Behind the Veil
in the 1980s, few young Western Muslim women wore the Muslim
headscarf, or hijab. In fact it was banned in some Muslim
countries for teachers and those employed by the state. Turkey was
the first country to campaign against its use. In 1981, Tunisia
banned the hijab from public offices and schools, under law number
108. This was ratified by the late President Habib Bourguiba (1956
- 1987). In
September 2006 Tunisian authorities mounted a
campaign against the Muslim "Barbie" doll called Fulla,
who wears a hijab, as it was thought to encourage use of the
scarf. A month later,
Morocco enforced a ban on images of the hijab in schoolbooks,
even though the item can be worn legally. In predominantly Muslim
Tajikistan in central Asia, the headscarf was
banned from schools in October, 2005.
There used to be a time when only a few Western-born Muslims wore
the hijab. Yet progressively over the past two decades, it has
become increasingly common and more recently in the West, even the
practice of wearing the face-covering veil, or niqab
become more common as well. There are political forces which have
promoted the hijab as "obligatory" dress for Muslim women. The
group Hizb ut-Tahrir has
in British universities since the 1980s
to force Muslim students to wear the item, using physical
intimidation and threats to get their way. The group was banned
from UK campuses in 1995 but continues to operate under other
names. Other groups such as Tablighi Jamaat have been encouraging
women to wear the headscarf as a religious obligation. This
"missionary" group, founded in India in 1927, has been linked with
terrorism, mounting coup attempts in Pakistan and shootings in
Two French members of Tablighi Jamaat, states
were among gunmen who carried out the attack upon the
Atlas Asni Hotel
in Marrakesh, Morocco on August
24, 1999. Two Spanish tourists were killed. Jose Padilla, Lyman
Harris, (who sought to bomb the Brooklyn Bridge), and the
"American Taliban" John Walker Lindh all had Tablighi connections.
In Morocco, Ilamado Yusef Fikri was sentenced to death on
, 2003. He was a member of Tablighi Jamaat, but
also headed a terror group called Salafia Jihadia or At-Takfir
to local press, he confessed to killing two
people for being "against Islam". His terror group was linked with
the Casablanca bombings of
, which killed 45 people.
In Waziristan, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, the
Tablighi Jamaat has the
of Pakistan's Taliban, who are linked to al Qaeda. In France since
, the group has been involved with the
radicalization of Muslim prisoners.
Britain Tablighi Jamaat has been involved in the political
campaign by a young Muslim woman to challenge traditions.
Twenty-four-year old Aisha Azmi was employed as a language
support worker by Headfield Church of England Junior School in
Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. She
did not wear
(face-covering veil) during her interview. She
was employed to assist young children who had poor English skills,
but as soon as she started working, she began to wear a niqab.
Children complained that they could not understand her, and after
only a month, she was suspended. In
she challenged the decision at an
October 19, 2006
, she lost her tribunal, where she
had claimed that her employers had "discriminated" against her.
She said: "It is clear that discrimination has taken place and I
am disappointed the tribunal has not been able to uphold that part
of my claim." It was then revealed by the Sunday Times that Aishma
Azmi had been ordered to wear the face-veil by a Tablighi Jamaat
cleric, Mufti Yusuf Sacha, who is based in West Yorkshire. The
revealed that Azmi's father Dr Mohammed
Mulk had until recently headed the secondary school attached to
the Tabighi Jamaat "Markaz" in Savile Town, Dewsbury. The Markaz
is the UK headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat.
Mulk's school was criticized by UK government schools inspectors
as less a place of learning and more of a "madrassa". Their report
claimed that the school's "over-emphasis" on religion meant
secular studies were neglected. It wrote: "Teachers showed limited
understanding of pupils aptitudes, needs and prior attainments."
Mulk had claimed: "Parents send their children here for an Islamic
education. They don't want their sons to take exams."
The "spiritual adviser" of the Muslim website
is the radical Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi,
who is also "spiritual leader" of the Muslim Brotherhood. This
website maintains that the hijab is obligatory. Similarly the
Muslim Council for Britain, which was co-founded by the
Brotherhood's European spokesman Kemal Helbawy, maintains that the
hijab is compulsory. The MCB has acted as an adviser to the UK
government, with the result that one naive politician - Ruth
Kelly, the Communities Minister and Minister for Women - has
that there should be more hijab-wearing
women on British television.
