A lecture by Sr.Sukeina from Innovative Minds,
given on an IHRC platform at the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission Conference.
Dear bothers and sisters, today we are facing a war, a war on our freedom as Muslims to practice our deen.
Last month the French senate approved a bill legalising the persecution of Muslims in France. Hijab is banned. Other European countries are poised to follow the French lead and outlaw the practice of Islam. Just last week the first German state passed its own anti-hijab laws and five other states are following suit.
This war will affect all of us – there is no escaping it. We need to understand what is happening and learn how to defend our rights - those granted to us by Allah, in the most effective manner.
First I want to begin by looking at France.
At 11% France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, estimated to be some 7 million strong. Yet they are excluded from all positions of authority and decision making. There is not a single Muslim in the 577 seat French National Assembly, and out of some 36,000 mayors there is not a single Muslim. Muslims face the worst discrimination in society; they have the worst housing; and the highest level of unemployment.
Islamophobia is rampant in France and is openly accepted and encouraged in “respectable society”. To illustrate the perception of Muslims in France I will relate an incident that was reported by a BBC correspondent in Paris.
She was sitting in a café in Paris with a French friend Antoine when two homosexual men in tight t-shirts walked passed hand in hand, occasionally stopping to kiss one another.
“That's disgusting!" exclaimed Antoine, a middle-aged, rather conventional French businessman.
"What, the two men?" She asked.
"No, no, not them. Behind them, the two women."
She looked but she couldn't see anything amiss. All she saw were two young women, walking past chatting to one other.
She turned to Antoine, mystified.
"The veils!" he exclaimed.
"Veils?" she asked.
"Yes, those headscarves," he said. "That shouldn't be allowed here in France."
It is no surprise then that Polls have suggested that 70% of the population support the anti-Muslim laws and it met little opposition in parliament with only 36 out of 577 members opposing it.
Even before the law was passed a great many French schools had already banned hijab, and shamefully it was teachers who on many occasions led the campaign to deny education to Muslim girls. Teachers in the small town of Flers even went on strike- all 70 of them – when a 12 year old pupil refused to remove her hijab.
The ban on hijab is not just confined to schools but affects every aspect of life in France. Lets look at a few examples.
A Muslim woman in France can no longer get married with out first removing her hijab. Religious marriages are not recognised and she is not permitted to enter her city hall for a civil wedding wearing hijab. Interestingly Christian brides are permitted to wear their wedding veils without hindrance – the ban only applies to Muslims.
A French bank turned away a customer at one of its Paris branches because she was wearing hijab. Their excuse for the ban was that it was to deter robbers!
Anti-Muslim signs reminiscent of the “No Blacks” signs of previous shameful times have began to appear in France. A French doctor has put up a sign in his surgery waiting room which reads “I refuse to treat veiled women”. When questioned the doctor replied “living in France necessitates... that women should not wear Hijab”.
In November Frances justice minister threw out a juror from the courtroom because she wore hijab! Although hijab and Islam had no relevance to the case being tried, his excuse was that he wanted to ensure a fair trail.
Even in sports there is discrimination. A 10 year old Muslim girl from an English Judo team was barred from competing in a French tournament because she wore hijab.
"Stop France Outlawing Islam" backdrop is from a recent IHRC
outside the French embassy in London
With all these examples of hijab discrimination one might think that the French have a specific problem with the headscarf. This is not true, the problem is not hijab per say, bur rather it is Islam that they cannot stomach and because they recognise hijab as a manifestation of Islam they oppose it. When a BBC reporter asked an ordinary Frenchman they found on the street why he supported the proposed law banning hijab he replied “It's a means to defend France & Europe against the spread of Islam.”
Rest Of Europe
Next I want to briefly look at whats happening in the rest of Europe.
In Germany Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said that "headscarves have no place among people who act on behalf of the state, and that includes teachers". Out of Germany's sixteen states one had already passed a law banning Muslim women teachers from its schools, and another five or six states are in the process of passing similar bans.
In Belgium the Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Daweael has called for a hijab ban on all civil servants including teachers and doctors, and on school pupils. A draft law has been presented to the Senate. Not waiting for the law to pass, some schools have already implementing the ban, as have some hospitals and medical schools.
In Denmark super markets and department stores have been sacking Muslim women from their jobs for wearing hijab, and on the one instance when a court found in favour of a 16 years old Muslim girl to wear hijab at work, the Prime Minister intervened and attacked the court and threatened the Muslim minority saying “The court decision in favour of a Muslim girl can have consequences. I will advise these girls not to wear these scarves.”
In Italy a kindergarten banned a Muslim teacher because she wore hijab saying it would “scare” the children! The Northern League, a coalition partner of Berlusconi's government, supported the ban saying “If someone comes from the jungle and is used to going around dressed like Tarzan, they can do it there, but not here." The Northern League are also pushing for a law that would require a referendum every time a request is made to build a mosque in Italy!
In Spain when a school banned hijab the Education Minister gave her support arguing that the hijab is a "a sign of discrimination against women" and added that she was prepared to legislate over the issue if necessary. The Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, went further comparing the desire to wear hijab with the unIslamic practice of female circumcision, describing them both as "savagery."
In Britain we have seen how the race-relation laws, which protect other minorities like Jews and Sikhs from discrimination, have specifically excluded Muslims. In the past this loophole has lead to horrendous discrimination of Muslims in all sectors of society including schooling and employment.
When a headmaster of a school which banned hijab and kept Muslim girls in isolation was challenged he replied "head scarf is not part of the uniform." When asked why Sikh boys are allowed to wear the turban when it is not part of the uniform, the headmaster smiled and replied: " we took legal advice and were told that Sikhs are protected by law. I am not going to break the law."
