Burqas Banned in French Classes for Immigrants

In two recent legal decisions, head-to-toe burqas have been banned from state-sponsored French language classes. Louis Schweitzer, the head of France’s anti-discrimination agency told La Croix daily that “Religious freedom is not absolute” and they authorities have sought “the most reasonable compromise.” His agency known as Halde ruled last month to ban burqa and niqab from state-sponsored French language classes for immigrants. Halde called the burqa a symbol of “female submission that goes beyond its religious meaning.” Under French law, these classes may be required for application for residency or citizenship in the country.

Earlier in the year, a national agency responsible for such classes complained that the presence of burqa-wearing women “hinders the proper functioning” of such classes.

Limits on the headscarf are not uniform. On October 8 An appeals court fined the owner of a bed and breakfast in the northeastern city of Nancy $6,000 for refusing to welcome two veiled women.

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International Herald Tribune

Le Figaro

Ireland: Schools to allow hijab but not burqa under new rules

Under new policy rules for uniforms in Irish schools, the hijab has been deemed allowed in schools, but the burka or other face coverings will be banned. Integration minister Conor Lenihan and education minister Batt O’Keeffe issued the joint recommendation after consulting and reviewing the legal positions in Ireland. A 1988 Education Act obliges schools and personnel to have “respect for diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life I society.” “In this context, no school uniform policy should act in such a way that it, in effect, excludes students of a particular religious background from seeking enrolment or continuing their enrolment in a school. However, this statement does not recommend the wearing of clothing in the classroom which obscures a facial view and creates an artificial barrier between pupil and teacher. Such clothing hinders proper communication,” said the statement.

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The National

Ireland: Muslim anger at Opposition calls for school ban on hijab

Two main Irish opposition parties said that Muslim girls should not be allowed to wear a headscarf in public schools. Labour party’s Ruairi Quinn stated that immigrants should conform to the culture, and Fine Gael counterpart Brian Hayes said that it makes sense to have one uniform for everyone, citing that the hijab was not a fundamental requirement to be a Muslim, and more of a cultural practice of modesty. “Nobody is formally asking them to come here. In the interests of integration and assimilation, they should embrace our culture,” said Quinn. The spokesperson for the Islamic Society of Ireland said that the comments were baffling and added that the headscarf was a religious obligation. Presently, individual school authorities are responsible for drawing up rules about school uniform requirements. However, the Education Act requires them to respect diversity of all traditions and beliefs.

Veils not mandatory for Muslim women, says Islamic leader

The president of the Association of Muslim Intellectuals, Ahmad Vincenzo, said that Muslim women in Italy should not be forced to wear the veil. “Women should be free to choose if they want to wear the veil or not, considering that it is not a religious duty to do so, said Vincenzo. He also expressed that the choice should be left up to young women concerning the wearing of the garment in schools, but expressed that the exploitation of the veil could lead to the creation of an Islamist uniform for female Muslims.

Government allows schools to ban veils

The government said last Thursday that school heads may ban Muslim veils in schools if they so wish. Recent guidelines by the UK Department of Education and Skills state that heads “may be justified” in outlawing religious dress that covers pupils’ faces. But ministers stopped short of issuing an outright ban on full-face Islamic veils, saying it was up to schools to decide uniform policy for themselves.

Muslims refuse male gynaecologists

BRUSSELS – More and more Muslims are refusing to allow a male gynaecologist to attend at their wives’ deliveries, says the head of gynaecology at the Brussels University Hospital VUB and the Ghent University Hospital. Various newspapers have reported on the problem. The Flemish Association of Gynaecologists are urging for a strict, uniform policy in all hospitals. The phenomenon is common particularly in cities with a large immigrant population. The Flemish Association for Obstetrics and Gynaecology (VVOG) acknowledges the problem and urges a strict attitude. “In my own hospital every patient that absolutely insists on a woman doctor is discharged from the hospital immediately,” explains Johan Van Wiemeersch at the Sint-Augustinus in Wilrijk. “As an association of gynaecologists we are urging that these same strict regulations be in place in all maternity wards.”

Representing Islam: Comparative Perspectives

’Representing Islam: Comparative Perspectives’ is an international conference organised jointly by the Universities of Manchester and Surrey and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Britain. It has attracted over 100 eminent national and international speakers.

Representations of ’Islam’ have a profound influence on political cultures and national identities, as well as on attitudes to immigration, security and multiculturalism. The complexity of the notion of ’Islam’ and the heterogeneous responses that it elicits are such that there is no uniform approach to its representation and social construction. The conference addresses this complexity by treating the comparative dimension of recent representations of Islam, encompassing different nations, political institutions, media institutions, and cultures. The conference will be primarily concerned with the press, television, radio, film and the internet. However, it will also include other channels of communication, such as translations, speeches or pamphlets, political discourse, and the visual arts.

Anyone interested in more information should contact the Conference Administrator,  Shishir Shahnawaz (shishir.shahnawaz@manchester.ac.uk).

