Ukraine: Introducing Muslim Fashion to Ukraine

Olga Kokalits, a 25-year old Ukrainian Muslim convert, won a fashion contest as the best fashion designer contest last week in the Ukraine. Kokalits said that she felt that “it was a duty” to take part in a fashion show sponsored by the state, presenting a selection of 10 different Islamic attires varying from wedding gowns, sports outfits, and evening dresses. “I was concerned that Muslim clothes, which cover the whole body except for face and hands, will look odd and funny to an audience who are not familiar with such wearing,” said Olga. Her designs, on the contrary, received a warm welcome from audience members and judges alike. “I was surprised to see the audience showing great interest in my creations,” she said.

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Police hunt for Muslim school vandals

Police are still on the hunt for burglars who raided and smashed up the headquarters of Berkshire’s first Muslim state school. Vandals used a crowbar to break into Slough Islamic Primary School’s current base in Chalvey Play Centre, where they daubed hate slogans across pictures of what the school will look like when it opens in September. They caused an estimated _1,000 worth of damage by tearing up table and chairs, smashing light bulbs and emptying cupboards and bins. They also stole a computer worth _500 before they were disturbed by visitors using the centre’s sports hall in Chalvey High Street just before 8pm on Monday, last week.

Hijabs for Life in Canada

CAIRO – Spurred by the ban of hijab-clad girls from taking part in sports competitions, Canadian Muslim Abeer Al-Azzawi is helping her fellow Muslim peers play, work and live with a new hijab fit for everyday life, reported the Ottawa Citizen on Saturday, January 26. “You see stores that cater to all kinds of girls — to rocker girls, girlie girls, sporty girls — but there’s nothing for the hijabi girls,” said Azzawi. “If I can do something to change that, I will.” The 24-year-old engineering grad has established an online company for making hijabs that suit Muslim sports girls.

Islamic Schools Test Ideal of Integration in Britain

LEICESTER, England – The sports hall doubles as a prayer room and dining hall for male teenagers, at other times for young women, but never the two together. In the kindergarten, female teachers, warned of an impending visit by a man, draw full facial veils before receiving their guest. When the guest arrives, the children offer a chorus in Arabic: As salaam aleikum – peace be upon you.

Background: How Are We Educating Our Young?

Due to the lack of adequate channels of Islamic education, from mosque-centered activities to websites run by mainstream, non-fundamentalist Muslims, second- and third-generation Muslim youth in Germany are increasingly losing touch with their origins. Small local initiatives set up to fill this gap are gradually cohering into wider, national institutions like the Lifemakers. In a bid to recapture Islamic youth, such groups are also increasingly involved in youth activities more social than religious, such as sports, films, debating, and placements in higher education.

‘Hip’ Hijab Takes On Dutch Prejudices

SON EN BREUGEL, THE NETHERLANDS – In 1999, while seeking a graduate project idea at the Design Academy of Eindhoven, Cindy van den Bremen found a problem-solving opportunity. The Dutch Commission of Equal Treatment had recently ruled that high schools could prohibit Muslim girls from wearing head coverings in gym class. Girls were advised to wear turtlenecks teamed with swim caps. But some were ignoring the sartorial advice, preferring instead to skip gym all together. At about that time, the Dutch were beginning to become disillusioned with multiculturalism – a trend that was to intensify in the next few years with the death of maverick anti-immigrant politician Pim Fortuyn and the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a radical Dutch Islamist. For Ms. van den Bremen, the phys-ed class controversy offered a means to marry her political sense of injustice with her professional expertise. “I realized that if the hijabs did not look traditional, but hip and trendy, they could possibly change prejudice into some sort of admiration,” says the young Dutch designer. Within months, the “capster” was born, and quickly blossomed into a business. In four styles designed for tennis, skating, aerobics, and outdoor sports, van den Bremen’s head coverings were sleek, safe, and – in the words of a local Islamic cleric – “Islamically correct.” Even an elderly man at her graduation show who told her he didn’t like the hijab at all, said he did like her designs. “This made me realize even more that the social problem with the acceptance of the hijab was not about the girls being covered, but the way they are covered,” says van den Bremen. Initially, she expected that she’d be done with the capsters after graduation. But the capsters’ popularity has grown steadily, and grateful feedback she receives and the clamor for more such products has encouraged her to expand her small business operation. For Farah Azwai, an athletic undergraduate at the American Intercontinental University in London, who started wearing the hijab at age 16, the capster was a relief. “Before I had the capsters, I tried a number of things – I used to wear a bandanna and tried fixing my hijab in different ways but it wasn’t very practical and I always had problems,” says Ms. Azwai, who bought the “skate” and “outdoors” models online. “The fabric and style is very modern, it totally suits my style – it goes well with my sports clothes, with brands like Nike, Adidas and Pineapple.” Van den Bremen’s business expansion plans include increasing production of the four current lines to keep up with demand as well as new lines of “breathable” capsters for tropical climates. She also has designs on promoting intercultural dialogue. She recently teamed with Dutch Iranian photographer Giti Entezami to produce Sharing Motives, a book featuring 25 Dutch women in a variety of hijabs. The duo has since expanded their project to an exhibition – currently on display at the University of Utrecht – accompanied by a series of lectures and debates. More than a year after Van Gogh’s killing sparked a violent anti-Muslim backlash, experts say a pressing need for intercultural dialogue remains in the Netherlands. A recent Pew Global Attitudes study found the Netherlands to be the only Western country where a majority of the population – 51 percent – views Muslims unfavorably. Amid a recent slew of immigration tightening measures, beefed-up citizenship tests and controversial antiterrorism programs inviting citizens to report “suspect people,” Muslim community leaders say a proposed ban on the burqa – an all-enveloping Islamic covering for women – is yet another shot in the Netherlands’ rising Islamophobia. “There are two sets of standards in this country,” says Famille Arslan, a prominent Dutch Muslim lawyer. “One is for Muslims and another for non-Muslims. This law not only discriminates against religion and gender, it also threatens to further polarize the people.” In December, the Dutch parliament approved a ban on the burqa and other Islamic veils that cover the face in all public places. The measure – which was introduced by conservative politician Geert Wilders – is currently awaiting approval from a commission examining the legality of such a ban under European human rights laws. If passed, it would be one of the most restrictive responses to Islamic clothing in Europe. Defenders of the ban note that the measure does not apply to the head scarf (or capster), merely to Islamic garments that cover the face such as the burqa and the niqab, a facial veil with an opening for the eyes. Experts estimate that only about 50 to 100 women among Holland’s 1 million Muslims currently don such extensive veiling. Despite widespread criticism, Mr. Wilders is determined to push his initiative through the legal process. “I hope to succeed with my motion because I believe I have broad popular support,” he says in a phone interview. “Parliament has followed public opinion, but the government can act differently for political reasons.” Van den Bremen bemoans the lack of intercultural dialogue. “It seems like no one is discussing things with the girls. They always talk about the girls,” she says. “I was struck by how emancipated they were. They were demanding to be judged by their capacity, not their looks.”