In France in
banned from schools. The ban was general - no other religious
items can been worn. On August 25,
, French-speaking schools in Belgium banned the
wearing of veils. Five Belgian towns have gone further. Ghent,
Antwerp, Sint-Truden, Lebbeke and Maaseik have enforced complete
bans on burkas and face-veils being worn on the street.
In Maaseik, only
refused to comply with the ban, and wore
a burka which only allowed a slit for her eyes. This woman was
married to a Moroccan terrorist, Khalid Bouloudo, from the group
GICM, which organized the Casablanca
of May 16, 2003. On
February 16, 2006
, Khalid Bouloudo was jailed for
five years for assisting terrorist activities. On
last year, Maaseik's ban on the wearing of
the burka was upheld in court. It had been challenged by a
Moroccan woman, Khadija El Ouazzanik.
The wearing of hijabs
and their subsequent bans in
schools, followed by legal appeals, have changed the political
landscape of the West almost as much as terrorism. Constantly the
issue of Muslim women's "rights" have been brought into the public
eye through discussion of the hijab
. Groups like CAIR
have capitalized on the hijab issue to promote their narrow
political agenda. In
the group dishonestly doctored a photograph to place a crude
onto the head of an unveiled woman.
political motivations of those who challenge the Western "status
quo" are rarely mentioned in news reports. In Britain, a
schoolgirl called Shabina Begum insisted upon her right to ignore
school uniform guidelines to wear instead a gown which extended
down to her feet. This item is called a
Begum took her case through the courts, assisted by her lawyer
Cheri Booth Blair, wife of the then-Prime Minister. On
the House of Lords overturned a ruling she
had gained, which had condemned her school's actions. What was
rarely reported was that her case was
supported by Hizb ut-Tahrir
, an organization whose
stated aims are to destroy democracy, and her brother (and her
legal guardian) was said to be a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a claim
situation of appeals and demands about infringement of rights
involving wearing of the hijab has gone on in various locations. A
in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had to
revise its ban on face coverings, a move introduced for security
, a Muslim convert called Sultaana
Freeman (born Sandra Keller) lost a legal appeal in Florida. She
had tried to have her photograph on her driving license displaying
herself wearing a hijab and face-veil (niqab). In 2001, the
Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FDHSMV)
had issued a license with a picture of her with only her eyes
visible, but had later revoked it. A
who became Muslim in 1997,
that her 1st Amendment rights had been
, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC)
encountered problems when trying to have a photograph taken of a
Muslim driving license applicant. Sarah Elfayoumi wears a hijab,
and complained that she was asked to move the scarf further back
to expose her hairline. She fled to the bathroom in tears before
allowing a photograph showing part of her hair. Sharon Harrington
of the NJMVC claimed that hijabs are allowed in license
photographs, but problems with photographs were more frequent in
northern New Jersey, where more Muslims lived.
In Britain in
, Nadia Eweida, a 55-year old employee
of British Airways, found herself in a battle to retain her rights
to wear a small Christian crucifix, half an inch in diameter.
Nadia Eweida is a Coptic Christian.
British Airways allowed its Muslim staff to flaunt their religious
credentials by wearing the hijab but discriminated against
. Nadia lost her
appeal in November, but in January British Airways caved in to
public outcry and officially removed its ban on crucifixes.
The veil issue in Norway has also raised questions about the
mysterious death of a local politician from Oslo. Samira Munir was
of Pakistani origins, and was a member of Oslo District Council.
She opposed the wearing of the veil, a campaign she commenced in
February 2004. As a result she was harshly criticized by Norway's
Pakistani immigrant community. In October 2004, she was even
by Pakistan's ambassador to explain her beliefs in two meetings.
In the second meeting, Ambassador Shahbaz Shahbaz noted that she
still had family members in Pakistan. Samira did not give up her
she died under a train at Oslo
station. Whether she fell or was pushed has not been
In Turkey, the veil issue has led to Islamist assassination. On
May 17, 2006
, five judges were shot in the Turkish
Council of State (Supreme Court) in Ankara. One judge, Mustafa
Yucel Ozbilgin, died of his injuries. Their attacker was an
Islamist lawyer, Aslan Alpasan, who objected to a decision to
enforce bans on state-employed teachers wearing the hijab
This had been made earlier in the year by Judge Mustafa Birden,
who was shot in the stomach. Birden had been subjected to death
threats for enforcing the headscarf ban.