Judge: Philadelphia police can bar officer from wearing head scarf

PHILADELPHIA: A federal judge ruled that the city’s police department did not violate the civil rights of a Muslim officer when it forbade her from wearing a head scarf on the job. Kimberlie Webb, 44, who has been on the force more than 10 years, filed a discrimination lawsuit in October 2005 after the department said she could not wear a khimar at work because the religious symbol violated uniform regulations. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III on Tuesday sided with the city and dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the police department did not discriminate or retaliate against Webb. “Prohibiting religious symbols and attire helps to prevent any divisiveness on the basis of religion both within the force itself and when it encounters the diverse population of Philadelphia,” Bartle wrote. “Under the circumstances, it would clearly cause the city an undue hardship if it had to allow (Webb) to wear a khimar.” In February 2003, Webb told her supervisor that her religion required her to wear the scarf, which covered her hair, forehead, neck, shoulders, and chest. When her request was denied, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Muslim girl sues school disallowing her to wear the veil

Even as the ‘burqa’ issue is still hitting the headlines in the UK, a 12-year-old Muslim girl has reportedly sued her school, in Buckinghamshire, for barring her from wearing the ‘religious full-face veil’ in school. In a statement, she said that wearing the veil was a “sign of her faith” and that she felt it was compulsory to wear it. “I view the naqab as part of my identity. Nobody’s forcing me to wear the naqab, it’s something I choose to wear and something I am proud of,” she said. According to the Dawn, her lawyers have condemned in the High Court the decision of the school calling it as “irrational”. Justice Silber was told that the high-performing school in Buckinghamshire had permitted, for nine years, all the girl’s elder sisters to wear the naqab. Despite just 120 of the 1300 pupil-school being Muslim, the girls said that the school had been “very supportive of them as devout Muslims and the way they expressed their faith”, Dan Squires, counsel for the youngest sister, told the court. All girls had achieved high A-level results – one gaining four A-grades – and at least two had gone on to university, which demonstrated that it had not impaired their learning, he said. As a result, Squires argued, the ban on the youngest girl from wearing the veil was not only against the principles of rationality, but thwarted a “legitimate expectation” that she would be allowed to wear it and breached her right to freedom of “thought, conscience and religion” under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court heard that the 12-year-old, known only as Claimant X for legal reasons, had joined the grammar school in Buckinghamshire in September 2005. But after reaching puberty the following summer, she returned to school wearing the naqab. Three days into the new term, the headmistress contacted her parents. She was removed from the selective state school in October and moved to an alternative school where she could wear the veil. Although uniform rules are clearly laid out for most pupils, the dress code for Muslim girls at the school is not written down. In a statement, the headmistress, who took up her post in 2003, said that Muslim pupils understood that the scarf or hijab was acceptable, as long as it was in the uniform colours. During the hearing, Justice Silber asked the barristers to address the issue of school security and whether the veil hindered their need to see pupils’ faces. Referring to the 1996 Dunblane massacre – in which Thomas Hamilton, shot dead 16 pupils and their teacher in Scotland – he said: “Everyone knows these days how security-conscious head teachers have to be at school. They have to be able to glance around and recognise who’s there.” The Muslim Council of Britain has said that the policy of allowing the hijab headscarf is “quite sufficient to meet Islamic requirements” and the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford has emphasised that not all Muslims agree with wearing the naqab.

Full-face veil ’caused pupil mix-up’

A new headteacher who noted that one of her sixth form girls was wearing a Muslim full-face veil did not realise there were two of them – because she did not see them together. In evidence to the High Court, the headteacher said that, although she considered the niqab veil was a breach of uniform policy, she decided that “the girl” should be allowed to continue wearing it because the previous head had permitted it. “I did not, in fact, realise that there was a second girl (her sister), also in the sixth form, who also dressed in an identical, full jilbab (long dress) and niqab because I never saw them together,” she said. The girls eventually left the Buckinghamshire school and it was not until their younger sister became a pupil and also started wearing the veil that the updated uniform policy was enforced. She and her parents were told the niqab was not acceptable. That decision is now under challenge in court. Mr Justice Silber is being asked by the 12-year-old and her father to rule the ban on her wearing the niqab was irrational, in the light of the way her sisters’ wishes had been accommodated, and in breach of her human right to freedom of “thought, conscience and religion”. For legal reasons, neither the girl, referred to as X, nor the school, a top girls’ grammar, nor its headteacher can be identified. The niqab veil covers all of the face except the eyes. About 120 of the school’s 1,300-plus pupils are Muslims, and up to 60 of them wear the hijab headscarf. X is the only pupil demanding the right to wear the full-face veil when men are likely to be present. The girl is attending a different school which permits the niqab, but she wants to go back to the grammar. The headteacher, who took over at the school in September 2002, stated: “I believe that if the niqab becomes an accepted part of school uniform attire there may well be pressure brought to bear on other Muslim girls to wear one, either from the children’s families or from their friends at school.” For a girl to conceal her face was contrary to the ethos of the school. “As a girls’ school for over 100 years, we are very conscious of our duty to educate girls to regard themselves as equals to men and to gain the self-confidence to live and work in British and international society on the same level as men,” she said. She pointed out that being able to see facial expressions was a key component of effective classroom interaction; for instance, was a pupil paying attention or distressed or enthusiastic? An assessment made of X in the light of her shy, quiet and reserved manner emphasised the need for her to be able to communicate freely with her teachers and peers. The headteacher also spoke of her duty to ensure the safety of her pupils. “If a stranger is on site, then it is simple to approach and ask them (about) their business. “However, if pupils wore the niqab, then identifying those on site becomes difficult and it would not be beyond the realms of possibility for an unwelcome person wishing to move incognito to wear a niqab herself. “Of course it would be very difficult for a male teacher to challenge somebody wearing a niqab as the very reason it is being worn is to avoid being seen by the opposite sex.” The headteacher stressed that X had not been excluded from the school, which wanted her to return. She had been kept from school either at her own request or on instruction of her parents. An alternative school – Burnham Grammar, 12 miles from the girl’s home, where the niqab was allowed – was able to offer her a place. Transport would be provided. The girl’s lawyers argue that the niqab is simply an addition to school uniform – like a skullcap or turban – and that, in an emergency, a girl would simply remove it and show her face. The judge reserved judgment to a later date.