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Hijab News: Muslim Dress Debate Burns in Norway

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  • Zafar Khan
    Muslim Dress Debate Burns in Norway March 20, 2009 http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/news/world/article/13719.html Oslo. Norway’s biggest headache right now is
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 30, 2009
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      Muslim Dress Debate Burns in Norway
      March 20, 2009


      Oslo. Norway’s biggest headache right now is not the financial crisis. Rather, the predominantly Christian nation is plagued by a religious dilemma over the right of a Muslim woman to wear a hijab as part of her police uniform.

      As the controversy has escalated, the country has seen the physical collapse of the justice minister, the public burning of a hijab and a substantial rise in the popularity of Norway’s anti-immigrant opposition party just six months before general elections.

      This is odd for a country known for religious tolerance, generous international development aid and peace efforts worldwide. But the controversy highlights the latent fears of a nonpluralistic society, where 91 percent belong to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway.

      The dilemma began last fall when a Norwegian Muslim woman petitioned for permission to wear her hijab, the traditional head covering for Muslim women, as part of her police uniform. Norway’s Justice Ministry originally decided in February to allow it, but revoked the permission a few weeks later after loud criticism from the police union, which argued it breached the neutrality of the uniform.

      “A change of uniform regulations, with an allowance for covering hair, has never been a goal in itself. It has always been thought of as a possible means to increase the recruitment of police from minority groups in society,” said Justice Minister Knut Storberget, in defense of his decision to revoke the initial permission.

      Amid the heightened media attention and political backlash from his flip-flopping, the minister collapsed and subsequently announced a two-week sick leave, which was then extended.

      The hijab debacle comes on the back of the minister’s other religious-related political defeat over a now-defunct blasphemy law. Storberget initially tried to replace the law with a new paragraph that would have protected individuals from defamatory religious statements. But after much political opposition, the law was repealed and no paragraph introduced.

      This has provided political fodder for the opposition Progress Party, which has stoked fears among Norwegians over “sneak Islamization.” Progress Party leader Siv Jensen spoke out strongly at the party’s national meeting last month against granting special permission for special groups. She pointed specifically to the case of a largely Muslim neighborhood in Malmo, which she claimed had been partly overrun by Islamic law.

      A March poll by Norstat for Norway’s national broadcasting station NRK showed that the Progress Party soared 8.5 percentage points to 30.1 percent in the polls from a month earlier.

      The center-left coalition government holds 87 out of 169 parliamentary seats, while the Progress Party holds 38 seats, the second largest after Labor. A continuing shift to the right could pose a threat to re-election chances in September for Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s Labor prime minister.

      “If they continue to spin these irrational fears, I’m afraid it could lead to a lot of commotion,” said Thorbjørn Jagland, Norway’s parliamentary leader and former Labor prime minister, during a highly-attended religious debate in Oslo this week.

      Some 500 people lined up around the block to hear Jagland, religious professor Torkel Brekke, the bishop of the Church of Norway, and leader of Norway’s Muslim Student Society discuss why religion is suddenly a hot topic.

      The panelists discussed the recent media focus surrounding the hijab debate and blasphemy paragraph, the provocation caused by the burning of a hijab on International Women’s Day on March 8 by a Norwegian Muslim woman in protest of the garment, and fears among “religious nationalists” and “secular intellectuals” toward Norway’s Muslim minority.

      Immigrants make up 9.7 percent of Norway’s 4.8 million inhabitants. Islam accounts for 20 percent of the 9 percent of the population belonging to religious communities outside the Church of Norway.

      Sweden has a more liberal policy in accepting refugees than Norway and allows hijabs in its police uniform, as does Britain.

      The Christian Science Monitor

      European Court sanctions French headscarf ban
      Friday 27 March 2009
      By Fatema G Valji


      The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the expulsion of 2 French Muslim girls for refusing to remove their headscarves did not violate the 11 and 12 year old French nationals’ rights to education and religious freedom.

      Belgin Dogru and Esma-Nur Kervanci were expelled from their school in the north-western French town of Flers in 1999. Their expulsion came after the girls continued to wear their headscarves as a matter of religious observance although their teacher insisted that they take the scarves off during their sports classes. The teacher claimed that the head-covering was not compatible with physical education.

