and ignorance speaks volumes!! Btw..what makes you think you know what I like or dislike …are you psychic too??

      • Anonymous says:

        9:07am – the truth hurts, doesn’t it?
        10:10am – “more respect for themselves”, you think so? Why don’t you poll this question to your elderly citizens and see the responses you hear. The truth will hurt for you too…

        • Anonymous says:

          Yes…and the truth is obviously hurting you knowing that there are more Tourists roaming around half clad than your eyes!! Take your hate somewhere’re not worth my time and breath !

    • Anonymous says:

      David, you should be aware that the majority of bikini wearers around Town in Cayman are tourists like yourself. I’ve even seen a guy walking around ( straight off the cruiseship) in nothing but a speedo bottom. Caymanians have more respect for themselves…so I’d look in the mirror my friend
      .. where are your speedos today ?

      • Anonymous says:

        what is wrong with speedos? I love seeing men wearing it. They came into this world with the appendages that for some reason insult you. Address your complain to a man on a cloud.

    • Anonymous says:

      And those women wearing a top 2 sizes too small is wearing it because of a couple factors:

      1. She was given clothes because she has very little. The fact that she cannot get a job because of the over populating influx of jobs going to expats. She broke, but she still covering her body.

      2. Jamaican women who walk the streets in Jamaica looking work dress like this. It is a fact. Stop the next time you see them on the road and ask them where they from and why are they walking the streets in these tight fitting clothed and they will tell you ” me a luk a likkle wuk”.

      You should learn about where you live donkey!

  9. Anonymous says:

    11.23 am The question would certainly ‘cross you mind’ if you tried to go into an Arab/Muslim Country in that Bikini !! You’d come back to our wonderful Island Paradise (if you weren’t jailed, raped or beheaded) and wonder what you were thinking.
    Say ‘Let people be who they are’ to them when you’re arrested and see how far that gets you !

  10. Anonymous says:

    Personally it makes me uncomfortable to see this in Cayman. I would urge any Muslim woman to adopt a more moderate approach since even among Muslim scholars there is a difference of opinion on whether women need to be covered making it more of a cultural issue vs a religious belief.

    On the other hand I don’t like to see tourists wondering around town in bikinis for which there are also laws that are not enforced.

    • Anonymous says:

      You hit the nail on the head 18/7 1.33 pm – Unlike our friend David 19/7 7.47am seems to think – it’s mostly tourists who think it’s OK to wander around Town in their swimwear. The reason nothing is done about it is fear of offending and losing the couple of tourist Dollars the David’s of this world might spend here on a soda and then think the Island owes them a debt of gratitude. To be fair, the majority of tourists are lovely people and in no way guilty….it’s just the odd ‘Jerry Springer’ types who don’t give a d**n.

  11. Anonymous says:

    A policy on Muslim women? Is this question coming from a racist? Let people be who they are. Such a question would never cross my mind.

    Read (or listen on youtube) Mark Twain “Letters from Earth”. May be you will recognise yourself.

    few quotes from the book:
    “All nations look down upon all other nations.
    All nations dislike all other nations.
    All white nations despise all colored nations, of whatever hue, and oppress them when they can.
    All white nations despise all colored nations, of whatever hue, and oppress them when they can.”

    CNS in the light of the latest events in the world the question looks quite provocative.

    • Anonymous says:

      Considering Muslim is not a race this cannot be racist.
      It is completely acceptable to question any Ideology for whatever reason. Without a face you are no one. It seems utterly dehumanizing to me. But that is my opinion.

      • Anonymous says:

        Without a face you are no one?? I think we all got an idea of what Caymanians think of ones religion that’s outside of their island world…
        So, while we’re on Muslim practices (be it women or not), what do you think Ramadan? I’m curious. Or do you even know what t is??? Or would you say, a family that spends a month not eating together at a reasonable hour is not a family at all?

        • Anonymous says:

          My response would be who cares. People all around the world worship “Gods” that do not exist. We have to suffer their delusions. We should not have to accommodate these in the public sphere.

        • Anonymous says:

          Ramadan is the name given to a lunar month and all Muslims are bound to pray and fast during daylight hours. In practice many muslims simply shift to eating at night and sleeping in the day. Statistically more food is sold in the month of Ramadan than any other. Allah also made a bit of a boo boo here because he forgot that when Ramadan falls in the summer months where in Northern extremes there is so little night that people will starve. He also miscalculated the month of fasting with the womans menstrual cycle. The woman is considered hideously unclean and is not permitted to worship. So only the woman who match the lunar cycle with their menstrual one will be able to complete the act.

          Since Islam is based on good works alone there is a multiplier effect for doing good deeds in Ramadan.

        • Anonymous says:

          Once again, you come in with the racially biased prejudice that the poster is Caymanian !! Where does your ‘narrow mind’ come up with these conclusions? Now we are starting to see how some radicalists ‘read into things’ …….(thank God, Allah or whichever Deity you worship) that only the minority of Muslims think the way you do !! What started as an innocent question leads to your diatribe…and so follows …the atrocities going on in our world ! Ever listened to the song ‘Imagine’….go for it , my brother.

    • Anonymous says:

      The question did not say ‘A policy on Muslim women’ it said ‘A policy on Muslim Women wearing burkas’. Don’t twist the words to suit your own biased agenda !

  12. Anonymous says:

    It’s reassuring to know how CIAA deal with the security aspect. It’s also interesting to read the HRC position on justifications because the fact that a lot of Citizens may be offended or even scared to be confronted by such a site could indeed come under the term public order or public health in much the same way as if I were to walk around town in a Muslim Country in my Bikini.
    ‘When in Rome…..and all of that ‘

    • A Nony Mouse says:

      If you wore your bikini in most muslim countries you would be killed on the spot or at the very least be arrested, tried, fined severely and deported forthwith! Equal treatment under the law I say! The wearing of such garments is symbolic of the utter subjugation and third class status of the female under islam. I’m with France on this one!

      • Anonymous says:

        Exactly ‘A Nony Mouse’, but the David’s of this world like to enjoy their freedom of speech (which is not available in many Muslim Countries…and possibly his own) to espouse their own agenda…. it’s fine to practise it here but if they tried to do in in those Countries…..May Allah/God or whoever help them!!!