Dutch Parliament approves law on banning burqa

The Dutch Parliament has approved a law prohibiting women from wearing the Burqa and niqabs in public places, namely in education, public transport, hospitals, and government buildings. If women do cover their faces with the burqa or niqab they risk a fine of a maximum of 400 Euro’s. The ban is not applied on wearing them in the streets.

A majority of Dutch political parties supported the law drift of Minister Ronals Plasterk of Internal Affairs (Labour Party), with the exception of the Green Party (Groenlinks), the Social Liberal Party (D66), and the new party DENK, which enjoys support of Muslims and other Dutch minorities.

French PM calls for ban on Islamic headscarves at universities

The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, has sparked controversy by suggesting the Muslim headscarf should be banned in universities and that a majority of French people think Islam is incompatible with the values of the Republic.

The Socialist, under pressure over contested labour reforms and growing street protest movements, reopened the divisive question of whether students could be banned from wearing headscarves at French universities.

In a long interview with the daily Libération, he was asked whether headscarves should be banned by law from universities and replied: “It should be done,” conceding that the constitution made it difficult.

But other Socialist ministers immediately contradicted him. “There is no need for a law on the headscarf at university,” said Thierry Mandon, the higher education minister. He said students were adults, and as such they “have every right to wear a headscarf. The headscarf is not banned in French society.”

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the education minister, said she did not support banning headscarves from universities, adding that students were young adults with “freedom of conscience and religious liberty” to do as they please. “Our universities also have a lot of foreign students. Are we going to ban them access because in their culture there’s a certain type of clothing?” she said.

In the past, figures on the right, including the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, have suggested headscarves should be banned from higher education.

But university leaders have consistently expressed strong opposition to any ban, saying students should be able to do as they please and that discriminating against students in headscarves is illegal.

The issue of Islamic head coverings has long been a highly contentious political issue in France, which has some of the hardest-hitting legislation on headscarves in Europe. In 2004 it banned girls from wearing headscarves in state schools, along with other religious symbols such as crosses or turbans. In 2011, Sarkozycontroversially banned the niqab (a full-face Muslim veil) from all public places. State workers in the public service must by law be impartial and neutral, and so cannot show their religious belief with an outward symbol such as a headscarf.

In December last year, the French national consulting body, the Observatory of Secularism, found it would be “neither useful, nor appropriate” to legislate on the wearing of religious symbols – including headscarves – at universities.

Valls also came under fire for telling Libération: “I would like us to be able to demonstrate that Islam, a great world religion and the second religion of France, is fundamentally compatible with the Republic, democracy, our values and equality between men and women.”

Asked if he was therefore implying that Islam had so far not shown itself to be compatible with French society and values, he said: “Certain people don’t want to believe it, a majority of French citizens doubt it, but I’m convinced that it’s possible.”

Abdallah Zekri, head of the Observatory on Islamophobia and a member of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, expressed exasperation that the prime minister was suggesting Muslims in France had not already demonstrated that their religion was totally compatible with life in France.

“We’re fed up of being stigmatised … [and] of this populist discourse which is worse than the far-right,” he told BFM TV.

Patrick Mennuci, a Socialist MP in the Bouches-du-Rhone, tweeted of Valls’s comments on the headscarf in universities: “Why open a debate that doesn’t exist? Let’s concentrate on real problems.”

A Twitter hashtag sprung up called #VraisProblemesUniversite (real problems at University) in which people suggested issues that were more important to debate.

With only a year to go until the 2017 French presidential election, François Hollande’s Socialist government, headed by Valls, is under increasing criticism from both the right and the left. Opposition to labour reforms has led to the government to back-track in order to attempt to appease young people after students and high-school unions took to the streets to protest.

Hollande’s poll ratings have dropped dramatically and he is now the least popular French president on record, with some on the broader left raising doubts over whether he can successively run again for another presidential term next year. The tough-talking Valls, once a popular interior minister, has also seen his popularity drop to its lowest levels, with an approval rating of 22% in a recent Elabe poll for LesEchos.