      The 7 judges hearing the case in Europe’s top human rights court unanimously passed verdict that the school’s decision was in accordance with the legal requirements of French secularism in state schools. They upheld that the school did not violate the girls’ religious rights, but considered them “in relation to the requirements of protecting the rights and freedoms of others and public order.”

      The European Court also rejected the girls’ claim that their expulsion compromised their right to education, stating the girls were able to continue their studies via correspondence classes.

      Laws in France, based on the contentious French secular model of laïcité seek to confine religious practice to the private sphere as an expression of state neutrality towards religion.

      In 2004, France’s National Assembly and Senate passed a law with large majorities, banning pupils from any conspicuous display of religious dress or symbols in schools. Similarly, French law also bans teachers and civil servants from wearing religious symbols and attire including the Muslim headscarf, Sikh turban, or Catholic nun’s veil.

      The law has sparked strong criticism from France’s Muslim community, numbering approximately 6 million and comprising Europe’s largest Muslim minority group. Since the French Law on Secularity and Conspicuous Religious Symbols in Schools came into effect in September 2004, many Muslim girls have been denied in-school state education for donning a headscarf in school.

      Hijab Banned in Bulgaria Schools
      Fri. Mar. 27, 2009


      SOFIA — The Bulgarian government approved Thursday, March 26, a draft bill banning hijab and other religious symbols in schools.
      "We express our disagreement and bitterness with this decision," Hussein Hafazov of the Chief Mufti office told Reuters.

      "It completely damages the rights as well as the responsibilities of Muslim women."

      The bill calls for banning hijab and other religious symbols in schools.

      It still needs to be approved by parliament.

      Bulgaria is the latest European country to ban the Muslim headscarf.

      France banned the Muslim veil in public places in 2004, with several European countries following suit.

      Hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, not a symbol that shows ones religious affiliation.


      The Chief Mufti warned that the bill would increase community tensions in the Balkan country.

      He said there had been arson attacks on mosques and other Muslim buildings and girls had already been forbidden from wearing hijab in some schools.

      Bulgaria is the only EU state where Muslims are not recent immigrants but a centuries-old local community.

      Muslims, who make up 12 percent of Bulgaria's 7.8 million population, have lived with Christians in relative harmony for centuries.

      Mostly ethnic Turkish descendants of the Ottoman Empire's reach into Europe, they live beside Christians in a culture known as "komshuluk", or neighborly relations.

      Mosques and Islamic schools are common sights in Bulgaria.

      The ethnic-Turkish MRF party has also become a powerful political force, participating in the last two governments.

      Enlightening the Clothes-Minded
      Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir surpassed Rebecca Lobo on the Mass HS scoring list


      How does she do it? In the face of triple teams, with defenders all but linking their arms like paper dolls, Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir is able to exploit the limited daylight she gets and average 42 points a game.

      How does she do it? Passing Rebecca Lobo's 17-year-old Massachusetts high school mark of 2,710 career points is about as easy as bumping Julie Andrews off the hilltop, and yet Bilqis graciously eclipsed the legend in January on her way to becoming the first player in state history -- male or female -- to score 3,000 points.

      How does she do it? For the last four seasons --beginning one year after her 43-point varsity debut as, yes, an eighth-grader -- the 5-foot-3 1/2 Bilqis has played for New Leadership Charter School in Springfield in full Muslim dress, arms and legs covered beneath her uniform, wearing a head scarf, or hijab.

      Bilqis doesn't mind remarks rooted in curiosity; it's the questions out of ignorance that she meets with a confident rejection. "When some people come at me with, 'Oh, is that a tablecloth on your head?' -- it's like, really, don't," Bilqis (pronounced Bill-KEACE) said last Thursday, the day she ended her high school career with 51 of the Wildcats' 57 points in a regional Division III quarterfinals playoff loss. "If you're going to have that kind of question, don't ask me. But some people are truly honest in asking a question, like, 'Oh, I don't want to be rude, but why do you wear that?' That's the kind of question I'd rather answer."

      So let's get the obvious out of the way: No, the perpetual motion point guard doesn't melt under her extra apparel. She ditched cotton a couple of years ago after discovering the blissful wicking power of Under Armour. "Saved my life," she says with a laugh. Since her freshman season Bilqis, the youngest of eight children in a bustling Muslim household in Springfield -- birthplace of basketball, site of her first Nerf hoop dunk at age three -- has not revealed a bare leg or biceps on the court. "In eighth grade, I wasn't covered," she says. "I looked like everybody else." The wardrobe transformation was by rule more than choice: Upon reaching puberty, an Islamic woman must cover herself in public, requiring Bilqis to endure the last thing next to acne an adolescent wants. The dreaded square peg.

