‘I could scream with happiness. I’ve given hope and strength to Muslim women’; Schoolgirl tells Guardian of her battle to wear Islamic dress

By Dilpazier Aslam A schoolgirl who yesterday won the right to wear the Islamic shoulder-to-toe dress in school said the landmark ruling would “give hope and strength to other Muslim women”. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Shabina Begum, 16, described the court of appeal verdict against Denbigh high school in Luton as a victory for all Muslims “who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry”. After a two-year campaign by Shabina, Lord Justice Brooke found her former school had acted against her right to express her religion by excluding her because she insisted on wearing the jilbab. The ruling, overturning a high court decision which dismissed her application for a judicial review last year, will affect every school in the country. Almost a year after the French government banned “conspicuous” religious symbols, including the hijab, in schools, the judge called on the Department for Education to give British schools more guidance on how to comply with their obligations under the Human Rights Act. “I really feel like screaming out of happiness,” said Shabina, who was represented at the court of appeal by Cherie Booth QC. “I don’t regret wearing the jilbab at all. I’m happy that I did this. I feel that I have given hope and strength to other Muslim women. “I also feel a bit sad when I think why couldn’t this judgment have been made two years ago? In the end it’s my loss. No one else has lost anything.” Shabina had worn the shalwar kameez [trousers and tunic] from when she entered the school at the age of 12 until September 2002, when she decided it was against the tenets of her religion. When Denbigh refused her request to wear the jilbab, she was excluded, becoming the reluctant poster girl of a campaign that has been reported in 137 countries. “I thought it would be acceptable to wear because most people at the school are Muslim,” she said. “Then when I was refused I thought a month maximum. Then it just carried on. I get recognised when I go out and other people point to me. They say, ‘Are you that girl?'” Denbigh high school, which has a 79% Muslim intake, said it had lost on a technicality and the school was proud of its multi-faith policy. It said in a statement that it takes into account the cultural and religious sensitivities of pupils. Girls at the school were permitted to wear skirt, trousers or a shalwar kameez and headscarves, which complied with school uniform requirements. The statement said: “The policy was agreed by the governing body following wide consultation with the DfES, pupils, parents, schools and leading Muslim organisations.” The local education authority, Luton borough council, said all schools would now be advised to take pupils’ religion into account when imposing dress rules. Shabina, who was forced to switch to a school that did not prevent Muslim girls from wearing the jilbab, said her campaign had taken its toll. “I can’t be normal with friends if I do not go to school with them. I feel like my social skills have really been lacking. I do not really have many friends at my new school.” At times, even some of her peers cast doubt on her case. “Some of my friends said to me, ‘It’s not an obligation, why are you going to get yourself excluded because of it?’ I said that it is – look at verse number 3.59,” she said referring to the Qur’anic passage which she believes obliges Muslim women to cover their bodies bar their hands and face. In April last year Shabina’s mother died, a month before she lost her case at the high court. Excluded from school and fighting a daunting legal battle, she said the 12 months leading up to her mother’s death were the worst of her life. Her initial defeat did not come as a complete surprise. “Our solicitors told us we only had a 5% chance of winning the case because it’s a radical judgment. They would prefer the court of appeal to do that. After I heard that I felt like I had nothing else to lose.” In a statement after the judgment, Shabina added: “Today’s decision is a victory for all Muslims who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry.” She said the school’s decision has been “a consequence of an atmosphere that has been created in western societies post-9/11, an atmosphere in which Islam has been made a target for vilification in the name of the ‘war on terror’.” She told the Guardian: “I hope in years to come policy-makers will take note of a growing number of young Muslims who, like me, have turned back to our faith after years of being taught that we needed to be liberated from it. “Our belief in our faith is the one thing that makes sense of a world gone mad, a world where Muslim women, from Uzbekistan to Turkey, are feeling the brunt of policies guided by western governments. I feel I’ve made people question the jilbab issue again. “Both France and Britain are calling for freedom and democracy, but something as simple as the jilbab still takes two years to get okayed.”