Failure In Turkey
So this is the situation in Europe today – country after country passing anti-Muslim legislation to facilitate its persecute of its Muslim minority. The question is how did we get to this stage and what do we do about it.
Well it didn't happen overnight, this war like any other war is fought in a series of battles. Everytime we loose a battle they advance. We must understand that today we are facing this struggle in France because we failed to act when it happened in Turkey, in Tunisia and elsewhere. Because yesterday we remained silent when our sisters in Turkey were dragged to prison for wearing hijab, today we are facing this and tomorrow, God forbid, our daughters will have to face more if we fail again.
In Turkey, a 72 year old Muslim woman died because she was denied medical treatment at Istanbul University Hospital. The hospital administrators denied the seriously ill lady life-saving dialysis because her photo in her medical card showed her wearing hijab. Instead they insisted the frail lady go and reproduce another medical card without hijab! So they watched her die.
Backdrop shows image of Sr.Huda Kaya,
imprisoned and facing the
death penalty for protesting against the hijab ban in Turkey
Huda Kaya and her three daughters aged between 16 and 19 years, along with 50 others were facing the death penalty in Turkey because they attended a demonstration in Malatya against the hijab ban which was considered treason. The security forces singled out Huda Kaya and her daughters in particular because they had previously visited Iran and attended the Friday prayers there.
From prison she smuggled out a letter where she described what happened:
“The police have attacked at night and taken away young girls and women. The police use torture against the people - even at the age of 13-14 and treat the people as if all of them are suspected. Now, in Malatya, there is no-one sure of his life. While all this is happening, the pro-government media stays so silent…”
The death penalty! That was five years ago, how many of us here raised a finger to help her? All that was requested was to write a letter – how many of us did that?
Today Intisar, one of the daughters of Huda Kaya is still imprisoned. As she was lead away from the courthouse her last words were:
“they can jail us, they can hand-cuff our wrists, but they can never make our hearts surrender.”
The Islamic Human Rights Commission has been campaigning for over 6 years for the release of all Prisoners of Faith in Turkey and for the right to wear hijab in Turkey. Currently they are taking cases related to this issue to the european court of human rights. There is a stall outside which includes campaign letters for the release of the Turkish sisters including sister Intisar, please add your voice to their cause by signing the letters.
As part of IHRC's Europe-wide hijab project, which was launched last summer and which aims to highlight the discrimination Muslim women face; there is a very important questionnaire which we urge all sisters to fill in. You can remain anonymous if you want but please fill it in, it only involved ticking boxes and will take less than 10 minutes. They are available in 7 european languages, please fill it in. The data gathered will be used in the fight against the various hijab bans we are facing today across Europe.
IHRC are also looking for volunteers to take part in long-term picketing of embassies and other locations. If you think you can spare a couple of hours a month please give your name at the desk. That's just two hours a month – that is all that is being asked.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission has a website www.ihrc.org. Please visit it, it includes extensive coverage of all their projects and the campaign letters and questionnaire are available there for download.
I am from an organization called Innovative Minds. You may know us from our boycott Israel campaign. We work very closely with the Islamic Human Rights Commission on many projects, and on our website we have extensive campaign sections regarding the hijab bans in both France and Turkey. The address is www.inminds.co.uk. Both the addresses of our website and that of IHRC are provided on this card [holding up one of the new Boycott Israel credit-card-sized laminated cards] that is being distributed today. If you have any questions please email them to either IHRC or INMINDS, again both emails are provided on the card.
"Because yesterday we remained silent
when our sisters in Turkey were
dragged to prison for wearing hijab,
today we are facing this
and tomorrow, God forbid,
our daughters will have to face more
if we fail again."
Parallels With The Past
Before I finish I just want to briefly touch on the significance of this week in relation to this war and our duty towards it.
This week marks Chelum, the culmination of 40 days from ashura, the anniversary of the tragedy of Kerbala. We call these last ten days before chelum, ashra-zainabiya in honour of the heroine of Kerbala – the Prophets beloved granddaughter Sayyeda Zainab (AS). It was through her eloquent speeches and protests that the ummah learnt the truth of the tragedy of Kerbala and kept alive the message of Imam Hussein. It was her defiant voice standing alone for justice that brought the walls of Yazids palace crashing down.
14 hundred years ago the enemies of Islam attacked the hijab, as a manifestation of Islam, when they denied Sayyeda Zainab (AS) her hijab as they paraded her through the streets of Damascus. Today our enemies are once again attacking Zainabs hijab, and for the very same reason that it is an expression – a demonstration of Islam, and today the daughters of Zainab are suffering, stripped of their hijabs.
I would ask you to remember the famous speech Sayyeda Zainab delivered in the palace of Yazid and then I would ask you to read the letters of Huda Kaya and her daughters that were smuggled out of prison and you will see that the spirit of Zainab is alive today.
The letters are available on our website, in one of them Huda Kaya describes the death penalty hanging over her and her daughters:
“We are just laughing in their faces, as they are trying to shut our mouths with the death penalties. They don't even understand that we have already chosen this way to reach the level of being a shaheed to get Allah's pleasure.”
I will end with a few lines from another of her letters in which she describes the struggle for hijab and her duty towards it:
Those inspirational words were written in a prison cell by a mother facing the death penalty. Is it not time now – today, for us all to take our places in this struggle?
“When my daughters were arrested they faced torture from the police to tell them where their mother was living...They were beaten very heavily, and subjected to psychological torture. By doing this they are trying to break up the ‘Hijab Resistance'. And we know that history is built upon the struggle for Tawheed…and we are going to take our place in this struggle and resist against oppression at every level…”