Hijab News: Burqa: A Station on French Islamophobes' Road
- Burqa: A Station on French Islamophobes' Road
Editor’s Note: In the context of our coverage to the developmental row over the proposed ban on burqa in France which lapsed into the statement of the Urban Regeneration Minister of Algerian origin, Fadela Amara? where she explicitly referred to this ban as a tool which "would help stem the spread of the "cancer" of radical Islam, we are presenting an opinion piece that rings the alarm bells about the division within the French Muslim community on the ban's eligibility. Moreover, the writer believes that the French debate about the burqa ban isn't and won't be the final Islam-related debate "in a country that is full of many Islamophobic heard voices."
The seemingly current absurd question that divides French Muslims is the following one: Are niqab and burqa Islamic? Three different groups of people have been formed since niqab and burqa became targeted by a bill by André Gérin, a French Communist Party lawmaker. Whether on the Internet or inside mosques, opinions on niqab and burqa vary among French Muslims. The controversy has also its first victim — Imam Mahmoud Doua, who was attacked outside his mosque near Bordeaux after giving an interview to the media.
A part of the community affirms that burqa is a bid`ah (a forbidden innovation to the Islamic rules). Therefore, they support and even encourage the Gérin proposal to ban the dress covering Muslim women from head to toe. Another group claims that burqa is part of Islamic traditions from the earlier times of Islam. This group claims that as Muslims they will always try to respect this tradition and, as French citizens, they will not allow politicians to interfere with the freedom of religion protected by the French Constitution.
A third group, including me, thinks that burqa and niqab are just new and easy pretexts for Islamophobic groups to vilify Islam. These groups would never tolerate any visible Islamic signs in France, burqa and niqab are neither their first nor their last target.
Burqa Is Islamic
A document issued by the Council of Ulama at the island of Réunion opposes the mainstream discourse on burqa and niqab since the opening of the campaign. For the first time, a Muslim official states in the media that burqa is Islamic and not only an ethnic issue.
Although in the Creole language the Muslim community in Réunion is known as the Zarabe (Arabs), they are not Arabs. Their forefathers arrived to Réunion century ago coming mostly from the Gujarat in India.
The Zarabe form only 10 percent of the island's population, but they control more than half of the economy. They are widely admired and respected among the locals. Réunion is thus the only part of the French territory where one can hear Adhan, once a day, without causing social protest.
According to Imam Bhagatte, imam of the Mosque of Saint Denis, Réunion, "since the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) women used to cover their faces. Everybody knows the hadith asking women to uncover their faces during the Hajj," explained Imam, "if there were no women covering their faces, the Prophet would not have requested this," he added.
A couple of articles in favor of niqab and burqa were published on some French Islamic sites. Meanwhile, other important websites feel unable to talk about the issue. Internet sites are the only places where French Muslims, the biggest Muslim community in Europe, can exchange opinions related to their faith and citizenship.
Various Islamic associations have tried to publish a statement stating that burqa is not Islamic, but this attempt failed largely due to the opposition from the Salafi movement and Tablighi movement, which refused to join the statement. The former is a Sunni Islamic movement that takes the pious ancestors (Salaf ) of the patristic period of early Islam as exemplary models. The latter is an apolitical religious movement whose principal aim is the reformation of Muslims. In France, the idea strongly remains that burqa has nothing to do with Islam.
French Black Silhouette
For some reasons I understand niqab and burqa have always troubled French Muslims. On 21 December, 2003, in Paris, I witnessed the drama of a young lady kicked out of the ranks of a demonstration against the anti-hijab law because her face was covered. The lady was insulted and blamed by other Muslims who were fighting for the right to wear hijab in schools.
Five years on, I still remember the black silhouette standing alone in an overcrowded Parisian street, holding her face with both hands, and probably crying under the veil covering her face. Before finishing the interview I was conducting and finding someone to explain to me what had just happened, the silhouette had disappeared into the metro station.
The Salafi Movement and the Muslim Brotherhood are two of the French Islamic ideological waves clashing for decades on many subjects including niqab and burqa. The battle is fierce with plenty of amazing stories. Farid Abdelkrim, one of the most popular Muslim leaders, has collected some of these stories in a book called La France des islams: Ils sont fous ces musulmans?! (France of Islam: Are These Muslims Crazy?! ).