Fading Liberal Dream Tears Dutch Apart

Immigration has polarised the Netherlands as never before but, as Alex Duval Smith reports, its traditional values of tolerance have found some unlikely defenders . Martyn Loosman, impeccably turned out in a traditional costume of baggy trousers and a red and white striped shirt, buffs up the Dutch Queen Wilhemina coins on his belt buckle. ‘The government is going too far by proposing body searches and forcing suspected terrorists to report weekly to police,’ he says before sloping off, his black clogs scraping nonchalantly against the cobblestones of the fishing village of Urk. Forty miles south, in an Amsterdam coffee shop, advertising copywriter Geert Beck toys with his blond dreadlocks while sucking on a joint. ‘There are too many immigrants in Holland. They are stealing our society.’ The men, both 29, represent the contradictions in the Netherlands’ liberal society and pose questions over whether it has died or was only ever superficial. In a country where euthanasia is legal, one million people are on sick leave with no questions asked, prostitutes pay income tax and you can buy cannabis with your coffee, the government has for the past three months been passing radically intolerant laws. Immigration tops the political agenda all over Europe – in Britain ahead of the general election, in Denmark where the right was re-elected last week on an anti-foreigner platform and in Spain, which has infuriated its European Union partners by launching an amnesty for thousands of people without work permits – the Netherlands has reasons for a clampdown. In November 2004 – 911 days after the 9/11 attacks – controversial film-maker Theo Van Gogh was brutally murdered in an Amsterdam street. His alleged attacker, Dutch-Moroccan Mohammed Bouyeri shot him, strangled him, then stuck a note on his chest with a knife threatening war on Europe in the name of Islam. Within hours of the killing, prompted by Van Gogh’s controversial short film, Submission, which criticises radical Islam’s attitude to women, Integration Minister Rita Verdonk told 10,000 mourners gathered in front of Amster dam’s royal palace that Dutch tolerance ‘stops here and will not go any further’. There followed a cascade of reprisals. By the end of the year, more than 20 mosques, religious schools and churches had been attacked. Submission’s screenwriter, Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, still receives regular death threats. ‘People say Holland changed after the Van Gogh murder but we started asking ourselves questions long before that,’ said Loosman, who is unemployed. ‘I have done many different jobs but right now I do not want to work. I will get a job when I want one,’ he says as he walks with two friends through Urk’s winter fair – a pageant of basket-weaving, lace-making and wood-turning, punctuated by the sounds of a fairground organ. The village is festooned with Urk’s flag, a mackerel on red, white and blue stripes, and stalls sell smoked fish. In Calvinist Urk, a picture-postcard fishing village, there are only white people. Urk was an island until the great damming projects of the Thirties, and its mentality remains insular. Its dialect is incomprehensible to other Dutch people, businesses close at noon on Saturdays because that is the start of the Lord’s Day, and women go to church in black dresses. There are 16 churches for 17,000 people and some people still do not watch television on Sundays, or use the phone or ride their bicycles. ‘We call ourselves Holland’s indigenous Muslims because we are different,’ said Loosman. ‘People in the rest of the country make fun of us, saying we are rigid and high and mighty. ‘But I am proud to be an Urker. We have a history going back 1,000 years. During the Second World War we hid hundreds of Jews in the reeds to save them from the Germans. The other day I saw a photograph which was an aerial view of Urk as an island, and I felt sorry that we are no longer that way.’ Being attached to the mainland has changed everything for the Urkers. Friday’s fair was Urk’s first, created to improve its image. ‘In the last two years things have happened here which are not good,’ said Loosman. ‘First there was a split in one of the Reform churches. It was very nasty. Then, when some Kurds came here to do road work, there was a fight with local people. It was all over the Dutch papers. We are holding the fair, in which everyone is invited to wear local costume, to show we are friendly.’ Urk’s idea of a good image is somewhat different from those of other towns and villages in the Netherlands now engaged in the national pastime of working out what it means to be one of the world’s 16 million Dutch people. Many individuals and local authorities have forged links with the immigrants, said to be 5.8 per cent of the population. A ‘white march’ for peace was launched by a web- site called ‘Don’t touch my neighbours’ and Moroccans in Amsterdam started a ‘We won’t tolerate it’ campaign reminiscent of the France’s ‘Don’t touch my mate’ anti-racism drive in the Eighties. In Delft, a local association has started courses in ‘Moroccan culture and civilisation’, partly as a protest against new rules making immigrants take ‘acclimatisation courses’ and exams before being granted residency. Halfway between The Hague and Amsterdam, the local council of Alphen aan den Rijn has gone further than most with a campaign, under the slogan: ‘Let’s throw away our prejudices.’ The mayor, Nico Schoof, has plastered these words on bus stops, dustcarts and on the wrappers of Dutch waffles and Surinamese pancakes in cafes. Supermarkets have even slapped it on ‘fair trade’ such as bananas. Yet at government level the victim of another murder, the far-right politician Pim Fortuyn, is enjoying posthumous triumph. Fortuyn, who called Islam a ‘retarded religion’ and was killed on the eve of elec tions in May 2002, had run on a ticket calling for the Netherlands’ borders to be closed, integration to be obligatory and for measures against Muslim extremists. After his death, his party won 26 seats, though it lost all but eight of them six months later. In the past two years, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister, has done Fortuyn proud. The previous government of Social Democrat Wim Kok began the trend in 2001 by hardening the asylum laws so much that the country was condemned by Human Rights Watch. Asylum applications, which had totalled 43,000 in 2000, fell to 13,400 in 2003. Balkenede then pushed through rules banning all unsuccessful applicants fromstaying in the country. Now Fortuyn has a successor of sorts, Geert Wilders, 41, reckoned by opinion polls to have the third largest number of supporters in the country, though a general election is not due until 2007. Wilders, who left the liberal VVD last September because he objected to its moderate stance over Turkey joining the EU, appears to have wider support than Fortuyn, including some academics. But his party has not yet been tested in an election and he has no manifesto, apart from calls for a ban on extremist mosques. Yet most people in the Netherlands – Dutch or not – remain proud of their liberal traditions. Doing his bit for multiculturalism is the Surinamese comedian, J_rgen Raymann, 38, whose show at Emmeloord on Friday, had a all-white, often elderly, audience in stitches of laughter. His jokes – about food, dancing and accents – tackled racism head-on, making fun of immigrants and of the Dutch. ‘I try to hold up a mirror to myself and make them look at it, but I also hold up a mirror to them,’ said Raymann. ‘I try to put across the idea that Holland is a great country with fantastic health services, infrastructure, a tradition of compassion and no natural disasters. ‘Even though the weather is like a beautiful woman with premenstrual tension there are plenty of reasons to feel happy here. The Dutch have been spoilt and because they were so comfortable for many years, they felt guilty and became all politically correct. We are paying the price now. There is a panic. Everyone in a headscarf is a potential terrorist, and the media accentuates those views.’ Raymann believes the Netherlands ‘nee
ds to take a stand. We have to kick out the extremists and start a dialogue with the moderates. Dutch are not xenophobic, they are in a panic. When they have got over it, they will get back to their proud, tradition of moderation’. Others, however, feel lost. Loosman looks out to sea from Urk lighthouse, wishing his village was still an island. ‘Five years from now, I do not know where we will be. I am proud to be an Urker but the world seems to be pushing us in a direction we do not want to go.’ Geert Beck, the cannabis smoker at the Amsterdam coffee shop, does not want to be pushed either. ‘Our society is free, if you respect the rules. We Dutch know this but others have come here with different values and taken advantage of our trust.’

