Europe's Muslim women: under cover and under pressure?

16 March 2010

Malika Hamidi, Director-General, European Muslim Network, said Muslim women were threatened by Islamophobia in Europe, while also being the victim of practices carried out in the name of Islam. Fortunately some of Islam’s conservative views are being questioned by Islam scholars, and young Muslim women are claiming their rights.

There is a considerable debate about women wearing the hijab (headscarf) or burqa (the full cover-up), but Islam does not demand that women fully cover themselves up, this is the result of the Wahibist influence and is a practice that should be denounced.

In order to fight the apparently growing fear of Islam we need to construct a common European identity that includes all faiths.

Wassyla Tamzali, author and former Director of Women’s Rights at UNESCO, said there was considerable Islamophobia in France. She was raised as an Algerian Muslim feminist, fighting for the rights of men and women, and said she envied Muslim women in Europe where men’s and women’s rights are recognised, and women can be spiritual without being forced to behave in certain ways.

Feminism has existed in the Maghreb world for 50 years and now Muslim women worldwide are reinterpreting Islam, calling for equality and universal rights.

“Being able to dress as you want, is one of the privileges of Europe”, but Maghreb countries have been “invaded” by Wahibism, which insists that women cover themselves up, which is not part of the history of Muslim women.

Parvin Ali, Chair of the European Muslim Women of Influence (EMWI) and CEO and founder of FATIMA Women’s Network, said it was difficult for Muslim women in Europe to seek work, particularly as many believe their primary function is to care for their children, so a new employment paradigm is needed that adapts to their work-life patterns.  

Those who do seek outside employment are discriminated against, as being a Muslim can be a disadvantage in the workplace; particularly when governments force employers to take account of religious practices which makes employing them very costly. When bringing in laws governments consult with religious leaders, who are always men, forgetting about women’s need. This can result in an opt-out on human rights, when it comes to religion.

Sajjad Karim, UK MEP, said that if we wish to create a European identity, it should be based on shared values: the EU is a collection of diverse people from many cultures, religions backgrounds and creeds.  As in every continent “Islam is practised according to cultural conditions, there should be a European form of Islam”.

Mr Karim said he was horrified about the way Muslims are misrepresented in the media, which is creating a very dangerous atmosphere. He believed there was a difference between women who wear a hijab and those who wear the full burqa, saying “As a Muslim I feel it is against fundamental European norms for Muslim Women to choose to wear a burqa”.

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