Muslim headscarf divides, disturbs in Denmark
1 day ago
COPENHAGEN (AFP) — After years of thinly veiled hostility between Copenhagen and the Muslim world, a beauty pageant and a proposed law have Danes locking horns over one potent symbol of Islam: the headscarf.
When Iraqi-born Huda Falah, 18, won Denmark's first Miss Headscarf competition earlier this month because of "her blue headscarf and her beautiful, irresistible style," many Danes simply smiled, shrugged and moved on.
Others saw the pageant as emblematic of the growing influence of Islam in Denmark and what some perceive as its anti-democratic and woman-hostile spirit.
"The headscarf symbolises that women are inferior to men (and) I don't think this is something we should promote through a beauty competition," Inger Stoejberg, a high-ranking member of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's Liberal Party said in a newspaper interview ahead of the pageant.
Naser Khader, a Muslim member of parliament, agreed, calling instead for a competition for "the best arguments against the headscarf."
A number of Imams meanwhile slammed the pageant as disrespectful to Denmark's 200,000 Muslims, who make up 3.5 percent of the population and the country's second largest religious community after the state-run Lutheran Church.
The fact that the controversy followed on the heels of a nationwide debate over whether judges should be allowed to sit on the bench while wearing the headscarf, or hijab, made it all the more touchy.
"Some Muslims have the feeling they are being pilloried by Danish society," sociologist and Liberal Party MP Eyvind Vesselbo told AFP.
Although Denmark counts no Muslim judges, a court ruling late last year that the headscarf would be permitted on the bench sparked public outcry.
Following a virulent campaign by the far-right, anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DPP) calling the hijab a "symbol of tyranny" that, if allowed inside a courtroom, could usher in Islamic law in Denmark, Justice Minister Lene Espersen proposed a law to overturn the court ruling.
"We have decided to prohibit the wearing of (all) religious or political symbols while exercising the function of a magistrate, because a judge must be neutral and impartial," she said at the end of April.
According to a poll published last month, the bill, which is expected to pass in parliament later this year, received support from 51 percent of the Danes, while 44 percent were opposed to a ban.
The polemic, which echoes a similar debate last year on whether the head-covering scarf should be allowed in parliament, was only the latest example of what many Muslims feel is mounting persecution and alienation under Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen's centre-right government.
Although DPP is not part of the coalition it is an important ally that has helped Rasmussen stay in power since 2001.
Under its influence, the government, an unwavering supporter of the US-led "war on terror", has introduced some of Europe's most restrictive immigration laws, which many feel are specifically aimed at curbing new arrivals from Muslim countries.
Copenhagen has also, in the name of freedom of expression, stubbornly refused to apologise for the publication of 12 cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper in September 2005.
The drawings sparked angry and in some cases deadly protests across the Muslim world in early 2006, with demonstrators torching Danish embassies and flags and boycotting Danish companies.
Another wave of protests came early this year after the most controversial of the drawings, depicting the prophet's head with a turban in the shape of a bomb with a lit fuse, was widely republished.
Not all government ministers agreed with the decision to ban the headscarf and other religious symbols from the courtroom.
Most critical was Integration Minister Birthe Roenn Hornbech, who slammed DPP's campaign on the issue as "fanatically anti-Muslim".
"Without a nuanced debate (we risk) creating many extremists, because the Muslims feel offended," she warned.
Two Lutheran priests also protested the law proposal in an open letter published last week, claiming it violated the freedom of religion accorded by the Danish constitution and was an assault on all people of faith.
"You begin with the judges, and once you've started setting up barriers there is no stopping the process," Torsten Johannessen and Helge Baden Nielsen wrote.
According to sociologist Vesselbo, "the debate for or against the hijab in court has become a debate for or against Muslims," at a time when many Danes feel their country and traditions have come under siege by Islamic extremists. That sense of vulnerability was enhanced earlier this month when a suicide bombing at the Danish embassy in Pakistan killed six people. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was "revenge" for the Prophet Mohammed drawings.
