A number of Dutch Muslim women opened Saturday, March 19, a women-only mosque in the metropolitan city of Amsterdam. Inaugurated by controversial Egyptian feminist writer Nawal El-Saadawi, the mosque is a part of a project carried out by the De Balie cultural center and the cultural development institute of the Forum organization, both financially backed by the government. The mosque is run by women from A to Z, with a woman leading the prayer and another raising the Adhan (call to prayer). The traditional curtains separating male and female worshipers in mosques disappeared from the novel mosque. Men were conspicuous by their absence though a few of them attended the inauguration ceremony out of curiosity and sat at the back. The project sponsors argue that it is a milestone as it will meet the “spiritual needs of Muslim women” and serve as a meeting point for “isolated” women away from male dominance. Saadawi took the podium, preaching against what she called the “oppression” of Muslim women and urging women to “resist” for equal rights with men. Saadawi faced an apostasy case in 2001 before an Egyptian court after she had been quoted by Egyptian newspapers as saying that hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, was “a vestige of a pagan practice” and that Islamic inheritance law should be abolished. A spokeswoman for the De Balie center, who requested anonymity, told IslamOnline.net that Saadawi has been selected because “she set herself up as a paradigm for women liberalization and their struggle to lift the oppression.” She, however, said that the mosque has nothing to do with the woman-led mixed-gender Friday prayer in New York City on March18 . IOL correspondents says the project fits within the government’s tendency to boost what it sees as “liberal” Muslims against “extremists”. Diverting Attention Ahmad Al-Rawi, the chairman of the Union of Islamic Organizations in Europe (UIOE), said things like the woman-led prayers and the new women-only mosque are western attempts to distract Muslims’ attention from pressing issues facing them in the West. “Muslims [in the West] should rather be preoccupied with educating the young generations about their religion and protecting them from moral aberration,” he told IOL. Rawi underlined that Muslim women in Europe are in no way inferior to their male partners. “They [women] play a leading role in our organization and face no discrimination whatsoever,” he added. Marzouk Abdullah, professor of Shari`ah in the Islamic European University in the Netherlands, urged Muslim women in Europe to display good intentions, cautioning them against committing wrongdoing unabashedly. “We can never deny them their right to form an assembly to raise the awareness of the rights and responsibilities of women under Islam, if they are really for that,” he told IOL. It is a sort of clich_ to say that women are oppressed under Islam, but it is a fact to say that immigrant women in the country – particularly Muslims – are being discriminated against, Dutch Muslim female lawyer Famille Arslan told IOL on Monday, March14 . She said that Muslim women in the Netherlands take the brunt of religious discrimination and racial profiling in the labor market because of their attire and names. Muslims make up one million of the Netherlands’s 16 million population. Turks represent 80 percent of the Muslim minority. There are some 450 mosques in the Netherlands,1,000Islamic cultural centers, two Islamic universities and 42 preparatory schools, according to recent estimates. Press reports have underlined that Dutch Muslims were subjected to religious discrimination and racist attacks on their places of worship in 2004.
AMSTERDAM – Young Turkish and Moroccan mothers have the same opinions about combining work and family duties than women from other ethnic groups, research indicates. But the Dutch Family Council also said that the husbands of Turkish and Moroccan man have different opinions regarding emancipation, newspaper Trouw reported on Tuesday. The results of the study were being presented during a ‘Family Parliament’ at the Rotterdam city hall also on Tuesday. Dozens of immigrant families were to discuss with politicians the issue of parenthood in a multicultural city.
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.”
COPENHAGEN – A group of Muslims has reported a Danish broadcaster to the police for repeatedly airing a controversial film about Muslim oppression of women, Danish media reported on Sunday. Some 20 Muslims are pressing charges against Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) for airing recently-murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh’s film Submission in its entirety, as well as for repeatedly showing clips from the film in newscasts.
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.
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.
LONDON – In a move to assure its Muslim community introduction of the first ID cards in Britain since the Second World War was not signaling them out, the government will reportedly exempt Muslim women from showing their faces on the controversial ID cards. On Monday, April 26, British Home Secretary, David Blunkett is to unveil plans for a national pilot of biometric testing, the technology used in ID cards, as part of a draft Bill to crack down on identity fraud, according to the Independent daily Sunday, April 25. As cards introduction, Blunkett came under severe attacks for not allowing enough debate over the ID British officials made it clear that if Muslim women do not want to reveal their faces in public, that would be respected, reported the Observer Sunday. “Instead of a photograph, there would be an exemption for certain people, who would only have to give fingerprint and iris-recognition data.
Conservative MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali says her party, the VVD, wants to see stricter legislation governing Islamic schools. The conservatives claim these schools are teaching children to discriminate against women, homosexuals and the indigenous Dutch population. She made her remarks during a parliamentary debate on a new integration bill put forward by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. Most parties support the minister’s plans, but the left-wing opposition has criticised a proposal that would make migrants pay part of the cost of their integration courses. They argue this will force many people into debt. Controversy About Islamic Schools In The Netherlands Continues Christian Democrat Education Minister Maria van der Hoeven has criticised a proposal by the conservative VVD party to monitor Islamic schools. She says the proposal breaches an article in the constitution guaranteeing educational freedom. VVD member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali has called for an end to government support for certain Islamic schools. She says they promote intolerance towards homosexuals and Jews, and are opposed to equality for women. The Lower House debate on Islamic education in the Netherlands has further intensified. Education Minister Maria van der Hoeven, a Christian Democrat, has rejected a Conservative proposal to set additional requirements to such schools. The minister has not yet vetoed the motion of Conservative parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but she did say it violated article 23 of the constitution, which provides for freedom of education. The minister also opposes the Conservative’s request that all board members of Islamic schools have Dutch nationality. The other house factions also reject the motion. Although Ms. Hirsi Ali’s resolution has thrown Conservatives themselves into a commotion, the party is not withdrawing it. The house debate will continue next week.
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.