      "It really wasn't a decision. I had to," she says. "I had to get used to it, no matter how hard it was for me. I know the first few weeks in school kind of tested me."

      It was still post-9/11. It was still preenlightenment. Some nights on the floor in visiting gyms, she would hear the catcalls derived from the fear of the unknown, shouted in stupidity: "Terrorist!" But slowly, the more heads she turned with her step-back threes and her sleights of hand, the more minds Bilqis opened. This wasn't grudging tolerance but joyous acceptance of an exceptional player and student. Not only does she possess a cashmere-soft touch and flinty defensive skills, but she's also on the honor roll, with an interest in premed and the stomach for the Discovery Health Channel. ("I'm good with the scalpel scenes," she says.) Bilqis has been embraced for all she is. With 1:23 to go before halftime on Feb. 17, the Wildcats' game was stopped for 10 minutes as the home crowd cheered her 3,000th point.

      But such acceptance is hardly universal. It didn't go unnoticed to Bilqis last month when Shahar Peer, a Jewish tennis player from Israel, was denied a visa at the last minute for a WTA tournament in Dubai. In an instant that city, which is so Westernized it can seem like a gilded Disney of the desert, took a major step backward by entwining religion and sports.

      "I really feel it shouldn't be that way," Bilqis says. "It shouldn't matter what god they believe in ... or what they do religiously during the day ... or what they have on their head. The question is, Can you play?"

      Yes, she can. Bilqis is expected to become the first Islamic player in NCAA Division I history to take the basketball court in full dress when she starts her college career next fall on scholarship at Memphis. That's a long three from Springfield, far from the siblings and schoolmates who support her. "[My family] tells me, 'If you have to cry, cry and let it out,' " she says. "They say, 'Call home, talk it out.' " Bilqis has already found a little bit of home in Memphis, locating a mosque five minutes from campus. Still, she is about to enter the big time, in arenas packed with thousands instead of gyms with four-row risers. She'll be unmistakable.

      That's Bilqis, in the hijab. It's the blur you see on her head fake to the basket. How does she do it? That's how.

      Lawmaker backs off bid to ban hijabs on drivers' license photos
      By BOB VON STERNBERG, Star Tribune
      Last update: March 6, 2009 - 12:17 PM


      A showdown between Minnesota Muslims and a state legislator over driver's license photos may have been averted. Or maybe not.

      Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, announced Thursday he will tweak a bill that would have banned from the photos all head scarves that many Muslim women say they are required to wear at all times.

      Instead, he will amend the bill so that head coverings, called hijabs, can be "worn for religious or cultural purposes."

      The change may not go far enough, a local Muslim spokeswoman said.

      The new standards would adhere to standards required for United States passport photos.

      In a press release, Gottwalt said his bill "is not intended to offend any person or group of people,"

      The proposal sparked an uproar earlier this week, when Muslim organizations loudly complained that it did precisely that.

      Local Muslims aren't yet sure if the amendment satisfies their objections, said Jessica Zikri, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

      "It's still unclear what the actual amendment will say," she said, calling Gottwalt's proposed language "overly vague and broad. It needs to be more precise."

      The council's national organization asked Attorney General Eric Holder to determine whether the bill and a similar measure being considered in Oklahoma, amount to violation of the U.S. Constitution.

      The council said the bills would infringe on First Amendment rights of Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and members of other faiths who wear head coverings for religious reasons.

      Zikri said her organization has been contacted by local Jews and Amish who are worried the bill would adversely affect them

      Video: Bill Would Ban Hijab On Driver's License Photos


      It's a wrap!
      Wearing hijab and following fashion is all about layering, says Jana Kossaibati. So what do you do when the weather gets warmer?
      Jana Kossaibati
      The Guardian, Monday 30 March 2009


      Standing in front of the mirror each morning my thoughts travel along familiar lines. Are the sleeves long enough? How can I cover up that plunging neckline? And, more often than not, can I get away with wearing this with jeans? In fact, can I get away with wearing pretty much everything with jeans? If I face my wardrobe in the morning with a sense of adventure, it quickly vanishes in favour of the same one or two outfits - mainly those jeans with a white shirt dress - bleary-eyed and weary as I am after long nights spent with my nose buried in a book. Welcome to the sartorial challenges of a 19-year-old hijab-wearing Muslim medical student.