Danish intelligence has also repeatedly warned that Al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants are planning attacks on Danes and Danish interests abroad as well as in Denmark, where integration of the Muslim population is becoming ever more challenging.
The headscarf debate risks "putting back by 10 years" attempts in Denmark to integrate Muslims, Vesselbo warned.
"Muslims feel yet again that they are being trampled on, that they are not welcome, that they are not liked," he said, insisting that delaying integration "goes against the interests of society."
Muslims barred from picture at Obama event
By BEN SMITH | 6/18/08 11:08 AM EST Updated: 6/18/08 3:07 PM EST
Two Muslim women at Barack Obama’s rally in Detroit on Monday were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women’s headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate.
The campaign has apologized to the women, both Obama supporters who said they felt betrayed by their treatment at the rally.
“This is of course not the policy of the campaign. It is offensive and counter to Obama’s commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. “We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers.”
Building a human backdrop to a political candidate, a set of faces to appear on television and in photographs, is always a delicate exercise in demographics and political correctness. Advance staffers typically pick supporters out of a crowd to reflect the candidate’s message.
When Obama won the North Carolina primary amid questions about his ability to connect with white voters, for instance, he stood in front of a group of middle-aged white women waving small American flags.
On the Republican side, a Hispanic New Hampshire Democrat, Roberto Fuentes, told Politico that he was recently asked, and declined, to contribute to the “diversity” of the crowd behind Sen. John McCain at a Nashua event.
But for Obama, the old-fashioned image-making contrasts with his promise to transcend identity politics and to embrace all elements of America. The incidents in Michigan, which has one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the country, also highlight an aspect of his campaign that sometimes rubs Muslims the wrong way: The candidate has vigorously denied a false, viral rumor that he himself is Muslim. But the denials at times seem to imply to some that there is something wrong with the faith, though Obama occasionally adds that he means no disrespect to Islam.
“I was coming to support him, and I felt like I was discriminated against by the very person who was supposed to be bringing this change, who I could really relate to,” said Hebba Aref, a 25-year-old lawyer who lives in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. “The message that I thought was delivered to us was that they do not want him associated with Muslims or Muslim supporters.”
In Detroit on Monday, the two different Obama volunteers — in separate incidents — made it clear that headscarves wouldn’t be in the picture. The volunteers gave different explanations for excluding the hijabs, one bluntly political and the other less clear.
In Aref’s case, there was no ambiguity.
That incident began when the volunteer asked Aref’s friend Ali Koussan and two others, Aref’s brother Sharif and another young lawyer, Brandon Edward Miller, whether they would like to sit behind the stage. The three young men said they would but mentioned they were with friends.
The men said the volunteer, a 20-something African-American woman in a green shirt, asked if their friends looked and were dressed like the young men, who were all light-skinned and wearing suits.
Miller said yes but mentioned that one of their friends was wearing a headscarf with her suit.
The volunteer “explained to me that because of the political climate and what’s going on in the world and what’s going on with Muslim Americans, it’s not good for [Aref] to be seen on TV or associated with Obama,” said Koussan, a law student at Wayne State University.
Both Koussan and Miller said they specifically recalled the volunteer citing the “political climate” in telling them they couldn’t sit behind Obama.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you serious?’” Koussan recalled.
Shimaa Abdelfadeel’s story was different. She’d waited in line outside the Joe Louis Arena for three hours in the sun and was walking through the giant hall when a volunteer approached two of her non-Muslim friends, a few steps ahead of her, and asked if they’d like to sit in “special seating” behind the stage, said one friend, Brittany Marino, who, like Abdelfadeel, is a recent University of Michigan graduate who works for the university.
When they said they were with Abdelfadeel, the volunteer told them their friend would have to take off the headscarf or stay out of the special section, Marino said. They declined the seats.
After recovering from the shock of the incident, Abdelfadeel went to look for the volunteer and confronted her minutes later, she said in an e-mail interview with Politico.
