Turkish women in headscarves chant anti-Israeli slogans during
a demonstration near a mosque in Istanbul on Friday. Turkey,
which is a mainly Islamic country, does not permit the wearing
of a face veil or a headscarf in any university in that country,
be it state-owned or private. AP
More confusion as the face veil is not lifted
If I continue from last week on the saga surrounding
the face veil of Muslim women it is for a good reason. Last month
it became a much-talked of issue in Britain when an assistant teacher
sought legal redress after she was suspended from school for refusing
to remove her face veil.
She lost her claim for discrimination before a
tribunal which, however, awarded her £1000 for victimisation.
She has threatened to appeal the tribunal decision and even hinted
that the case may end up before the European Court of Justice that
could open up a Pandora's box, given the growing controversy over
the use of Muslim religious symbols in offices and other places
This controversy in several countries in Europe
has been exacerbated by the actions of Muslim extremists who have
resorted to terrorism as acts of revenge against western societies
for real or perceived grievances.
If the assistant teacher Aishah Azmi sought redress
in the courts to underline her right to wear the face veil as a
Muslim woman, the more recent incident that raised the controversy
to a new level happened in court itself last week after a legal
adviser appearing for a client refused to remove her headwear in
The legal adviser, Shabnam Mughal refused to obey
an instruction from Judge George Glossop at an immigration tribunal
in Stoke-on-Trent. Apparently the judge could not hear Ms. Mughal
distinctly because of the veil covering her face and mouth. Twice
Judge Glossop had asked her to remove the veil and she twice refused.
The result — the judge adjourned the hearing
until he sought the advice of Sir Henry Hodge, a High Court judge
who is also the president of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal
(AIT) over which Judge Glossop was presiding at the time.
The sittings of the tribunal were adjourned till
tomorrow and what happens then would depend very much on what Sir
Henry would have to say, apparently after consulting other senior
judges. Whatever the decision it would not bind other courts but
obviously it could influence how judges in general would treat the
issue if such a situation arose in any of their courts.
Again, whichever way the decision goes it could
have a major impact not only on how Muslim women should be dressed-
in face veil or not — when they appear in court but also on
other occasions in their various professions and vocations.
This is believed to be a unique case here in that
the question of a face veil has never figured in a court proceeding
before. Nobody has so far mentioned any incidents when Muslim women
— perhaps as witnesses or defendants — have appeared
in a legal proceeding wearing a face veil. If so were they allowed
to do so or were they asked to remove it?
Ms. Mughal, who works for a legal firm, was acting
on behalf of a client who was appealing against the decision of
the Home Office not to grant a visitor's visa to the UK for a member
of his family. "There was a hearing at Stoke-on-Trent. The
immigration judge was covering the appeal about a visitor's visa
and a legal representative appearing on behalf of a sponsor wore
a full face veil. The judge asked her to remove her veil, she refused
and there was an adjournment," the Tribunal Services are quoted
as saying by "The Times" of London.
The spokesman said that later in the day the judge
again asked Ms. Mughal to remove her veil and she again refused
and the proceedings were halted to allow for consultations. "In
a democracy, a religious person is never asked to forsake their
preferred observances. But it would be unreasonable to contend that
all religious practices are consistent with all professions,"
Gary Slapper, the director of the law programme at the Open University
told "The Times"
"The British practice, established over eight
centuries, is that justice requires good, clear advocacy and it
would be difficult to assert that advocacy can be done equally well
with or without a full-face veil," he continued.
It would, of course, be interesting to know whether
there are Muslim women doctors who wear a face veil when they examine
patients. What about women surgeons? If there are Muslim women surgeons
are they permitted to wear face veils or would that be strictly
prohibited in the operating theatres as they rightly should, because
of infection and the obvious dangers to patients.
So are there Muslim women who are medical doctors
or surgeons who insist on wearing face veils or even full covered
dress during their working hours? If so are they permitted to do
so when they practise their professions?
One has not heard of such confrontations. If there
were surely they would have been reported and would have made news
in the wire services and other media. So what really happens? Does
it mean that Muslim women who practise their religion do bend when
it comes to practising their profession or vocation? Or is it that
wearing the face veil or other symbols of their religion is not
compulsory according to the Islamic holy book the Quran which leaves
it to the discretion of the individual.
The problem is that there are varying interpretations
of what the Quran actually states and therefore for those who are
not tutored in the subject it is difficult to reach any conclusion.
One supposes that the interpretation would also depend on the religious
school one belongs to or one’s own traditions, upbringing
and the cultural ethos.
It is interesting to note, for instance, that
Turkey, which is a mainly Islamic country, does not permit the wearing
of a face veil or a headscarf in any university in that country,
be it state-owned or private.
In fact, female members of parliament in the country
do not cover their heads. Turkish authorities are so conscious of
the country's recent secular history and safeguard it so religiously
that the president of Turkey left out of his guest list for the
independence day celebrations women who do wear a headscarf. That
included the current prime minister's wife who does wear a headscarf.
This insistence on the country's secularism was
born with the founding of modern Turkey in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal
who later came to be known as Kemal Ataturk, meaning the father
of Turks. The modern republic that emerged from the ashes of the
Ottoman empire underwent political and social change as Kemal Ataturk
pushed through a programme of westernisation.
Since then presidents of Turkey have come from
among those who stand for a secular Turkey, a position strongly
supported by the military that has intervened on occasion when Turkey
was seen to drift from the path chartered by the republic's founder.
So in mainly Muslim Turkey, headscarves, seen
by secularists as representing Muslim radicalism, are outlawed in
public offices, universities, schools and even at official ceremonies.
What chance then would a face veil have in secular Turkey striving
to enter the European Union.