Sunday, October 22, 2006

Niqab Controversies In US, Britain, Egypt

Around the world, the niqab-- a veil covering the face that is worn by some Muslim women-- is creating heated controversy.

Earlier this month in Britain, a Muslim teaching assistant was suspended after she refused to remove her niqab while teaching 11-year olds who speak English as a second language. Yesterday's Telegraph reported that the teacher, Aishah Azmi, sued for discrimination in an employment tribunal after she was suspended for failing to comply with management instructions. She argued that her rights under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2004 were violated. The tribunal rejected her discrimination claim, but award her damages for injury to her feelings. A second report by the Telegraph says that Azmi's lawyer plans to seek legal aid funding to appeal the case to the European Court of Human Rights. However, a Muslim member of Parliament, Shahid Malik, called for Azmit to drop the suit, saying that there is no support for it from Muslim parents.

In Egypt, the Provost of Helwan University angered some Muslims when he issued an order that any students wearing a niqab must be checked by security women to verify their identity before they will be permitted into the school's dormitories. Gulf News today reports that the university is concerned that a man could walk into female dormitories hidden behind a niqab, or that other criminal activity could be hidden. However students and human rights groups are protesting the order issued a few weeks ago. Illustrating the strength of the feelings on the issue, last week a female Muslim preacher was threatened with death after stating on a television broadcast that the niqab was not required by Islamic law. And the Muslim Brotherhood has filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General seeking an investigation into alleged exclusion of niqab-wearing students from government-run universities.

Meanwhile, niqab controversies also have come to the United States. Today's Detroit Free Press reports that in a small claims dispute in Hamtramck (Michigan) District Court, a judge has said that he will dismiss a case after a Muslim woman refused remove her niqab before testifying in her lawsuit against a rental car company. The judge said he needs to see the woman's face while she is on the witness stand in order to help assess the truthfulness of her testimony.