Press releases

Leading European Muslim thinkers look at problems facing Muslim women in Europe

17 March 2010

The discussion, entitled Europe’s Muslim women; under cover and under pressure?, chaired

by Shada Islam (EPC)  looked at a number of topics:

Muslims in Europe

The first issue raised was how Islam is practised in Europe. Malika Hamidi, from the European Muslim Network said a new generation of Muslim intellectuals was reinterpreting the religious scriptures to reach a “form of Muslim feminism” but there is a need to define a “common European identity with all faiths”. Sajjad Karim, MEP, insisted that in each continent – in Africa, the Middle East, Europe or Asia, “Islam is practised according to cultural conditions, so there should be a European form of Islam”.

Muslim women and the “veil”

This led to a heated discussion, with considerable audience input. The speakers agreed there was a confusion whether the term “veil” referred to a headscarf or the full burqa, but said it was a cultural not a religious symbol. As Malika Hamidi, said, “This is not related to Islam, as many Muslim women denounce this”. Wassyla Tamzali, former Director Women’s Rights at UNESCO, agreed saying “You should dress as you want – it is a European freedom”. Sajjad Karim, came out strongly against the burqa, saying “As a Muslim I feel it is against fundamental European norms for Muslim Women to wear it”.

Women in Employment

The discussion turned to how to encourage more Muslim European women to seek employment. Parvin Ali, Chair of EMWI, and founder of the FATIMA Women’s Network, said “some Muslim women do not want the Western model of women working, as they feel their primary duty is to their children. We need a new paradigm for the workplace”. Malika Hamidi, said at work “there must be laws to accept women with different religious symbols”.

The way forward

Parvin Ali insisted that to change the situation, young Muslims in Europe need “political and economic employment, not just social and cultural equality”. Wassyla Tamzali insisted the debate must “not be highjacked by issues of racism or discrimination”, judging Muslim women in a “neo-colonial way”.

The debate also touched on issues such as the differences between growing up a Muslim in Europe and outside Europe, what traditional feminism can bring to the argument, and gender equality.


  • The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. This debate is part of a project Our Shared Europe, whose objective is to demonstrate that Muslims are an integral part of Europe.
  • The European Policy Centre is an independent not-for-profit think tank, committed to making European integration work. 
  • The European Muslim Network is a think tank that gathers European Muslim intellectuals and activists throughout Europe to foster communication, views and expert analysis on the key issues related to the Muslim presence in Europe.


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