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EU: Does the EU have hijab bans? World Hijab Day celebrated on 1 February

EU: Does the EU have hijab bans?


As women around the world mark World Hijab Day, people are calling on the European Union to create safer spaces for conversations about the Muslim headscarf.


DW (31.01.2023) – https://bit.ly/3YwDHUu – Across the European Union, the headscarves worn by some Muslim women have been hotly contested for years. Some nations claim hijab bans would tackle religious oppression and terrorism, while others argue bans would discriminate against women’s rights and hamper integration.

Some EU countries have already imposed strict bans on the burqa, a full body covering with mesh around the eyes so a woman can see; and the niqab, a face veil that only leaves the eyes free.

Meanwhile, outright or partial bans on the hijab headscarf in educational institutions, the workplace and public spaces have also been imposed in some EU countries.

According to a March 2022 report by the Open Society Justice Initiative — a group of lawyers advocating for human rights — such bans came into force after US policymakers declared a global war on terror in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, giving rise to suspicions around Muslims due to their attire.

“The idea that Muslims as a group were the new ‘enemy within,’ with beliefs and practices reflecting values and norms inferior to those of Europe, acquired legitimacy across the political spectrum,” the authors of the report wrote.

Rumki Chowdhury, editor of the blog for the World Hijab Day Organization, shared a similar sentiment.

“I had a tough time because I grew up in America and after 9/11 it was really difficult for me to even think about wearing a hijab because of all the propaganda that was going on around about how Muslims were the ones behind the big terror attacks. So I was scared of being discriminated against for wearing a hijab,” said Chowdhury, who is now based in Stockholm, Sweden.

“But in reality, it is a misconception because according to the Quran, if you kill one man, it’s like killing mankind and I realized that what people were claiming about Muslims was not true. People were just looking for someone to blame. They were angry, sad and took it out on us and what we wore,” she told DW.

“I eventually got over what people thought about me wearing a hijab because to me, it has always been something that brings me closer to my lord, Allah,” she added.

Does the EU ban hijabs?

After the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, France became the first EU country to impose a ban on the burqa and niqab in public places in 2010, calling them a sign of oppression.

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy (in some localities), the Netherlands (in public places) and Spain (in some parts of Catalonia) followed suit. Germany on the other hand, remains divided on burqas and niqabs, with some states banning them in schools and public places, and others fearing bans could hinder integration.

In July 2021, the European Court of Justice ruled that women could be fired from their jobs for refusing to remove their hijab if they work in a job that deals with the public.

“A prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image toward customers or to prevent social disputes,” said the ECJ judges. Their ruling came in response to a request from German judges who had upheld the right of two employers to fire two women who insisted on wearing their headscarves to work.

But in October 2022, the ECJ ruled that EU companies may need to justify bans on wearing religious symbols. The court was responding to a case about a Muslim woman in Belgium who was told that she could not wear a hijab to work. The firm said the decision was part of a neutrality rule seeking to foster equality among employees.


Asmaa el Idrissi, a lawyer and anti-discrimination consultant based in Bochum, Germany, told DW that such rules do not help companies grow and are discriminatory.

“I had to deal with the the workplace hijab ban while I was at the Hessian Ministry of Justice in Germany, which told me I would be prevented from doing any practical exercises as a part of my court internship because of my headscarf,” she said. “That meant I was not allowed to sit next to the judge and was not allowed to see any witnesses from the front. I was also not allowed to participate in certain prosecutorial tasks, nor step into the role of a prosecutor or publicly represent the state prosecutor’s office.”

“But the hijab is a sign of identity and a tool of empowerment for me, so I took action against it and my case went up to the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany. The court ultimately found the ban to be constitutional — that doesn’t help me, nor will it help companies pursuing diversity,” she said.

El Idrissi said companies in Europe need to do more than just provide “lip service” when it comes to diversity policies. “If we want to change structural racism, then we must employ and support people from all backgrounds and not discriminate against them based on what they wear,” she said.

According to the  report by the Open Society Justice Initiative, in most EU countries bans and rules on face veils and headscarves have been promoted primarily by nationalist and far-right political parties. The report also noted that five EU states — Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland and Portugal — have never publicly debated bans on head or face coverings.

‘It’s part of our individuality. It’s fashion. This is what I want to wear’

To counteract such attitudes, New Yorker Nazma Khan initiated the idea of marking February 1 as World Hijab Day (WHD) back in 2013, in recognition of the millions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty.

“The whole point of marking this day in Europe and in the USA is to kind of say this is our choice and we should be able to choose what kind of clothing we want to wear. It’s part of our individuality. It’s fashion. This is what I want to wear,” said World Hijab Day blog editor Chowdhury.