Muslim Students Opt Out of Gym Class

As a rule, German schools offer three hours of sports instruction each week. In Berlin, many students are refusing to partake — especially Muslim girls. Berlin Senator for Youth, Education and Sports Klaus B_ger is back in the hot seat, this time for implying that Muslim society is behind the steady decrease in girls taking part in physical education classes.

Germans To Put Muslims Through Loyalty Test

By Kate Connolly Muslims intent on becoming German citizens will have to undergo a rigorous cultural test to gauge their views on subjects ranging from bigamy to homosexuality. Believed to be the first test of its kind in Europe, the southern state of Baden-W_rttemberg has created the two-hour oral exam to test the loyalty of Muslims towards Germany. It is to be taken on top of the standard test for foreigners wishing to become German citizens, which includes language proficiency skills and general knowledge. It also requires applicants to prove that they can provide for themselves and their families. Those applying must also have resided in Germany for the previous eight years and have no criminal record. Germany’s 15 other states will monitor the progress of the policy when the tests begin this week before deciding whether they wish to adopt similar legislation. The 30 questions, which have been set by a special commission, range from sexual equality to school sports and are meant to trigger a more detailed discussion between the applicants and officials. Until now, all applicants have simply had to tick a Yes or No box to answer whether they felt loyalty to Germany. But now they will be quizzed on their attitudes to homosexuality and western clothing for young women, and whether husbands should be allowed to beat their wives. Other questions covering topics such as bigamy and whether parents should allow their children to participate in school sports have been called “trick questions”, meant to catch people off guard. The state interior ministry said the test would be used to filter out Muslims who were unsuited for life in Germany. Those who answered “correctly” but later acted against expected behaviour, such as wife-beating, could have their citizenship removed. Critics say that the test is biased and discriminatory and that if Muslims are obliged to take it, so should all applicants for citizenship. Brigitte L_sch, a leading member of the Green party in the Baden-Wurttemberg parliament, called for the oral exam to be dropped, arguing that it inferred from the outset that all Muslims were “violent per se” and unable to abide by German law. “This list of questions is only to be used for applicants from Islamic countries. It is an unbelievable form of discrimination,” she said. “If Germans were asked some of the questions, they would find it difficult to answer them.” The European Assembly of Turkish Academics rejected the questionnaire as “strongly discriminatory and racist” against Germany’s three million-strong Muslim population, most of whom are Turkish. Kerim Arpad, an assembly spokesman, said: “The test is shaped by stereotypes and damages integration.” But Dieter Biller, of the foreign ministry in Stuttgart, the state capital, said the test would help bureaucrats to form opinions as to whether citizenship applicants were suitable or not. “It covers everything from sexual equality, violence, school sports and religious freedom,” he said. “How the applicants stand on the question of the attacks of September 11 will also be a key question.” Holland announced yesterday that it was introducing ceremonies for new immigrants as part of efforts to reduce racial tensions and to integrate immigrant communities. The government is worried that immigrants who do not move outside their ethnic or religious groups hamper integration and stoke fears of militancy. New Dutch citizens will also have to take an “oath of allegiance”.