The issue of the veil in schools is the most contentious topic
across Europe. In Sweden in
this year, the government supported the "rights" of Muslim girls
to wear head coverings in classes. In
in June last year, the Directorate for
Primary and Secondary Education gave permission for the niqab to
be banned in schools. The ban was aimed mainly at teachers.
, North Rhine-Westphalia recently became the
eighth of the country's sixteen states to ban the headscarf for
teachers. The first state to institute a ban was Baden-Wuerttemberg,
which issued the ruling on
April 1, 2004
July 7, 2006
, Baden-Wuerttemberg's outlawing of the
was overturned by an administrative tribunal.
last September, two Muslim women were
employed by the Marie-Therese Maradan school in Fribourg. They
were dismissed when they refused to remove their headscarves.
Fribourg council ruled in October that the school acted within its
rights. Since 1999, religious apparel has been banned for
employees of Fribourg city council.
The veil controversy has affected virtually every Western nation.
In South Africa in
a prison officer was sacked for
wearing the headscarf. Fairouz Adams was dismissed from her post
at Worcester Prison in the Western Cape for not removing the item.
this year, a trainee prison officer was fired
in Quebec, Canada, for refusing to remove her hijab
19-year old Sondos Abdelatif had been training to be an officer at
Montreal's Bordeaux prison. Naturally, the executive director of
Canadian CAIR, Karl Nickner, condemned the decision.
Within all this controversy, the involvement of political
factions in encouraging Muslim women to wear the hijab
such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat and Hizb ut-Tahrir,
has been forgotten.
are portrayed in the media as wearing the veil through their own
volition, ignoring the pervasive effects of peer pressure. For
example, the biased and leftist
"educates" ignorant Westerners with comments
from veiled women, such as this: "Yes, I do wear a Hijab and I
am covered from head to toe but how does that illustrate I am
oppressed? I do not dress this way because I am forced to.
Instead, I feel this dress liberates me and makes me feel special
because, a woman is a jewel, like a pearl. She doesn't need to be
shown off for the world to glare at, her beauty is for the one she
loves for the sake of Allah (swt), her husband.
Another woman who wears the face-veil claims that she gains more
respect while wearing coverings which only expose her eyes.
Rahmanara Chowdhury, a part-time teacher in Britain
: "'It serves as a reminder that I'm Muslim
and it helps me get close to God. Since wearing the niqab, I've
become a lot more confident. Once you're covered up, people are
forced to judge you not as you look as a woman but on your
The full-face covering niqab
is naturally controversial.
In Britain, one 12-year old Muslim girl from Buckinghamshire,
assisted by her father, had tried legally to challenge her
school's decision to prevent her wearing a niqab. She lost her
this year. Shortly after this case
faltered, British politicians
schools the right to ban face-veils, on grounds of security. In
one prestigious London university,
Imperial College (which has its own nuclear reactor), banned
hooded garments and face coverings for security reasons.
The only Western nation to announce a country-wide ban on Muslim
face coverings, including niqabs and burkas is the Netherlands.
After much discussion, the Dutch parliament announced its
intentions to ban the burka in
, shortly before a general election.
The ruling allowed police to enforce a ban on burkas being worn in
buses, on grounds of security, or in educational establishments,
on grounds of communication hindrances. About 50 Muslims in the
Netherlands wear full burkas. The bill has still not become
written into national law.
have already been two cases where the full burka has been used by
men fleeing the law. 25-year old Mustaf Jama was a Somali living
in Britain as an asylum seeker. He was a prime suspect in the
killing of a policewoman, PC Sharon Beshenivsky, during a robbery
November 18, 2005
. After his accomplices were
convicted, it was revealed that Jama had fled Britain, disguised
in his sister's burka and using her passport. Yassine Omar was a
suspect who is currently on trial for attempting to detonate a
suicide-bomb on London Transport on July 21, 2005, a fortnight
after the deadly 7/7 attacks. He had worn a burka to flee to
Birmingham, where he had been caught.