Fear of Islamists Drives Growth of Far Right in Belgium

ANTWERP, Belgium – Filip Dewinter, a boyish man in a dark blue suit, bounds up two flights of steep stairs in his political party’s 19th-century headquarters building where posters show a Muslim minaret rising menacingly above the Gothic steeple of the city’s cathedral. “The radical Muslims are organizing themselves in Europe,” he declared. “Other political parties, they are very worried about the Muslim votes and say let’s be tolerant, while we are saying – the new political forces in Europe are saying – no, we should defend our identity.” From the Freedom Party in Austria to the National Front in France to the Republicans in Germany, Europe’s far right has made a comeback in recent years, largely on the strength of anti-immigration feelings sharpened to a fear of Islam. That fear is fed by threats of terrorism, rising crime rates among Muslim youth and mounting cultural clashes with the Continent’s growing Islamic communities. But nowhere has the right’s revival been as swift or as strong as in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, where support for Mr. Dewinter’s Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, has surged from 10 percent of the electorate in 1999 to nearly a quarter today. Vlaams Belang is now the strongest party in Flanders, with support from a third of the voters in Antwerp, the region’s largest city. Many people worry that the appeal of antiIslamic politics will continue to spread as Europe’s Muslim population grows. “What they all have in common is that they use the issue of immigration and Islam to motivate and mobilize frustrated people,” said Marco Martiniello, a political scientist at the University of Li_ge in the French-speaking part of Belgium. “In Flanders all attempts to counter the march of the Vlaams Belang have had no results, or limited results, and no one really knows what to do.” Fear of Islam’s transforming presence is so strong that even many members of Antwerp’s sizable Jewish community now support Mr. Dewinter’s party, even though its founders included men who sympathized and collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Many of those supporters are Jews who feel threatened by a new wave of anti-Semitism emanating from Europe’s growing Muslim communities. The friction is acutely felt in central Antwerp, where the Jewish quarter abuts the newer Muslim neighborhood of Borgerhout. There, Hasidic diamond traders cross paths daily with Muslim youths, for many of whom conservative Islam has become an ideology of rebellion against perceived oppression. Israeli-Palestinian violence produces a dangerous echo here: anti-Israel marches have featured the burning in effigy of Hasidic Jews, and last June a Jewish teenager was critically wounded in a knife attack by a group of Muslim youths. “Their values are not the right values,” said Henri Rosenberg, a Talmudic scholar and lawyer who is an Orthodox Jew, speaking of the Muslim community. Though he is the son of concentration camp survivors and his grandparents died in camps, he campaigned on behalf of Vlaams Belang, then named Vlaams Blok, in regional elections last year. As the right rallies beneath an anti-Muslim banner, European Muslims themselves have become increasingly politically engaged. The community is far too divided along religious, racial and national lines to present a unified political force, so most of Europe’s Muslim politicians have allied themselves with socialists or other left-leaning parties. But radical Muslims are also getting involved, and in many ways they are helping to validate the fears that keep parties like Vlaams Belang alive. Behind the wooden door of a brick Brussels town house, Jean-Fran_ois Bastin, 61, a Belgian convert to Islam, holds court before a steady stream of Islamic activists. His fledgling Young Muslims Party is one of the new groups aggressively pursuing pro-Muslim agendas in Europe. He calls Osama bin Laden “a modern Robin Hood,” and the World Trade Center attacks “a poetic act,” “a pure abstraction.” His 23-year-old son is in jail in Turkey on charges that he was involved in the bombings there that killed 61 people in November 2003. But Mr. Bastin argues that his son’s troubles are evidence that Muslim youths feel politically excluded in Europe. He says political engagement is an antidote to militancy. “There is deviance because people don’t find their place here,” he said, a long, hennaed beard falling over the front of his Arab-style tunic, his graying hair tucked beneath a turban fashioned from a multicolored head scarf. “If we deny that political voice that can judge and determine what is good for Muslims, from the point of view of their religion and their citizenship, their children are going to look for adventures elsewhere.” Mr. Bastin, who converted to Islam in 1972 after a spiritual quest led him to Morocco, dismisses the far right’s fears of an Islamization of Europe, even if he does dream of an Islamic theocracy governing the Continent someday. “Were not talking about Shariah now,” he said, referring to the Islamic legal code that fundamentalist Muslims believe should be the foundation of society. “Were talking about Belgian Muslims being recognized on the same footing as other confessions and ideologies.” In many ways radical Islamists like Mr. Bastin are holding Europe’s broader, moderate Muslim population hostage, attracting attention disproportionate to their numbers. “You have, in the current context, people who feel legitimized being anti-Muslim,” said Mr. Martiniello, the political scientist. He cited the case of a Belgian man who had received death threats for employing a woman who wore a Muslim head scarf. Many of the extreme right’s supporters see Islam’s growing European presence as the latest, most powerful surge of a Muslim tide that has ebbed and flowed since the religion spread to the Continent in the eighth century. They warn that lax immigration policies, demographic trends and a strong Muslim agenda will forever alter Europe. The Continent’s Muslim population, now 20 million, grew from a postwar labor shortage that was filled with workers from North Africa and Turkey. By the 1980’s economic malaise and rising unemployment had created tension between the largely Muslim immigrants and the surrounding societies. But family reunion policies, which granted visas to family members of immigrants already in Europe, fueled another, more sustained wave of immigration that continues today. “We were very na_ve,” Mr. Dewinter said of the liberal policies. He called tolerance Europe’s Achilles’ heel and immigration Islam’s Trojan horse. The trend is even more distressing to the far right when considering the low birthrate of Europe’s traditional populations and the likelihood that more workers will need to be imported in the coming decades to broaden the tax bases of the Continent’s aging societies. Already about 4,000 to 5,000 Flemish residents are leaving Antwerp every year, while 5,000 to 6,000 non-European immigrants arrive annually in the city, Mr. Dewinter said. Within 10 years, he predicts, people of non-European backgrounds will account for more than a third of Antwerp’s population. “It’s growing very, very fast,” Mr. Dewinter said. “Maybe that will be the end of Europe.”