Beyond a Literal Division
With his Islamophobic proposal, André Gérin has just added some of fuel to an old fire. On one hand, the Salafi recommend niqab and burqa but they do not claim it to be compulsory sunnah (coming straight from the Prophet). On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood sometimes tolerates niqab and burqa but most of the time they send it to hell as a bid`ah (an innovation forbidden in Islam).
Imams like Doua would not mind a law banning niqab and burqa in France. In a television interview, his sentences on burqa were not exactly what many Muslim fellows expect from their imams, especially when they feel attacked by media and institutions. That is the main reason why Imam Doua was admonished by the youngsters upset after showing sympathy with this Islamophobic proposal.
A Law for 367 Women
I believe that burqa has nothing to do with the Gérin bill. I know this country in its relation to Islam. We are the people who accept a sexy top model to stand on our behalf as First Lady. So if burqa was just a fashion with no religious meaning, Mr Gérin and his Islamophobic friends would never waste their time and our money in a useless Commission based on legal strategies and political lies.. I deeply believe that Islam is the only target of the Gérin proposal.. But it is not politically correct to attack Muslim citizens and their religion, so they need to find a proxy.
French secret service officially say there are only 367 women wearing burqa out of the population of 70 million in France, confirming what had already been repeated from the beginning: burqa is marginal in France. But the Islamophobes are not going to stick to the statistics. They are not going to miss their target for such insignificant reasons. Social regulation has never been the reason for Mr. Gérin. He just wants to gain the media attention.
Whoever official attacks Muslims in France is sure of two things: that he rises to a better place in the news, and he finds no strong body to oppose his opinions. These conditions will not change until French Muslims can publish their own strong and accessible media fully dedicated to Islamic concerns.
After the ban of hijab in public schools, the road of Islamophobia goes through the ban on burqa. The next station can be any other demagogic topic like a ban on Ramadan fasting in public schools for health security reasons, but once again health will not be the true reason. The only goal of the French Islamophobes is to clean away each and every public sign of Islam in our country. It is not yet too late to resist them but few people understand. That is why Muslims are fighting against each other while the mainstream media are portraying all of them with no distinction.
Amara Bamba is the editor-in-chief of www.saphirnews.com, the first French web daily magazine focusing on Islamic information. He studied Mathematics and communications with a project to create a French media dedicated to Islamic news and information. You may contact him via Euro_Muslims@...
Saturday, 26 September 2009
Discrimination: A fact of working life for headscarved women
Ill-intentioned employers looking to hire cheap, exploitable workers who have little legal support available to them need not look beyond Turkey's borders to find employees, as the domestic employment conditions for women who wear the headscarf can make them among the most desperate of job seekers.
While the troubles faced by women who choose to wear headscarf at universities and government workplaces are often subject to public attention, fewer people are aware of the problems they encounter in the private sector, even at firms that ostensibly possess Islamic tendencies. The European Union has expressed concerns over the compromising of gender equality in Turkey via employment discrimination against women who wear headscarves, noting that the Turkish government has not done enough to research the extent of this discrimination.
For some, though, the prejudice is all too apparent. Last week, Sunday's Zaman spoke with women who say they have fallen victim to employment discrimination despite their qualifications and experience because they wear the headscarf. They tell stories of adverse working conditions, long hours, little pay and unequal treatment -- all based on the scarf.
“First and foremost, employers know that you can't work for the state; you can't work for most major, big companies. They know this and because they know this, if they're willing to hire you they will work you as hard as they are able,” says Seçil Yılmaz, an İstanbul psychologist who wears a headscarf. “This makes women who wear headscarves and enter or attempt to enter the workforce an easy target. They are put under immense pressure in multiple ways: the normal pressures of trying to make ends meet, the pressure of the job search with a clear disadvantage and the pressure of being treated as a charity case at a workplace instead of a full-fledged employee.”
According to Yılmaz, who runs a private practice, discrimination against women who wear headscarves does not stop with hiring practices. Once successfully finding employment in the private sector, these Muslim women must often make a number of concessions to keep their jobs or else face unemployment, “along with which come the troubles of economic dependence and limited horizons,” she says.
