Iranian Girls Soccer Team No Longer Banned

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

iran_1610091c It was a happy day for a gaggle of young girls in Iran who were finally being allowed to play ball. The Iranian girls soccer team, who had been banned last month from participating in August’s inaugural Youth Olympics, was now being allowed to compete in the six-nation tournament in Singapore. There was a disagreement between FIFA, the governing body of soccer, and the Iran Football Federation, over what headwear the Iranian girls could don. And on April 5th, FIFA took the step of banning the girls from the upcoming tournament. Thankfully, further discussion ensued, and an agreement was reached the first week of May. “We sent FIFA a sample of our new Islamic dress and fortunately they accepted it,” said Abbas Torabian, director of the International Relations Committee of Iran’s soccer federation. “They announced that there was no objection if the players covered their hair with hats,” he told the Tehran Times. Alas, an accord was reached, but the road traveled to reach the agreement speaks volumes about the state of Islamophobia in this world.

The Iranian National Olympic Committee had originally urged FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to review the ban on the hijab, worn by girls and women as part of Islamic dress code. Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary general, rejected the request, saying FIFA had no other choice but the reject Iran’s requests. He cited FIFA’s rulebook of conduct, with Law 4 stating “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements.” So, what this argument attempts to do is to reduce the wearing of the hijib to the level of a political or religious statement, rather than the measure of modesty that it is.

The hijab issue was first examined in 2007 after an 11-year-old girl in Canada was prevented from wearing one for safety reasons. FIFA’s rules-making arm, the International Football Association Board, declined to make an exception for religious clothing. The Quebec Soccer Association said the ban on the hijab is to protect children from being accidentally strangled. This mechanism of strangulation has never been documented in sports, nor has it even been properly explained. And if the covering of the back of the neck is such a violation of sporting principles, then should there not be restrictions also on hair length below the ears?

Faride Shojaee, the vice president of the women’s department of the Iranian Football Federation, said that FIFA officials had previously allowed Iranian athletes to participate in the Olympics with their hijab, “before denying them the right to do so in the letter they sent on Monday.” Several athletes, in fact, competed at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 wearing a hijab, including Bahrain sprinter Ruqaya Al-Ghasara, her country’s flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies.
The hijab has made its way onto the most wanted list around the globe, but particularly in Europe. France, under Nicholas Sarkoczy, has been well publicized in its growing body of rules outlawing the hijab, particularly in school. Now there is a law on the table in Belgium banning the hijab, and a similar law is being considered in the Netherlands as well. With the growing numbers of Muslims in this world, and the corresponding rise in anti-Islamic sentiment, the hijab does seem to be looked upon as more of a symbol or statement. But that is in the eye of the beholder. An eye that is increasingly becoming jaundiced by Islamophobia.

So, finally, a compromise was reached on, ”… a cap that covers their heads to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Now the Iranian girls are back on track to compete from August 12-25 in Singapore, where about 3,600 athletes, ages 14 to 18, will compete in 26 sports. They will represent Asia against Turkey, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, and Papua New Guinea. They will have to wear caps instead of hijabs. But, in the end, a happy group of girls will be allowed to play ball. What kind of person would have wanted to prevent that?

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Qaradawi Warns of Niqab Ban Discrimination

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwar ElShamy, Gulf Times

FILES-ALGERIA-EGYPT-POLITICS-RELIGION-QARADAWI Qatar-based Islamic scholar Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi urged those European countries which are considering outlawing the full veil (niqab) to review their plans, saying that a wider ban on niqab might prompt clerics to campaign for imposing a “modest dress code” on foreigners living in Muslim countries.

In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Qaradawi said the recent outlawing of the face-covering veil in public by Belgium along with a French draft law to make it illegal would be a violation of both religious and personal freedoms.

“I hope that France, Belgium and all of Europe will show respect to Islamic values and creed. Banning a Muslim woman from wearing the niqab would only place her in a dilemma about whether to comply with the law or obey what she believes is a religious order,” Sheikh Qaradawi told a congregation at the Omar bin Al-Khattab mosque at Khalifa South town.