Belgian King Acts Over Islamic Veil Death Threat

King Albert II voices solidarity with Remmery, company boss facing death threat for defending Amzil’s right to wear a headscarf. BRUSSELS – Belgium’s King Albert II has voiced solidarity with a company boss facing a death threat for defending an employee’s right to wear an Islamic headscarf, in a case gripping the country, officials said Wednesday. The Belgian monarch will grant an audience next month to Rik Remmery, who runs a food processing firm in western Belgium, and his staff member Naima Amzil, the royal palace said. Albert II “is following the case closely and is very impressed by the manager’s decision not to give in to pressure,” said the king’s top aide cited by the Belga news agency. At the end of November Remmery received a letter, signed by a group calling itself “New Free Flanders,” demanding that he sack 31-year-old Amzil if she persisted in wearing a headscarf to work. The letter accused him of being “a bad Belgian who collaborates with Muslims,” and threatened both Remmery and his family. In response Amzil offered to take off her headscarf during working hours, and also said she could resign. But her boss refused both options, and has been backed by a growing wave of support in Belgium’s northern Flanders region, where the anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang group has backing from about a quarter of voters according to polls. One employers’ group has collected 17,000 signatures backing Remmery. “May your calm resolve become symbols of tolerance in Flanders,” said the Unizo bosses’ association. Remmery and Amzil will be received by the Belgian monarch on January 12, the royal office said.

Switzerland: Majority Of Swiss Support Muslim Headscarf In Workplace: Poll

GENEVA – A majority of Swiss people would support a Muslim woman’s right to wear a headscarf at her workplace, according to an opinion poll on the integration of Islam in Switzerland published on Sunday. Fifty-three percent of those polled said they felt a recent move by a supermarket chain to expressly allow women in public sales jobs to wear headscarves was right, against 36 percent who opposed the idea, the newspaper Sonntagsblick said.