Since the Paris attacks in November, the Socialist government has led a hard line on security, surveillance and justice issues. Valls, a former mayor of the town of Evry outside Paris, recently warned that radical Salfists were“winning the ideological and cultural battle” in France. He said Salafists represented one percent of Muslims in France but their “message” was the only one that ended up being heard.

A fencing mask hid her hijab. Now, this U.S. Olympian wants to be heard, and seen

One of the most prominent faces and impassioned voices of this summer’s U.S. Olympic team will be hidden behind a mask. There’s irony there, for sure. The mask, after all, is what attracted Ibtihaj Muhammad to fencing in the first place.

Muhammad tried other sports: volleyball, softball, tennis. The other kids teased her for looking different, for wearing a headscarf called a hijab on her head while competing. “I wanted to find a sport where I could be fully covered and I didn’t have to look different,” she said. She gravitated toward fencing because the mask was the great equalizer: Slip it on and all competitors look the same.  Accustomed to anti-Muslim attitudes, she tries to avoid hateful social media messages as best she can and is particularly cautious when traveling. But when she encounters bluster about where Muslims should or shouldn’t live, it’s tougher to tune out — or make sense of.

The lifting of the headscarf ban one year on: German state laws and practices slow to change

22 March 2016

In a landmark ruling on the role of religious symbols in public schools in March 2015, the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) decided that a generalised prohibition of the hijab in schools was unconstitutional, as was any privileging of Christian or Jewish symbols. The Court asserted that neither the rights of third persons nor the religious neutrality of the state would be challenged if a female teacher decided to wear the hijab at her workplace. An infringement of the teachers’ freedom of religious expression by not allowing her to wear the headscarf was only legitimised by the ruling in cases where massive religious rows would undermine the school’s ability to teach.

In the German federal system, educational matters are, by and large, decided at the level of the country’s 16 states. In the mid-2000s, 8 West German states had introduced various forms of a headscarf ban in public schools, sometimes but not always accompanied by a strengthening of Christian symbolism. As the only state to conclusively amend its legal framework following the Court’s verdict, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has since issued a new law that discontinued the ban on the headscarf and has gone further in defining public schools as spaces of religious freedom and tolerance of different beliefs and expressions thereof.

By contrast, most other states have been reluctant to implement the Court’s decision. Bremen and Lower Saxony merely informed their schools via decrees that it was now permissible to employ teachers wearing the hijab while not moving to create a state law that would explicitly entrench this new policy. In Bavaria, the conservative government has retained its laws imposing the headscarf ban, as well as a privileging of ‘Christian-occidental’ symbols, in contravention of the Constitutional Court. So far, this has not been challenged in court by any teacher wearing (or wishing to wear) the hijab.

The situation is even more complicated in a number of other states. The state of Hesse has implemented an extremely onerous procedure of dubious legality in which each and every teacher wishing to wear the hijab is vetted in order to test whether her religious convictions constitute a danger for the order and the educational mission of the school. This vetting process also applies to teachers wearing the kippah. In Baden-Württemberg, the Green-led government has begun the legislative process of revoking the existing headscarf ban amidst considerable public debate; yet after the recent state elections this law is still in limbo. In the state of Berlin, the SPD-led government has so far not amended its ban of the headscarf and of the kippah in teaching employment and a range of other public-sector jobs, since it conceives of this ban as in tune with state neutrality towards religion because it extends to all religious symbols. In all of these states, hijab legislation will most likely be amended only when female Muslim teachers choose to use juridical means and sue state agencies in order to force them to comply with the Court’s ruling. Aside from the possibility to opt for the long march through the courts, female Muslim teachers desiring to wear the hijab are thus generally at the mercy of their immediate superiors and school principals and their willingness to allow the headscarf at their schools.

The Court’s original ruling can be found at: http://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/SharedDocs/Entscheidungen/DE/2015/01/rs20150127_1bvr047110.html

[press release] Declaration on the occasion of International Women’s Day

March 8, 2016

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) held a series of meetings throughout the period of several months with women, French citizens of the Muslim faith, who are engaged in their communities and in civil society.

The objective of this dialogue and exchanges is to understand the visions, the expectations, and the suggestions of Muslim women, and to examine, together, the problems linked to the condition of women within society.