“To begin with, the careers they can enter are limited. You want to be a janitor or work in food preparation? That's fine; you can wear a headscarf and sweep floors in the finest, most secular institutions. Want to work in marketing at an Islamic business? ‘Stop right there,' they'll tell you,” Yılmaz says.
Yılmaz notes that women who wear headscarves and are employed can often be isolated at their workplaces, made to work in places where they will not come into contact with the public as company representatives.
At 25 years of age and with a degree in public relations and three years' experience in marketing, Emine C. has worked in a basement at a printer for the past six months. “The woman who works upstairs in reception has no experience and is a high school graduate. Since she is physically what this company wants as its representation, she is the one who deals with company visitors, incoming customers and explaining our product line. I was the one who created our promotional materials and our marketing approach. She goes to meetings at other firms while I work downstairs near the printing presses where nobody can see me, even though I'm a marketing sub-director; I can only interact with our clientele via telephone. I've complained to my boss about this, and he admits that I'm more skilled than she. But he just says, ‘I'm sorry; we don't want anybody to get the wrong idea about what kind of company we are.' What can I do? I need to make a living,” she
In addition, women complain about working extra-long hours under unsatisfactory conditions. “People can take three 10-minute smoke breaks a day at offices, but women who wear headscarves are not allowed to take one or two five-minute breaks to pray. They are forced to deduct this time from the normal tea and lunch breaks,” Yılmaz said. “A number of patients have come to me complaining over the stress and depression that this creates. These women want to work and make a living; they don't want to remain dependent on their fathers, brothers or husbands. They are also not willing to compromise their beliefs and faith, and so they are at the mercy of these employers, who act as if they are doing these women a favor by employing them when what they are really doing is exploitation.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the first firms to discriminate against women who wear headscarves are sometimes those which purportedly have Islamic sentiments. Büşra Ö., 26, explains that she found a job working at the office of a publication known for its conservative Islamic outlook last year after an exhausting and fruitless job hunt at other private sector companies. “After being turned away time and time again because of the headscarf, it was a relief to finally have a stable income, even if it was less than I could earn at other companies if I did not cover,” Büşra said. However, she was soon to learn that it was too good to be true.
“I soon realized that there was a difference between how I was treated and how the other employees were treated. When I went in for the job interview, they explained that they only had so much in terms of financial resources and that for that reason salaries were low and there was no private insurance,” she said. Much to her surprise, one day she overheard a male coworker talking on the phone with the hospital about his workplace-provided insurance policy. “After speaking with the other headscarf-wearing women there I learned that they negotiated separately with each employee about the benefits and salary package and that women at the company, all of whom wore scarves, never got insurance. I went to my boss and demanded that I be taken under the company insurance or at least have my salary increased accordingly. He told me, ‘Look, the deal is done. If you want you can go find another job, but it won't be easy, who is going to hire a headscarved
woman in this field?' I was astonished. I left immediately and never went back,” she lamented. She currently works freelance from home but says that the workflow is unstable, especially given the economic crisis.
Zeynep A., 30, says she has had many similar experiences during her work life in Ankara. “It's wholly frustrating and demoralizing to try and find work as a woman who wears the headscarf. You can find a job, sure, but you cannot find a good job that will guarantee your economic independence. Islamic firms are the worst in this regard -- you think that a practicing Muslim would be the last person to take away your rights, but they are the first in line. They will work you for long hours with little pay and no benefits, just so that they can make a profit from your cheap labor. They know you probably cannot find a job elsewhere, so you have to suffer as long as you can,” she says. “I've worked at three Islamic companies and four normal firms, and I will never apply for a job at an Islamic company again. I can't even begin to explain what they put headscarved women through at these places; it turns the stomach. I'm not a slave, and I refuse to be
treated without respect.” Zeynep, a certified accountant with a degree in economics, has been unemployed and living with her parents since last fall, when her workplace closed due to the crisis.
Pol calls for $1,500 Muslim headscarf tax
THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Sept. 17 (UPI) --
Muslim women should have to pay a $1,500 headscarf tax, a right-wing Dutch politician proposed during a parliamentary session.
It's time "to clean up our streets," Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders said.
"This is pollution of public spaces. Let us do something about this symbol of oppression."
