In many parts of the world, the war on the hijab seems to be growing in strength. Be it hijabs, niqabs or burqas, traditional Muslim dress for women living in western nations has become intensely controversial. The situation is not likely to ease in the near future either as tensions between east and west spread throughout the world and the Middle East in particular, and Muslim communities in the west continue to grow in number.
Most recently, the Netherlands, which has one of the oldest and most active Muslim communities in Europe, became the first European state to impose a total ban on wearing a burqa, hijab (headscarf) or niqab (veil) in public. The move was supposedly imposed "on public safety and security grounds," according to Dutch officials.
The decision is by far the most extreme move against traditional Muslim head coverings in Europe. The trend, however, is unfortunately not new.
Already in 2003, lawmakers in France, where four-and-one-half-million Muslims currently live, passed legislation banning all forms of religious head coverings, including both Muslim and Jewish head coverings, throughout all French schools. Failure to abide by the rule ultimately results in expulsion.
In Britain, a major debate was ignited after a school teacher was suspended for refusing to remove her veil during school lessons. In response, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the veil was a mark of separation that did not allow Britain's Muslim community (which numbers some one-and-one-half-million) to fully integrate into western society. Meanwhile, British parliament member Jack Straw recently drew fire when he insisted that all women who enter his office should remove their veils in order to "improve communication."
In the United States as well, the debate has been gaining momentum. One Muslim businesswoman had a court case of hers dismissed in court when she refused to remove her veil.
"When the judge asked me to take my veil off in court, I felt inhuman," she said. The judge later explained that he needed to see her face to judge her truthfulness.
Meanwhile, several women in Florida were told they could not wear a veil for their driver's license photograph, a move which even Muslim civil rights lawyers say is justifiable, since in the case of a driver's license or passport, a photo is the only real way to identify someone.
The veil has become a hot issue on the Egyptian public agenda after the country's Culture Minister, Farouq Hosni, joined the international chorus decrying the practice.
Aldo in relation to north Africa, Muslim American women recently protested the prohibition of the veil in the Muslim country of Tunisia, where, as in the Netherlands, wearing traditional Muslim headscarves in public is prohibited. The hijab, explains Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ali, came to his country as an uninvited sectarian form of dress. Nonetheless, protesters remained adamant in the right of Muslim women to darn the hijab, even in the Arab state of Tunisia. "Regardless of what soil we stand on, we feel the injustice of the Tunisian women," said one protestor.
Ibrahim Hooper, Communications Director for CAIR, agrees. He says that women have the right to wear a veil, and explains that the Quran specifies that women should dress modestly, while many Islamic scholars interpret the instruction to mean women should cover their heads.
Others, however, feel that the veil represents a sign of oppression. "To me, the veil is a very, very frightening expression of control of women," says author Asra Nomani. She adds that she has been harassed for not wearing a headscarf at the mosque that she regularly attends.
Despite one's position on the issue, the recent controversy over Muslim religious diversity that has arisen in places like Europe, which prides itself in liberal and progressive thought, is one worthy of a closer look. this is especially true, since, a growing number maintain that in places like Europe and the United States, banning traditional dress will only result in the further isolation of minority Muslim communities while strengthening more extreme thinking, rather than truly integrating them into the western world.