FaithWorld

Much ado about nothing: fine for niqab-wearing French driver dropped

niqab (Photo: Sandrine Mouleres, June 28, 2010/Stephane Mahe)

A French police tribunal has annulled a 22 euro ($29.50) fine against a woman found wearing a niqab while driving in the western city of Nantes last April. The case fuelled not just one but two separate debates in France, one on banning the “burqa” and another on polygamy among immigrants. Full veils have been legally banned, the polygamy debate has temporarily fizzled out and Sandrine Mouleres, the Muslim convert who challenged the fine, seems to have come out a winner. For now, at least…

The tribunal annulled the traffic ticket issued by officers who argued that Mouleres could not see properly while wearing her niqab, which covered her face but left an opening for her eyes. As her lawyer Jean-Michel Pollono put it: “This means one can drive today with a niqab. There is no danger as long as whatever the driver wears doesn’t block her vision. A niqab moves with the head.”

The second debate, about polygamy, arose when it was reported that Mouleres was one of four wives of an Algerian-born man, Liès Hebbadj, and he might be collecting family allowances for all four. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux suggested he might be stripped of his French nationality if found guilty of these allegations. Hebbadj fought back by saying he doesn’t have four wives, but one wife and three mistresses (and 12 children among them). “If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” said Hebbadj, a halal butcher in Nantes.

This new twist in the DWV (driving while veiled) story brought up an interesting question. Now that France has banned the niqab in public, what would the legal situation be for Mouleres if police stopped her these days? Pollono said the car was considered a private space but he was not sure how a court would classify a car driving on a public road.  Nor was he sure whether she would have to take off her niqab when she gets out of the car.

This turn of events doesn’t mean France is warming up to Muslim women’s headgear. Also on Monday, a labour tribunal in Mantes-la-Jolie west of Paris confirmed the 2008 firing of a woman from a private creche because she refused to take off her headscarf.  The tribunal rules that the creche could apply the same  secular principle (laïcité) as public creches where religious clothing is banned under a 2004 law.

Pope words on condoms bolster AIDS fight in Africa

pope lichtPope Benedict’s qualified backing of condom use to help prevent AIDS marks a small breakthrough for efforts to fight the scourge in Africa, giving health workers and clergy more scope to broach a still-taboo subject.

News of the pontiff’s comments in a book came days before a U.N. report on Tuesday showed that even Africa was making inroads into the epidemic, with a fall in infection rates over the past decade coinciding with greater availability of condoms. (Photo: Pope Benedict with book, 23 Nov 2010/Osservatore Romano)

“It does open the opportunity for discussion,” Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said of the pope’s statement, citing past confusion among many African Catholics over the Church’s approach to AIDS.

Canada’s anti-polygamy laws go on trial in Vancouver

jeffsA Canadian court opened hearings on Monday into whether anti-polygamy laws violate constitutional protections of religious freedom. The court is wrestling with civil liberties and moral questions surrounding a breakaway sect of the Mormon church that has practiced plural marriages at its compound in rural British Columbia since the late 1940s. (Photo: U.S. polygamist group leader Warren Jeffs escorted into a court hearing, in Las Vegas, Nevada, August 31, 2006/Steve Marcus)

“We are beginning on an historic reference,” Robert Bauman, chief justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court told a packed courtroom in Vancouver.

The provincial government asked the court to probe the law’s constitutionality ahead of a criminal case against leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that is expected to test the issue.

Saudi Arabia less rigid with Muslims during haj

haj (Photo: Haj pilgrims arrive to cast stones at pillars symbolising Satan in Mena, November 16, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Saudi Arabia’s religious police keep such a low profile during the haj, it’s hard to imagine that you are in Islam’s holiest city.

The kingdom, where Islam first emerged around 1,400 years ago, applies a strict form of Sunni Islamic sharia law that imposes gender segregation, forces shops to close during prayer times and prohibits women from driving.

But in Mecca, the enforcement of many of these rules is relaxed during the haj, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim. And with the government investing billion of dollars in recent years to make pilgrimage safer and more comfortable, many pilgrims end up going home as goodwill ambassadors for the country.

Allah’s tailors gaining profile in Turkey with chic headscarves

headscarves (Photo: Women in headscarves in the Taksim area of Istanbul July 13, 2008/Morteza Nikoubazl)

Along Istanbul’s busy Eminönü waterfront, women swathed in dark coats and scarves knotted once under the chin jostle past others clad in vivid colors and head coverings carefully sculpted around the face. Two decades ago such a polished, pious look scarcely existed in Turkey. But today it has the highest profile exponents in First Lady Hayrünnisa Gül and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s wife Emine, and the brands behind it plan ambitious expansion.