The headscarf tax, which Wilders called a "head rags tax" at one point, was intended to "demotivate" people to wear Muslim attire, he said.
The money would go to women's "emancipation programs," he said.
The tax would apply only to Muslim women and not to women of the orthodox Christian or Jewish faiths who wear similar headscarves, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported.
Wilders was raised Roman Catholic and attributes his politics to "Judeo-Christian values."
He made his proposal during Ramadan, the Islamic month when the faithful believe God gave the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad, a time of fasting, self-reflection and extra prayer to teach patience, modesty and spirituality.
Other parliament members denounced Wilders' proposal. Minister of Housing, Communities and Integration Eberhard van der Laan called it "hysterical," while progressive Democrats 66 leader Alexander Pechtold called it xenophobic and racist, the Dutch news Web site NU.nl reported.
The Court of Appeal in Amsterdam ordered Wilders' prosecution Jan. 21 for "the incitement to hatred and discrimination."
Britain banned him from entering the country Feb. 12, calling his presence a "threat to one of the fundamental interests of society."
Wilders' 2008 short film "Fitna," which he described as "a call to shake off the creeping tyranny of Islamization," was widely condemned.
Belgian Schools Ban Hijab
BRUSSELS — Dutch-language public schools in Belgium will ban the wearing of hijab in classes, following the suit of many European countries.
"This decision promotes the feeling of equality and prevents group formation or segregation on the basis of external symbols of life philosophy," the schools said in a statement cited by Reuters on Friday, September 11.
The ban will affect 700 schools in the northern region of Flanders, including some in Brussels.
School officials argue that the ban was taken to guarantee equal treatment of all pupils within the school grounds.
“There is a problem when there is pressure on one group because we want to live together in reciprocity and it’s very important for us,” Karin Heremans, the headmistress of a Dutch-language school, told Euronews.
“Everyone has to feel good in this school, so a social minority here became majority. So it was a problem.”
Most schools in Flanders are Catholic and run by municipalities.
Schools in Flanders that are financed by other Belgian communities are not bound by the ban.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
The ban comes ahead of a court ruling on a decision by two Dutch-language schools in the northern city of Antwerp to ban the Muslim veil.
Last week, the two schools banned the Muslim veil at the start of the school year, arguing that Muslim girls were being pressured to wear the headscarf.
The ban triggered protests from angry students and one girl filed a complaint in court to contest the ban.
The tribunal ruled on Tuesday that schools could not take such decisions on their own.
The court will rule on the student's appeal next Tuesday -- prompting the community's education board to make public its unified stance on Friday.
The protests over the ban, with banners reading "No headscarves, no pupils" and "Everybody free except us", have been front-page news in Belgium.
A similar debate is underway in Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia, and the Brussels capital region.
Hijab has been thrust into the limelight since France banned it in public schools and institutions back in 2004.
Several European countries have since followed the French lead.
Belgium has a Muslim minority of 450,000, about half of them are from Moroccan origin, while 120,000 are from Turkish origin.
Exercise Tailored to a Hijab
THE first time Julia Shearson rode her bike after converting to Islam seven years ago, her headscarf became stuck in the wheel.
She lost her balance, and by the time she got going again she was met with stares as she whizzed along, arms and legs draped in loose clothing, her scarf billowing in the breeze.
“You have to overcome the looks,” said Ms. Shearson, 43, the executive director of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islam Relations. “It’s already hard enough to exercise, and if you look different ... it’s even harder.”
As a Muslim woman in the United States, Ms. Shearson has found it difficult to stay fit while adhering to her religious principles about modesty. Islam does not restrict women from exercising — in fact all Muslims are urged to take care of their bodies through healthy eating and exercise — but women face a special set of challenges in a culture of co-ed gyms and skimpy workout wear.
Many pious Muslim women in the United States, like Ms. Shearson, wear hijab in public, loose garments that cover their hair and body, which can hinder movement and add to discomfort during exercise. Women may show their hair, arms and legs up to the knees in front of other women.
Muslim women are often limited in their choice of activity, as well. Some believe that certain yoga chants, for example, are forbidden, as well as certain poses like sun salutations (Muslims are supposed to worship only Allah). For the sake of modesty, working out around men is discouraged.