      Wearing hijab is about more than throwing on a headscarf. It means committing to a broader dress code - for me clothing needs to cover everything but the hands and face, and be loose enough to hide my body shape. Since I like to shop on the high street, that's a bit of a tall order. Few among Topshop, H&M, Dorothy Perkins, Zara and Miss Selfridge can meet my needs in one or two garments. Fashions come and go, but I am committed to a life of layering.

      I have a few staple formulas. A low-necked tunic goes over a round-necked T-shirt. A headband peeping out from under a headscarf can add a whole new dimension to a look. And a long-sleeved T-shirt will work under almost anything (I have a whole drawer full of them). Now, layering in winter is one thing - don't we all do it? Chunky knits, full sleeves, warm jackets and coats are available in abundance, so dressing for hijab is fairly easy. But it's a different story when spring comes around and the rest of the world is peeling off the layers. The challenge is to keep covered, keep cool and look good. A shopping trip is clearly in order - but what to buy?

      "Cardigans to cover your bum, trench coats, and lots of bangles," advises Hasna Abby, 22, who works at H&M in London's Oxford Street. "When you're wearing hijab all the attraction goes to the face." So, she says, "create an alternative focus. Shoes, bangles ... And then all my money goes on bags, bags, bags." There are plenty of Abby's favoured trench coats on the shop floor, but I think colour-blocking - as seen on the catwalks of Richard Nicoll, Ossie Clark and others - is going to be the way I go. This is a fairly easy look to pull off with hijab - my outfits usually consist of at least three pieces anyway.

      Browsing through the rails at Topshop's Oxford Circus store, there are plenty of vest tops and micro-shorts, but not much in the way of long-sleeved, thigh-length tops. That's to be expected, I guess. So I head to Uniqlo, where I know I can find plenty of long-sleeved cardigans. In Dorothy Perkins I spot a floral tunic I've had my eye on for ages (flowers being big this season) and a purple maxi-skirt. It turns out to be not quite so maxi though, so it is cast aside in favour of (yet another) striped scarf that I can use as a hijab. On the street younger girls are already sporting bright headscarves, which reminds me to dig mine out of my wardrobe.

      When a hijab-friendly trend does come along, I stock up in case it doesn't stick around. Last season almost every Yves Saint Laurent model was sent down the catwalk in a polo neck. Good news for me, as the extra neck coverage allowed me to be more creative with the way I tied my headscarf. This season there have been hijab hits too. Reem Acra and Gucci featured beautiful, long kaftans. Inspired by the full-length ruffled skirts at Chanel, Mango swiftly brought out its own version. A little fussy maybe, but paired with a simple white blouse and silk scarf it would do the trick for special occasions.

      And there is another alternative. I've been following carefully the emergence of Islamic clothing companies. Whereas a few years ago, Islamic clothing was limited to imported black abayas (or full-length gowns, popular in the Middle East), new designers are starting to cater to the diverse needs of Muslims living in the UK. Most of these companies trade online. Losve.com is a favourite, offering a combination of on-trend styles and the right level of coverage. It launched in April 2008, because its founder's wife "loved the style of French Connection and Zara but found it difficult to find pieces that were loose or long enough". "The more I researched," says Abdulrahman Hummaida, "the more I found a need for trendy long women's clothing." He estimates that 45% of Losve's customer base is non-Muslim.

      But this season, in theory at least, there is an answer on the high street. Harem pants have emerged, against the odds, as a key trend for spring. They should be just the thing for someone looking for loose clothing. Back in H&M I found a couple of pairs that were not too baggy at the crotch. I ventured into the fitting rooms and five minutes later was critically appraising my reflection. They weren't quite as horrendous as I'd first feared, but the sagging fabric wasn't doing me any favours in the height department. Factor in the need for a long-sleeved loose top and headscarf, and the look came across as more fashion-victim than modest-chic. I hurriedly handed the trousers back to the assistant and left with the safer option of yet another shirtdress. I had to admit, though, they were rather comfortable.

