Local Time

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Veils: Backing For Straw

Updated: 21:42, Saturday October 07, 2006

A second Government minister has entered the debate over Muslim women who veil their faces.

Communities and Local Government Minister Phil Woolas has warned they risked provoking "fear and resentment" which played into the hands of the far right.

The minister - whose responsibilities include community cohesion, race and faith - backed Jack Straw's decision to raise the issue.

In an article for the Sunday Mirror, he has urged Muslims to show understanding for the views of non-Muslims who found the veil "frightening and intimidating".

"It can be hard to tell whether women wear the veil as an expression of their faith or because they are compelled to do so," he said.

"Most British-born Muslims who wear it, do so as an assertion of their identity and religion. This can create fear and resentment among non-Muslims and lead to discrimination.

"Muslims then become even more determined to assert their identity, and so it becomes a vicious circle where the only beneficiaries are racists like the BNP."

Controversy was sparked by Mr Straw, the Leader of the Commons, after he described the veil as "a visible statement of separation and of difference" between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

While many Muslims reacted angrily to his intervention, there was also widespread backing for the way he raised such a controversial issue.

Mr Woolas said it was essential to have a "calm, measured" debate on an issue with important implications.


Muslim Veils Factfile
Updated: 14:07, Friday October 06, 2006

MP Jack Straw's admission that he asks Muslim women to remove their veils when they visit his constituency office has sparked controversy.

Here are some facts about the religious practice of women covering themselves in public:

Hijab refers to a headscarf worn by Muslim women in some Arabic-speaking and Western countries.

But the word is given the wider meaning of modest dress and demeanour in Islamic scholarship.

Muslim communities across the world interpret hijab in different ways.

Most scholars agree that a women should cover her body in the presence of someone of the opposite sex, barring family members.

They should also walk in a way that does not attract sexual attention, according to Wikipedia.

Some scholars specify that everything save the face and hands should be hidden while others say even the eyes must be covered.

The Saudi Arabian version of modest dress is composed of a loose robe, a headcovering and a face veil.

Some Pakistani women wear headscarfs with an attached veil. However, there are also many Pakistani women who simply wear long scarves to cover their heads.

There are no laws enforcing hijab in India because it is a Hindu majority country, but there can be social pressure to cover up in some Muslim areas.

Afghanistan's burka completely covers a woman. They were obligatory under the Taliban.

Types of veils:

Hijab - covers the hair, neck and shoulders but leaves the entire face visible.

Burka - covers the face and body, leaving only a mesh-like screen to see through.

Nikab - covers everything below the bridge of the nose and the upper cheeks and sometimes covers the forehead.

Chador - a full-body cloak Muslim women in Iran are expected to wear outdoors. Depending on the design and how the woman holds it, the chador may or may not cover the face.

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