“I know there’s that fear of what it could represent. You know, according to mainstream media representation after 9/11, Islamophobia has been on the rise constantly, nonstop. So by acknowledging this day, we aim to counteract such rhetoric,” she added.

But while the hijab is viewed as a sign of religious freedom and identity for some women, in Iran, for instance, many women view it as a sign of religious oppression.

Last year, when 22-year old Jina Mahsa Amini died in police custody after she was arrested by Iran’s so-called morality police for the way she was wearing her hijab, protests erupted in Iran and across the world, with people condemning Iranian authorities’ strict dress code for women.

“Whatever is happening in Iran is very unfortunate and as women who wear the hijab, we support their cause because ultimately their protest is also for women to have the freedom of choice to wear what they want and express their individuality,” said Chowdhury.

EU needs to ‘show support and solidarity’

Saye Skye, a human rights activist from Iran who shuttles between Toronto and Berlin, told DW that the EU also needs to do more when it comes to creating safe spaces for people to have conversations about wearing the hijab.

“The hijab is a hot topic here in the West but there is a lack of understanding about what it means to women who wear it. In Iran, for the past 43 years, people have lost their lives for not wearing a hijab. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are imposing strict headscarf rules on Afghan women. So in these places it is a form of oppression for women. Meanwhile, there are also women who feel it is a part of their identity and a way to express themselves,” said Skye.

“So within the EU, a safe space to hear every part of the hijab debate is needed. It is important for governments to develop spaces where people can share their knowledge and experience of wearing the hijab,” said Skye.

“There is trauma on all sides,” said Skye, referencing the people fighting for their freedom in Iran and Afghanistan, where the hijab can erase identity, and those who have fought to be able to wear a hijab to express their identity. “So Europe needs to embrace this complexity and show support and solidarity, rather than impose bans without understanding the concept of the hijab.”

Chowdhury echoed a similar view.

“It’s the 21st century and individuality is basically the new cool. So whether it’s wearing the hijab, not wearing the hijab, European countries need to embrace people for who they are and give them the freedom of choice to wear what they want and express themselves freely,” she said.


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FRANCE: French court fines restaurant owner for banning Muslim woman

French court fines restaurant owner for banning Muslim woman

Daily Sabah (30.11.2022) – https://bit.ly/3h4w6wc – A French court fined a restaurant owner in southwest France for prohibiting the entry of a Muslim woman for wearing the Islamic headscarf (also known as the hijab).

The court in the city of Bayonne in the Basque region ruled that the 64-year-old female restaurant owner was guilty of discrimination based on religion for asking the customer to remove her headscarf.

The incident took place on Mother’s Day in July, when the Muslim woman went to the restaurant to have dinner with her son.


Footage obtained during the incident shows the mother and son arriving at the restaurant door, and the woman who owns the business said she will not let the two customers into the restaurant because her mother is wearing a “headscarf from the Dark Ages.”

The restaurant owner, who is believed to be a Christian because she was wearing a religious symbol – a cross around her neck – claimed that “the headscarf is a tool to subdue women” to her Muslim client, whom she then refused to let in.

The customer, who stated that he was shocked by the words directed at him, went to the police station and filed a complaint on the grounds that they were discriminated against.

With the implementation of laws targeting Muslims in France, Islamophobic and discriminatory attacks against headscarved women, Muslims and Islamic establishments and places of worship have increased, which appear to have emboldened anti-Muslim racist attacks.

Recently, the decision of the municipality of Grenoble to allow veiled swimwear on public beaches and swimming pools in the country was suspended by a court upon the instructions of Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.


Photo: Judge hammer on a French flag background in this undated file photo. (Shutterstock File Photo)

Further reading about FORB in France on HRWF website

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DENMARK : Hijab ban proposal sparks debate, protests in Denmark

Hijab ban proposal sparks debate, protests in Denmark

A new recommendation to ban Muslim headscarves in Danish elementary schools has been met with a backlash in Denmark.

By Anna Gudmann Hansen


Al Jazeera (12.09.2022) – https://bit.ly/3ddpOIG – The Danish Commission for the Forgotten Women’s Struggle – a body set up by Denmark’s ruling Social Democratic Party – has recommended that the country’s government ban hijabs (Muslim headscarves) for students in Danish elementary schools.


The August 24 proposal is one of nine recommendations with the stated aim of preventing “honour-related social control” of girls from minority backgrounds.

The other recommendations propose providing Danish language courses, promoting modern child upbringing practices in ethnic minority families, and strengthening sexual education in elementary schools.


Huda Makai Asghar, 15, would be forced to take off her headscarf if the ban is implemented. The ninth grader at the Kokkedal Skole – a school outside of the Danish capital, Copenhagen, with close to 800 students – has been wearing the hijab for two years.


“I have always known that we have freedom of religion in Denmark. I can wear what I want, and I can believe in what I like. So when I heard about the proposal, I was surprised,” she told Al Jazeera on the phone.