      And perhaps that was the reason that not so long ago, men (yes, men) of my grandfather's generation wore the sherwal (as we call it in Lebanon) in many a Levantine village. Just the thing for hard manual work in hot climates - and perhaps Beirut's fashion elite are jumping on the trend too, which, if my suspicions are correct, began not on the spring 09 catwalks of Temperley, Michael Kors and DKNY, but with the revival across the Arab world of TV programmes such as Bab al-Hara (The Neighbourhood Gate), which is set in 1930s Syria, where the sherwal was standard clothing for all men. There, you see: sometimes fashion works the other way too.

      Hijablogging In Vogue


      Scarf exposes Norman woman’s beliefs
      Religion: Covering gives testimony to Muslim faith
      Published: February 24, 2009


      Lobna Hewedi welcomes questions about her hijab, a traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women.

      The hijab serves as a symbol of her Muslim faith and an entry point for interfaith dialogue when people at fuel stations and grocery store checkout lines stare at the Norman woman’s apparel.

      "My feeling is that most of the time when people look, they are just curious,” Hewedi said.

      She said many non-Muslims may be unaware of the significance of hijabs.

      Recently, another metro area Muslim woman, said she refused to take her driver’s license photograph at a Norman tag agency when an employee there required her to push her hajib back past her hairline, exposing a portion of her hair.

      Monique Barrett, 21, of Norman renewed her driver’s license at the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety headquarters last week after contacting the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma chapter. A chapter leader and public safety department officials said Barrett only had to show her face from hairline to chin to comply with the law.

      Barrett, a student at Oklahoma City Community College, said she believes most people do not understand Muslim customs, which can lead to misunderstandings.

      "People are afraid, and they fear things they don’t know,” she said.

      Razi Hashmi, Oklahoma director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Muslim women who wear the head scarves draw attention because their everyday apparel easily identifies them as Muslim.

      "Unfortunately they are the easiest to discriminate against, but our Muslim sisters are very strong in the faith,” he said.

      Hewedi said Muslim women make the decision to wear the head coverings and the age when they do so varies from woman to woman. Hewedi, 32, said she began wearing a hijab in 2003 because she felt it was time to do so.

      She said many women begin wearing them earlier, at puberty.

      Barrett said she began wearing a hijab off and on when she was 12 and full-time when she turned 16.

      Malaka Elyazgi of Norman said she began wearing a hijab at age 21, while her daughter, Houda Elyazgi said she started wearing a head scarf when she was in the third grade.

      The elder Elyazgi, 47, said she was born in Palestine and came to Oklahoma when she was 8. She said she did a lot of soul-searching before making the decision to wear a hijab.

      People acted uneasy around her when she wore the hijab and she attributed this to the negative stereotypes of Muslims.

      "Even though the hijab had a negative connotation for some people, it had a positive connotation for me because it is my faith,” she said.

      When her daughter wanted to wear a head scarf, Malaka Elyazgi said she tried to discourage her because she did not want her to be treated unfairly because of her faith.

      "As a mother, I know the backlash of covering,” she said.

      Houda Elyazgi, 23, said she understood her mother’s concerns when she grew older.

      However, she always wanted to be like the other women in her life and be a walking testimony of her faith.

      "It was probably the best decision of my life because it helped shape my identity,” she said.

      Like Hewedi, the younger Elyazgi said she uses non-Muslim’s curiosity as stepping stone for outreach.

      "When you wear the scarf, you are easily identifiable as Muslim, so I have to be the best representation of my faith,” she said.

      She said there is a stereotype that Muslim women are oppressed and uneducated.

      Elyazgi, who works with an Oklahoma City public relations business, said she tries to educate people and shatter myths about Muslim women whenever she can.

      Barrett offered words of solidarity for Muslim women who choose not to wear hijabs.

      "A hijab does not make or break you. It is an outward expression of being Muslim,” she said. "For those of us who want to cover our hair, it’s very important to us, but a Muslim woman who does not wear a hijab is still a Muslim as long as she follows the teachings of Islam.”

      Courting confidence
      By Mike Sciacca
      Updated: Thursday, February 5, 2009 5:35 PM PST


      If you didn’t know better, you’d think it’d take Ahllam Berri a littler longer than most players to put on her game face.

      White Under Armour leggings and top: check.

      Uniform: check.

      Shoes: check.

      Focused mind set: check.

      White hijab: check.