At the end of the last meeting, which was held Saturday, March 5, 2016 in Paris, the CFCM and all women who participated would like to remind on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016:

  1. That since the beginning of Islam, women acquired and merit full legal status and that the Sainted Qur’an, Message of Wisdom and Equity, confers complete equality for men and women. “Women have the same rights as the men have on them in accordance with the generally known principles.” (Coran, 2:228)
  2. That it is established in Islam, without argument, the spiritual equality between man and woman and that there can be no limits to their spiritual progress.
  3. That man and woman come from a vital essence both the same and different, they are equal in humanity. To this, the Prophet proclaimed: “Women are like men.”
  4. That the Muslim woman plays a primordial role in society, that she must assume this role, without reservation, or constraint. Also, in regards to professional life, Islam advocates for the equality of salaries for workers, men and women, who hold the same job. This underlines the notion of equality among man/woman that is actively sought today in the work and business world.
  5. That the right to express their opinions on public, social, and religious affairs was recognized by Muslims since the advent of Islam. In effect, women can share their thoughts and choices on any public position. Also, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, second Caliph after the Prophet, entrusted the position of sales manager of contracts and purchases of Medina to a woman, Shifa Bint Abdullah, one of the rare people versed in art and writing in a society dominated by illiteracy; he also entrusted a woman to run the Market of Mecca, Samra Bint Nouhayl.
  6. That Islam gave man and woman their respective rights and obligations that allowed them to live in harmony. Sadly, in many cases, the principles of equality and equity are not respected by the Men who, at times, continue to impose their point of view. It is therefore necessary to continue to support pedagogy, study, and education so that Muslim women are not the objects of discrimination and submission.

The CFCM and the participating women proclaim on this occasion their solidarity with all women, of any faith and belief.

They reaffirm their commitment to work for the emancipation and development of the role of women in French society for today and tomorrow.

Controversy surrounding ‘room of silence’ at German university

25 February 2015

In a case that has received widespread attention in the press, the Technical University of Dortmund has closed down a ‘room of silence’ for reading, relaxation, and mediation, following the growing usage of the space as a prayer room by Muslim students. For the purposes of praying, the room had been divided by movable partitions into a bigger segment for men and a smaller one for women. When this triggered complaints from female students, and when prayer rugs and copies of the Quran were found, the university proceeded to close down the room: Eva Prost, the university’s spokeswoman, asserted that “as a public institution we are bound by the Basic Law, which demands equal treatment of men and women; this is what we must defend and therefore we cannot tolerate such a gender segregation.”

Already in 2012, the students’ union had insisted that religious symbols and utensils be removed from the room. At the time, sets of flyers with instructions for women on how to dress (hijab and no perfume) had also been removed.

A petition was started by students protesting against the closure. A Muslim student complained that the loss of this space meant that there was no possibility to pray in the university buildings other than in the staircases, which need to remain unobstructed due to fire safety regulations. As a response to the petition against the room’s closure, one of its signatories has received electronic hate mail of sufficient gravity that state security services have sought to bring charges against the sender for incitement of the people (Volksverhetzung).

Discussion with Sineb el-Masrar, author of the book Emancipation in Islam

Date: 21 February 2016

In the Muslim TV debate programme Forum on Friday, journalist Nazan Gökdemir interviewed Sineb el-Masrar, a German-Moroccan writer and activist, and discussed the latter’s new book Emancipation in Islam: A Reckoning with Its Enemies. El-Masrar has attained an increasingly high public profile after founding Gazelle, an intercultural women’s magazine, and after participating in several rounds of the government-sponsored ‘Islam conference’ that sought to bring together Muslim representatives and political decision-makers. El-Masrar sees herself as providing a voice for Muslim women who want to live their faith in ways that might not be accepted by more conservative and traditionalist segments in the Muslim community. In this regard, she directs some of her harshest criticisms at the Muslim organisations in Germany and their representatives, whom she deems unresponsive to women’s concerns. For el-Masrar, fellow Muslim women also need to rethink their strategy: according to her, it is not just that many of them are complicit in the maintenance of patriarchal structures that limit women’s choices; rather, even self-styled ‘Islamic feminists’ are often too narrow-minded in their conceptions of permissible forms of Islamic religiosity, or so el-Masrar argues. For her, what is necessary is a reappraisal of the diversity of Muslim women’s lives. This applies to Islamic history, which el-Masrar takes as offering a range of powerful female figures, as well as to contemporary society.