That modesty can be a benefit and a liability. On the one hand, Muslim women are spared some of the body-image issues that other women face; on the other, that freedom can be a detriment to their physical well-being.
“We don’t have the external motivation that non-Muslim women have,” said Mubarakha Ibrahim, 33, a certified personal trainer and owner of Balance fitness in New Haven, a personal training studio catering to women. “There is no little black dress to fit into, no bathing suit. When you pass through a mirror or glass you’re not looking to see ‘Is my tummy tucked in? Do I look good in these jeans?’ You’re looking to see if you’re covered.”
After gaining 50 pounds while pregnant with her first child, Ms. Ibrahim studied exercise and nutrition, and became certified through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. In 2006 she opened her studio, which offers a safe environment for women to exercise (she says she has more orthodox Jewish clients, who also adhere to rules of modesty).
Ms. Ibrahim said she would like to see exercise become as natural a part of a Muslim woman’s life as praying.
In July, about 120 women from around the country attended Ms. Ibrahim’s third annual Fit Muslimah Health and Fitness Summit in New Haven. She offered yoga, kickboxing, water aerobics and core conditioning classes alongside workshops on weight loss, nutrition, cancer prevention and diabetes at the two-day, women-only event. She plans to hold another one in Atlanta in February.
“An important part of your spirituality is your health,” said Tayyibah Taylor, publisher of Azizah, a magazine for Muslim women, and co-sponsor of the summit meeting. “You can’t really consider yourself in good health if all parts of your being are not healthy — your body, your mind and your soul. It’s a complete package.”
This is especially true now, during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting from dawn until sunset. “The Muslim prayer is the most physical prayer — the sitting, bowing, bending,” said Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. “The physicality of our prayer forces us to create flexibility in our body.”
But how to mix one’s physical and spiritual needs with practicality? Some Muslim-Americans go to women-only gyms like Curves, which has thousands of branches across the country. And some gyms and Y.M.C.A.’s offer gender-segregated areas, hours or days.
Other women, like Umm Sahir Ameer, a 27-year-old student in Shaker Heights, Ohio, take matters into their own hands. Last year, Ms. Ameer started the Muslimah Strive Running-Walking Group so she and 12 of her friends could exercise together.
“I wanted to establish this group as a way to further unite Muslim women in my community while gaining physical endurance,” she said.
Those who do work out in co-ed gyms have learned to make accommodations in their clothing. Loretta Riggs, 40, an educational coach in Pittsburgh, started exercising two years ago after divorcing her husband. She wears a scarf made of spandex, long-sleeved Under Armour shirts and Adidas or Puma pants.
“Some women don’t think you should be working out in a co-ed gym,” she said, “but I’m around men all the time in my workplace, when I take my kids to the park, when I walk outside.”
She added: “Why would I deprive myself of being healthy because I am a Muslim and I choose to cover? It’s very important to take care of myself.”
Mariam Abdelgawad, 21, a math teacher in San Jose, Calif., said that in high school she played hockey, soccer and ran track and field, all while wearing hijab.
But today she works out at home, since there are no female-only gyms in her neighborhood. Her parents, with whom she lives, have a treadmill, elliptical machine and Pilates equipment, as well as weights. She exercises about three times a week, but said she missed the camaraderie of the gym.
Though working out at home is convenient, she said, it is also very easy to procrastinate and not do it. “I don’t have all the options that a gym would have,” she said.
Swimming also poses problems. Although some Muslim women have been known to hop in the water in their street clothes, this can be cumbersome for a workout. The burqini — a one-piece outfit that resembles a scuba wet suit — has received a lot of attention in recent months (most notably in France, where a young woman was banned from wearing one at a pool), but it tends to be too form-fitting for some women.
“I tried it once, and it sticks to your body,” said Marwa Abdelhaleem, a 26-year-old teacher in Toronto who started a female-only swimming group to avoid the burqini question. “It’s really fitted. I wouldn’t wear it in public.”
Ms. Ibrahim, however, is more focused on the private..
“One of the ideas I promote is that when you are married and you take off your clothing, your husband should not be like, ‘You should put this back on,’ ” Ms. Ibrahim said. “Even if you wear a burqa, you should be bikini-ready. You should feel comfortable and sexy in your own skin.”