Strasbourg Lays The First Stone Of Its Large Mosque

By Thomas Calinon It is perhaps the end of an old alarm. After two decades of reflection, including four years of impassioned debates, the first stone of the large mosque of Strasbourg was placed Friday, during Ramadan, in muddy ground near the downtown area. “It is time!” said the mayor of Strasbourg, Fabienne Keller, as the ceremony of more than 500 faithful Moslems concluded with “Allah Akbar!”. The event included representatives of the four faiths (Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran and Jew) recognized by the right of Alsace-Moselle, which excuses Alsace from the law on separation of Church and State since 1905.

Once, Muslims And Labour Were Natural Allies. Not Now. All My Years Of Activism Have Achieved Little, And The Young Know It

By Pola Manzila Uddin For much of my adult life I have dressed modestly, in shalwar kameez and sometimes saris. Only when visiting places of worship or in the presence of elders did I ever feel obliged to cover my head. However, earlier this year, I wore a scarf on Umrah, a mini pilgrimage, and it somehow felt natural to keep on wearing it when I got home. For me, this was simply an expression of a deepening knowledge of my faith and of my self. The first time I walked into the House of Lords with it on, I could feel the surprise. Some of my Labour friends were wonderful about it. But for others, shock soon gave way to suspicion, and the questioning began. Why was I doing it? When would I stop? Was my scarf a sign of my support of the French schoolgirls who’d been banned from wearing the hijab? And even, had I become a “fundamentalist”? And this from people who had known me, and my politics, for years. It was as if they thought that one piece of silk cloth over the hair changed one’s personality. Since that first day, this little piece of cloth has even coloured how some people receive my work. When I launched a report into faith schools earlier this month, it was suggested that I had an “obsession”, and was demanding more Muslim schools. Even some people who knew that I had sent my own four children to a Church of England school interpreted a simple call for parity as an expression of my new “extremism”. I am disappointed that, after so many years of political activism, so little seems to have changed. But this is not simply a personal disappointment. No one can have failed to notice what the recent election results confirmed – that Labour has lost the confidence of the minority communities, especially Muslims. Take my part of east London: the Respect candidate, coming from nothing to securing nearly 20,000 votes in boroughs where Labour should have walked home. As a party activist for three decades, I am frustrated that the government has come to be seen as complacent. And as a Muslim I am dismayed that there is no strategy to address this loss of support. Everyone has a story about why they feel let down, especially in areas where Muslim communities have settled over decades. Too often one still finds an all-white hierarchy in the town hall presiding over ghettos. Muslims feel powerless to change their communities – communities in which male unemployment is unacceptably high, schools are failing their children, and where inequalities in housing and health persist. And we have to acknowledge the impact of the “war on terror” – the huge increase in the number of Muslims now being subjected to stop and search adds to the feeling that the whole community is being criminalised. For over 50 years the Muslims of this country went about their business, obedient to the core. Our parents’ generation worked, ate, slept, they tolerated being spat at and being told to “go back”. When my generation, their children, grew up, we spoke English, ate fish and chips and became defiant when told to “go back”. That is why so many of us became politically active in the late 70s and early 80s. The Labour party was our natural home. We fought shoulder to shoulder, challenging the fascists on our streets. Our generation believed that we had a stake in Britain; we believed respect and understanding was just around the corner. Labour raised huge expectations when it professed to understand and value the Muslim community. But after September 11 everything changed. Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has all but destroyed that partnership. The government does nothing to protect us from the onslaught of verbal and physical attacks we face every time there is another bomb explosion, or a further threat of terror attacks. There is a sense of vulnerability, that every savage act carried out elsewhere leads to repression of every one of us on the streets of Britain. It is in this atmosphere that new questions are asked about us, as though we had not been born or grown up here. Muslims are being challenged to prove that they are more British than anyone else. How women wear their clothes, the way men cut their beards and even the company we keep are all now up for debate. Just imagine these questions being asked not in a place of courtesy and kindness, and by your friends, but with real hostility. When one is not understood or respected, how can one begin to explain such complex and often personal choices? I am dismayed by the daily justifications demanded of us just so that some of us can be called “moderates”. Is this what we mean by integration? My 18-year-old son voted for the first time this year, and I know the talk among his friends was anything but Labour. By his age we were demonstrating against the far right; his peers are protesting against Labour – stop and search, anti-terror legislation, and the war in Iraq. We have to prove to them that they are valued by society and that their survival in the mainstream matters to us all. If we don’t, we may lose them to those vile preachers outside mosques and marketplaces. It is in this atmosphere that Shabina Begum’s fight to wear the jilbab to school came to court this week. The judge ruled that the school’s refusal to let Begum wear the full-length gown did not breach her right to education and religion. I wish this case had never come to court – not least because, once it had done so, no other ruling was possible. I admire the school’s commitment to meeting the needs of local pupils, 80% of whom are Muslim. The uniform policy was only implemented after consultation, and I would defend the school’s right to apply it. However, the school was wrong to cite health and safety concerns. This gives credence to the spurious, yet increasingly commonplace argument that Muslim girls are hampered by their clothes (and thus, by implication, by their communities and by their religion). This is absurd. In court it became clear that the school’s real concern was that Begum’s jilbab would create a hierarchy of piety among the pupils. I have seen for myself that where the majority of Muslim schoolgirls wear scarves there is peer pressure to comply. But the question we should be asking is, why is it that some of our young people are vulnerable to pressure to identify themselves as more Muslim than others? On my pilgrimage, I was struck by what is said as you enter Mecca (I paraphrase): “You are forbidden from covering your face.” And yet there were thousands who did. The fact that more young British Muslim women are choosing to wear scarves is not a phenomenon imported from aboard – what we have is what we have created. And in some respects we should welcome these developments, because they show that the Muslim community is returning to political activism, and trying to reclaim the agenda. For the major political parties this should be a time for reflection, because the clear message is that no vote is to be taken for granted. Labour must work out who it should be talking to within the community. Fine, talk to the imams, but also recognise that the vast majority will never see one except on religious occasions. Meanwhile there are professional men and women in every sphere who are denied a voice. Let’s give them a one. I have banged my head against this brick wall with colleague after colleague, with every institution and every figurehead. There have been too many reports – Swann, Macpherson, Parekh – and too much talk. I believe a new generation of Muslims is ready to represent the community at every level of government. We are in public view, just waiting to be called.

