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Hijab News: Burka Furor Mirrors France’s Se lf-doubts: Scholar

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  • Zafar Khan
    Burka Furor Mirrors France’s Self-doubts: Scholar
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 5, 2009
      Burka Furor Mirrors France’s Self-doubts: Scholar


      PARIS – As the debate rages on in the western European country on burka, a leading Muslim scholar has said that France’s efforts to ban the loose body-covering reflects growing self-doubts inside the society.
      "This is a society that has doubts about itself,” Tariq Ramadan told a parliamentary panel mulling a burka ban Wednesday, December 2, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

      “For me, this commission is born of a real self-doubt, and suddenly they're looking at one element, at the most extreme slice.

      "The problem won't be solved like that."

      A debate has been raging in France over burka since Communist MP Andre Gerin proposed a parliamentary probe into whether to ban the wearing.

      President Nicolas Sarkozy has weighed in the controversy, saying the burka was "not welcome" in secular France.

      The parliamentary panel has invited the Muslim scholar to a hearing on burka before formulating recommendations in a much-awaited report to be presented next month.

      According to AFP, there are no figures on the number of women who wear the full-body covering in France -- and whether it is on the rise.

      Muslim community leaders say that burka remains a rare exception among France's nearly seven million Muslims, the biggest Muslim minority in Europe.

      They have accused lawmakers of wasting time by focusing on a fringe phenomenon, warning that the move would stigmatize the Muslim minority.


      Ramadan, a professor Islamic studies in at Oxford, said France was failing to address the real problems facing French Muslims by debating a burka ban.

      "This debate surrounding the burka bothers me," said the Swiss-born scholar.

      "Because in the end, this is not the question that needs to be raised.

      "The real problem is that when you have a name that is a bit Arab-sounding, or Muslim by affiliation, you are not going to get a job or you are not going to get an apartment," he said.

      The Paris-based anti-racism group SOS-Racism said recently that some French recruitment companies are applying racist policies and ethnic profiling in hiring, filtering out non-white candidates.

      A 2007 UN fact-finding mission warned that France's ethnic minorities are trapped in social and economic "ghettos" because of an "insidious racism" tolerated by politicians..

      Ramadan, who was chosen by the influential Foreign Policy magazine as one of the 100 top global thinkers in 2009, acknowledged that some women are forced to wear the head-to-toe garment.

      "Clearly, there are men who put pressure on women — not just men, but the social context and social ghettoization that leads some women to wear the full-body garb,” he said.

      "But a law (to ban it) is the wrong solution."

      France was the country that sparked a heated debate across Europe over Muslim women hijab after it banned it in state schools in 2004.

      While scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the niqab or burka, Hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women.

      “All of this commotion over the burka does tell ordinary citizens that there is something wrong with Islam and leads to stigmatisation,” he said.

      France’s burka debate came back to the fore this week after Switzerland voted in a referendum to ban minarets, putting Muslims’ place in Europe again in the headlines.

      "Switzerland is going to open the way for (Europe's) relations with Islam for the next 50 years," he said.

      Our man in Cairo rashly enters Egypt's veil debate

      Muslims upset over comments about ban on women wearing the niqab


      As the great-grandson of the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, and as a rising star in the Foreign Office, Britain's ambassador to Cairo should be fluent in the carefully crafted language of negotiation and diplomacy.

      But Dominic Asquith has caused upset among Muslims after comments he wrote in a blog in which he entered the hotly contested and sensitive debate over whether women should be allowed to wear the niqab in Egypt. Mr Asquith, 52, described the niqab – the full-face veil – as a "symbol" of Islam rather than central to the religion and insisted that not wearing it did not make women any less Islamic.

      He also compared the wearing of the niqab to women beginning to attend Catholic churches without the head veil in the 1960s, adding that "change is always difficult".

      Muslims commenting on his blog accused him of representing a country with a "bloody history" and claiming that the "Catholic church is the last place to learn lessons from".

      But in a second blog defending his position, Mr Asquith risked further criticism by saying: "We cannot presume to know the mind of God and whether God attaches importance to the symbols we have adopted... It goes to the heart of what is ritual in religion and what is dogma."

      Mr Asquith's original blog post was written earlier this month following an incident at an Egyptian university where a leading Islamic cleric asked a student to remove her niqab. Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, the head of the Al-Azhar University, has banned female students and teachers from wearing the full-face veil in class. The Egyptian government is concerned about the rise in women wearing the veil in the country. But Muslim opposition groups in Egypt have said the ban amounts to an attack on personal freedom.

      Mr Asquith wrote that the row reminded him of the 1960s, when Catholic women, including his own mother and aunt, no longer covered their heads when they entered church. He wrote: "I remember how difficult it was for some Catholics 50 years ago to accept the changes – to the symbols and the traditions. It is not impious to suggest a reasoned debate about religious matters, which focuses on the essence of our religion, not its symbols."

      However polished Mr Asquith believed his language to be, it provoked an angry response.

