Should Muslim veils be lifted in schools?

Photo by Peter Stitger for Capsters.com
Photo by Peter Stitger for Capsters.com

To some, it can seem intimidating. To others, it is outdated and oppressive. Yet to those whose faces are shrouded beneath it, it can be a liberator, symbolising religious modesty in an increasingly secular West. To others still, it is nothing more than a piece of cloth. The future of the veil, Liberal Democrat minister Jeremy Browne told this newspaper, must be urgently reconsidered. “There is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil. We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression.”

 

The matter is garnering political momentum. Philip Hollobone, Tory MP for Kettering, has proposed a private member’s Bill that would make it an offence for a person to wear “a garment or other object” intended to obscure their face. Backing his proposal is Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes. Writing in this newspaper yesterday, she described veils as “deeply offensive”.

 

Striking the right balance – between an outright ban and leaving the issue to the discretion of schools – is difficult. Official guidance on facial coverings in schools – from the niqab, a veil in which the eyes are visible, to the burka, a full body veil in which the eyes are covered by mesh – was updated last year. Though the Department for Education has conspicuously avoided legislation, it backs head teachers who ban veils “on the grounds of health, safety and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

 

Now public opinion in Britain is swinging. A recent YouGov poll of 2,205 adults found that 67 per cent supported a complete sanction on wearing the burka. Proponents of a ban say schools in multicultural areas are calling out for clear restrictions on facial coverings, which, they argue, can impede learning, socialising and jeopardise an institution’s security policy.

Muslim woman asked to remove headscarf during bar exam in Springfield

On Wednesday and Thursday, law school graduates aspiring to practice in the Commonwealth gathered in Boston and Springfield to take the 16-hour bar exam, broken into several parts. During the morning portion of the test Thursday, recent graduate of the University of Michigan Law School Iman Abdulrazzak was handed a note from an exam proctor asking her to remove her headscarf.

 

The note, written in capitalized block letters read, “Headwear may not be worn during the examination without prior written approval. We have no record of you being given prior written approval. Please remove your headwear and place it under your seat for the afternoon session.”

While “headwear including hats, scarves, caps, hoods, bandanas, visors, costume headgear or sunglasses” are prohibited from the examination room, religious headwear is permitted. “Headwear that has been granted prior approval by the Board of Bar Examiners for religious or medical reasons only,” according to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners’ security policy.

Such religious headwear includes Jewish yarmulkes, Muslim hijabs and Sikh dastars.

Though it is clear that prior approval is needed for headwear, Abdulrazzak said her request to wear the hijab was approved Monday. Additionally, it is unclear why the proctor gave her the note during the exam instead of waiting until the lunch break.

During the break for lunch, Abdulrazzak called the Bar office to request she be allowed to take the exam in the afternoon with her hijab on.

Executive Director of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners Marilyn Wellington told law news website Above The Law the issue was resolved quickly.

Islamic Studies in Germany: Who Has the Final Say on Religious Authority?

22 Oct 2010
In Germany, centres for Islamic studies are to be set up in three universities in order to train imams and religion teachers. Muslim associations like the Schuras, or associations of mosques, in northern Germany have been calling for years both for the introduction of Muslim religious education in schools and for the training of Muslim clerics in Germany.
All the same, there’s a substantial difference between the aims of the associations and those of the politicians making the decisions. The politicians have been led to make this historic decision by considerations of integration and security policy.
For the Muslim associations there have been other issues: equal rights; the development of an authentic Muslim theology in a European context; independence; and the emancipation from the Muslim countries of origin.

After Fort Hood, the Christmas Day plot and others, terrorism is Obama’s newest political minefield

Critics say Obama’s response to the Christmas Day plot by Abdulmutallab was late and trepid, and analysts believe terrorism has become the Democrats’ and Obama’s central political vulnerability.

A senior GOP strategist says the current focus on national security is a challenge for the administration because terrorists are so unpredictable. “It’s driven by events,” he says, “and there’s a lot of volatility among voters. The issue rises or dissipates depending on whether there are other attacks. The biggest problem for the president is under­reacting versus overreacting.”

NYPD Clarification of Radicalization Report Called “Welcome First Step”

(NEW YORK, NY 9/9/09) A coalition of Muslim advocates, lawyers and community leaders today called the NYPD decision to add a “Statement of Clarification” (Clarification) to its 2007 report, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat” a “welcome first step.” They urged the NYPD to publicize the Clarification and engage in deeper dialogue with the group to ensure effective security policy.

The Clarification, which followed ongoing meetings and consultation with the New York based Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC), stated clearly that the NYPD’s 2007 report “should not be read to characterize Muslims as intrinsically dangerous or intrinsically linked to terrorism, and that it cannot be a license for racial, religious, or ethnic profiling.”

Report with clarification (pp 11-12) available here.