However, the scholar, who is the chairman of the Dublin-based International Muslim Scholars Union, said the face-covering veil was not obligatory in Islam and that a woman should cover the head and neck but leave the face open.

“Although I think that wearing niqab is not obligatory and that women should only wear the hijab (covering the head and neck, but leaving the face visible), I am totally against banning a Muslim from wearing niqab if she is convinced of it as a religious obligation,” he explained.

“I do not represent all Muslim scholars. There are scholars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries who consider niqab as obligatory and there are millions of women who wear it by their own free choice. If I asked them to stop wearing it, I would be violating their personal and religious freedom,” he maintained.

Quoting from a letter he had sent to former French president Jacques Chirac, the scholar said the ban imposed on hijab in schools would be a betrayal of the principles of the French Revolution, namely liberty, fraternity and equality.

“I told (president Chirac) that prohibiting women from wearing the hijab would be discrimination against them and make them hate France which is known to be a leading country for freedom,” he added.

In his letter, he had also dismissed the notion that hijab was a religious symbol for Muslims as “untrue”, saying that if it was a symbol, why they were allowed to take it off when they were in the presence of other women or male relatives.

“Wearing hijab for Muslims could not be dealt with as wearing a necklace with a cross pendant for Christians,” he said.

He indicated that the sentiments against niqab or hijab were a reflection of a desire by European countries to impose their culture on others.

“I have received a recent visit by French ambassador Gilles Bonnaud and I explained these things to him. I told him that Muslims believed in the unity of humanity but also believed that each nation should stick to its traits,” he added.

“When Muslims ruled India, they did not close down temples or impose a ban on cremation. It is the duty of each nation to respect the values of the other, but with the European case, we can make it difficult for French and Belgian women who stay in Muslim countries by asking them to stick to a modest dress,” he quoted from the conversation he had with the French ambassador to Qatar. 

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Mahinur Ozdemir: First Belgian MP to Don the Hijab

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Abdullah Mustapha

2009-06-23T140409Z_01_THR004_RTRMDNP_3_BELGIUM

Mahinur Ozdemir attends swearing-in ceremony in Brussels 6/23/09. 

REUTERS/Thierry Roge

Brussels, Asharq Al-Awsat- When I met Mahinur Ozdimer in one of the biggest shopping malls in Brussels just one day before the Belgium elections that took place on June 7, I noticed that she was the only female candidate wearing Hijab as the candidates handed out leaflets and met and spoke with voters.

I asked Mahinur “Aren’t you worried about the reaction you’ll get from Belgian voters because you wear Hijab?” Ozdemir, a Belgium citizen of a Turkish descent, answered, “I will not take off my Hijab for the elections or for parliament. I wore the Hijab when I was working for Schaerbeek Municipal Council and I will carry on wearing it even in parliament.”

Despite the pressure she is subjected to because she continues to wear the Hijab, Mahinur always says that “efficiency alone is what matters, not the Hijab.”

Mahinur is the first parliamentarian to wear Hijab, but there is a problem; Belgian law does not allow MPs to wear headscarves in parliament. The issue has begun to raise controversy among members of Arab and Muslim communities and amongst the Belgians themselves.

MP Suad Razzouk from Belgium’s Socialist Party said, “Ozdemir will face two options: resign if she does not take off the Hijab, or give up her seat in parliament.”
Ahmed Mohsen, a member of the Green Party, said “I will work towards changing the current status as the right-wing, liberals and socialist parties caused the banning of Hijab in 95 per cent of Belgian schools with only five schools allowing it.”

The Socialist Party’s MP Sofia Bouarfa said, “I am concerned about the future of every female candidate who wears Hijab and wants to run for parliament because that person will face major challenges and difficulties. She is supposed to represent all parts of Belgian society and it is only normal that not everybody will be considerate of the fact that wearing Hijab is a personal freedom.”

Having won 2851 votes, enough to secure her a seat in Belgian parliament, local and international media rushed to interview Mahinur. Everywhere she goes there are local and international press and television stations from different countries such as Britain, Turkey and Australia that want to talk to Mahinur.

In every interview, Mahinur has insisted that there should not be so much emphasis on the Hijab that she wears but on the issues that are of importance to a Belgian citizen, mainly unemployment and housing.