“We’re not letting anyone with anything on their heads like baseball [caps] or scarves sit behind the stage,” she paraphrased the volunteer as saying, an account Marino confirmed. “It has nothing to do with your religion!”
In most work and school settings, religious dress — such as Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans and Muslim hijabs — is permitted where secular clothing, such as baseball caps, is not.
“The scarf is not just something she can take off — it’s part of her identity,” said Marino.
Photographs of the event also show men with hats in the section behind Obama and former Vice President Al Gore, though not directly behind the candidate.
Abdelfadeel, like Aref, felt “disappointed, angry and let down,” she later wrote.
She said she was “let down that the Obama campaign continuously perpetuates this attitude towards Muslims and Arabs — as if being merely associated [with] one is a sin.”
The two women’s friends who witnessed the incidents were disappointed, too. Aref’s friend Miller said he was “shocked” by the contrast between Obama’s message and their experience.
“He was the one candidate who you would expect to stand up for something like that — and behind the scenes, you have something completely contrary to what he was running on,” said Koussan, Aref’s other friend.
Aref and her friends complained to the campaign, and after those complaints and an inquiry from Politico, Obama’s director of advance, Emmett S. Beliveau, called her to apologize.
An Obama aide also noted that the campaign has no policy against the candidate’s appearing with women in headscarves: The next morning at Wayne State University, Obama posed for a picture with a student wearing a hijab.
Photographs from a Seattle rally earlier this year also clearly show a couple in Muslim garb behind the candidate.
The administrator of the Muslims4Obama group on Obama’s website, which is not a formal part of the campaign, also said she had “not heard anything regarding Muslim supporters being steered away from sitting behind Sen. Obama at the event” and noted that he had Muslim supporters present at events in Minnesota, including one at which he stood with a Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison.
Aref said she was glad Obama had apologized, but she was not entirely satisfied.
“I think this is a much bigger deal than maybe they’re perceiving it as,” she said, noting that Obama had placed a personal call to a television reporter he’d dismissively called “Sweetie.”
“An apology from him personally would be better,” she said, then reconsidered. “If they are true to their word, I think it would suffice to have an invitation to their next rally and have seats behind him and show up on TV.”
Brother faces first-degree murder charge in death of teen who shed headscarf
The Associated PressPublished: June 27, 2008
TORONTO: The brother of a Canadian teenage girl who was strangled to death, apparently for failing to wear the Muslim hijab headscarf, was charged Friday with first-degree murder.
Waqas Parvez, 27, initially was charged with obstruction of justice in the death of Aqsa Parvez.
Aqsa Parvez, whose family is of Pakistani origin, was 16 when she was killed last December during what friends said was a family dispute over her reluctance to wear the traditional headscarf.
Shortly after her death, her father, Muhammed Parvez, 57, was charged with second-degree murder. Earlier this month, the charge was upgraded to first-degree murder.
The killing sparked debate in Canada about the conflict between first- and second-generation immigrants: parents who hold to traditional values vs. children who desire to fit into Western culture.
Police spokeswoman Samantha Nulle said Friday that the investigation was ongoing and that authorities were looking into the possibility that others were involved in Aqsa Parvez's death.
Police have refused to confirm it was over the headscarf.
Muhammed Parvez's lawyer, Joseph Ciraco, has said that there was "more to the story than just cultural issues." He did not immediately return a call Friday for comment.
Aqsa Parvez's friends believe that cultural issues played a significant role in her death.
Fellow students from her high school in Applewood Heights told The Associated Press that she faced an increasingly difficult home life.
They said that Aqsa Parvez would come to school wearing track pants and the hijab but would change into close-fitting jeans and remove the headscarf at school. After her parents caught on, they began following her to school to spy on her and make sure she was abiding by their rules.
Friends said she began showing up at school with bruises on her arms; they also said she had moved to a friend's house and had only returned home the day she was killed to collect her belongings.