‘Muslim Women Often Don’t Know their Own Religion’: Congress on Islamic Feminism in Berlin

February 10, 2010

On February 3, 2016, a conference titled ‘Islamic Feminism – International Convergences’ was held by the Action Committee of Muslim Women and the SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin. According to its organisers, which included renowned academic Tuba Işık and journalist Kubra Gümüşay, the meeting aimed to discuss ways in which Muslim women could make themselves heard in public debates. Muslim women face an uphill struggle against double marginalisation in this regard: on the one hand, the non-Muslim mainstream often perceives hijab-wearing women as passive victims of male dominance. This has often prevented female Muslim activists from establishing effective links with their non-Muslim Western feminist counterparts. On the other hand, however, traditionalist currents within the Muslim community itself tend to perceive self-defining Islamic feminists as a group fouling their own cultural nest.

The conference drew on a range of international guests detailing their initiatives and concerns – including French activists pushing for more gender equality in mosques, or an American initiative seeking to expand educational opportunities for Muslim women, also in the field of Quranic schooling. Yet there also was considerable overlap with feminist issues and topics that are not of a distinctly religious or uniquely Muslim nature. These included demands for women’s financial independence and equal pay, as well as acrimonious debates on issues of class and race and of the ways in which the feminist movement (Islamic or non-Islamic) might become more inclusive towards all those it wishes to represent.

https://www.fes.de/de/veranstaltung-islamischer-feminismus-internationale-annaeherungen/ (Conference website at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation)

“Muslim Women Often Don’t Know their Own Religion”: Congress on Islamic Feminism in Berlin

10 February 2010

On February 3, 2016, a conference titled ‘Islamic Feminism – International Convergences’ was held by the Action Committee of Muslim Women and the SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin. According to its organisers, which included renowned academic Tuba Işık and journalist Kubra Gümüşay, the meeting aimed to discuss ways in which Muslim women could make themselves heard in public debates. Muslim women face an uphill struggle against double marginalisation in this regard: on the one hand, the non-Muslim mainstream often perceives hijab-wearing women as passive victims of male dominance. This has often prevented female Muslim activists from establishing effective links with their non-Muslim Western feminist counterparts. On the other hand, however, traditionalist currents within the Muslim community itself tend to perceive self-defining Islamic feminists as a group fouling their own cultural nest.

The conference drew on a range of international guests detailing their initiatives and concerns – including French activists pushing for more gender equality in mosques, or an American initiative seeking to expand educational opportunities for Muslim women, also in the field of Quranic schooling. Yet there also was considerable overlap with feminist issues and topics that are not of a distinctly religious or uniquely Muslim nature. These included demands for women’s financial independence and equal pay, as well as acrimonious debates on issues of class and race and of the ways in which the feminist movement (Islamic or non-Islamic) might become more inclusive towards all those it wishes to represent.

Why young American women are joining ISIS

An estimated 4,500 Westerners have ditched home for the Islamic State or other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria or Iraq. Researchers at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., collected data on 474 of these cases. They found in news reports an unprecedented number of radicalized women sneaking across borders.

One in seven are women, according to a new report.

“They often appear to be typical teenagers,” said Brigitte Lebans Nacos, a political science professor at Columbia University who studies terrorism. “They ask about hair dryers. They’re looking for romance. They’re fans of ISIS, like others are fans of pop stars.”

The average age of women in New America’s data set is 21. A third of the female converts are teenagers. Many are active in jihadist Web circles, occasionally using Twitter to connect with recruiters. Others have familial ties to jihadism — relatives fighting in Syria or Iraq, a lover who’d dedicated his life to the cause.

“These women are denying being sexual objects of the West,” Saltman said. “They refuse to be objectified. They use the veil so they cannot be sexualized.”