      Yes, the hijab — a traditional garment or head cover for Muslim women — has distinguished the starting forward from the rest of her teammates on the Laguna Beach High girls’ basketball team.

      Make that, has distinguished the senior from all players on the court the past two-plus years.

      “It takes me about five to 10 minutes to get ready for a game. That’s it,” she said. “It doesn’t take me that long to put on my head scarf. I put a head band on first, wrap the scarf around, tie it in the back, slip it down and pin it under my chin. I’ve gotten used to it. It’s simple, really.”

      Berri, 17, has been wearing the hijab since she was 15. A Muslim girl, she said, starts to wear the headdressing when she turns 9.

      “It is expected in the religion to wear it when a girl turns 9, but it is your choice,” Berri said. “My parents never pushed me to wear it, although my mom always reminded me that someday I would wear it.

      “Now, it’s a part of who I am. I wear it all day at school and wear it when there are men not related to me are around. Even my male cousins cannot see me without it. I don’t take it off until I’m in my room at home.”

      She said she can be seen most days on campus in jeans and a loose, long-sleeved shirt, wearing her head scarf.

      Berri, born in Fountain Valley, moved to Laguna Beach before the start of her freshman year. She said she didn’t wear her head scarf her first year at Laguna Beach High due to insecurities.

      “I wasn’t too sure about wearing it when I started high school,” she remembered. “I wanted to wear it, but I was just insecure about it. After my freshman year I decided, on my own, to start wearing it. I began to grow up personally and gained confidence. I came into my sophomore year wearing it, without warning anyone at school. When kids at school saw me, they asked questions like, ‘why are you wearing that?,’ or, ‘how come you didn’t wear it before?’

      “But everyone was really supportive and accepting. On a few occasions, I’ve even been asked by some teachers at school to speak to their classes, like foreign language and history classes, about my attire and why I wear it. That has given me the opportunity to tell people about my religion. It’s been a positive thing.”

      When it comes to playing basketball, Berri — who averages four points and five rebounds a game this year — said the head scarf hasn’t been cumbersome.

      “It has slipped a few times, but I just adjust it and get back to the game,” she said.

      During her sophomore year on varsity, Berri was nearly unrecognizable facially for a stretch of the 2006-07 season, yet everyone still knew who she was. In addition to wearing her head scarf, she wore a protective face mask after fracturing her nose during a game.

      “My teammates looked at me like I was crazy,” she said. “Everyone was telling me to take the mask off. It did look pretty crazy.”

      Berri played varsity as a sophomore, then junior varsity ball during her junior year before earning a starting spot on varsity this year.

      “I had no qualms about her headdress and actually thought it was a physical symbol of her dedication to herself, her faith and our team,” Laguna Coach Jon Hendrickson said. “We’ve had no questions from referees, or opponents, about it.

      “It’s been a pleasure to coach Ahllam and see first-hand her dedication. She brings intensity and leadership. She is very committed to the team and her teammates. She’s gotten extremely better and we struggle when she is not on the floor. She is definitely an asset to our team, both on and off the court.”

      Although the Breakers will have a tough season end next Tuesday, Berri said she has nothing but great memories of playing for the Breakers.

      “I’m extremely glad that I played basketball here,” she said. “I have a real close bond with my teammates, and it’s been a great experience.”

      Berri, who intends to study medicine at a four-year university, says her decision to wear the hijab a little more than two years ago has been educational.

      “Wearing it has taught me about myself and about people, in general,” she said. “I realize that I’m stronger than I thought and wearing it actually has given me more confidence. It’s also made me want to be a better Muslim.”

      Hijab for Norwegian Police
      Thu. Feb. 5, 2009


      OSLO — The Norwegian government has agreed to amend the police uniform law to accommodate hijab, a decision hailed by the Scandinavian country's Muslim community.
      "This is a nice gesture towards the Arab and Muslim community in Norway," Brahim Belkilani, the head of Islamic League in Norway, told IslamOnline.net on Thursday, February 5.

      The government announced a day earlier that policewomen can don the hijab if they so wished.

      Keltoum Hasnaoui, a 23-year-old Norwegian Muslim of Algerian origin, has petitioned the Justice Ministry on her write to serve in the police force with her hijab.

      "After advice from the Police Directorate, it has been decided that rules on police uniforms will be modified to allow for the wearing of a religious scarf with the uniform," the Ministry said in a statement.

