FREEDOM WRAPPED UP IN A HEADSCARF
- FAITH, RIGHTS AND FREEDOM WRAPPED UP IN A HEADSCARF
Charles Bremner, The Times (London), 11/27/03
PASSIONS over assertive Islam were stirred again yesterday by two
women a continent apart, who each decided to make a public statement
by wearing the hijab, the Muslim head-covering.
In Qatar, the switchboard of al-Jazeera television was flooded with
calls after Khadija Ben Ganna, the satellite channel's star
presenter, appeared swathed in a bright salmon-coloured veil. Mrs Ben
Ganna, an Algerian, said that she had decided to become the station's
first broadcaster to adopt Muslim garb after she had "defeated the
Devil" in a struggle with her faith.
Ibrahim Helal, Editor-in-Chief of al-Jazeera, said that Mrs Ben Ganna
was free to do as she wanted. "We received positive calls praising
this decision and we had some negative opinions inside the channel,"
he said. "I heard one producer talking about how it might be
misunderstood that we were transforming into an Islamic channel. This
is not the case."
Opinion took the opposite side in France, where Dahria Bouhali was
expelled from a murder jury in Bobigny, in the outskirts of Paris.
Dominique Perben, the Justice Minister, ordered her removal after she
had donned the hijab in mid-trial.
The veil has become an explosive subject in France, which is home to
Europe's biggest Muslim population, with more than 70 per cent of the
public in favour of Government moves to enforce a ban in schools and
perhaps in state buildings.
The publicity over the two women's dress decisions testified to the
emotions around the symbols of Islam as the more militant wing of the
religion is espoused by more of its moderate, "Westernised" members.
The question goes far beyond women's dress to the roots of competing
historic religions and the recent struggle between the Western and
radical Muslim systems.
In Europe, the hijab question has become an outlet for a confused
debate over immigration, intolerance and national identity. In
Britain, more women than ever are donning the hijab, which is
accepted as a routine part of a multicultural landscape. The same
acceptance applies in Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark.
The French media report with incredulity on the existence of British
police officers in Muslim dress and the hijab is fuelling argument in
Sweden, Belgium and Germany.
Germany's 16 Lander are divided over whether the head cover should be
tolerated in public schools, after the constitutional court ruled in
September that individual states had the right to introduce laws to
The Muslim practice of veiling the head, neck and throat is called
hijab. The word comes from the Arabic hajaba, meaning to hide from
Headscarves have several names, such as abaya in Arab countries,
chador in Iran and ohrni in Trinidad and Tobago
The Koran states: "O Prophet! say to your wives and your daughters
and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their
over-garments; this will be more proper, that they may be known, and
thus they will not be given trouble."
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