European Muslims criticize veil ban plans

Published: May 16, 2010 22:05 Updated: May 16, 2010 22:05 

VIENNA - Muslims attending a conference in Austria's capital Sunday criticized 
European countries for considering the possibility of banning face-covering 
veils, saying it is counterproductive and regressive.

Veil bans are being considered in Belgium and France, and lawmakers in other 
European countries have also raised the issue.

The roughly 100 imams and Muslim religious advisers from 40 countries 
participating in the meeting in Vienna agreed that Islam doesn't make it a 
requirement for women to wear face veils and saw little need to discuss it 
because of consensus on the matter, said Carla Amina Baghajati, a spokeswoman 
for the Islamic Religious Authority in Austria, which hosted the meeting.

"Nevertheless, we are critical that it comes to a ban," Baghajati said. "Why? 
Because it's counterproductive." She was among about 30 women taking part in 
the meeting.

An extensive draft resolution presented at the end of the two-day conference 
called for programs to promote the education of Muslim girls and women and said 
every mosque should have a female contact person for women's issues.

It also expressed concern about a Swiss referendum late last year to ban the 
construction of new minarets and stressed that the practicing of Islam 
encompasses the respect of people from other religions or who hold different 
world views.

"Muslims don't want to be seen as a problem but rather as part of the solution 
for modern challenges," the document said.

The laws proposing bans on face-covering veils gives the impression there is a 
need to restrict Muslims because there is "something dangerous" about them and 
that they don't respect women's rights, Baghajati said.

A discussion within the Muslim community has helped keep the number of women 
dressing this way in Europe to a minimum, she added.

Famile Fatma Arslan, a Dutch lawyer and fellow conference participant, warned 
that the bans, if approved, could backfire.

"By creating a ban, you're not being preventive but you're being regressive," 
she said. "If you raise children and say 'this is something you shouldn't do,' 
my kid, or my kids, or my nephews are doing it."

Instead, Arslan added, the focus should be more on the empowerment and 
education of Muslim women

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