Asghar feels the idea of a ban violates her freedom, and that of girls like her, and that it is wrong to force her to take the headscarf off.


“I can’t do that; it is a part of me,” she said.


The ban proposal has sparked a backlash in Denmark.


Iram Khawaja, an associate professor at the Danish School of Education at Aarhus University, has been outspoken against the proposal.


Her research focuses on how children from religious and ethnic minorities navigate Danish society, and she is co-founder of the Professional Psychology Network Against Discrimination.

According to Khawaja, a ban will not solve any of the issues faced by girls who are subject to social control.

“On the contrary, a ban can add to bigger issues. The girls who are already being exposed to negative social control will be put under increasing pressure,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It is problematic to equate wearing the hijab with negative social control – there are also girls who do not wear the hijab who are exposed to negative social control,” Khawaja added.

According to the commission’s report (PDF), the “use of scarves in elementary school can create a division between children in two groups – ‘us’ and ‘them’”.

The study was conducted by the research companies Als Research and Epinion on behalf of the Danish Ministry of Education. It is based on a survey of 1,441 students in sixth to eighth grades from 19 elementary schools and eight independent and private schools, as well as 22 interviews with students and 17 interviews with teachers.

According to Khawaja, a study from 2018 on the extent of negative social control showed that few Danish school children – 8 percent of the participants in the study – are actually exposed to social control.

“The majority of girls wearing the hijab are doing it of their own free will,” Khawaja said.

According to her, simply making the recommendation and the debate that will follow could have negative consequences.

“It will, of course, have consequences if the ban is put into action, but I believe there are already negative outcomes now. Simply putting the proposal out there is already stigmatising, problematising, and casting suspicion on a large group of religious minorities,” she said.

“Although the intentions are good, it ends up stigmatising and disempowering the ones you are trying to help.”

Lone Jørgensen, principal of Tilst Skole, an elementary school in Jutland with approximately 700 students, does not support the recommended ban, either.

“The ban would create a law between the children and their parents, and the children would get stuck in between, “Jørgensen told Al Jazeera.

“My job is to run a good school for everyone, where there is room for everyone and everyone is of equal value.”

‘Part of Denmark’

On August 26, several thousand people took to the streets of Copenhagen to protest the ban proposal.

According to the Danish newspapers Arbejderen and B.T., several thousand took to the streets.

Midwife and activist Lamia Ibnhsain, 37, organised the event, titled “Hands off our hijabs”.

“I realised that our voices are invisible in society. The initial intention with the demonstration was to go to the streets and make our voices heard,” she told Al Jazeera.

Ibnhsain said she has had “a lot of difficult feelings” following the ban proposal.

She has felt “othered”, placed under suspicion as a mother, and she fears a ban might add to some girls feeling “wrong” compared to others.

“Muslim women wearing the hijab are everywhere in Danish society. They are doctors, psychologists, bus drivers, and artists. They are a part of Denmark,” she said.

Ibnhsain is a mother to two girls – an eight-year-old and a 16-year-old.

Her older daughter wears the hijab, while the youngest wears it on days when she feels like it.

Ibnhsain explains how talking to her girls about a possible ban has been tough.

“My girls are wearing the hijab with joy and happiness. The hijab is a matter of the heart, and it should under no circumstances be turned into a political discussion,” she said. “It violates my girls’ basic rights.”

The commission

The commission was set up by the current ruling party, the Social Democratic Party, in January.

Although it presented the recommendations unanimously on August 24, two members of the commission later on retracted their support for a hijab ban following the debate, which led to one of them withdrawing completely from the commission, stating that she could not support the proposal of a ban.

In a written response to the criticism of the study presented to the commission in an email, the secretariat behind the commission told Al Jazeera it had been set up by the government and its mission was to present recommendations on how to ensure that all women from a minority background could enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other Danish women.


“The commission focuses on how Danish society can reinforce the efforts against honour-related social control, which we know from research is a problem in certain environments in Denmark,” it said in an email response.


“The study from 2018, which is referred to, states that only 43 percent of the ethnic minority girls in the study are allowed to see male friends in their spare time, while the same is the case for 88 percent of the ethnic Danish girls,” the statement read.


“And 13 percent of ethnic minority girls are afraid that their families will plan their future against their will, while the same is the case for 5 percent of the ethnic majority girls. One of the aims of the commission is to bring recommendations on how to equalise differences like these between Danes who are ethnic minorities and majorities,” it added.


The secretariat said the commission consisted of nine members with different backgrounds and knowledge – “they are people with practical experience, research backgrounds, and people who have experienced these issues personally. All know about the challenges related to countering honour-related social control”.


The commission is set to make additional recommendations in the coming months.