Mahinur said, “I will work against unemployment and towards allowing the Hijab to be worn in the workplace and in schools.” She added, “I would like to point out that with or without Hijab, my view of the problems in this country and finding solutions to them and helping others will be the same. I cover my hair, but not my ideas, and the Islamic headscarf will in no way be an obstacle to my political activity. It should not be a controversial issue and I would advise those criticizing the Hijab to do away with the injustice that obscures their vision.”

Mahinur emphasizes that she is a Belgian of Turkish and Muslim descent by saying, “I was born here in Belgium and raised and educated in this country. I’m a third-generation immigrant and I come from a family that is devoted to serious and sincere work. My family supported me and celebrated my success in the elections.”

There is a large Muslim community that consists of at least half a million people in Belgium, the majority of which are Moroccans and Turks. The first generation of immigrants arrived in Belgium in the late 1950s to help rebuild the country following the destruction caused by World War II.

Mahinur got to a point where she avoided answering questions about Hijab after she found that there was too much focus on this issue, especially when it came to questions on the attitudes of her fellow party members towards her and whether people were open to the idea of a parliamentarian wearing Hijab. There was an incident during her party’s election campaign; the party had put up pictures of the candidates in Schaerbeek and Mahinur’s picture was enlarged so that people could only see her face, not her Hijab.

Commenting on the incident, Mahinur said, “The party officials explained that a mistake had been made either by the printing company or by an employee working on the election campaign, either of whom did not consult anyone else regarding the matter. I was angry but I am not now after the party explained the situation.”

There has been debate over the name of the party to which Mahinur belongs. The foreign media calls it the ‘Christian Democratic Party’ whilst a number of party members of Arab descent state that this is incorrect and that the correct translation of the party’s name is the ‘Humanist Democratic Centre.’

Taha Adnan, who works for the administration of the francophone government in Brussels, said that in 2002, the Christian Democratic Party changed its name to ‘Humanist Democratic Centre’ [CdH] and as a result, it lost the votes of many Christians in Belgian society. But in turn, it gained votes from a number of Arab and Muslim immigrants.

But how did Mahinur get into politics? When did she join the party? When did she decide she wanted to enter parliament and how did she choose which party to join?

“When I was a child, I always dreamt of being a lawyer, but I started wearing the Hijab at 14 years old, so I had to reconsider my future. So I chose to study Political Science at the Free University of Brussels, with a major in Human Resources, and I obtained a diploma in Management…My decision not to study law was not because it was too difficult, as I’m not the kind of person who gives up. Even if became a lawyer I would have entered the world of politics, which I came to understand quite well during my free time at the university through the internet.”

Mahinur stated that she read the programs of various Belgian political parties and liked the CdH, which calls for offering social aid, and upholding democratic principles and family values. “It is enough that it is a moderate party as I hate extremism, and the party’s program has a lot of respect for religious beliefs.”

Mahinur joined the party in 2004 when she was still studying. The following year she was offered the opportunity to take part in the municipal elections as part of the party and she joined the municipal council of Schaerbeek, which has a large number of citizens of Arab and Muslim descent, mainly Moroccans and Turks.

In the recent elections Mahinur ranked 21st, which was enough to guarantee a seat in parliament. In reference to her family, Mahinur said “They helped me a lot and gave me support. They are very happy for me.”

Describing her as a very eloquent speaker, the Belgian press says that Mahinur has a lot to say on social issues and social development.

However, the elections are over and the winners have been announced. Mahinur is now waiting to take the constitutional oath as the first parliamentarian in Belgium to wear Hijab though this goes against Belgian law.

Mahinur believes that she will be a member of parliament in Brussels alongside a number of Muslims who were chosen by the Muslim community living in the Belgian capital to represent them. The issues that they want dealing with include the banning of the Hijab in some schools, the prohibition of slaughtering animals at home for the religious festival of Eid al Adha or any other day, and the issue of financial aid required for Islamic associations to help them carry out their religious duty of serving members of Muslim communities.

Prior to Mahinur, several Muslim MPs entered Belgian parliament to serve their society’s interests.