Sameer Zuberi, the Canadian spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the death has set off discussions in the Muslim community about the cultural conflict.
Denmark's Veiled Soccer Star
By Nidal Abu Arif, IOL Correspondent
Wed. Jun. 25, 2008
ODENSE — Zainab al-Khatib commanders the attention of the women national soccer team fans not just with her unmistaken talents, dribbling skills and spectacular goals but also her colorful hijab.
"I'm so glad that I set a precedent in Denmark," 15-year-old Khatib, the star of the national team for girls under 16, told IslamOnline.net.
She was recently chosen to join the team after receiving permission from the Danish Football Association (DBU) to be the first ever hijab-clad girl to play for a national team, not only in Denmark but across Europe.
Khatib, who only started her professional football career two years ago, is now the striker for the national team.
She has led her team to an impressive victory in their latest match against Sweden, scoring a wonderful goal.
"Zainab has a strong personality and her attitude is always positive and inspirational in and outside the court," her coach Troels Mansa told IOL.
"She is one of my best players and I am so glad to be her coach."
Denmark has a Muslim minority of nearly 200,000 out of its 5.4 million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after the Lutheran Protestant Church.
When the high school student decided to don hijab nearly a year ago, her mother helped by designing headscarves that cover the hair properly while not posing any hindrance for her in the field.
"She has always been an observant Muslim, and we had to support her fulfilling her sport dream," Zainab's father, Ibrahim al-Khatib, told IOL as he happily watches her training.
"I'm so glad that she proved that being a hijab-clad Muslim does not mean she has no right to practice sports."
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Coach Manas stressed that Khatib's hijab has never been an obstacle.
"We are only interested in her skills and personality," he said.
"I do not remember any player or coach expressing reservations about her hijab."
The issue of hijab in sports thrust into the international limelight recently.
In March 2007, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the game's ultimate regulators, said hijab is forbidden in soccer games.
The ruling came after a Canadian Muslim was expelled from a soccer game for donning a hijab.
Last January, an American high-school Muslim star runner was pulled out from a local competition for wearing hijab.
An 11-year-old Canadian kid was also thrown out of a national Judo tournament last November for wearing hijab.
Khatib believes all the fuss over hijab is meaningless.
"It is always wonderful to be able to strike a balance between your religious duties and your hobbies."
She says her teammates are very supportive.
"They have welcomed me into the team and I faced no obstacles.
"During our match with Sweden, some players were surprised to see my hijab but nobody commented."
Modest and persistent, she wants her contribution to the team to demonstrate the willingness of Danish Muslims to integrate into society.
"I see myself as a Danish Muslim who effectively contributes to her society and will be proud to represent my country abroad."
Khatib, whose Palestinian family moved to Denmark in the early 1990s, considers playing for the national team a major achievement for all Danish Muslim girls.
"I think it will open the door for other Muslim girls to pursue their dreams of representing their country."
Besides her sports career, Khatib contributes to Islamic charity work in her city Odense.
She also participates in pro-Palestinians events organized in Denmark.
Khatib hopes to be a doctor in the future.
"I want to help the needy and offer a better image for Muslim women's effective contribution to society."
Grandma Made Hijab Easy
From Mohamed Farag
Sun. Jun. 22, 2008
Some of you might remember the Grandma hijabis cartoons. Some of you might even remember who is behind those cartoons, that person is Linda Delgado.
Many of us face hardships throughout life. For some, it means deterrence from praying to Allah for guidance; but for others, it serves as a reminder for us to remember the mercy of Allah. Thus, we are drawn closer to strive to work in the name of Allah. Linda Delgado, our convert sister, is one of many. She has dedicated her life to creating an Islamic publishing company for aspired writers to promote Islam in an educational, fun way. Despite her recent heart attack, Linda still continues to give to charity, help in food distribution, among others. Regardless of her physical limitations, she is still determined to publish the five Teacher's Study Guides for Islamic schools to help teachers with their curriculum.
Please take a moment and check out how you can help her continue with her cause.