Why should a 12-year old girl wear a face-veil, when the original
Islamic injunctions about modesty were about protecting women from
rape? The Suras which are used to argue that a woman should cover
herself are generally
to be 33:59 and 24:31. 33:59. They state (Dawood's translation): "Prophet,
enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers
to draw their veils close round them. That is more proper, so they
may be recognized and not be molested. God is ever forgiving and
24:31 states: "Enjoin believing women to turn their eyes away
from temptation and to preserve their chastity; not to display
their adornments (except such as are normally revealed); to draw
their veils over their bosoms and not to display their finery
except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers,
The word hijab, literally meaning a "curtain" only
appears twice in the Koran (Sura 33:53 and 42:50). The word
translated in 33:59 as "veil" is actually the plural of jilbab,
the body-covering garment which does not cover the head. The
Koran's supposed advocacy of head-coverings, let alone
face-coverings, is highly ambiguous and open to various
October 14, 2006
Mohammad Hamdi Zaqdouq, Egypt's
religious affairs minister, claimed that the face-veil was not a
religious item. He said: "Nor is the niqab a duty deriving from
the Sharia. I know I will be criticized for my words but I think
some Muslims are committing a fundamental error, focusing on
external and superficial aspects, without exploring more relevant
themes, and hence providing a distorted image of Islam."
Muslims who go on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca are actually
from wearing face-veils around the Ka'aba, so the position of the
as a compulsory item of religious
clothing is highly suspect. Women who wear such items in the West
are making a political statement, not following the dictates of
faith. Unfortunately, political correctness means that such items
are viewed by many Western decision-makers as "religious apparel",
whose use should never be questioned. In Britain, their use has
been approved in court.
Mughal is a lawyer, who caused a controversy on
November 6, 2006
, when she appeared as an attorney
in an immigration case at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire.
Judge George Glossop maintained that he could not understand
Mughal's speech as it was muffled by her niqab
refused to remove her face-veil, and the judge sought advisement
from Mr Justice Hodge, president of the Asylum and Immigration
David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, said of the case:
"You have to stick to the rules of the country you are in. The
veil is alien to this country and it is certainly a nonsense to
think it is appropriate in the context of a courtroom. I would
urge the judge's ruling to come down in favour of common sense. A
lawyer must surely have to show her face and be able to speak
clearly in court."
, Mr Justice Hodge ruled that Shabnam
Mughal or any other lawyer was allowed to wear a veil in court.
This was conditional upon the lawyer having "the agreement of his
or her client and can be heard reasonably clearly by all parties
to the proceedings, then the representative should be allowed to
do so." In
this year, the Judicial Studies Board's Equal
Treatment Advisory Committee gave official guidelines, which
allowed the wearing of niqabs in court. Decisions were to be made
on a "case by case" basis, as long as such items did not
"interfere with justice".
last year, former British Foreign
Secretary Jack Straw initiated a national debate about the
face-veil. In his weekly column in the Lancashire Telegraph
newspaper, Straw wrote that "wearing the full veil was bound to
make better, positive relations between the two communities more
difficult. It was such a visible statement of separation and of
difference." The issue was taken up by
, including Tony Blair and also
Gordon Brown, who said he would "prefer it and think it better for
Britain if fewer people wore veils".
Romano Prodi, socialist premier of Italy,
entered the debate
. In many northern towns in
Italy, face-coverings of any sort are banned, stemming from a
ruling made in the time of Mussolini. Days after Prodi's comments,
a right-wing Italian politician had to be placed under police
protection because of objections to her comments about the
or face-veil. Daniela Santanche of the National
Alliance had claimed on a TV show that the niqab was "not a
religious symbol and it is not required by the Koran" and that it
was "not a symbol of freedom". Her comments were
by Ali Abu Shwaima, the imam of the mosque
in Segrate, Milan, who claimed Santanche was "ignorant, false, an
instigator of hate and an infidel". He said: "I will not allow the
ignorant to talk about Islam. The veil is an obligation required
by God. Those who do not believe that are not Muslims."
may be seen by many Muslim women as an article
of faith, but there is no doubt that in many instances, women and
young girls are pressured by family and peers to wear the item.
The face-veil and the burka have little religious justification,
other than a desire to separate Muslim from Western women. A
British woman wrote in the Saudi-owned
: "I have lost count of the times that
I have been admonished, chastised, ordered, requested, advised,
politely reminded to cover my face. My usual stance is one of
insolence. I invariably refuse with a 'Why should I?' partly
because I can't stand being told what to do and partly because to
draw a veil over my face just because someone has told me to and
not due to religious conviction is nothing short of hypocrisy.
Concomitantly, I have had many confrontations with those
self-appointed vigilante types who want to give me free spiritual
Behind the politicking surrounding the veil, and the dubious
claims that the face-veil is even "liberating", the position of
women in Islamic countries is hardly equal to that of men.
In Part Two, I will examine the roles of forced marriage in Muslim