Photo: On August 26, people took to the streets to protest a proposed hijab ban in Danish elementary schools [Courtesy of Lamia Ibnhsain]



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EGYPT: Women with hijab found to face bias and discrimination

Women with hijab found to face bias in Egypt

Women wearing hijabs (Muslim headscarves) are being discriminated against by businesses in Egypt, a BBC Arabic investigation has discovered.


By Ahmed Elshamy

BBC News (27.08.2022) – https://bbc.in/3QDYWiR – The evidence appears to violate Egypt’s constitution, which bans discrimination based on religion, sex, race or social class.


Since 2015, some Egyptian women wearing a hijab have taken to social media to complain about such treatment.


Mayar Omar, a 25-year-old research executive from Cairo, says she has faced repeated problems going to some high-end restaurants.


“You want to feel that you can be yourself when you enter a venue and no-one is forcing you to do something, or make you feel that you are the cause of a problem for the venue or your friends.”


On hijabi lifestyle social media groups, BBC News Arabic found what appears to be a growing trend, with women accusing numerous venues of refusing them entry if they are wearing a hijab.


“In most cases the main cause is classism,” Nada Nashat, a lawyer and women’s rights activist, said. “So we find discrimination against hijabi women in venues that like to present themselves as upper-middle or upper class.


“But we also find discrimination against non-hijabi women in lower and middle classes.”


BBC News Arabic tried to make a reservation at 15 upmarket venues across Cairo that had been accused online of discriminating against hijab-wearing women.


Most of the venues asked for the social media profiles of all guests and 11 venues stated that head coverings were not allowed.


We sent an undercover married couple, with the woman wearing a hijab, to some of the venues that told us that hijab-wearing women were not allowed entry.


At L’Aubergine in the upmarket neighbourhood of Zamalek, the doorman immediately told the couple that the headscarf was forbidden as they had a bar inside, and that this might offend women wearing a hijab.


The manager too was adamant, saying: “The headscarf is forbidden.”


When presented with our recorded evidence, L’Aubergine told us it was “inaccurate” and that refusing women who wear the hijab is not a house rule, adding: “We denounce it.”


The venue also told us: “We have reiterated our house policies to staff to avoid any confusion in the future.”


At Kazan, in the same neighbourhood, the couple was once again told by the doormen: “The problem is the headscarf.” When asked why, they simply stated: “This is the house rules.”


At the final venue, Andiamo in Heliopolis, the couple was initially refused entry. After appealing, they were told they could enter but would have to sit in a corner as the manager said: “It’s a ministry of tourism instruction, and if they find any hijabi woman beside the bar, they’ll fine us.”


Neither Kazan nor Andiamo responded to requests for comment.


‘Find an alternative’


BBC News Arabic presented the evidence to Adel El Masry, chairman of the Chamber of Tourism Establishments and Restaurants.


“Never in any era of the ministry of tourism has a decision been issued banning veiled women [from leisure venues],” he said. “This is not acceptable. Discrimination is unacceptable, these are public places.”


BBC News Arabic also gathered evidence suggesting that hijab-wearing women were being restricted from buying holiday apartments by a major developer, La Vista. The company has projects in Cairo as well as several high-end coastal developments.


In the past it has sold properties to women with hijabs, but our investigation found many social media posts accusing La Vista of changing its policy and now placing restrictions on them.


An executive at a multinational company told BBC News Arabic how he had contacted several property brokers to buy a property at La Vista, but that they told him: “Sorry, La Vista are a bit difficult regarding the hijab.”


BBC News Arabic contacted six property brokers, posing as a buyer whose wife wears a hijab and who wanted to buy a unit at a La Vista coastal project. They told us it would not be possible to purchase a unit.


One told our undercover reporter: “Can I speak to you frankly? Definitely look for an alternative.”


Another went even further, stating: “To be frank with you, regarding the North Coast and Sokhna projects, they are discriminatory.”


One broker explained how the process worked. “They will not say that we won’t sell you a unit, but they will say that this project you have selected is closed now and when it’s open, we will call you, and they won’t.”


When our undercover reporter phoned La Vista stating that his wife wore a hijab, he was told he would be put on a waiting list and there were no properties available.


Several weeks later he visited the La Vista office but this time didn’t say that his wife wore a hijab. He was told there were property units available immediately and when he asked what kind of people lived there, the agent told him: “The idea is that all the people we have look like each other.”


She stated that one La Vista development “has no veiled women at all”.

La Vista has not yet responded to requests for comment.


Amira Saber, an Egyptian MP who has campaigned for women’s rights, said the Egyptian constitution was clear that discrimination of this kind was not allowed.


“I will certainly use one of my parliamentary tools to ask the officials in the government how we can ensure that this does not happen again, and if it does happen, the perpetrator must be punished,” she said.


Photo credits: Getty Images

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