MP Fatiha Saidi, a Belgian of Moroccan origin born in Algeria to Moroccan parents, says that she focuses on the issues of all races without discrimination and that her primary goal is to serve the oppressed, especially those with no residence permits or those who are jobless, and those who have problems with schooling and education etc.

Saidi said, “I have intervened in parliament with regards to the issue of slaughtering animals during the Eid festival or on other days. I raised questions on the matter in parliament and I questioned the Belgium Minister of Justice on racism in the Belgium labour market, the oppression that Muslim communities suffer and discrimination in the employment field.”

Saidi indicated that she has prepared a report to this effect to be discussed in parliament and that she has also raised the issue of Hijab in schools; “Discussions on this are still underway.” Finally, Fatiha Saidi added, “The Belgian people we work with do not share the same experiences or circumstances that Muslim communities experience such as nostalgia, racism and migration. This is why it is our role to clarify the nature of such problems to others through different means such as seminars and lectures within the party to which I belong or in parliament or during sessions, as well as in magazines, party-affiliated and independent newspapers.”

Mohamad Daif, of Moroccan descent, was one of the first Muslims to enter Brussels parliament following the 1995 elections. Daif said, “The religion of Islam is acknowledged here in Belgium and there is a representative body that is recognized by the Belgian government despite the strong criticism against it from some Belgium parties that refuse to recognize this body or Islam as a religion. As a Muslim citizen, I am of the view that the executive body for Muslims must have the ability to work and achieve the goals for which it was established, and that there must be enough finance to provide for this. Towards this end, my role in the party to which I belong – the Socialist Party – and my role in parliament has been to work towards eliminating any kind of racism by providing finance to different bodies and ensuring a fair share of financial aid to different institutions so that it can achieve its goals.”

It is clear that Mahinur has a lot of work ahead of her regarding the problems in the Muslim community but the important question remains; how will this parliamentarian escape the dilemma that lies ahead? Will she give up the Hijab? Or will the Brussels parliament turn a blind eye and let her take the oath and amend that specific article of the constitution? Deliberations to this effect are underway between different parties, and we will soon know the answers to those questions.

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Effort to Build Large Mosque Rattles Some in Cologne

July 12, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Mark Landler, AFP

COLOGNE: In a city with the greatest Gothic cathedral in Germany, and no fewer than a dozen Romanesque churches, adding a pair of fluted minarets would scarcely alter the skyline. Yet plans for a new mosque are rattling this ancient city to its foundations.

map of Cologne, Germany, close to the Belgian and Dutch borders.

The city’s Muslim population, made up mostly of Turks, is pushing for approval to build what would be one of Germany’s largest mosques, in a working-class district across town from the cathedral’s mighty spires.

Predictably, an extreme-right local political party has waged a noisy, xenophobic protest campaign, drumming up support from its far-right allies in Austria and Belgium.

But the proposal has also drawn fierce criticism from a respected German-Jewish writer, Ralph

Giordano, who said the mosque would be “an expression of the creeping Islamization of our land.” He does not want to see women shrouded in veils on German streets, he said.

Giordano’s charged remarks, first made at a public forum here last month, have catapulted this local dispute into a national debate in Germany over how a secular society, with Christian roots, should accommodate the religious yearnings of its Muslim minority.

Mosques have risen in recent years in Berlin, Mannheim and Duisberg, each time provoking hand-wringing among some residents. But the dispute in Cologne, a city Pope Benedict XVI once called the Rome of the north, seems deeper and more far-reaching.

While Turkey itself is debating the role of Islam in its political life, Germans are starting to ask how – even if – the 2.7 million people of Turkish descent here can square their religious and cultural beliefs with a pluralistic society that enshrines the rights of women.

Giordano, a Holocaust survivor, has been sharply criticized, including by fellow Jews, and has received death threats. But others said he was giving voice to Germans, who for reasons of their past, are reluctant to express misgivings about the rise of Islam in their midst.

“We have a common historical background that makes us overly cautious in dealing with these issues,” said the mayor of Cologne, Fritz Schramma, who supports the mosque but is not without his qualms.