Vote To Block The Far Right, Muslims Urged Vote to block the far right, Muslims urged

By Emily Pennink Muslims are being urged to use their votes in the local and European elections to stop the threat from the far right, it was reported today. The Muslim Council of Britain has penned an open letter warning of BNP success in the event of a low turnout on June 10, the BBC says. The group claims a party political broadcast by the BNP last week was threatening and anti-Muslim, although the BNP insists it is not a threat to the Muslim community. The council said the BNP would need less than 10% of the vote to win a seat on the Greater London Authority or in the European Parliament – successes which would entitle it to public funding. “The rise of the far-right parties poses a dangerous threat to our communities,” the letter says.

Vatican Rebuff To Spanish Muslims

The Vatican will not allow Muslims to pray once more in the Mezquita, the former mosque that is now the cathedral of Cordoba, telling them they must “accept history” and not try to “take revenge” on the Catholic church. “We, too, want to live in peace with persons of other religions,” Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, told the Vatican’s AsiaNews agency. “However, we don’t want to be pushed, manipulated and go against the very rules of our faith.” Mgr Fitzgerald criticised the authorities of the southern Spanish city for lobbying to have the building, once one of the world’s biggest mosques, opened to Muslim prayer. “[They] have not the necessary theological sensitivity to understand the church’s position,” he said. He claimed Spanish Muslims who had been publicly lobbying for the right to pray had yet to make a formal request to the Vatican. The archbishop said the Vatican had been careful not to demand similar rights at mosques which were once Catholic churches – though he acknowledged that Pope John Paul II had prayed at a mosque at Damascus in Syria.