      National Police Board Director Ingelin Killengreen said the decision as part of efforts to court more recruits from the Muslim community.

      "We think it's necessary to recruit widely and to develop a police force which reflects all classes in society, regardless of beliefs and ethnicity, which is more important than demanding a neutral uniform," she wrote.

      "It is important that all parts of our society should feel equal in their relations with the police."

      Belkilani, the Muslim leader, expects the new rules to encourage other Muslim women to join the police force.

      Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.

      Several European countries, including Sweden and Britain, already allow police officers to wear hijab.


      Belkilani, whose group was established in 1987, believes that accommodating Muslim religious needs within the police force would further strengthen the stability of the society.

      "Politicians wanted to send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim community that they are not discriminated against."

      The Muslim leader insists that his community enjoys all rights just like other sections of society.

      "The law treats all religious organizations from all sects and religions equally," he said.

      "Religious organizations envoy the same privileges of the church."

      The Muslim community in Norway is estimated at 150,000 out of the country's 4.5 million population.

      The majority of Muslims are of Pakistan, Somali, Iraqi and Moroccan backgrounds.

      There are nearly 90 Muslim organizations and Islamic centers across Norway.

      Oakland bank apologizes to Muslim woman it denied service


      OAKLAND — A bank has apologized to a Muslim woman denied service in December because she was wearing a hijab, but has also defended its decision.

      When Safa Magid went to Community Bank of the Bay to make a deposit, a teller refused to serve her, explaining that the bank's policy prohibiting people from wearing hats included head scarves.

      "The woman asked if I could take off my scarf," Magid said Thursday. "And I said, 'No, I'm not going to take off my scarf.' Then, she said she couldn't serve me because I'm wearing a scarf."

      Magid then tried to explain that she wore the scarf for religious reasons, but that a second bank employee confirmed the "no hat" ban included Magid's scarf.

      Magid, who had visited the Broadway bank previously without incident, closed her account. She later sought help from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

      "(The bank) immediately recognized that there was an error, but I think it points to a deeper problem," said Agnes Chong, a Bay Area coordinator for the civil rights organization. The council has called attention to similar bank practices across the country.

      The president of the Oakland bank blamed the incident on an "overzealous" employee who was "not exercising good judgment."

      The bank stood by its no hats policy, meant to deter robberies, but the president, Brian Garrett, said it must be applied with common sense.

      Garrett wrote in a letter this week to the Council on
      American-Islamic Relations that the bank "initiated this step when a gang of hoodlums was terrorizing Oakland restaurants and banks with 'take over' style hold ups and threatening people with guns."

      "My staff was very unnerved at the time," he said in an interview Thursday. His wife had been threatened with a shotgun during a Concord robbery last year, he said.

      "There's been some use of religious dress to engage in bank robberies. You can go look at the FBI Web site," he said.

      The bank, as is increasingly common at banks throughout the country, also requires customers to remove dark sunglasses, hoods and other headgear. "We had a gentleman today who was very upset because I told him to remove his hood," Garrett said. "I said I'm sorry, that's the rules."

      Born and raised in Oakland, and having worn a hijab for many years, Magid said she has never before faced discrimination based on her attire.

      A second-year resident in an internal medicine program, Magid said she was stunned by the actions of a bank she had specifically chosen for its environmentally friendly business philosophy.

      Magid said she appreciated the bank's apology but was not entirely satisfied.

      "I think they should reconsider their policy," she said. "There are a lot of people in the Bay Area who choose to wear head covering for religious reasons, whether it's Jewish men or Indians."

      Though he apologized, Garrett rejected Magid's request that the bank take up sensitivity and diversity training for employees. There is no lack of sensitivity among the bank's diverse staff, he wrote in the letter.

      Citing security concerns, he also said the company would not implement a "blanket allowance of any type of headscarves", instead considering exceptions individually.

      "I would say, please, may I speak to someone, this is a religious issue to me," Garrett said.

      The bank president said he was upset that his bank was being "vilified." He said he has written and mailed a letter of apology to Magid, but no one had ever called him directly to talk about the incident.

      "I consider it a private matter between her and us," he said. "She's decided to make it much more vocal."

      Reach Matt O'Brien at 925-977-8463 or mattobrien@....

      Sweden: Controversial lawyer to set new headscarf precedent

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