“For me, it is self-evident that the Muslims need to have a prestigious place of worship,” said Schramma, of the center-right Christian Democratic Union. “But it bothers me when people have lived here for 35 years and they don’t speak a single word of German.”

Cologne’s Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, is similarly ambivalent. Asked in a radio interview if he was afraid of the mosque, he said, “I don’t want to say I’m afraid, but I have an uneasy feeling.”

Those statements rankle German-Turkish leaders, who have been working with the city since 2001 to build a mosque on the site of a converted drug factory, which now houses a far smaller mosque, a community center and the offices of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs.

“The 120,000 Muslims of Cologne don’t have a single place they can point to with pride as the symbol of our faith,” said Bekir Alboga, leader of interreligious dialogue at the union, which is known as Ditib. “Christians have their churches, Jews have their synagogues.”

Alboga, a 44-year-old Turkish imam who immigrated here at 18 and speaks rapid-fire German, said the mosque would be a “crowning moment for religious tolerance.” Given Germany’s dark history, he added, “German politicians need to be careful about what they say.”

Alboga said he was particularly dismayed by Meisner, because the Catholic Church, along with Germany’s Protestant churches, has long supported the mosque. Ditib, he said, is a moderate organization that acts as a “bulwark against radicalism and terrorism.” It plans to finance the project, which will cost more than $20 million, entirely through donations.

The group must obtain a building permit before it can break ground, but Alboga said he was confident the mosque would not be blocked. Ditib has agreed to various stipulations, including a ban on broadcasting the call to prayer over loudspeakers outside the building.

Public opinion about the project seems guardedly supportive, with a majority of residents saying they favor it, although more than a quarter want its size to be reduced. The polls, taken for a local newspaper, use small samples, 500 people, limiting their usefulness as a gauge of popular sentiment in city of one million.

Cologne, with one of the largest Muslim populations of any German city, already has nearly 30 mosques. Most are in converted factories or warehouses, often tucked away in hidden courtyards, which has contributed to a sense that Muslims in Germany can worship only furtively.

The new mosque would put Islam in plain sight – all the more so because the design calls for a domed building with glass walls. Showing off a model, designed by a German architect who specializes in churches, Alboga said, “Our hearts are open, our doors are open, our mosque is open.”

In some ways, the mosque seems calculated to avoid touching nerves. It would not be built near a church or loom over its neighbors, like the new mosque in Duisberg. It would be flanked by multistory office buildings and a giant television tower, which would dwarf its minarets.

Yet the Turkish community has run into fervent and organized opposition. The far-right party, Pro Cologne, which holds five of the 90 seats in the city council, collected 23,000 signatures on a petition demanding the halting of the project. The city said only 15,000 of them were genuine.

On June 16, Pro Cologne mobilized 200 people at a rally to protest the mosque. Among those on hand were the leaders of Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded by Jörg Haider, and the extremist party Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, from Antwerp. Both advocate the deportation of immigrants.

Cologne’s deputy mayor, Elfi Scho-Antwerpes, a Social Democrat, appeared with Turkish leaders at a counter-demonstration across the street. Schramma, she noted, did not show up.

Giordano, the German-Jewish writer, said Germany needed to face the fact that, after three generations of Turkish immigration, efforts to integrate that minority had failed. Immigrants, he said, sought the privileges of membership in German society but refused to bear the obligations.

Germany’s “false tolerance,” he asserted, enabled the Sept. 11 hijackers to use Hamburg as a haven in which to hatch their terrorist plot. Cologne, too, has struggled with radical Islamic figures, most notably Metin Kaplan, a militant Turkish cleric known as the Caliph of Cologne.

“I don’t want to see women on the street wearing burqas,” Giordano said. “I’m insulted by that – not by the women themselves, but by the people who turned them into human penguins.”

Such blunt language troubles other German Jews, who say a victim of religious persecution should not take a swipe at another religious minority.

Henryk Broder, a Jewish journalist who is a friend of Giordano’s, said he should have avoided the phrase “human penguins.”

But Broder said the underlying message was valid, and that Giordano’s stature as a writer gives him the standing to say it. “A mosque is more than a church or a synagogue,” he said. “It is a political statement.”

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