Dutch Parties Reject Hijab Ban Proposal

By Khaled Shawkat THE HAGUE – The Dutch far-right was dealt a fresh heavy blow in Parliament after most parties turned down a proposal to ban hijab in public administrations. Pim Fortuyn, an anti-immigration party named after its founder killed in 2002, found no support in its bid forcing Muslim civil servants to take off the dress code, the Dutch ANP news agency reported on Thursday, March 18. Joost Eerdmans, a parliament member of the party said after the emergency session on Wednesday, March 17, that the government should stand neutral in dealing with citizens – something he said should be reflected in their clothes. All other parties refused the plea, stressing citizens’ right to freedom of clothing choice and equal treatment by judicial employees as well, parliamentary sources told IslamOnline.net. Eerdmans accused the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD) of putting up hypocrisy in the debate in the legislature. The party leaders switched their stanch attacks on hijab in media outlets to another position, especially Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee who had arrived in the country ten years ago and known for her anti-Islam remarks, the far-extremist party member charged. A number of Muslim women, promoted to posts in the Dutch judicial system or being lawyers remarkably in recent years, have insisted to wearing hijab in their work. Conditions Nevertheless, the government is preoccupied with setting a number of conditions on clothes judicial employees should wear during work hours, the parliamentary sources said. The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), now leading the ruling coalition, also called for workers of other governmental sectors – including the police, army and National Guard sectors – to stick to a “special code of dress” set by officials there. Political parties have expressed hopes to discuss the issue of hijab in a much broader way, as official sources said in press statements that the government still works out a final say on it. Muslim civil servants wearing hijab are growing in number as the one-million Muslim community – making up 6% of the overall population – keep upsurge if compared with other ethnicities. Most Muslims here are from Morocco and Turkey who arrived as guest workers in the sixties and seventies. In December 2003, the two parties of the ruling Dutch coalition of CDP and VVD locked horns over banning Islamic education in the European country. Exaggerated Muslims reacted to the fuss over hijab with a mixed skepticism and anger. Naema Azough, an Arab-Dutch member of the Dutch Green Left Party, on the opposition track, said the debate is exaggerated and unjustifiable. Interior Minister Yohan Remkes said on Wednesday that the hijab of Muslim women workers should be designed in a way consistent with the nature of the job and work conditions. Azough said there is a few number of hijab-clad women working in public administrations, citing that only three women wearing the gear in the Prison Guard sector as an example. Muslim officials highlight that their hijab poses no restriction to their work, denying the dress code has proven threat to secularism or Muslim women’s integration in the European country. Success & Fears Many of hijab-clad women were catapulted into success in many political, scientific and social fields, the most prominent of whom is Fatma Al-Ateq, former interior minister’s advisor and a current member of the Dutch parliament. In 2002, the Muslim minority celebrated their first hijab-wearing lawyer Jamila Arselan. In September 2002, two hijab-clad students were honored by a Dutch faculty for their excellence and dedication. Hijab is no obstacle to the integration of women in Holland, as hijab-clad Muslims have achieved a remarkable success in various fields of study and work, Rabiaa Bouhalhoul, the head of social integration department in the local government of Rotterdam told IOL on January 27. Bouhalhoul said that claims that the Islamic wear runs counter to the principles of secularism are the work of European far-right extremist parties seeking to satisfy voters. Bouhalhoul warned that France’s imminent ban on hijab in state schools would have grave repercussions on Muslims in the West. But she ruled out that The Netherlands would follow in the footsteps of France, as the education system is different in both countries. The one million Muslims of Holland 16 million citizen have established over the past 30 years hundreds of religious, social and cultural organizations, many of which receive grants from the Dutch authorities. The Muslim official, however, conceded that many other officials are greatly affected – even consciously – by media outlets. Deputy Prime Minister, and VVD Leader, Gerrit Zalm argued in a general party congress in the southeastern town of Eindhoven last year that the government should also ban Islamic schools. Muslim women took to the streets of Helmond city, southeast of the Netherlands, in September 2003 to protest a decision by the city’s municipality to withhold an annual grant for a government-aided social organization, allocated for women-only swimming classes.