The headscarf remains one of Turkey’s most divisive issues. Everything from the way it is tied and accessorized, to the poise and demeanor of the wearer, is laden with meaning in this majority Muslim but officially secular country of 74 million. From a simple headcovering, stigmatized in the early days of the Turkish Republic as backward and rural, it has become, in the last decades, a carefully crafted garment and highly marketable commodity, embodying the challenge of a new class of conservative Muslims to Turkey’s secularist elites.

“It was hard to find anything chic for the covered women 10 years ago, but fashion for pious women has made huge progress in the last 6-7 years,” said Alpaslan Akman, an executive in charge of production and marketing at Muslim fashion brand Armine.

Short of talent, Islamic finance taps women scholars

malaysia islamic finance (Photo: Islamic Financial Centre booth at Malaysia’s Central Bank – High Level Conference 2009 in Kuala Lumpur February 10, 2009/Zainal Abd Halim)

When Malaysian Aida Othman signed up for the new law programme at the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, she did not expect to become one the few women with their hands on the levers of the world’s $1 trillion Islamic finance sector.

Rising global demand for scholars who can advise firms on compliance with Islamic legal principles called sharia is behind the quiet and almost accidental way in which women are growing into a small but powerful force in a male-dominated business.

“There are not many women involved my job,” Aida, who manages the sharia advisory practice at Malaysia’s biggest law firm, told Reuters. “I’m glad to be able to show to young graduates and young scholars in my field if you’re interested enough there is a way into sharia advisory,” the 41-year-old, who went on to study at Cambridge and Harvard, said.

Don’t preach to us, Hamas tells secular West

hamas 1The West is floundering in immorality and has no right to criticise the Islamist movement Hamas over the way it governs the Palestinian territory of Gaza, a veteran leader of the militant group said. Hamas strategist Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Reuters in an interview that Islamic traditions deserved respect and he accused Europe of promoting promiscuity and political hypocrisy. (Photo: Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip October 23, 2010/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

“We have the right to control our life according to our religion, not according to your religion. You have no religion, You are secular,” said Zahar, who is one of the group’s most influential and respected voices.

“You do not live like human beings. You do not (even) live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticise us?” he said, speaking from his apartment building in the densely populated Mediterranean city.

Mideast banks, funds seek to tap Muslim women’s wealth

women banking (Photos: One of Dubai Islamic Bank’s women-only branches in Deira, October 26, 2010./Jumana El-Heloueh)

Emirati housewife Sarah Alzarouni brushed past a group of women clad in floor-length black robes, some with only their eyes showing, to enter through the frosted doors of one of Dubai Islamic Bank’s women-only branches. Clutching a Louis Vuitton bag to match her designer head scarf, Alzarouni greeted the female tellers and bank manager with three kisses on the cheek and sat down to do business.

“I am much more comfortable working with ladies than in a mixed environment,” Alzarouni, 27, said. “When I come here, I feel like one of them. They understand my needs and I can move freely, not having to always think where I am and whether my (scarf) has moved. As a Muslim, it is really important for me to deal with an Islamic bank. “

Many affluent Muslim women share Alzarouni’s sentiments and they are increasingly turning to Islamic banks to manage their money. These women are looking beyond basic banking services to sophisticated products to grow their wealth while complying with Islamic principals that include a ban on interest.

Egypt’s new religious fervour breeds ghetto mentality

egypt koranA wave of religious fervour and a backlash by secular liberals has left some ordinary Egyptians feeling like strangers in their own country, and civil rights activists warn of a dangerous drift into sectarianism.

Banker Hussein Khalil says organising something as simple as an evening out with friends has turned into a headache. (Photo: Koran held up at protest rally, September 5, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

“These days in Egypt, either you go out with people who are very strict and agree not to go anywhere that serves alcohol, or you go out with others who just want to get drunk,” said the 27-year-old. “Moderates are unable to enjoy their lives… We’re under pressure to join one of the two extremes.”

In quiet revolution, Turkey eases headscarf ban

turkey headscarfFreshman Busra Gungor won’t have to wear a wig to cover her Islamic headscarf, as many pious relatives and friends did to avoid getting kicked off campus.

In a landmark decision, Turkey’s Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms female students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf. (Photo: Women demonstration for headscarves at the  Constitutional Court in Ankara on October 23, 2008/Umit Bektas)

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their Muslim faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country’s secular constitution.