Intercultural adviser warns hijab ban may cause tensions
RUADHÁN MAC CORMAIC, Migration Correspondent
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
BANNING THE hijab or other religious symbols which are important to minorities is "likely to result in tension with those communities where no tension existed before", according to the director of the State's advisory body on intercultural affairs.
In a detailed intervention in the debate over whether Muslim pupils should be allowed wear the headscarf in State schools, Philip Watt of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism said most schools had already found their own "sensible and sensitive compromise" by allowing it to be worn provided the colour was consistent with the school uniform.
He argued that it made sense for boards of management to continue to decide on future policy, with some non-prescriptive guidance from the Department of Education, but stressed that allowing the hijab did not mean that all religious symbols and obligations should necessarily be allowed.
Among the issues that schools would have to consider were health and safety, and the need to maintain effective communication in classes.
Mr Watt suggested that those advocating a ban on the hijab "may, or may not, have fully considered the consequences of such a ban, for example in respect of all religious symbols and obligations in Irish schools". While much of the focus had been on the Muslim headscarf, other religious symbols were worn in Irish schools, including the Sikh kara (a bangle), the Sikh patka (a scarf worn by boys and young men), the Jewish kippah or skullcap and Christian crucifixes. The pioneer badge, the sacred heart and crucifixes are worn by some teachers.
"The banning of religious symbols or obligations solely aimed at one religious community or indeed all religious faiths is potentially discriminatory and likely to be tested in Irish law," Mr Watt said. "In 2004 the French government considered the issuing of a ban on the wearing of the hijab in French schools, but after legal considerations decided that the only way that such a ban would be legal would be to ban virtually all religious symbols and obligations, including large crucifixes."
Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes and his Labour counterpart Ruairí Quinn said separately last week that they opposed the wearing of the hijab in the country's secondary schools, though Mr Hayes made a distinction between State-run VEC schools and those run by religious orders, which decide their own rules. "There is enough segregation in Ireland without adding this to it. Segregating in this way is not helpful to Muslims and not helpful to anybody," Mr Hayes said.
In yesterday's statement, Mr Watt also sought to correct the impression that all Muslims are recent immigrants. Just under a third of the 32,500 Muslims in the Republic are Irish.
An Irish Times / TNS mrbi poll conducted last week found that 48 per cent of people feel the wearing of hijabs should be allowed in State schools. Some 39 per cent disagree and 13 per cent have no opinion.
The full NCCRI paper can be read on www.ireland.com/focus/2008/Hijab-debate/index.htm
© 2008 The Irish Times
Headscarf Law Applies to All Religious Coverings, Judges Say
A law which prohibits Muslim women teachers from wearing headscarves in a German state's public schools also forbids Catholic nuns from wearing their veils in regular classrooms, judges said Wednesday.
The administrative tribunal of Baden-Wuerttemberg state set out the position in a detailed written judgment, two months after ruling verbally that a woman convert to Islam, aged 58 at the time, could not teach in her scarf.
The teacher converted to Islam in 1984 and began wearing a headscarf during class in 1995. The southwestern state has a law that bans "exterior expressions of religious confession."
The so-called "headscarf debate" is a long-raging one in Germany, home to more than 3 million Muslims, most of Turkish origin. Many consider the headscarf a form of oppression against women and say immigrants who want to live here harmoniously must accept certain Western values and play by German rules.
Others say forbidding it amounts to discriminating against Islam and that Germans should learn to accept other cultures and traditions.
All religious dress
The country as a whole has been split on the issue of scarves and education, with some states tolerating teachers in scarves and others sacking them if they refuse to teach bare-headed.
The judges in the city of Mannheim interpreted the ban on religious dress as applying to all religions, whether to nuns and monks in habits or to male Jewish teachers wearing the kippah.
The law expressly exempts Catholic religious who teach Catholic doctrine classes in public schools, and the judges said three nuns in the state who teach other subjects had personal exemptions that would not apply to any other sisters in the future.