      While one respondent, "Shohrat", said he respected the ambassador's view, "Hisham" accused Mr Asquith of "sticking your nose in something that has nothing to do with you, your country, your religion, or your Catholic sect". Another, Mansour Jamil, wrote that the "Catholic church is the last place to learn lessons from".

      In response last week, Mr Asquith wrote, rather diplomatically, that he found the comments "very rewarding – including from those who thought that, as a Catholic and a British ambassador (it was not quite clear to me which was worse in their eyes!), I was unqualified to voice an opinion".

      The ambassador, in a reference to the niqab, said believers who did not adopt "symbols traditionally associated with their religion" were not un-Islamic. "If they choose not to do so, I can't believe that makes them less devout or less religious persons."

      Mr Asquith is a fluent Arabic speaker and classicist educated at Ampleforth and Oxford. Before taking up the Cairo posting in 2007, he was ambassador to Baghdad during a difficult two-year period for Britain in the Iraq conflict, including the hostage-taking of five Britons.

      Foreign Office ministers and diplomats have been blogging on the Foreign Office website since 2006, but when David Miliband, a keen blogger, became Foreign Secretary in 2007, the activity was stepped up.

      Mr Asquith, who was born in Zanzibar and is a cousin of the actress Helena Bonham Carter, has written a blog since May this year.

      Canadian-designed hijab lets girls play sports safely


      A Montreal woman upset that Muslim girls wearing hijabs had to choose between their religion and sports has come up with a solution.

      Elham Seyed Javad, 26, has designed a new type of sports hijab at the University of Montreal, after learning that some girls were forced to give up their love of sports because officials said their hijabs posed a safety risk.

      Javad's new hijab, called the ReSport, is form-fitted close to the head and attached to a tank top that girls can wear underneath their clothes. It is made of breathable fabric, and not easily pulled.

      A group of girls used it in a Tae Kwon Do tournament this weekend and were allowed to play.

      "The main problem with conventional hijabs is that the back part of the hijab would come out of the kimono," said Javad, a University of Montreal student who doesn't wear a head covering herself.

      A number of girls were thrown out of a soccer match and Tae Kwon Do tournament in Quebec two years ago when the safety concerns were first cited.

      Quebec has struggled with what should be deemed "reasonable accommodation," and how far it should go to oblige to the religious and cultural differences of immigrants.

      "It was an emotional shock for me because I do sports myself," said Javad. "It would be a disaster for me to have to give up sports because of my beliefs."

      The Resport was developed as a project for the University of Montreal, where Javad is a graduate student.

      Univalor, a group in charge of bringing the University of Montreal's inventions to the market, is supervising the commercial development, and they are aiming to find a manufacturer and distributor in hopes of bringing to the product to store shelves within six months.

      Now, she can look pious in hijab and cool in her shades


      Want to observe Islamic dress code while staying trendy in Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s scorching desert heat?

      Put on a pair of gold encrusted BQ shades -- the world’s first sunglasses especially tailored for piously dressed women in the Persian Gulf.

      The brand's name BQ comes from the word burqa -- a face-covering harness worn by women in the Persian Gulf region in nomadic times. BQ's debut collection features modern replicas of the traditional accessory in the form of large, dark aviator-style sunglasses.

      Behind the line is London-based design firm Fitch branch in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It hopes BQ will become a hit among young fashionable women in the region by mixing trends with tradition.

      BQ pitches the proposition that burqas were traditionally a type of protection from the sun as well as a religious face veil.

      If BQ becomes successful, makers of designer sunglasses may well find themselves facing a new rival in the Persian Gulf market. Large, extravagant shades from high-end brands are common among women in the shopping malls of Saudi Arabia and Dubai these days.

      Olivier Auroy, head of Fitch in Dubai, hopes that the young trendsetters will drop their designer shades for BQ.

      “Instead of wearing Chanel or Gucci, I want them to wear BQ," he told The Times over the phone from Dubai.

      Analysts suggest there might be a lucrative market for BQ, considering the cultural significance of the burqa in the gulf countries.

      Khulood Al-Atiyat of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding says that though contemporary women often choose the sunglasses before the burqa, she believes the garment still holds traditional value in her culture.

      “The reason why ladies don’t wear the burqas as much today is because of globalization. They'd rather wear sunglasses because it makes more sense. And it’s also to show their sense of style.. But the burqa, I guess, will always be part of heritage and tradition and what we are proud of. It’s something I hope we won’t lose in the future,” she said in a video presentation of the BQ project.

      It is also BQ's aim to tear down stereotypical views of the burqa as a tool of oppression and instead market it as a "symbol of culture."

      "I want people to think twice and see that this is a pure cultural thing," said Auroy.

      BQ exists only in virtual form at the moment but eager buyers can pre-order a pair of shades on the BQ website. There, shoppers can virtually try on the BQs: The shopper uploads a close-up photo of her face and clicks on a button that positions a pair of BQs on the photo, which can be shared with friends and family over the Internet.

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